Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was a part of the famous trip Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery made to the Pacific. He would not remember the trip because he was just a baby on his mother’s back, as depicted on the dollar coin. He played an important role just the same. Seeing a woman with a child as part of that strange group, which included a black man and a giant black dog, helped assure tribes they encountered that this was not a war party.
William Clark took a liking to the boy, giving him the nickname Pomp. More than that, after the death of Sacajawea, Clark took him in and paid for his education.
Jean Baptiste spoke English and French fluently. His father was Toussaint Charbonneau, a French trader who also went along on the expedition. He knew Shoshone well, thanks to his mother, and could converse in several Indian languages. During six years in Europe, he also picked up German and Spanish.
Charbonneau led expeditions in the West and guided for others. In 1846 he was the head guide for the Mormon Battalion’s trek from Kansas to San Diego. He was a trapper, gambler, magistrate, and freighter. He prospected for gold and once owned a hotel in northern California. He even served as mayor of Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, near San Diego, for a time.
Pomp probably died as the result of an accident at a river crossing in Oregon when he was on his way, perhaps, to the mines in the Owyhees. His destination is uncertain as are the exact details of his death. An obituary for Jean Baptiste appeared in the Owyhee Avalanche in 1866, listing pneumonia as the cause of death.
There is a competing story about a Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who died on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming in 1885. Evidence that this was the Charbonneau that accompanied Lewis and Clark is slim.
The grave of John Baptiste Charbonneau, about 100 miles southwest of Ontario, Oregon, is listed on the national register of historic places and boasts no fewer than three historic markers.