Across the Endless River

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From the acclaimed bestselling author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, a historical novel about Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea, and his intriguing sojourn as a young man in 1820s Paris.

Born in 1805 on the Lewis and Clark expedition, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was the son of the expedition's translators, Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau. Across the Endless River compellingly portrays this mixed-blood child's mysterious boyhood along the Missouri among the ...

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From the acclaimed bestselling author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, a historical novel about Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea, and his intriguing sojourn as a young man in 1820s Paris.

Born in 1805 on the Lewis and Clark expedition, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was the son of the expedition's translators, Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau. Across the Endless River compellingly portrays this mixed-blood child's mysterious boyhood along the Missouri among the Mandan tribe and his youth as William Clark's ward in St. Louis. The novel becomes a haunting exploration of identity and passion as eighteen-year-old Baptiste is invited to cross the Atlantic in 1823 with young Duke Paul of Württemberg.

During their travels throughout Europe, Paul introduces Baptiste to a world he never imagined. Gradually, Baptiste senses the limitations of life as an outsider. His passionate affair with Paul's older cousin helps him understand the richness of his heritage and the need to fashion his own future. But it is Maura, the beautiful and independent daughter of a French-Irish wine merchant Baptiste meets in Paris, who most influences his ultimate decision to return to the frontier.

Rich in the details of life in both frontier America and the European court, Across the Endless River is a captivating novel about a man at the intersection of cultures, languages, and customs.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

“Captivating.” —New York Times

“Carhart writes with a sensuousness enhanced by patience and grounded by the humble acquisition of new insight into music, his childhood, and his relationship to the city of Paris.” —The New Yorker

Publishers Weekly
Carhart follows The Piano Shop on the Left Bank with an uneven historical about the divide between the rugged frontiers of the New World and the court intrigues of Europe. Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, son of Sacagawea, acts as a guide for natural scientist Paul Wilhelm of Württemberg. Impressed by Baptiste's knowledge, Paul invites him to travel to Europe and assist him in cataloguing his North American treasures, beginning a five-year adventure that will see Baptiste “change in ways he could not imagine.” In Europe, Baptiste visits noble homes and palaces, attends lavish balls and beds charming women. He ambles through a Parisian market, taking in “its pungent smells and the high, piercing cries from the sellers” and later joins the French gentry on a civilized hunt. It's all marvelously captured, and though Carhart can be less than subtle with some of the race politics, the biggest problem with this finely crafted milieu is that Baptiste's survey of Europe feels more like a prelude than a plot. The imagery is stirring, but the story isn't. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Carhart, author of the best-selling nonfiction Piano Shop on the Left Bank, revisits the coming of age of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau, translators for Lewis and Clark. Born in the wilderness in 1805, Baptiste spends much of his childhood in St. Louis with William Clark but also stays in a Mandan village for part of each year, struggling to come to terms with his divided identity. At 18, he is invited to Europe by a young nobleman to assist with preparations for a book on the natural history of the American frontier. Despite the change in setting, the novel continues to explore themes of dual identity, particularly through Baptiste's affairs with two different women, themselves outsiders from conventional society. Most of what drama there is revolves around whether Baptiste will return to America and with whom. VERDICT The list of novels chronicling the Lewis and Clark expedition is long, but few (with the exception of Colin Sargent's Museum of Human Beings) have focused on Baptiste's story, and Carhart provides a fresh perspective. Fans of historical fiction with a romantic story line, such as the novels of Anya Seton, should enjoy this.—Douglas Southard, CRA International, Boston
Kirkus Reviews
Nonfiction author Carhart (The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, 2001) turns to bio-fiction in a description-heavy historical based on real people and events. The son of Shoshone pathfinder Sacagawea and a French trapper, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau (1805-66) led a remarkable life spanning many cultures and languages, although he belonged to none. As a baby he traveled with his parents in Lewis and Clark's expedition to the Pacific coast. In Carhart's fictional rendering, Clark's interest in the boy leads to a childhood divided between two worlds: school in St. Louis and a tribal village. Jean-Baptiste's linguistic abilities are phenomenal, and he makes such an impression on visiting collector Duke Paul of Wurttemberg that he is invited to Europe. Notably sensitive to issues of class and politics, Jean-Baptiste is soon mixing with Parisian society; he is dazzled by the city and soon falls under the spell of Irishwoman Maura Hennesy. Although gracefully done, the novel reads more like a historical and social gazetteer than fiction. Scientific enquiry, landscapes, politics and manners predominate, often via such cinematic set pieces as a hunt, a ball or a musical soiree with Schubert; extracts from journals and letters round out the data. After five years of travel and an affair with Duke Paul's cousin, Jean-Baptiste is ready to return to America, with Maura at his side. Sensitively compares and contrasts the Old World with the New, but could have done with more plotting and characterization.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385529778
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

A dual citizen of Ireland and the United States, THAD CARHART lives in Paris with his wife, the photographer Simo Neri, and their two children.
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Read an Excerpt

