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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sacagawea’s Children in St Louis

In my previous blog, “What happened to Sacagawea’s children?” I said I would tell more of the story concerning the lives of Pompey and Lisette after they were adopted by William Clark in 1813. In this blog I will tell about their lives in St. Louis. Little Pompey (born February 11, 1805 at Fort Mandan) had been living in St Louis since 1809, staying with his parents on a farm in Florissant, Missouri (today a suburb of St. Louis). He was baptized at the St Louis Cathedral on December 28, 1809; with Auguste Chouteau, the most prominent citizen of St. Louis, serving as his godfather.

Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau returned to the Dakotas in 1811, traveling with Manuel Lisa’s expedition to Fort Manuel, located near the South Dakota-North border in today’s Kenel, SD. They left 6 year old Pompey (Jean-Baptiste) in the custody of William Clark who had promised to raise and educate him when he was old enough to leave his mother’s care.

In 1812, after the second war against Great Britain and its Indian allies began, Sacagawea gave birth to a baby girl, Lisette, at Fort Manuel. Tragically, the young mother died there, on December 20, 1812 of “putrid fever.” She was about 25 years old. A few weeks after her death, the fort was attacked by Indian allies of the British, and fifteen of the Missouri Fur Company men were killed. The remaining men retreated down river to St. Louis, stopping long enough to build Fort Lisa, north of today’s Omaha, Nebraska.

On August 11, 1813 the Orphan Court records of St. Louis show that John Luttig was appointed the guardian of Jean Baptiste and Lisette Charbonneau. Luttig, the company clerk of the Missouri Fur Company, was substituting for an absent William Clark, whose name later replaced Luttig’s on the document. At the time it was thought that their father, Toussaint Charbonneau, was also deceased, but this proved not to be true.

Two more records found

Bob Moore, the historian of the Jefferson National Memorial Expansion Arch at St. Louis, has discovered two more important records at the St. Louis Old Cathedral. He reported the discovery in a letter to We Proceeded On, the magazine of the Trail Heritage Foundation, in the issue published in February, 2005, on the 200th anniversary of Jean-Baptiste’s birth.

The first is a burial record from 1813: “The 30th of August 1813 by us assigned to hold burial in the cemetery of the parish of St Louis the body of a young female savage of the nation of serpents [Snakes/Shoshone] belonging to Mr. Charbonneau aged one year.”

The second is a burial record from 1832 for “Lisette, Sauvagess.” It reads “The year of J. C. [Jesus Christ] 1832 and the 16th of June I gave ecclesiastic burial to Lisette, female savage of the nation of snakes, aged twenty one years, administered the sacraments decided yesterday.”

The two records, taken together, make it seem very likely that the “other” Shoshone wife of Toussaint Charbonneau, Otter Woman, accompanied Sacagawea’s little baby, Lisette, down river to St Louis, and that she was also nursing a baby girl of her own. Otter Woman was a friend of Sacagawea’s. It was Otter Woman’s daughter, aged one year, who must have died in August, 1813. The early death of Lisette at age 21 explains why we know so little about her.

I like to think that Otter Woman remained in St Louis and took care of Lisette and was a second mother to Jean-Baptiste. Again, it seems very likely. Jean-Baptiste grew up to be a very distinguished and unique individual who retained his Indian heritage despite his education and his years of living among the European aristocracy. If he had been raised almost solely by whites, it is doubtful, he would have had such a secure Indian identity.

There was a third child from the Lewis and Clark Expedition who was living in St. Louis, Toussaint Jessaume. The Jessaume family was living in St. Louis with the Mandan Chief Sheheke and his family in 1807-09. They had all traveled together to the east coast and met President Jefferson in January, 1807 and were waiting for a safe passage back home. When the Jessaumes, Charbonneaus, and Sheheke and his family returned to the Mandan-Hidatsa villages in 1809, the 13 year old Toussaint chose to stay behind in St. Louis. On May 10, 1809 Meriwether Lewis signed apprentice papers for him, and took him into his own home, promising to raise and educate him at his own expense. It is not known what happened to Toussaint Jessaume after Lewis’s death on October 11, 1809. Perhaps his brother Reuben took him into his home.

In 1818, Bishop DuBourg opened the St. Louis Academy, and Jean-Baptiste and the Clark boys attended school there. The academy evolved into St. Louis University, which is proud to claim Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau as an alumni. Mother Phillippine Duchesne established a school at St Charles for girls and boys, the first free school west of the Mississippi River. Did Lisette attend this school, or the one in Florissant, where Mother Duchesne opened another school for Indian children? A search is being made of the records, and I will let you know the outcome in my next blog.

The Clarks had five young children, and Julia Clark who had been ill for some time with breast cancer, died on June 20, 1820. She and their children had often traveled to stay with Clark’s family in Louisville, Kentucky and her family in Fincastle, Virginia during her illness. It seems likely that Pompey and Lisette were living with Otter Woman. Pompey must have attended one of the small schools in the area, or been privately tutored when he was young. Pompey entered the fur trade, working for the Chouteaus, sometime between 1821-23. I will blog about that next, as his life was extremely interesting.

The best book about Sacagawea and Pomp is by Susan M. Colby, a Charbonneau descendant and anthropologist. It is called Sacagawea’s Child: The Life and Times of Jean-Baptiste (Pomp) Chabonneau (Arthur H. Clark Co., 2005). It is a featured book on my bookstore website, and costs $28.50. Here is a link to Amazon.

Posted by Kira Gale on 03/05/2008 at 02:42 PM

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