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Chapter 2


ABOUT A MONTH after Pomp was born, the winter chill gave way to the first warm breezes of spring. As the ice covering the Missouri River began to melt, Lewis, Clark, and their crew scrambled to prepare for their trip west. While they were gathering supplies and packing their boats, Charbonneau asked to sit down with the expedition leaders. He wanted to talk about his job with the explorers.

In the time since Lewis and Clark had hired him, Charbonneau had come to see just how valuable Sacagawea was to the expedition. The explorers would have to rely on her to persuade the Shoshone to provide them with the horses they needed to travel over land. Charbonneau decided to take advantage of the situation. He told the explorers that he and Sacagawea would come along only if he did not have to do any of the hard work required of the other men. Lewis and Clark angrily refused. They told him that if he wanted special treatment, they would have to find another interpreter. Pomp and his parents would have missed out on a great adventure if Charbonneau hadn’t asked for second meeting a week later. This time he agreed to do whatever the explorers asked of him.

On April 7, 1805, Pomp, Sacagawea, and Lewis and Clark’s crew of thirty-one men boarded six small canoes and two larger vessels called pirogues. In his journal, Meriwether Lewis wrote that the moment they started up the Missouri was “among the most happy of my life.” His excitement was no doubt shared by the others, with the exception of little Pomp. Riding aboard a pirogue, cradled tight in his mother’s arms, the baby had no idea that he was setting off on one of the greatest explorations in American history.

The excitement of the explorers soon faded as they faced the day-to-day difficulties of traveling up the Missouri. They had to move against the river’s current, which made rowing their boats an exhausting task. Sometimes the flow of the water was so strong that some of the men had to wade in the water and pull ropes attached to the boats to move them forward.

When the waters became rough, the river threatened their very lives. On May 14, the pirogue carrying Pomp’s family was filled with water when a sudden storm blew up. Charbonneau, who couldn’t swim, panicked. He flailed his arms and shouted for help. Luckily for Pomp, his mother remained calm. Holding her boy above the rising water, she managed to reach over the boat and grab precious supplies that were floating away. In his journal, Lewis praised Sacagawea for her quick-thinking, while complaining that Charbonneau was “the most timid waterman in the world.”

Less than a month later, a flood again nearly swept away a boat carrying Pomp, his parents, and Captain Clark. The baby was again saved by Sacagawea. Carrying her son in her arms, she grabbed Clark’s hand, and he pulled the two of them up a hill, safe from the raging river below. This time, many of their supplies were lost, including most of Pomp’s clothes.

Despite the hardships of the travel, Pomp must have had many pleasant moments on the trip. On stormless days, the flow of the water gently rocked him to sleep as he was held by his mother or by one of the burly crewmen. And at night, he peacefully dozed inside the large buffalo-skin tipi his family shared with Lewis and Clark.

Possibly his happiest moments were spent with his mother as she gathered wild plants for the crew to eat. With the sun warming his face, he watched as she searched the ground for onions and turnips or used a stick to dig up the nests of prairie mice to find wild artichokes hidden by the tiny animals. While Sacagawea did her work, she probably held him on her back in sling made from a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Living with the Hidatsa, she had seen other young mothers carry their babies in this way.

The journey was far more difficult for Sacagawea than for Pomp. Just a teenager, she began the trip still weak after Pomp’s difficult birth. Carrying her growing boy and constantly looking out for his welfare must have been a great burden—one that no other member of the crew had to bear. Ever impressed by the young woman’s stamina, Clark later wrote that she took on “with a patience truly admirable the fatigues of so long a route encumbered with the charge of an infant.”

Sacagawea earned even more respect from both Lewis and Clark during her dealings with the Shoshone. By late summer, the expedition finally reached the tribe’s lands in present-day Montana. The trip had taken four months, far longer than Lewis and Clark had hoped. Along the way, the explorers learned that they would have to travel by land over the Rockies—a huge mountain range that stood between them and the Pacific Ocean. They were desperate to cross as soon as possible. If much more time passed, the expedition might still be in the mountains as winter set in. If they were trapped in the Rockies when the snows began to fall, they would all surely die.

For weeks, the crew searched for the Shoshone. On August 13, Lewis and a few men riding ahead of the others finally came upon a large group of tribe members led by a chief named Cameahwait. With little success, Lewis tried to talk with Cameahwait through sign language while he waited for Clark and the rest of the expedition to meet up with them. Lewis was particularly eager to see Sacagawea. Talking to the young chief in his own language, she could ask the Shoshone not only to trade them horses, but also to give them much needed advice about the easiest way to cross the mountains.