One February 11, 1805
On the banks of the Missouri, 1,200 miles upriver from St. Louis All afternoon her cries could be heard throughout the small wooden enclosure they called Fort Mandan, winter quarters for the expedition across the river from one of the tribe's villages. Two rows of huts faced each other at an oblique angle within the stockade,
and from one of these the guttural shrieks emerged with a grim regularity.
In and around the other huts the men kept to their business—
skinning game, cutting wood, cleaning guns—but each flinched inwardly when the next cry reached his ears.
"It's her first," René Jesseaume said as he ground an ax blade on a whetstone inside his hut. "She can't be more than fifteen; it's no wonder she has been at it for so long."
"All you can do is wait," said the young soldier across from him,
shaking his head. He continued to dress the elk meat they had hunted two days before.
"Maybe," Jesseaume said. He put down the ax, oiled the stone, and let himself out into the biting cold.
He crossed the central space enclosed by the palisade. On the river side the American flag snapped fiercely on its pole above the roughhewn gatehouse, its edges already frayed. Hunched against the bitter cold wind, he approached the door to the captains' quarters opposite his hut. As he prepared to knock, the door opened and Charbonneau,
the squaw's husband, emerged in a daze. His eyes were rheumy, his look distracted; he passed Jesseaume without appearing to see him.
Jesseaume knocked lightly on the half-open door and let himself in to the close confines of the room.
Captain Lewis looked up from where he sat by a low pallet covered with a buffalo robe. His features were worn. The young woman lay beneath a woven blanket, her face turned away from the candle at Lewis's side. Lewis began to say something but the woman cried out suddenly, a long howl that paralyzed both men before it tapered off in a whimper. Jesseaume approached and knelt by Lewis's side.
"Captain, my wife' s tribe has a potion in such cases where the labor is long and difficult." Lewis nodded for him to continue. "They crush the tail of a rattler, mix it with water, and have the woman drink it. I have never seen it fail."
At length Lewis said, "I have given her as much tincture of laudanum as I dare. I don't suppose the Mandan remedy you propose can keep nature from taking its course."
He rose and walked to the other side of the hut, its interior dank with the smell of sweat, blood, and wood smoke. On one wall a profusion of pelts, tails, snakeskins, and bones hung on the rough timber.
He produced a knife from his pocket and snipped the rattles from the tip of a snakeskin. Then, setting his cup on an adjacent plank, he ladled out a quarter measure of water and returned to where Jesseaume crouched beside the woman.
"Will this serve?"
"Very well, Captain. I thank you."
Jesseaume neatly snapped two of the rattles from the tail, dropped them into the water, and broke them into tiny pieces, using his thumbnail as a mortar to the tin cup's pestle. Kneeling low to the pallet, he raised the young woman's sweat-drenched head in one hand and whispered in her ear in Mandan, "New Mother, the power of the snake will tell your body how to work. Drink this, and let the snake show your baby the way out." He held the cup to her lips then, and she raised her head to drink it, her matted hair stretched across her mouth. Gently,
he pulled the strands clear and she drank the cloudy liquid, slowly at first, then in one long swallow. She lay down as if the effort of drinking was a new source of exhaustion. A short while later her body contracted,
her knees rose to her chest, and she let out a shriek.
Lewis said, "I am going out for a short while. I fear our vigil may yet be long."
"It may, Captain," Jesseaume whispered. "But in case it is not, could you ask my wife to attend? She is at the gatehouse with Black Moccasin and his squaws."
A quarter of an hour later the girl they called the Bird Woman,
Sacagawea, brought forth a fine and healthy boy. Charbonneau was found dozing in one of the soldiers' huts. He returned, tearful and smiling, and cradled the infant, wrapped in a blanket of fox fur, as he announced proudly to all, "We will name him Jean- Baptiste, like my grandfather."
His father called him Baptiste, but his mother called him Pompy, "Little Chief," the Shoshone name she chose to honor the tribe into which she had been born. Her knowledge of the Shoshone language was the reason Charbonneau had been hired as an interpreter for the expedition,
after all. He didn't speak it, but her girlhood had been spent with the Shoshone, the Snake tribe, at the foot of the Great Stony Mountains to the west. They were the only tribe in the area with horses to trade, and the captains and their men would need horses to cross the mountains on their way west. She would be the go- between when they left the river and started to climb.
As she lay with her newborn and suckled him in those first few days, she thought of the new paths that lay ahead for her and her baby,
one of which might lead to the place where she had been born. Four summers earlier she and three other Shoshone girls had been carried off during the seasonal buffalo hunt by a Hidatsa raiding party. They were after horses and young women, in that order of importance, and after killing several hunters and their squaws, including her parents,
they galloped off with Sacagawea and the others tied to their mounts.
