In Search of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau

This weekend’s road trip was focused around the fascination we have recently developed for all things Lewis and Clark. Specifically my daughter Abeni’s interest in “Pomp”. The baby born of Sacajawea during the Lewis and Clark expedition. In fourth grade she did a report on him for social studies, but never gave much thought beyond him being a baby.

Recently she and I have been sitting down and looking over topo and recreational maps. The weekend before last I noticed a tiny marking on one of our maps, indicating it was the burial place of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.

I asked Abby if she knew who that was and she immediately related it to her report on “Pomp”.

“JBC” as we called him during the mission planning had become pretty vacant after his joining the Corp of Discovery through his birth while on the trail. Not much is discussed about him in history. Unless you really do some searching, you forget about a highly intelligent man who not only was the youngest member of a great expedition, but someone who spoke several languages, understood art, business, philosophy, was a mayor, and was an example of how overlanding is used as he traveled not only throughout the west but also in Europe.

To find his last resting spot we had to travel through Jordan Valley, Oregon.

Jordan Valley began its history in 1863 as a party of prospectors with about 60 horses and mules discovered a favorable camping spot, and so it was agreed to go no further. Before unpacking his gear, one man scooped up some loose gravel, examined it in his prospector’s pan and saw the magic that makes men into prospectors.

In moments every man was digging and panning, and in one hour, all had good exhibits. Within two weeks, claims had been marked and located, and the creek was named Jordan after one member of the traveling party, Michael Jordan. Unfortunately as like other miners, Jordan was scalped by the Indians on the banks of this same stream.

Like many parts of southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon, the area is made up of rough volcanic rocks in the desert and surrounded by picturesque snowcapped mountains that surround the various valleys.

We started out early from Boise (with females all debating the start time) and made our way first down the back roads that lead to the Jordan Craters. We were not able to go down the final section leading to the craters since we were in our Xterra—a high clearance – non 4×4 vehicle that has left us stranded to many times to count. We are heading back soon with the Jeep. There are too many back trails to discover that require a good 4×4.

We happened across one of the many (still active) corrals in the area. These are used for rounding up sheep and cattle to transport from the range area. Many of these old corrals date back to the mid 1800’s. For some reason I am just drawn to these spots in the BLM areas.

After we hiked around a bit and let the pups run around we proceeded on through Jordan Valley – and then out to search for JBC’s final resting spot. We kept asking ourselves how he would have gotten back to this part of the country.

We know that Clark offered to take “Pomp” with him at the end of the expedition in 1806, but the offer was not taken up until several years later, possibly due to the death of his mother, Sacajawea. Records do indicate that JBC had attended a private school paid for by Clark and that later in life he did travel to tour Europe.

In October 1846, Charbonneau, was hired as a scout, probably because of his experience with military movements and his fluency in several languages. JBC joined an 1,100 mile overlanding movement from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to San Diego, California. Their mission was to guide 20 huge Murphy supply wagons to California for the military during the Mexican-American War.

Later in history he pops up as a fur trapper, mayor, and prospector. Its not apparent what caused JBC to contract pneumonia and die. Though there was a stage line in the area at the time, it is possible he may have been on horseback and fallen during one of his river crossings into the water. We have been in the same area as his accident several times and know that not only is it freezing cold, but the Owyhee River in the spring has snowmelt that often turns into whitewater.

Charbonneau was taken to Inskip Station in Danner, Oregon. This small yet fortified outpost was built in 1865, and is about 30 miles from the river and west of Jordan Valley. It is now a ghost town. Here, JBC died on May 16, 1866.

We were truly blessed on this trip and not only were we surprised at what we found at his grave side- but also had the opportunity to see three Golden Eagles in two different areas.

We finished up the day with a visit into the town of Jordan Valley where we feasted on a “traditional” Basque meal of Tots and Fries…

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