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January 30, 2024 33 mins

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau is best known for something that he accomplished as an infant -- traveling with his mother, Sacagawea, and Lewis and Clark with the Corps of Discovery to the Pacific Ocean. But as he reached adulthood, he would become a symbol of a new American identity, eventually spending six years living alongisde an eager explorer who happened to be a German Duke.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to Noble Blood, a production of iHeartRadio and Grim
and Mild from Aaron Manky listener discretion advised. Duke Friedrich
Paul Wilhelm of Wurttemberg was a collector. He was a
man who would eventually fill his palace, located one hundred

(00:21):
kilometers outside Stuttgart, with countless artifacts from around the world,
skins from animals killed in Africa, knives from Native American tribes,
art and natural wonders from Australia. His palace would be
the largest private collection at the time of natural history
in Germany, possibly even in Europe. But as a younger man,

(00:46):
Duke Paul was also a collector of experiences. He was
bored with the military and bored with royal court. He
was a prince in the most powerful family in the region,
nephew to the King of Wurttemberg, but he was the
fifth son, and so he had the flexibility and freedom

(01:07):
to take some time to do what he wanted. And
what Paul wanted to do was explore. Early in the
eighteen twenties, when Paul Wilhelm was in his early twenties,
he wrote a letter to the American government requesting permission
to travel throughout the country. He wanted to learn as
much as he could about the natural world, and though

(01:30):
of course he didn't actually want to do it anonymously,
he was going to request permission, after all, he did
want to do it incognito. President Monroe scoffed at that part,
and without Paul Wilhelm's knowledge, Monroe went ahead and ensured
that the Secretary of State informed all local authorities that

(01:52):
a German prince was to be protected by whatever means necessary,
even military guards if need be. But Paul Wilhelm didn't
know that an entire government had mobilized to ensure his safety,
and in eighteen twenty two he sailed to New Orleans
from Hamburg in a three masted ship to begin his

(02:13):
grand adventure, probably imagining he was in more physical peril
than the American government would have ever let befall such
an important visitor, the Duke brought with him what was
considered an incredibly paltry entourage, only one servant, one hunter,
and one master woodworker, who I imagine is the type

(02:34):
of person you want to bring along when you're doing
so much travel by boat. Duke Paul was amazed at
the natural beauty of the so called New World, the
flora and fauna, the vast mountains and sweeping vistas. He
eventually even joined an expedition to track one of the

(02:55):
sources of the Missouri River. After three years spent exploring
North America, Duke Paul returned to Germany. But he wouldn't
do so empty handed. Like I said, Paul was a
collector and it wasn't just animals and objects that he
liked to fill his palace with. Paul had met a

(03:16):
young man only a few years younger than he was,
named Jean Baptiste Charboneaux in Kansas. Charboneau was the son
of a Native American woman and a French fur trapper,
and when Paul returned to Germany, Jean Baptiste Charboneau would
accompany him, living abroad with the Prince for six years

(03:38):
in something that was framed as sort of a cultural
exchange program. If the name Jean Baptiste Charboneau doesn't ring
any bells, would you believe me if I told you
you've almost certainly seen a picture of him, or at
least if you're American, you've almost certainly seen a picture

(03:59):
of him as a baby On his mother's back. It's
an image so iconic it was printed on the gold
one dollar coin that was minted in the United States
in the year two thousand to honor Jean Baptiste's mother,
saka Jeweya. The story of Sakajawea, the young Native woman

(04:20):
with an infant child who accompanied Lewis and Clark on
their quest to the Pacific, has become almost an American myth,
a story that's been flattened to its broadest, most inspiring strokes.
The story of Sakajawea, as myth, ends with Lewis and
Clark's successful journey, her son forever an infant, But Jean

(04:45):
Baptiste Charboneau grew up and he became a man, and
his strange life is perhaps the most American story imaginable.
A life caught between a shifting West and calcified European aristocracy.
A life caught between his native ancestry that made him