They rode eastward for many days, through land that was different from anything Sacagawea had seen, broad and open, with swift rivers cut into the ground and tall grasslands in every direction. When they reached the Hidatsa and Mandan villages on the river they called the Knife, she had not seen mountains for a long time. She knew that her kinsmen could never rescue her from this powerful tribe so far away from their lands. She wondered if she could live the life that had now become hers.
In a dream her bird spirit came to her and pecked at her tongue,
sharp and insistent, and she woke with the taste of blood on her teeth.
Sacagawea must speak with a new tongue, the bird told her. She clutched the small obsidian figure her mother had placed in her medicine bundle, a tiny bird, all that was left to her from her first life. "I must do this," she said, over and over, in those first months of captivity.
"I must do this."
Gradually she met other girls who had been stolen from their tribes in that summer when all followed the herds: a pair of Assiniboin sisters,
several Crow and Gros Ventre, even a Nez Percé girl from across the Stony Mountains who wept for weeks until the brave who had captured her beat her into a watchful silence. Each of the Mandan and Hidatsa villages was far bigger than any Shoshone encampment she had known, with thirty or forty large earth-and- timber lodges grouped around a central clearing. Both tribes kept extensive fields of corn,
squash, and beans. It was a dark time, a time of silences when Sacagawea understood almost nothing of the new language she would have to learn, but she noticed right away something that set these people apart from the Shoshone: no one went hungry. As large as the villages were, there was food for all.
She held Pompy close and looked in his eyes, gray-blue like his father's,
and thought, You are the only thing I can truly call my own, little one. Soon we will leave this place and you will have neither tribe nor village.
You and I will be part of this band of wanderers, headed to the far edge of the land, to the place the Shoshone call The Big Lake That Smells Bad. The Pacific, the captains name it. So begins your first life, on rivers and trails. Will it always be so?
Two months after she gave birth, Sacagawea set off up the river as part of the Corps of Discovery together with Charbonneau and her infant,
strapped to her back on the cradleboard she had fashioned at Fort Mandan. Its cedar slats gave forth an aroma that pleased her with its sweetness. She felt like a mother.
There were better men than Charbonneau, she knew, but far more who were worse. A year after they were taken, he had bought Sacagawea and another Shoshone girl from the Hidatsa warrior who had captured them. They became Charbonneau's squaws, maintaining a lodge for him in the Mandan village and sharing in the women's work of the tribe. He took his pleasure with them by turns, sometimes for long hours, but never roughly like the warrior from whom she had learned what it was to lose one's body. Over time she came to accept his ways, but she was often glad that Otter Woman was there, too,
when it suited Charbonneau.
She was jealously protective of her right to accompany Charbonneau on some of his trading trips along the river. He didn't often take her, but when he did she felt more alive than at any other time, delighting in the departure from her routine chores in the village and keen to see what the world looked like elsewhere. She worked doubly hard to be sure he knew her worth, gathering firewood, cleaning the trade goods, brushing the pelts, cooking his food. The presence of a woman, she knew, was by itself a message that men of all tribes understood:
no fighting was intended. She took pride in her role as the companion of the white trader, a free agent who could pass from tribe to tribe without causing alarm.
In this, she realized that Charbonneau possessed a quality that the French voyageurs often showed but that was rare among the American and British traders: he was persistent, and infinitely patient. When, in the heat of negotiations over furs or beads, horses or guns, the chiefs would use hard language and refuse to be moved, more often than not Charbonneau knew what words to use to veer away from an ending, to hear "maybe" when the chiefs had said "no." He was like water in a stream, finding its way around a boulder, and then another and an-
other, mindful that suppleness was more useful than speed, keeping the talk going until everyone had something he wanted. He was sometimes criticized for it by other whites, usually the English. Even the captains had called him "unreliable" or "unprincipled" at times because he would not confront an adversary directly. But his ways were more like Indian ways, and the proof of his effectiveness was that he continued to be welcome where the path had been closed to other whites by many tribes. He was three times Sacagawea's age when Pompy was born, a man who had seen more than forty-five winters.
She knew that despite his faults he was far more likely to see many more than some of his rash counterparts, who believed that confrontation and strength were the best way of dealing with the tribes.
June 16, 1805
Below the Great Falls of the Missouri
"If we lose her, the baby dies, too."
"I know it," Lewis said grimly. "He is not even close to being weaned, and he would not last a day on what we eat." He looked at Clark and gave voice to the thought that passed between them. "So we must do all we can to make sure she lives." What was foremost in their minds remained unsaid: if Sacagawea died, the negotiations with the Shoshone for horses would be impossible. The Shoshone had had almost no contact with white men. No one else spoke a word of their language, and without horses the party would not be able to cross the mountains. The expedition would fail.
