Just in case you don't know who he is, it's that papoose (little baby) that's on the present regular U.S. Dollar coin, on his Shoshone mother Sacagawea's back.
The life of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was an adventure to say the least. His mother Sacagawea was won in a card game by a Métis trapper who won her from some Ute Indians who had kidnapped her from her village and were going to sell her as a slave. It just happened that the Métis trapper and adventurer from Quebec City named Toussaint Charbonneau met these Indians and began to gamble with them. The Indians kept gambling with Charbonneau and had lost everything, and all they had left was the two Indian girls that they had kidnapped from a nearby Shoshone village, and this too they lost in their card game with Toussaint Charbonneau.
The Meriwether Lewis and William Clark Expedition was organized by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson who was instrumental in arranging the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleonic France in 1803, and was hiring people for the journey down the Mississippi River. Along came Toussaint Charbonneau and his slave Sacagawea the Shoshone Indian maiden and he offered their services to the expedition. Of course Toussaint Charbonneau had experience in trapping and hunting and could speak some Indian dialects, which would be of great help to the Lewis & Clark fact-finding expedition into the recently purchased Louisiana Territory.
And thus on August 24, 1805, Jean-Baptiste was born to Sacagawea the Shoshone Indian girl at a Mandan Village. Jean-Baptiste was baptized by Trappists Monks at St. Louis, Missouri, in December 1809. Of course Toussaint Charbonneau like most Metis did not care much for his son and wife Sacagawea and abandoned them, leaving his mother Sacagawea as his only guardian. Then Sacagawea got very ill and died in 1812. But then William Clark became the sole legal guardian of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau. Jean-Baptiste grew up under the guidance of Captain William Clark who was very fond of the boy, whom he called by the nicknamed Pom and educated him
Jean-Baptiste lived his life to the fullest and spoke English, Spanish French and Latin, besides many Indian dialects. He travelled all over North America including the Mexican State of California and went on to become the Alcalde (Mayor) of the Ciudad de San Luis Rey, California, Mexico, in November 1847. He continued to trade and trap all over the west for a long time and it was on one of these journeys that while crossing a river he got wet and contracted pneumonia and died at Danner, Oregon on May 16, 1866.
It is Sad to say that his father a typical Métis (Canadien) of that time did not want to feel responsible for his son Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau and abandoned him and his mother Sacagawea. But thanks to Captain William Clark his guardian and mentor that the abandoned boy Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau became a legend in his own right.
It only takes a responsible person to become a true American, but it does not take very much to be a Metis (Canadien), because they are devoid of any sense of responsibility even to their own kith and kin.
Thus Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of the Shoshone Indian Maiden Sacagawea and the Metis Toussaint Charbonneau conquered all the trials and tribulations that life threw at him to indeed one day become a real American Legend.
Kenneth T. Tellis