(05:07):
quote exotic and his white connections that allowed him certain privileges,
A life of celebrity, of politics of the gold Rush.
There's a theme that's recurred on this podcast over and
over again. If you allow yourself to become a symbol
you get certain privileges, but you sacrifice the right to

(05:30):
be an actual human being. We all know the powerful
image of Jean Baptiste Charboneau and what he represented as
an infant, But who was he as a man. I'm
Danish Schwartz and this is noble blood. Jean Baptiste Charboneau's

(05:51):
life as a symbol began immediately when he was born.
In eighteen oh four, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set
out with a group known as the Core of Discovery
with the goal of exploring and mapping the recently purchased
Louisiana territory. The trip began at the border of southern Illinois,

(06:13):
what up until then had been the end of the
United States, and the group traveled north and west until
they reached Oregon and the Pacific Ocean. The entire expedition
is mythologized in American culture, particularly when it's taught to
younger children, for embodying a spirit of adventure, a piece

(06:34):
of Romantic Americana that we can cling to in our
comparatively short national history, But the details of that exploratory
trip are less frequently explored in any significant detail. It
was about five months into the journey, when the corps
reached what is currently North Dakota, where they set up

(06:56):
a fort near the native Manden people called Fort Manden.
It was there that they hired a French fur trader
who had been living among the native people to act
as a guide and translator on the arduous journey up
the Missouri River and through the mountains. His name was
to Saint Charboneaux, and as luck would have it, his wife,

(07:18):
or rather one of his wives, was a Native Shoshone woman,
and it was decided that she would come along on
the journey to help communicate with the Shoshone people. Her
name was Sakajuweya. Now this is the detail that they
don't teach in the most romantic versions of the Adventures

(07:39):
of Lewis and Clark and Sakagaweya. She was sixteen years old,
and she was Charboneau's wife only in the sense that
he had purchased her or won her while gambling when
she was thirteen years old, along with another Shoshone girl
named Otter Woman. When Sakageweya was twelve twelve, her tribe

(08:01):
had been raided by a group of Hidatza people and
she was held captive. Charboneaux purchased Sakajaueya and otter woman
from the Hidatza, And so while texts refer to Sakajawea
as Charboneau's wife, I want to make very clear that,
even though that's the language a lot of texts use,

(08:22):
this was in no way a consensual marriage. And just
as long as we're being clear eyed about the history,
I think it's also important to note that Clark had
with him on the journey an enslaved man named York,
a man that he had inherited from his father. Anyway,
the corps remained at Fort Manden for the winter, and

(08:44):
in February of eighteen oh five, Sakajuweya gave birth to
John Baptiste. Less than two months later, the expedition set
off again, with Sakajawea and her infant son in tow.
Little Jean Baptiste was adored by Clark, who delightedly nicknamed
him Pompey. But more than that, the entire expedition quickly

(09:08):
realized what a coup it was to have an infant
with them. In his journals, Clark writes about an incident
along the riverside of the Columbia Plateau, where a group
of Native Americans fled into their homes visibly threatened by Clark.
Apparently he had fired a gun nearby, and they, for

(09:29):
good reason, assumed he was most likely a threat. No
matter how Clark tried to explain that he was part
of an exploratory mission, the Native Americans would not engage
with him. There was fear that the tension might bubble
into violence. And then Sakajeweya and baby John Baptiste arrived

(09:49):
with Lewis by canoe. Clark wrote, they immediately all came
out and appeared to assume new life. The sight of
this Indian woman, wife to one of our interpreters, confirmed
those people of our friendly intentions, as no woman ever
accompanies a war party of Indians in this quarter. Sakujueya

(10:11):
would also prove to be a boon to the Core
in more than just her physical presence. When a storm
caused a boat to capsize, it was Sakajuweya who dove
into the river and recovered many of the lost items,
including all of the corp's journals, which had been lost
when the Corps reached western Montana. Sakjuea was able to