Lewis continued his examination. Sacagawea lay on a deer skin in the tepee under a light blanket, her breathing labored and irregular,
her skin hot to the touch. One of her arms twitched convulsively. She grimaced as a wave of pain passed through her belly, an unfocused stare in her half-open eyes.
"She won't bear being bled again," Lewis murmured, "but if we can cause her to perspire, I think the fever may yet subside. I propose to continue the bark poultice you commenced. I should also like her to take some water from the sulfur springs we passed on the opposite bank. Drouillard can fetch some this afternoon." His face was drawn,
his mounting concern apparent. "Perhaps you could tell Charbonneau to occupy himself with the child while I change the poultice."
"I can watch the boy," Clark answered quickly, moving to lift the baby from where he lay in the crook of his mother's arm. The infant started to fuss as Clark lifted him gently, and the captain held him close to his chest, looking down into the clear eyes that were inquisitive and somber.
"Come now, Pomp, come to Captain Clark and be a good boy. Captain Lewis will help your mama feel better," he cooed, swaying lightly as he stepped away from Sacagawea's prostrate body, his hair the color of a fox pelt standing up from his forehead.
Sacagawea's menstrual flow seemed to be blocked, causing pain throughout her pelvic region. While Clark talked to the infant in soothing tones, Lewis set to work assembling his meager supplies on a piece of elk hide spread open on the ground. He poured warm water from the kettle into a shallow tin basin and tore several strips from a length of clean linen. He then removed the blanket and cautiously raised her knees, spreading her legs as he did so. Lifting away the darkened mass that lay at the opening of her vulva, he wetted a strip of cloth and carefully bathed the entire area with a steady hand. He fashioned the new poultice as he kneeled at her side, placing three small pieces of Peruvian bark on a clean strip of linen and rolling it into a soft cylinder. Onto its surface he sprinkled twenty drops of laudanum,
the tincture of opium whose small bottle was counted among the most precious medicines in the rudimentary apothecary he had assembled for the expedition. Satisfied that her inner thighs had dried sufficiently after his cleansing, he inserted the poultice and slowly lowered her knees, covering her body once again with the blanket. When Drouillard returned with a canteen of sulfur water, Lewis urged her to take small sips until she had downed two cupfuls.
That evening when he felt for her pulse as she slept, at her wrist and again at her neck, it beat strong and regular to his touch. Her face was covered with tiny beads of perspiration and her skin was not as hot as before. The tremors in her arm had stopped, and her face no longer bore the mask of pain that had covered it for days. When he withdrew his hand she opened her eyes and looked into his, and put her hand on his fingers. Neither spoke the other's language but all was understood in that long moment. I will live and Pompy will live, she told him with her eyes, and it is your doing. Your spirit is strong.
August 17, 1805
At the head of the Jefferson River Four months after they left the Mandan villages, the party of thirtyone men, one woman, and a baby boy reached the land of the Shoshone, among the first hills of the great mountain range that stood between them and the western ocean. To cross those mountains—the Great Stonies, the Rockies, the Bitterroots—they would need to trade for this tribe's horses.
"You talk to your people in Shoshone, then tell me in Mandan,"
Charbonneau said to Sacagawea as they approached the Three Forks area early in the morning with Captain Clark's group of men. They hoped to rendezvous with Lewis, who had gone ahead to join the Shoshone. "Then I'll tell Labiche in French and he can speak English to the captains." She agreed. Even compared to the parleys among several tribes, this was a complicated arrangement, but it was the only one they had. She was in a dream, she felt, seeing on this voyage, as if for the first time, lands that she recognized, places she had known as a girl. Who would be left from that time? What would they make of her?
What if they could not find her tribe?
They had not walked more than a mile when they saw several Indians on horseback coming in their direction. Sacagawea and Charbonneau walked slightly ahead of the others, and suddenly Sacagawea threw up her arms and let out a wail of joy, circling Charbonneau with little dancing steps as she looked from the mounted Indians back to Clark and the rest of the party. These are my people! she signed again and again to Clark, and he understood at once. She ran to the approaching group and addressed one of the braves in Shoshone, and he confirmed that he was a member of her childhood clan. Accompanying them was one of Lewis's men, who explained that the others were less than a mile distant. The Indians sang all the way to the nearby camp,
joined at times by Sacagawea whose red- painted cheeks glistened with tears.
That afternoon Lewis had the men stretch one of the large sails overhead as a shield from the sun, and robes were spread out beneath it so that he, Clark, and the principal Shoshone chief, Cameahwait,
could confer and negotiate for horses. By now they had parleyed with the chiefs of several tribes and they prepared the setting for these talks with care. It was important that a sense of hierarchy prevail, that they be seen as chiefs from the great nation whose distant father had set them on their path. The three men smoked a pipe and made the formal statements of respect and good will necessary before any bargaining could begin. The chain of languages took time—Shoshone to Mandan to French to English, and back again—but all was going well,