When Sacagawea and the others finally arrived, the Shoshone gathered around them. Unlike many of the Indians the expedition met, the Shoshone had never before seen white people and wanted to get a better look. Seeing Sacagawea’s face, one young Shoshone woman in the crowd yelled out. She was Jumping Fish, an old friend of Sacagawea's. Jumping Fish got her name on the day Sacagawea was taken prisoner by the Hidatsa, because she jumped through a stream to escape. After more than five years apart, the two young women hugged one another and cried with happiness.

The explorers quickly organized a meeting with Cameahwait and asked Sacagawea to act as the translator. As she sat down with the men, she was struck by face of the young chief. He seemed oddly familiar to her. Slowly, she recognized the features of her brother, who had still been a boy when she’d last seen him. According to Lewis, Sacagawea “jumped up, ran & embraced him, & threw her blanket over him and cried profusely.” In his joy at being at last reunited with his sister, Cameahwait announced that he would do anything he could to help her companions.

Cameahwait also must have been excited to find out that he had a new baby nephew. Another Shoshone man, though, was far less thrilled to meet Pomp. He was the man who had wanted marry Sacagawea before she was captured and taken away from her people. Seeing Sacagawea’s handsome baby, he walked away sadly, giving up any chance of ever taking her as his wife.

As the expedition prepared to leave Shoshone territory, Cameahwait and Sacagawea’s friends begged her to stay behind and return to her tribe. But she said no and left with the explorers. Maybe she had lived away from her people for so long she didn’t feel like she still fit in. Maybe she had become so excited by the expedition that she wanted to see it to the end. Whatever her reasoning, her decision was a turning point in the life of little Pomp. If he had stayed among the Shoshone with his mother, he would likely have lived out his life among the tribe. Since chiefs inherited their positions, he would probably have become a distinguished Shoshone leader like his uncle Cameahwait.

With the Shoshone’s horses and guidance, the expedition survived the difficult trip across the Rockies. By late 1805, they reached what is now western Oregon. There they constructed a group of buildings they named Fort Clatsop, in which they could spend the winter. For many months, the weather was rainy, the sky was dark, and the crew grew bored. When they heard that a whale had washed up on the nearby Pacific coast, Clark announced that he and a few men were going to take a look.

When Sacagawea found out she wasn’t part of the group, she became furious. She reminded Clark how many hardships she’d suffer and how much help she’d given him with the Shoshone. If any one deserved to see the “monstrous fish” (as Clark called the whale), it was she. Clark agreed. Joining the expedition, she saw both the great whale and the ocean for the first time. Still too young to be without his mother, Pomp probably came along and played happily in the surf and the sand. More than forty years would pass before he saw the Pacific Ocean again.

In the spring of 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition prepared to set off once again. After journeying all the way to the Pacific, they were ready to turn around and head back home. Because they now knew the route to take, their return trip was much easier than the way out. Still, unexpected dangers plagued the group.

For Pomp, now a little more than a year old, the worst was a painful infection that made his neck swell and his throat sore. For several weeks, the journals of Lewis, Clark, and several other men were filled with notes on their efforts to heal the ailing boy with their homemade medicines. They placed soft boiled onions on Pomp’s neck to soothe his pain. They also tried rubbing on the swollen areas a paste made of pine tree resin, beeswax, and bear oil. It’s unknown whether their medicines did the trick, but strong little Pomp quickly recovered.

As the men’s concern over Pomp showed, he had become in their eyes far more than just Sacagawea’s baby. They now considered him a full-fledged member of their crew—one whom they had to come to love for his happy and playful nature. Perhaps looking at Pomp, the men saw their own children and other loved ones they missed after more than a year in the wilderness.

Of all the crew, William Clark seemed most taken with Pomp. He wrote about the boy frequently and gave him his nickname. Clark also honored Pomp by naming what Clark called “a remarkable rock” after him. While traveling on the Yellowstone River in what is now Montana, he dubbed a high sandstone structure "Pompy’s Tower." Rising 120 feet in the air, the rock overlooked a beautiful plain where wild buffalo, elk, and wolves roamed. Across the river was a wide clear-watered brook, which Clark named Baptiste’s Creek, also after his young friend.

A few weeks later, the expedition reached the Mandan Indian village where Pomp had been born eighteen months earlier. There, the boy’s adventure with the explorers came to an end. Charbonneau wanted his family to stay among the Mandan, where he could resume his career as a fur trader. As the explorers prepared to continue on to St. Louis, they said heartfelt good-byes to Charbonneau and Sacagawea. But they were perhaps most saddened by leaving Pomp—the happy little boy they had come to treasure like one of their own.

Learn about Pomp's adventures in Europe in
Chapter 3: Seeing the World

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© 2000 Liz Sonneborn. All Rights Reserved.