(10:34):
point out Beaverhead Rock, a formation she recognized from her
childhood from where her nation would spend their summers, and
she pointed out where they would approach the pass through
the mountains. The group finally rendezvous with the Shoshone people,
and Sacjuwea had what must have been an incredibly surreal

(10:55):
and beautiful moment. She had been kidnapped from her home
when she was twelve, held captive, sold and married to
a stranger, and then years later, as part of the
Corps of Discovery, she reunited with her tribe, only to
realize that their chief was now her brother. As thanks

(11:17):
for reuniting him with his long lost sister, the chief, Camelwaite,
provided the group with the horses they would need to
cross the Rocky Mountains. This is also much less of
a big deal, but it is a detail I find touching.
Zaka Jueya gave up her beaded belt so that Lewis
and Clark could use it to trade for a sea

(11:37):
otter fur coat that they wanted to give to Thomas Jefferson.
To quote Clark on the incident directly, one of the
Indians had on a robe made of two seotter skins.
The fur of them were more beautiful than any fur
I had ever seen. Both Captain Lewis and myself endeavored
to purchase the robe with different articles. At length we

(11:59):
procured it for a belt of blue beads, which the
wife of our interpreter, Charboneau, wore around her waist. I
feel like he could have at least given her named
credit on that one. But alas and so that was
little Pompey's life for his first year, traveling across the
brand new nation, serving as silent ambassador, a mascot with

(12:23):
his mother for the expedition's peaceful intentions. When the expedition
was finally over, Lewis and Clark dropped Sakaguweya to Saint
Charbono and Pompey, now a year and a half old,
back near the Mandon people where they had started. Clark
had grown attached to Little Pompey and told his parents

(12:46):
that he would take him off their hands for them,
raising him as his own and seeing to his education.
A little while after the expedition, Clark wrote to tous
Saint Charbono, entreating him and Sakageweya to common move to
Illinois to be closer to him. At the letter's end,
Clark added, as to your little son, my boy Pomp,

(13:08):
you well know my fondness for him and my anxiety
to take and raise him as my own child. I
once more tell you, if you will bring your son
Baptiste to me, I will educate him and treat him
as my own child. Wish you and your family great success,
and with anxious expectations of seeing my little dancing boy Baptiste,

(13:30):
I shall remain your friend. William Clark three years later
to Saint Charboneau and sack Juwea did move to Saint Louis,
where they allowed Clark to take command of little Jean
Baptiste's education. Clark quickly enrolled the boy in Saint Louis
Academy boarding school. I do think that Clark genuinely liked

(13:52):
Jean Baptiste and was attached to him, after all, he
was there for the first year and a half of
his life, and he was his boy Pomp. But I
do think it would be a mistake to imagine that
his offer of paying for Jean Baptiste's education was entirely altruistic,
or rather altruistic without some slightly uncomfortable colonial implications. Because

(14:16):
Jean Baptiste was half Native American, his education could serve
as a model for assimilation for one of the most
famous women in American history, at least in terms of
name recognition. It's a little astonishing how little recorded history

(14:37):
there is about what happened to Secduea next. Most likely,
she died in eighteen twelve, presumably while living with Toussaint
at the Fort. Lisa trading Port, a clerk at the fort,
recorded in his journal on December twentieth, eighteen twelve, that
the wife of Charboneau died of putrid fever. The fur

(15:01):
trader and later Congressman Henry Breckinridge had also written that
zakajuwea Quote had become sickly and longed to revisit her
native country. As for Toucsant's other quote wife, otter woman,
after the Corps journals note that they were taking one
of Toucsant's wives along but not the other Otter woman

(15:22):
fully disappears from the record, and I haven't found any
reputable information at all about what happened to her. And so,
though while some claim that Zaca Joweya left Fort Lisa
and did return to her home people. She most likely
died when she was twenty five years old, having recently
given birth to an infant girl. Almost immediately, Toussains Charboneau

