To the Yellowstone and Home
From May 22 to June 8, at Camp Chopunnish, Sacagawea's attention had to be focused on her son. Jean Baptiste, now fifteen months old, was having a difficult time teething, and also had an abscess on his neck. Clark served as primary physician, dosing the boy with laxatives. For his swollen neck, "we still apply polices [poultices] of onions which we renew frequently in the course of the day and night." While the warm heat would have comforted the child, the poultices did nothing for the abscess that Clark suspected. On June 3, Lewis reported that the swelling had greatly subsided, and on the 8th Clark wrote that "the Child has nearly recovered."8
One wonders whether Sacagawea hoped to see her Shoshone people again on the Corps' return trip. She and her family were in Clark's party heading to the Yellowstone River, which traveled north of the Shoshones' country en route to Camp Fortunate—and the month was July, too early for the Shoshones' annual buffalo hunting trip east of the mountains.
The route again took Sacagawea into lands she remembered from childhood. On July 6, three days after Lewis's and Clark's parties split at Travelers' Rest, Clark's group reached the Big Hole Valley of southwestern Montana, "an open boutifull Leavel Vally or plain of about 20 Miles wide and hear 60 long9 extending N & S. in every direction around which I could see high points of Mountains Covered with Snow." Sacagawea has visited this spot on camas-gathering trips as a girl, and pointed—guided—the way to Big Hole Pass on present Carroll Hill, the Big Hole's easy eastern exit, crossed today by a state highway.
When Clark's still-smaller party—without Ordway and nine men who were taking the canoes down the Missouri—moved east of the Three Forks of the Missouri on July 13, they passed out of land familiar from the previous year's trip. But Sacagawea still was on familiar turf, and knew the way to the Yellowstone. Clark commented that "The indian woman who has been of great Service to me as a pilot through this Country recommends a gap in the mountain more South which I shall cross." This led the party up to today's Bozeman Pass in the Bridger Range.10
During the trip down the Yellowstone River, from July 15 to August 3, Sacagawea disappears from Clark's journal, but her son comes to the fore. On July 25, 1806, Clark climbed a 200-feet-tall sandstone column that rose beside the Yellowstone (east of today's Billings), and carved his name and the date after enjoying "from it's top . . . a most extensive view in every direction." He named the rock "Pompy's Tower" using his personal nickname for the boy. (See both "Pompy's Tower" and "My Boy Pomp: About That Name."
On the lower Yellowstone in August, everyone suffered greatly from mosquito bites, the men's "mosquito biers," or nets, now being in tatters. But little "Pompy," whose bier had been swept away by that flash flood at the Falls of the Missouri, suffered the most. On August 4 Clark wrote sympathetically, "The Child of Shabono has been So much bitten by the Musquetor that his face is much puffed up & Swelled."
August 17 brought the Charbonneau family to the Mandan villages south of their home village of Metaharta. No Hidatsa chief would agree to go to meet President Jefferson, so Charbonneau's interpreting services were no longer needed. He was paid "500$ 33 1/3 cents" for translating, a horse, and use of his leather lodge.
Now Clark made, or possibly reiterated, an amazing offer—to see to Jean Baptiste's education in St. Louis.
I offered to take his little Son a butifull promising child who is 19 months old to which they both himself & wife wer willing provided the Child has been weened. they observed that in one year the boy would be Sufficiently old to leave his mother & he would then take him to me . . . "
After the Expedition
The Charbonneaus went to St. Louis in September 1809, when their son was four. They stayed for about a year and a half, during which time Jean Baptiste was baptized and his father bought land from William Clark. Then Sacagawea became ill and wanted to return to her Hidatsa home. She also was pregnant for the second time, but whether the illness was related is unknown. After selling the land back to Clark, Toussaint hired on with Manuel Lisa's Missouri Fur Company. In late spring 1811, the couple left Jean Baptiste to Clark's care and headed up the Missouri River on a Missouri Fur Company boat.
Another passenger on the same boat was lawyer Henry M. Brackenridge, traveling to write about the upper Missouri frontier. He described the couple in this way:
We have on board a Frenchman named Charbonet, with his wife, an Indian woman of the Snake nation, both of whom accompanied Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, and were of great service. The woman, a good creature, of a mild and gentle disposition, was greatly attached to the whites, whose manners and airs she tries to imitate; but she had become sickly and longed to revisit her native country; her husband also, who had spent many years amongst the Indians, was become weary of civilized life.11
Charbonneau went to work at Lisa's Fort Manuel (south of today's Mobridge, South Dakota), but he often had to travel away for negotiations with Gros Ventres, Mandans, Hidatsas, Arikaras, and others. Area Indians were becoming increasingly hostile as more mountain men moved into their lands, and Charbonneau was in demand as a translator during both trade and peacekeeping talks. Sacagawea was busy with baby Lisette, a daughter born apparently in August.12
John C. Luttig, Lisa's clerk at Fort Manuel, kept a journal that included this entry for December 20, 1812: "This Evening the Wife of Charbonneau a Snake Squaw, died of a putrid fever13 she was a good and best Woman in the fort, aged about 25 years she left a fine infant girl."14
The following year, Luttig was named guardian of Jean Baptiste and Lisette in a St. Louis court document. His name was later replaced with that of William Clark,15 who paid for the raising and education of the children in St Louis. When Clark wrote his list of the fates of expedition members sometime between 1825 and 1828, he noted Sacagawea as deceased.
Another story of Sacagawea's later years and death must be mentioned, the oral tradition of the Eastern Shoshone people.16 (Sacagawea's people were western Shoshones who lived in the present Lemhi River valley, in Idaho.) The story handed down among the Wind River Shoshones is that Sacagawea adopted an Eastern Shoshone man named Bazil, as her son, and in her later years moved to live with him in Wyoming. There, according to Eastern Shoshone tradition, she is said to have died in 1884, at nearly 100 years of age, and was buried at Fort Washakie on the Wind River [Shoshone] Indian Reservation.
8. A more detailed description of the course of treatment appears in Peck, 252-53.
9. Nicholas Biddle, with information from William Clark or George Shannon, amended the measurements to 15 miles by 30.
10. Modern Interstate 90 crosses Bozeman Pass between Bozeman and Livingston, MT.
11. Henry Marie Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, Together with a Journal of a Voyage up the Missouri River, in 1811 (Pittsburgh: Cramer, Spear and Eichbaum, 1814), 202.
12. An August 11, 1813, court filing in St. Louis listed Lisette as being "about one year old." Ibid., 117.
13. "Putrid fever" was a contemporary term for typhus, an infectious disease caused by rickettsia bacteria, transmitted by lice. It was a danger in crowded, confined places, and so was often called "camp fever," "ship fever," "hospital fever," or "prison fever." Its symptoms included weakness to the extent of being unable to walk or even sit up, high fever, headache, delirium, and red spots on the body. (The last led to the naming of unrelated typhoid fever—an intestinal illness sharing that symptom, but caused by salmonella bacteria.)
14. John C. Luttig, Journal of a Fur-Trading Expedition on the Upper Missouri, 1812-1813, ed. Stella M. Drumm, (St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society, 1920), 106.
15. Morris, 117.
Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program.