Sakakawea - Charbonneau

Alan H. Hartley ahartley at
Mon Nov 8 22:10:34 UTC 2004

POMP  Clark’s nickname for Jean Baptiste, the son of Toussaint
CHARBONNEAU and SACAGAWEA, born February 11, 1805, at Fort Mandan.
It has been suggested that the name reflects the Shoshone word bambi
(sometimes written pampi) ‘head.’ This hypothesis is weakened, however,
by the fact that though modern Shoshone has -mb- in bambi, the dialect
encountered by Lewis and Clark had only  b  (written  p ): Clark’s
record of the Shoshone name for BEAVERHEAD ROCK, for instance, has pap,
not pamp, and he writes Year-pah for YAMPA. (Given that he writes pap
for the head of a beaver, it seems unlikely that Clark would in another
situation write Pomp for ‘head’ as a personal name.)

It seems more likely that Clark’s paternal feelings for Jean Baptiste
found expression in a paternalistic naming tradition of the Eastern
elite. Pompey, the name of a famous Roman general, was used as a pet
name in the Virginian English of the period: George Washington refers in
his diary to the little Spaniel dog Pompey (1768) and to a dark bay
horse with the same name (1787). Pompey, Pompy and Pomp were common
names for slaves and ex-slaves (usually blacks, but in one case at
least, an Indian) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, from
Georgia to New Hampshire. (There were other slave-names of Roman origin,
such as Cato and Scipio.) In the vernacular usage of Clark’s time, the
name Pompey no longer denoted the Roman military hero but was merely a
patronizing (if in this case affectionate) nickname given to one’s
social inferior.

Clark writes in a letter to Charbonneau, in which he also refers to Jean
Baptiste as “my boy Pomp” and “my little danceing boy Baptiest”:
if you wish to return to trade with the indians and will leave your
little Son Pomp with me, I will assist you [20 Aug 06  WC  in Jackson
Letters (ed. 2) 1.315]

Continuing in loco parentis in 1820, Clark charged the government
$16.37½ “for two quarters’ tuition of J. B. Charboneau, a half Indian
boy, and firewood and ink” and $1.50 for “one Roman history for the
boy,” besides numerous other educational and maintenance expenses (ASPIA
II. 291).

Clark may have named the prominent sandstone butte in central Montana
after Pompey’s Pillar, an 88-foot column of granite in Alexandria,
Egypt—which was actually dedicated in the third century AD to the Roman
emperor Diocletian, not to General Pompey. It seems reasonable to assume
in any case that he had Jean Baptiste in mind at the naming.
This rock which I shall Call Pompy’s Tower is 200 feet high and 400
paces in secumphrance [25 Jul 06  WC  8.225]

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