both captains agreed, in the first part of this negotiation that had to be successful.
Suddenly Sacagawea rose up from her place, ran to where Cameahwait was seated between Clark and Lewis, and threw her blanket over his shoulders, wailing his name repeatedly as she embraced him. Although his formal mien and the chief ' s ceremonial headdress of otter fur and eagle feathers had masked his features, she had finally recognized him. It was like the way one of the small mirrors the captains offered as gifts—things like solid water—dazzled the eye with sunlight,
and in the next instant showed you your face. He was her brother.
The captains offered coats, leggings, ax heads, knives, tobacco, and the usual mix of minor trade goods that often sealed the bargain:
beads, flints, handkerchiefs, and the like. Cameahwait was presented with a medal bearing the likeness of President Jefferson who, he was told, was now the Great Father to him and his people. On its reverse,
Clark pointed out as he placed it around the chief 's neck, the clasped hands of an Indian and a white man stood out in relief beneath a crossed pipe and tomahawk. Around these symbols were inscribed the words "Peace and Friendship." In return the Shoshone provided twenty-nine horses, all they would need.
During the several days of preparation for the trek across the mountains,
Sacagawea discovered that she was a curiosity to her tribe, a go-
between whom they asked to explain the white man to them. Why did they have fur on their faces? Was the one they called York from the spirit world, with his curling hair and skin the color of a beaver? They wondered if Lewis's huge black dog was a kind of bear cub, they wondered how the rifles and the air gun threw their power to any far place.
And they asked about Pompy: why did he have his mother's hair and skin, but eyes the color of the evening sky?
When she was alone in the tepee with her baby, she thought about all their questions and her attempts to explain. They have not seen what I have seen. How can I tell them? The joy of her return to the people she had grown up with was tempered by a new awareness. These are my people, but this is not my home anymore. Charbonneau was French,
she told herself, but he lived with the tribes and on the river more than he did with his people. So did René Jesseaume and Georges Drouillard.
They were whites who didn't live like other whites. It was a path they had chosen or, rather, two paths that made them something else.
I have two paths also, she thought. I am Shoshone and not- Shoshone,
Mandan and not- Mandan. And I travel with a voyageur. This is my life.
The day before the departure, when all was ready, Clark took her and Charbonneau aside in the camp. He looked into her eyes and said,
"Cameahwait wants you to spend the winter with your people while we cross the mountains to the Pacific. It would be safer for you and your baby."
She waited for Charbonneau to interpret Clark's statement into Mandan, but she had understood its sense. Without hesitating she said in English, "We go." She held Pompy in her arms and said the words in Mandan that came without thinking. "We will go across the mountains and back. Our path is with you."
January 8, 1806
Fort Clatsop In November the Corps of Discovery descended the Columbia River and reached the Pacific Ocean, completing the outward-bound leg of Jefferson's enterprise. They spent some weeks along the river's estuary,
battered in their makeshift camps by perpetual winter storms. In early December they chose a sheltered cove and built a winter camp, Fort Clatsop, where they would wait for spring before beginning the return journey. Most of the men visited the coastal beaches on hunting parties or to collect salt, but by January Sacagawea had not yet been to the ocean's edge. One evening in that first week of the new year, Captain Clark entered the hut where Charbonneau, Sacagawea, and Pompy were quartered.
"A group of Tillamook report a whale has washed up onto the beach south of our salt camp," he told Charbonneau. "Tomorrow I want you to go with me and ten other men to see what meat and oil we might take from the carcass." Understanding part of what was said, Sacagawea pressed Charbonneau for details. Clark turned to leave but she put her hand on his elbow and spoke rapidly, her eyes wide with anger and impatience.
"She says she has traveled very far to see the Great Waters; she has walked as swiftly as the others and carried her baby without complaint,"
Charbonneau told Clark, surprised at the forcefulness of her words. "Now there is a huge fish lying on the very edge of the ocean. It is unlike you, Captain, to keep her from seeing either. She would take it hard."
Clark met Sacagawea's imploring gaze, which was full of indignant dismay. "Very well," he said. "Tell her to be ready to go with us at dawn."
When they reached the low sand flat where the whale had been beached, they found not a carcass but a skeleton. The whale had been stripped bare by the Tillamook, the structure of its bones intact on the muddy inlet, but all the blubber, skin, and oil already taken away.
Clark overcame his initial disappointment and set to measuring the animal's remains. "One hundred and five feet in length," he announced with awe. He wrote all the numbers in his book, as he always did. "It is so that the animals and plants we see can tell their story to others," he explained to Sacagawea through Charbonneau. Then he set out on foot to the nearby village to see if he could buy some blubber or oil.
