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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published March 08 2009

Clark spent time raising Sakakawea’s child

Six years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition, William Clark became the legal guardian of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the child born to Sakakawea at Fort Mandan before the expedition to the Pacific coast.

Soon after the boy’s birth on Feb. 11, 1805, Clark took a great interest in the infant and gave him the nickname “Pomp,” short for Pompey. Clark wrote that it was at the request of the parents that Pomp be raised by him, “in such a manner as I thought proper.” After Sakakawea died, Clark adopted her daughter.

President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on the expedition to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. The journey was to be scientific as well as diplomatic. The two men were to keep meticulous journals about plants and wildlife, and Clark was to draw a large, accurate map of the regions they explored.

The party of 44 men left their camp near St. Louis on May 14, 1804, and began the journey up the Missouri River. In late October, they reached the mouth of the Knife River, which was the home of five villages of Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Indians. This was where Lewis and Clark set up their winter quarters they named Fort Mandan.

The expedition spent five months at Fort Mandan, hunting and communicating with the Indians and French-Canadian traders who lived in the region. One of the traders was Toussaint Charbonneau, who was married to a Shoshoni Indian named Sakakawea. This turned out to be lucky for the explorers. On their journey west, they expected to encounter Shoshoni Indians from whom they hoped to acquire horses. Sakakawea would prove invaluable.

Sakakawea and her husband were hired as interpreters and, because she was pregnant at the time, they were invited to stay at Fort Mandan for the winter. On Feb. 11, 1805, Sakakawea gave birth to Jean Baptiste. Clark had a high regard for her and nicknamed her “Janey.” When the expedition proceeded westward on April 7, Sakakawea took her 8-week-old infant with her.

Sakakawea was not only valuable as a guide and interpreter, but her presence along with her infant son was a sign to Indian tribes that the expedition was peaceful. When the expedition reached the Pacific coast, a log stockade was constructed that they named Fort Clatsop. This is where the party spent the winter of 1805-06.

On March 23, 1806, the party began its return trip east, and they split into two groups. Lewis and 10 men went northeast. Clark and 20 men plus Sakakawea and her infant retraced the route they used to get there.

On Aug. 3, Clark and his party arrived in what is now North Dakota. They were reunited with Lewis and his men on Aug. 12. Lewis had been mistakenly shot the previous day by one of his own men during an elk hunt, so they remained a week at Fort Mandan before proceeding down the Missouri River. On Sept. 23, the expedition returned to St. Louis.

On October 20, 1806, Clark resigned his commission and the next day he and Lewis left St. Louis for Washington, D.C. Clark was appointed militia brigadier general and given command of the Louisiana militia. He was also named principal Indian agent for the Louisiana Territory. Both Lewis and Clark were given double pay for their time on the expedition and awarded 1,600 acres of land.

In March 1809, Clark joined several other traders to form the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company. After Lewis, the governor of Louisiana, died in October 1809, President James Madison offered the position of governor to Clark. He declined.

In 1811, Clark became president of the Missouri Fur Company. He brought Jean Baptiste Charbonneau to live with him and his new bride.

The Missouri Territory was created in 1812. In 1813, Clark was appointed territorial governor. In May 1823, U.S. legislation created the position of superintendent of Indian Affairs, and Clark was named to head up the agency. He was active in negotiating treaties with many of the Indian tribes. President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Bill of 1830 called for relocating many of the tribes west of the Mississippi River, and it was Clark’s duty to implement that bill. Clark died on Sept. 1, 1838.


“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.