American Folk Figure. He was born somewhere around Montreal Canada in about 1758. He worked for a British fur trading company before becoming an independent trader with the Hidatsa Indians on the upper Missouri River. When he joined the Lewis and Clark Expedition he was probably 47 years old. It was reported that while he was with the fur trading company he was stabbed by the mother of a girl he was trying to rape. Escaping this incident, he settled with the Hidatsa tribe and remained with them for the rest of his life. He was frequently employed by white people as an interpreter of French and Hidatsa. He once confessed to Prince Maximilian of Wied that even after 37 years with the Hidatsa he still spoke the language badly. Sometime around 1800, a Hidatsa raiding party captured an approximately 12 year old Shoshoni Indian girl by the name of Sacagawea. Four years later Sacagawea, and another Shoshoni girl, probably Otter Woman, were married to Charbonneau and Sacagawea was soon pregnant with her first child. In November of 1804, Charbonneau was hired by Lewis and Clark as an interpreter. Many historians believe he was only hired so that the expedition could get Sacagawea who was needed for her ability to speak Shoshone and Hidatsa. Sacagawea was needed to translate Shoshoni to Hidatsa. Charbonneau would translate the Hidatsa to French which was understood by several people in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Charbonneau proved to be less than an ideal employee while on the expedition. In March of 1805 he was complaining because his duties also included manual labor and standing guard duty and he decided to quit. A week later he apologized and was again enlisted as an interpreter. On another occasion it was reported that he demonstrated cowardice and panicked when one of the boats nearly capsized, while Sacagawea kept a clear head and recovered many valuables the expedition would need. Three months later, in a family dispute, he slapped Sacagawea and had to be stopped by Clark. This was the only such incident on the journey, but coupled with the rape charge and his propensity to marry Indian girls under the age of 16 might indicate he needed to exert power over women. He was reprimanded again about his duty in October of 1805, but the charges were not elaborated on in the log books. After 19 months the expedition had returned to North Dakota, paid him $500.33. The expedition said goodbye to Charbonneau, Sacagawea, and their son Pomp who was also about 19 months old. Lewis thought very little of Charbonneau and his report was not good except for comments related to his interpreting role. Clark thought more highly of him and offered to take Pomp and raise and educate him. The couple decided that in one year he would be sufficiently old enough to leave his mother and Charbonneau volunteered to deliver him. He did not deliver Jean Baptist "Pompeii" Charbonneau until he was 6 years old. Charbonneau purchased a small plot of land from Clark and tried to settle down. It didn't work, so after a few months he sold the land back to Clark and returned to North Dakota. From 1811 through 1838, he served periodically as an interpreter tor the Bureau of Indian Affairs for which he averaged $300 to $400 per year. During the War of 1812 he carried out diplomatic errands for the US Government to the tribes along the Missouri River. In 1815, he went on an expedition to Santa Fe and was arrested by the Mexicans for invasion of their territory. In 1834, at about 80 years of age he took a 14 year old Assiniboine girl for his wife. The last record of the old man appears in 1839 when he appeared in St Louis to try to get his back salaries. It is believed he died around the year of 1843 at 86 years of age. That was the year Jean Baptiste settled his estate.
Bio by: Tom Todd