Sacagawea stayed on the wide beach with Pompy and looked out upon the water, constantly rolling toward her in blue and black waves streaked with white, like an endless storm on the river. Some called it The Big Lake That Smells Bad, others The Great Waters or the River Without Banks, but to Sacagawea it was more like the sky: you could stand at its edge and look at it, but you could never cross it. Before the others returned she held Pompy in her arms and stood upright between the whale's ribs, as one might stand in a sizeable room. She talked to her child as she nuzzled and kissed him, turning this way and that so his wide eyes could see what surprising creatures sometimes emerged from the belly of the earth.
June 30, 1806
They were over the mountains. The Bitterroots had still been covered with snow, but on the return they had Nez Percé guides and never lost their way. Their horses had grass on every day but one of the six it took to get across. Now they were camped at the place the captains called Traveler's Rest, a valley on the eastern slope that afforded the party plentiful game in a series of grass- covered meadows along the mountain stream.
We will live, Sacagawea allowed herself to think. I have not been the cause of my baby's death. After this voyage we will return to the Mandan and make our lives on the river with Charbonneau. She knew that perils still lay ahead—dangerous rapids, unseasonable storms, hostile Indian raiding parties—but the mountains had threatened them more than anything else, and the fear had been lifted from their shoulders like a heavy burden that had fallen away. Even the captains allowed themselves to smile and walked with a light step.
The evening of their second day there, the warmth of the sun stayed in the valley until dusk, and the men made a fire by the stream. They sat along the banks and lay on the grass, talking and arguing in an easygoing way. Captain Clark stood with Pompy at the water's edge, a shallow stretch of back current with a gravel bottom. He was a robust baby, almost seventeen months old, despite all the ordeals of the expedition.
He stood facing the small river, holding each of Clark's massive thumbs for support, and ventured into the water, where he stamped his feet in delight.
Cruzatte had begun to play his fiddle, one of the old Breton tunes the men favored, and Pomp stamped half- rhythmically to the music.
He gave forth little squeals, surprised and pleased at the explosions of wetness that his feet made upon the captain's leggings. It turned into a dance as Clark lifted his feet and turned the boy back and forth. Seaman,
Clark's good- natured Newfoundland, barked and wagged his tail, striding into the water to join in the fun. Everyone laughed, Clark most heartily of all, and Sacagawea saw that more than one man had to turn away to hide moist eyes. The winter had been wet, cold, and cheerless, and they were still far away from home, but for the first time they could taste the end of the voyage. This vision of the child's joy in the surrounding warmth of others made each man conjure a memory of his family. They needed to be among their own: sweethearts and siblings, parents and elders. Each one missed his home most sharply that night.
August 14, 1806
They reached the Mandan villages in the late afternoon, coming down the river like boatloads of visitors appearing from the spirit world. It seemed impossible to the Indians that all those who had set off sixteen months before in search of a route to the Great Waters had reached their goal and returned safely, including the squaw and her newborn.
It gave her and her voyageur husband a new status in the eyes of the Mandan, and everyone agreed that the boy was destined to lead. "In his first year he has been where none of us has been," the Mandan chief Black Cat announced when the captains smoked a pipe to mark the reunion. "His spirit has breathed in the trail to the west, and we will learn from it."
The news from the tribes was not good. While they had been gone,
the Arikara had attacked white traders as well as Mandan and Hidatsa canoes below the villages, making any travel south along the river extremely hazardous. The Sioux, too, were acting warlike, and several bands had raided the Mandan and Hidatsa lodges. Anxious to return to St. Louis and to get news of the expedition's successful conclusion to President Jefferson, the captains assured the Mandan of their support.
They convinced the Mandan chief Sheheke to accompany them downriver and then continue to Washington to visit the Great Father,
the better to make known his people's grievances against the Arikara and the Sioux.
Two days later the captains said their goodbyes and prepared to leave. Charbonneau and Sacagawea had decided to remain with Pompy in the Mandan villages, promising to journey to St. Louis when river travel was safer. Lewis was ailing and gave a feeble handshake from the makeshift litter on which he lay. As the last of the canoes was being loaded, Clark drew the couple and their son to one side at the river's edge.
"Do not forget, Toussaint Charbonneau, my pledge to you: bring your darling boy to me in St. Louis and I will raise him as my own and see to his proper education." He shook Charbonneau's hand and turned to Sacagawea, who held Pompy close. During their sixteen months together on the trail, Clark had formed a strong attachment to the baby. "Let him learn the white man's ways," he said to her, pleading with his eyes. His hand reached out and stroked the boy's hair lightly, then he strode away quickly and the boats shoved off.
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Reading Group Guide

