Born in February 1805, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition as an infant before becoming a fur trader, guide, alcalde, and then a hotel manager in California.
Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, son of Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau, accompanied his parents on Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s expedition for the Corps of Discovery. Although a small infant, he made the entire trek from North Dakota to the Pacific Coast and back to the Mandan Villages on the Knife River. After Sacagawea’s death in December 1812, William Clark legally adopted Jean-Baptiste and his little sister Lisette. Clark provided an education for the two children at a Catholic boarding school in St. Louis. This education opened up numerous opportunities for Jean-Baptiste throughout his life.
As an adult, Jean-Baptiste spent a substantial amount of time in Europe where he learned additional languages and skills. Returning to America, he joined the fur trade, working as a trapper with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. His extensive knowledge of the terrain enabled him to serve as a guide for explorers, as well as for the Mormon Battalion on their route from Leavenworth to San Diego in 1846 during the Mexican–American War.
While in California, Charbonneau worked as an alcalde (mayor), panned for gold, provided interpretation services, and operated a hotel in Auburn, California. After the American Civil War and toward the end of his life, Charbonneau worked odd jobs until he learned about gold and silver strikes in Idaho and Montana. On his way to the mining rushes he traveled through Danner, Oregon, but shortly after crossing the Jordan Creek and the Owyhee River, he fell ill (likely of pneumonia) and died at sixty-one years old. Oregonians memorialized Charbonneau by erecting and dedicating a plaque to him in Danner. His place of death is located just over the border of Oregon and is close to the Lemhi Shoshone Nation of Idaho, the likely birthplace of his mother, Sacagawea.