(15:47):
signed over custody of both Jean Baptiste and the little girl, Lizette,
over to Clark. Adoption papers in the Saint Louis records
make clear quote on August eleven, in eighteen thirteen, William
Clark became the guardian of tous Saint Charbono, a boy
of about ten years and Lizette Charboneau, a girl about

(16:09):
one year old. As for Lizette, it's assumed she also
died young because, and perhaps you notice a pattern here,
there is nothing more written about her. She simply disappears
from the record. Toussaint Charboneau would live for another thirty years,
going on to mary at least three more teenage Native

(16:33):
American girls, including a fourteen year old when he was
seventy years old. We have to imagine Jean Baptiste Charboneau's childhood,
his guardian, the famous William Clark, his mother dead, his
father gone, possibly raised alongside a young sister, possibly alone,
sent to boarding school until he was sixteen, when he

(16:56):
would meet the man who would change the course of
his life. Life. Duke Paul Wilhelm, thrilled by the promise
of natural discovery in the New World, had sailed across
the ocean to America. He was a fairly accomplished naturalist

(17:16):
and amateur painter dedicated to documenting the natural world. On
June twenty first, eighteen twenty three, he arrived at a
small chateau settlement near the mouth of the Kansas River.
That was where he first met Jean Baptiste Charboneau, and
from their first meeting, Paul Wilhelm was aware of the

(17:37):
celebrity of his mother. He wrote, quote here I also
found a youth whose mother, a member of the tribe
of Shoshones or Snake Indians, had accompanied the Messrs Lewis
and Clark as an interpreter to the Pacific Ocean. The
European continued up the Missouri River to its source, and

(17:58):
actually at one point hired to Saint Charbonneau as a
guide and translator. His mission was successful, and when the
Duke came back through America's interior that fall, when he
reached the Kansas River again. This time he would take
Jean Baptiste along with him, with the plan that the

(18:18):
two of them would both go back to Germany together.
The trip turned out to be a challenging one. The
steamboat that the men were on to get to New
Orleans sank, but they did make it eventually, though The
trip across the Atlantic would prove to be its own
arduous journey. Duke Paul wrote, the sea fought us with

(18:41):
huge waves, and the ship was tossed about so violently
that the rolling action became unbearable. The waves struck with
such force overboard that part of the railing was shattered,
but the pair did eventually make it safely back to Germany.
So it wasn't just John Baptiste that Duke Paul brought back.

(19:04):
He also brought back a live alligator that he had
captured in New Orleans. Jean Baptiste was only a few
years younger than Duke Paul, but it's difficult to discern
whether the relationship between the two men was one of
friendship or whether it was something more paternalistic or colonial.

(19:25):
The first major English translation of the original German texts
was done in the nineteen thirties, by Professor Lewis C.
Butcher at the University of Wyoming, and historians today are
fairly dismissive of his translations for being let's say, overly
romantic at best and more than a little embellished. Professor

(19:48):
Butcher's version of the story is the two men becoming
instant and close friends, both young men from illustrious families,
one a German prince, the other the scion one of
the most romanticized fables of Americana, and Professor Butcher is
correct in the facts that for the next six years,

(20:09):
Jean Baptiste Scharpeneau would live alongside Duke Paul in Germany
in a palace with him, and travel across the world
at his side, including travels to Africa and Australia. Imagining
that the two were just best friends who shared a
taste for adventure is appealing, and in fact, if you

(20:30):
are listening and looking for the subject of a historical
rom com that you want to write, I would be
delighted to read a fictional account of the two explorers
sharing an intimate and loving friendship. But unfortunately, as you
are probably predicting, the reality was a little more uncomfortable.

