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Pomp's 200th Birthday


Sacagawea gave birth to her first child, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, on this date 200 years ago. Lewis and Clark were wintering at Ft. Mandan and had hired Touissant Charbonneau and his pregnant wife as interpreters for the next leg of their Corps of Discovery Expedition.

Meriwether Lewis wrote about Jean Baptiste’s birth, saying, “About five Oclock this evening one of the wives of Charbonneau was delivered of a fine boy. It is worthy of remark that this was the first child this woman had boarn, and as common in such cases her labour was tedious and the pain violent.” Lewis counseled with others about how to help her and skeptically gave her a small dose of water mixed with the crushed rings of a rattlesnake. “Whether this medicine was truly the cause or not I shall not undertake to determine,” he wrote, “but...she had not taken it more than ten minutes before she brought forth.”

Little Jean Baptiste was less than two months old when the expedition headed west in April. He was a healthy and active baby, and William Clark took a special shine to him, giving him the nickname “Pomp and Pompy” for his pompous “little dancing boy” antics.

In the spring of 1806, during their return journey, Little Pomp became seriously ill. The Corps was bogged down by deep snow in the Bitterroot Mountains, and Pompy contracted a high fever. He may have been teething, but his swollen neck and throat indicate he also probably had mumps or tonsillitis. The expedition leaders applied poultices to the little boy’s neck, made up of “wild onions and a plaster of sarve (salve) made of the rozen of the long leaf pine, Beaswax and bears oil mixed.” Despite this medicinal aid, it was two and a half weeks before Pomp recovered.

Several months later, Clark led a small group, including the Charbonneau family, on a side trip to explore the Yellowstone River. They came upon an unusual sandstone formation on the river’s south shore that Captain Clark named “Pompy’s Tower” – now called “Pompey’s Pillar.” He also named a nearby stream “Baptiests Creek” for the Corps’ favorite baby. Under a protected natural overhang is a spot where Clark carved his name and the date, July 25; it was his birthday. This incision is the last remaining physical evidence of the Corps ever having been on the landscape.

When the expedition arrived back in the Hidatsa Mandan villages the following month, Captain Clark had a hard time saying goodbye. He offered to take Pomp and raise him as his own son, but Sacagawea was still nursing her little Baptiste. Clark later wrote to Touissant Charbonneau, “As to your little Son (my boy Pomp) you well know my fondness for him and my anxiety to take and raise him as my own child. I once more tell you if you will bring your son Baptiest to me I will educate him and treat him as my own child – I do not forget the promis which I made to you and Shall now repeet them that you may be certain – Charbono, if you wish to live with the white people, and will come to me, I will give you a piece of land and furnish you with horses, cows, & hogs...Wishing you and your family great suckcess & with anxious expectations of seeing my little dancing boy Baptiest I shall remain your friend.”

Three years later, Charbonneau, Sacagawea and little Pomp traveled to see Clark in St. Louis. Toussaint and the rest of the expedition’s enlisted men were each given 320 acres of land and, while Sacagawea received nothing, Toussaint was paid $533.33 for his interpreter services. Charbonneau quickly tired of farming, however, and after a few years, sold his land to Clark for $100.00. He and Sacagawea boarded a barge bound for the upper Missouri River country, and Clark finally got his wish; 6-year-old Pomp remained with him to begin his formal education.