1. The first part of Across the Endless River is called “Two Paths.” What do you think this initially refers to and how does this designation come to gain significance throughout the narrative?

2. When Baptiste and Duke Paul first arrive in Paris, Baptiste sees things he had never before imagined. What strikes him as impressive or interesting? As his travels continue, does Baptiste’s wonder about these new experiences remain?

3. Baptiste first meets Maura at a ball in Paris. How is she different from other young women of her time? What choices does she face, both professionally and personally? How do these compare to the choices Baptiste confronts?

4. After his mother’s death, Baptiste is left without a true paternal presence– “Everyone claimed to be his father: Charbonneau, Clark, Chouteau, Limping Bear, President Jefferson, Jesus himself.” How does this lack of a traditional father figure shape Baptiste?

5. In Baptiste’s travels, we witness both a buffalo hunt with the Pawnee tribe along the Missouri River basin as well as a stag hunt in a forest in France. What differences strike you about the two ways of hunting animals in the 1820s? What does this tell us about the choices facing those living in such different worlds?

6. Baptiste gradually feels that he lives “in between” two different worlds–without being wholly part of either. Why does he feel this way? Are there present-day situations that give rise to this sense of being on the edge of two languages, cultures, and sets of customs?

7. In Paris, Baptiste, Duke Paul, and Professor Picard visit Georges Cuvier at the Muséum D’Histoire naturelle. While looking at the collection of animal skeletons there, Baptiste is entranced by the bones of a whale. Why is this skeleton so impressive to him? What resonance does it have with his past?

8. How does Baptiste come to think of the frontier during his time in Europe? What particular features– geographic or cultural–does he most miss?

9. In discussing the importance of marriage among European aristocrats, Theresa tells Baptiste, “Compromising with power to protect their interests is something women do every day of their lives. Never forget that, Baptiste.” Where do we see examples of this in the lives of the women in the book?

10. In a letter to Maura, Baptiste refers to something her father had said: “For those of us who live on the edges of different worlds, history has wounded us and love must save us.” How would you interpret this in terms of the book’s principal characters?

11. Explain the significance of letter/journal writing in the book. It is through journal writing that we really get a taste of Duke Paul’s perspective. What do we learn about Baptiste through Duke Paul’s writings? What do we discover about Baptiste’s feelings about being abroad through his letters to Captain Clark? How do we see Maura and Baptiste’s relationship grow through their written correspondence?

12. How does Baptiste’s early bond with his mother prepare him for his future romantic relationships? What does Theresa offer Baptiste that Maura does not and vice versa?

13. What in Maura’s past prepares her for life in America? Is her notion of becoming a wine merchant on the frontier realistic? Would her choice be yours?

14. Baptiste carries a small carved stone bird in his pocket. What is the significance of this piece to him? What does it represent?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Sacagawea's son comes up age in the early 1800's across 3 cultures

    Across the Great River by Thad Carhart ISBN 978-0-385-52977-8 Published by Doubleday, September 2, 2009. ( ($26.95 USD SRP/Amazon $17.79 USD) Reviewer received book from FSB Associates, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920
    Review by Chris Phillips
    The great exploration of the wild Western frontier by Lewis and Clark is part of every person's schooling. Their trip opened up the West to expansion. There are many legends and stories from this expedition but here is one that is unique. Carhart takes the historical facts: Toussaint Charbonneau and Sacagawea had a child. Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was that child. He took part in the expedition on his mother's back. Upon the expedition's end, he was warded with Clark to further his education and spent summers with the tribes. Carhart provides those details in the first few chapters of the book, but upon Pompy's (Jean-Baptiste's Native name) decision to travel to Europe as the companion and interpreter for Duke Paul of Wurttemberg, his life never remained the same.
    Carhart fills-in the 5 years (1823 - 1828) that Baptiste spent in Europe with all the intrigues and machinations of European royalty. Baptiste is definitely a "stranger in a strange land" and often struggles with being an oddity, and then being ignored. This is an adventure tale, but more a story of coming of age for a man split between three cultures but not fully part of any. He is denied acceptance among the Mandan because he is too "white." He can only be accepted as a well behaved "half-breed" in the American culture of St. Louis. And then, throughout most of the book, he is almost a trophy to be brought-out and shown-off for entertainment purposes in Europe.
    He finds his own way through all this. He develops intimate relationships with two women, Princess Theresa, Paul's older cousin and with Maura Hennesy, a wine mechant's daughter. But even then his plurality makes it difficult for him to be more than a dalliance to one and a long distance friend to the other. There are trials and tribulations throughout, but none seem to rest on Baptiste's shoulders for long. Usually they are taken care of by others in some way. The one character flaw in Baptiste's personality is that of watching the world go by while not knowing where he fits.
    Carhart handles all the characters and develops them faithfully and fully. He takes the time to let this reader know that these are real people with real problems and real lives. He handles plot twists as they would be in real life. Baptiste's father's alcoholism, Clark's high idealism and the rose-tinted glasses ideas of Europeans about America, the West and most particularly "Indians." Throughout the book there are times when the senses are almost overwhelmed with the images that are described. At others, the frustrations and stress of always being in the background are portrayed faithfully.
    The plot is well-developed while maintaining integrity to history. When fictionalized there is continuity and connection with the separate plots. The emotional interaction is true to what history states about European royalty and its power during this time. Historical depiction of the various power struggles is well-grounded, but left in the background as it would be for someone from another culture.
    The production of the book is professional and consistent. This reviewer can heartily recommend this book for any and all readers.

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  • Posted November 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting Historical

    In Indian culture, the ocean was called "the endless river" as no one ever sailed across it. Thad Carhart explores the life of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, who was the baby born to Sacagawea on the explorations of Lewis and Clark, where she served as a translator. Because of this connection with Americans, Jean-Baptiste grew up with connections both to his Indian heritage, the French trapping culture of his father, and the American/English culture. Sacagawea died when Baptiste was eight, and he lived after that with Captain Clark, who treated him as a ward and provided him with an education. There, he met and grew to know a German nobleman, Duke Paul of Wurttemberg. Paul is in America to satisfy his longing to make a name for himself as a natural history scientist. Baptiste is invaluable to his efforts, serving as a guide and helping him capture various wild animals.