(20:52):
I actually don't think it's as nefarious as it could
have been. I've seen some suggestions that Jean Baptiste was
brought over to Germany to be a servant, but there
actually isn't really evidence of that either. Like Clark, Duke
Paul Wilhelm was likely excited by the chance to quote

(21:12):
enlighten a quote primitive Native American, and he would get
a personal encyclopedia on hand to answer any questions he
might have about America or Native American culture. In return,
Jean Baptiste would get to travel the world, live in
a palace, and get new experiences, all while having an

(21:33):
education funded. Jean Baptiste already spoke several languages at this point,
and over the course of his time in Germany he
would add a few more to the roster. According to
most twentieth century sources, the arrangement was something partly between
studying abroad and being a member of someone's entourage, with

(21:54):
John Baptiste receiving an education and enjoying the freedom to
meet new people, explore the Black forest, and practice his
hunting and horseback riding. The Duke had also previously brought
a young man, Juan Alverdo from Mexico, who, in theory,
received a similar education math, history, geography, and languages. The

(22:18):
Duke also brought back two men from Africa and one
from India. So all of these men were, depending on
your interpretation, either nineteenth century study abroad students quote unquote,
exotic servants, personal cultural encyclopedias, or some combination of all

(22:38):
of the above. We might have gotten a more detailed
account of the men's time spent together, but many of
the Duke's personal journals were destroyed in the damage of
World War II. Given that lack of evidence, Professor Albert
Furtwegler favors the more pessimistic framing. In two thousand one,

(23:01):
he wrote, quote, there is no evidence that the Prince
educated Charboneau, saw him as an equal, took interest enough
in him to learn about him directly after eighteen twenty nine,
or treated him as anything better than an exotic specimen
brought back to Europe along with other Indian items for
his collections. Indeed, we have almost nothing that the Prince

(23:25):
wrote about Charboneau. We know that John Baptiste remained in
Europe for six years until eighteen twenty nine, but it
wouldn't be until more than twenty five years later that
Charboneau emerges again in Paul Wilhelm's writings. The Duke was
back in California on a trip where he encountered a
group of Shoshone Native Americans. One of these, he wrote,

(23:48):
was a fine young lad, quite intelligent, who reminded me
strangely and with a certain sadness, of b Charboneau, who
had followed me to in eighteen twenty three Europe, and
whose mother was of the tribe of the Shoshones. Why
or when they lost touch, Whether Paul Wilhelm viewed Jean

(24:08):
Baptiste as a friend or just another specimen lost or
misplaced in his travels is something lost to us. We
do know one fact about the time that Jean Baptiste
was in Germany. A parish birth announcement for a child
named Anton Fryes born on February twentieth, eighteen twenty nine,

(24:32):
the child of quote Johann Baptiste Charbonneau of Saint Louis,
called the American in service of Duke Paul of this place,
and Anastasia Katerina Fries, unmarried daughter of the late George Fries,
a soldier. Here. The infant unfortunately died that spring, and

(24:53):
a few months later, when he was twenty five years old,
Jean Baptiste would leave Europe forever and returned turned to
the place he was born. Jean Baptiste joins a fur company.
He sets out west and joins several other parties of
men who hunted buffalo and traded furs. He traveled almost constantly.

(25:15):
When his father died in eighteen forty three, he sold
some land he had inherited for three hundred and twenty dollars.
He appears in the record as a guide on several
hunting expeditions, including one for another European nobleman, a Scottish
baronet named Sir William Drummond Stuart. Jean Baptiste would spend

(25:37):
the rest of his years living a rustic life on
the western frontier, seemingly a complete reversal of the years
he spent among the sophisticated finery of German court. The
historian Grace Hebberd, writing in nineteen thirty three, can barely

(25:57):
mask her condescension and frankly racism in her dismissal of
Jean Baptiste Charboneau, who quote seems to have deteriorated despite
his education, his contact with civilization, and his efficient services
in earlier years. Baptiste thus apparently forgot his classical education

(26:18):
and superior attainments. She continues that Charboneau is not a
unique case. Quote examples without number have occurred of the
same sort of reversion, both among Indians and Whites who
have lived under similar conditions among savages or in the wild.
She finally concludes that quote culture that is only a

(26:41):
veneering is easily rubbed off by constant association with uneducated
Indians and illiterate Whites. Anne Haefen, writing in the sixties,
presents a similarly condescending but more romanticized explanation of Jean
Baptiste Charboneau's life out west, quoting an anecdote of a

(27:03):
man from eighteen thirty nine who had met a Native
American trapper near Bent's Fort who may or may not
have actually been Jean Baptiste. In the anecdote that may
or may not have actually happened, as she reports, the
man apparently asked the Native American, why did you leave
civilized life for a precarious livelihood in the wilderness, to

(27:26):
which the Native American trapper replies quote for reasons found
in the nature of my race, explaining that Indians aren't
satisfied with quote the description of things, and that they
have to experience quote treasures and realities as they live
in their own native magnificence on the eternal mountains. Eventually,

(27:48):
Charbonneau was hired as a scout in the Mexican American War,
and in eighteen forty seven he was appointed the alcad
Or Mayor of Mission San Luis Rey de Frentancia. The
next year he would join in on the California Gold Rush,
mining the Big Crevice in California, an operation that was
successful enough for him that he did it for at

(28:11):
least sixteen years, living in whereas now Auburn, California, and
working as a hotel manager. He eventually left California when
he was sixty one years old, whether driven by wanderlust
or by the slowing local economy. While crossing the rugged
Oye River, Charboneaux slipped off his horse and fell into

(28:34):
the icy water. He became ill, either from the fall
or maybe he had been ill before from a lifetime
lived rough, breathing in alkali dust and living in Rugged surroundings.
He was brought to Danner, Oregon, where he died. The
city is now a ghost town, but there's a grave

(28:55):
site not too far which marks the final resting place
of the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition,
the grave of the man who traveled across America before
he could walk, who spent six years in Germany alongside
a prince, who spoke five languages, and spent the better
part of the nineteenth century working as a guide, a trapper,

(29:20):
and gold prospector. As a child, he had represented the
promise of peace. As an adult, he can be reframed
to represent a romanticized version of the American West, a
mascot for a certain spirit of adventure onto whom people
can project their fears or prejudices or fascination with Native

(29:45):
Americans and the American West itself. It's a version of
our history that maybe never existed in the first place,
or only ever existed in the slivers of real people's stories.
But Jean be Baptiste Charboneau did exist. That's the story

(30:09):
of Jean Baptiste Charboneau and his relationship with Duke Paul
Wilhelm of Wurtemberg, but keep listening after a brief sponsor
break to hear a little bit more about Jean Baptiste's
lasting legacy in America. So much of this story has

(30:29):
been lost to history, forced into the realm of speculation
or wishful thinking. Even Lewis and Clark's journey, one of
the most famous adventures in American history, left almost no
physical evidence on the trail itself. It seems the two
men took the idiom to heart, leave only footprints, take

(30:52):
only detailed journal entries. But there is one tiny exception.
Near the banks of the Yellowstone River, a sandstone pillar
stretches more than one hundred feet into the air, covering
over two acres at its base. Enamored with Saka Juwaya's
baby son, Clark named the site Pompey's Pillar, and, perhaps

(31:16):
ironic on a monument named for a man for whom
there is such a dearth of primary physical sources. Pompey's
Pillar is the site of the only known physical evidence
of the core of discoveries journey. Carved into the stone
itself is W. Clark July twenty fifth, eighteen o six.

(31:46):
Noble Blood is a production of iHeartRadio and Grim and
Mild from Aaron Manky. Noble Blood is created and hosted
by me Dana Schwartz, with additional writing and researching by
Hannah Johnston, hannah's Wick, Mira Hayward, Courtney Sender, and Lori Goodman.
The show is edited and produced by Noemi Griffin and

(32:09):
rima Il Kahali, with supervising producer Josh Thain and executive
producers Aaron Manke, Alex Williams, and Matt Frederick. For more
podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or
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