    When Paul returns to Europe, he convinces Jean-Baptiste to go with him. What is meant as a short journey ends in Jean-Baptiste staying as Paul's guest for five years. He learns about European royal culture and it's strict structure for every part of life. During these years, Baptiste learns about royal hunting, familial expectations, music, art and various scientific studies. He also forms relationships with two women. One is a young widow, Theresa, who is Paul's cousin and who starts a friendship with Baptiste that turns into an affair. He also forms a relationship with the daughter of a wine-merchant to European nobility. Maura is half French and half Irish, and understands better than anyone else the way that Jean-Baptiste feels balanced between two opposing worlds.

    Thad Carhart has done extensive research into this man's life, and it is evident in his writing. One of the strongest examples is the contrast in hunting. The reader is taken along on an Indian hunt for buffalo, and this writing is exciting and compelling. When Baptiste goes to Europe, this hunting, which is done for survival, is contrasted with the very formalised hunt performed by the noblemen, where one animal is selected, his moments traced, and he is harried to exhustion and then executed. Another example is Carhart's writing of the ceremony that young Indian men underwent to become braves. It is a chilling ceremony, and the reader is transported into the smokey, loud tent in which the ceremony occurs. The contrast in European culture is the stylized dance that Baptiste attends, where all moves are structured and there is a definate pattern to every stage of the evening. This book is recommended for lovers of historical fiction. I enjoyed getting to know Jean-Baptiste, and I think others will also.

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  • Posted November 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    excellent historical fiction

    This was an excellent, well-written work of historical fiction and I was very excited to read anything that takes place in Paris. This is not a part of history that I am familiar with, so besides enjoying a wonderful novel, I also learned a little, too!

    For me, the story really took off once Jean-Baptiste got to Europe as I don't have much interest in American history. But I enjoyed reading of Baptiste struggle between two very different worlds, Europe and early America. Baptiste is also torn between two woman. I really felt connected to Carhart's Baptiste and the novel flowed smoothly and was a fairly quick read once I got into it. It did take about 60-70 pages to get there, but I think that background was important to understanding Baptiste. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Europe and Paris especially. This was a really great read.

    my rating 4/5

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  • Posted October 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Read

    This is the story of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacajawea. Baptiste was born 1805 during the time his parents were with the Lewis & Clarke expedition. When he is 18 yrs. old he goes to Europe and helps Duke Paul catalogue the objects he acquired on his travels. He meets and falls in love with two woman, Paul's cousin Theresa, and Maura Hennesy. The story is written so that you feel as if you are there. It's got both American and European history and I loved learning from this book. My favorite character was Baptiste. I was intrigued by him and his place in history. There is so much more to this book, but I feel that the more I reveal, the more I will take away from your experience if you decide to read it yourself. It is an adventure you won't soon forget.

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  • Posted October 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Bridget's Review

    Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau had a baby boy names Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau. His mixed heritage makes him feel like an outcast. When he turns eighteen, he befriends Duke Paul of Wurttemberg and together they travel around Europe. Jean Baptiste and Paul's cousin, Princess Theresa, begin a hot and steamy affair. When Theresa gives Baptiste an ultimatum, he's unsure of what to do. He travels to Paris and meets a woman named Maura. Now he's torn between two worlds and two women. What will he decide?

    I felt like I traveled back in time and watched this novel come to life. This is a touching story of a man who has the world at his fingertips. He is forced to make important decisions that will alter his life forever.

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  • Posted September 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    his is an entertaining biographical fiction

    Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was born during the Lewis and Clarke expedition in 1805; his mom was Sacagawea while his father Charbonneau was a French trapper turned translator. As an infant he made it to the Pacific; as a boy he went to school in St. Louis and at his mom's village. He learns several languages growing up in his divided lineage.

    European naturalist Duke Paul Wilhelm of Wurttemberg is in the United States analyzing and classifying North American flora and fauna. Baptiste assists him and accompanies him back to Paris where he becomes the toast of the nobles though not one of them; only the Duke's cousin Princess Theresa understands his duality but she has a pragmatic outlook that excludes the mixed breed. Baptiste meets and falls in love with Irish expatriate Maura Hennesy. However, in his early twenties after five years on the continent he decides to go home with his Maura at his side.

    This is an entertaining biographical fiction of the youngest member of the Lewis and Clarke expedition. Baptiste is a fascinating character whose bi-racial background makes him in at the highest levels of European aristocratic society and yet never really in. Fans will feel they are transported to the first half of the nineteenth century in Europe and Americas as the imagery is incredible vivid. Although more a series of anecdotal occurrences that bring to life time and place than a cohesive novel, ACROSS THE ENDLESS RIVER is a fascinating historical fiction that takes a fresh timely look at contrasting two worlds through a lead character who has a foot in both and in neither.

    Harriet Klausner

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