In delving into the history of the American West, I’ve often come across some quite unusual stories…facts. Some of these stories are “stranger than fiction,” and so is this story I’m about to tell you.
This is a true story, even if highly extraordinary. It concerns an unusual man, a man who was born on the expedition and was the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. That man was Baptiste, Sacagawea’s baby
In 1804-1806, Sacagawea, as we might remember, accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition into the West. She was the only woman on the journey and Baptiste was the only child. He was born in 1805 in the Minnetaree Village on the Knife River, just a few miles below the Mandan Village on the Missouri. His birth was noted by Lewis as February 11, 1805. Baptiste’s father was a French trader who had won Sacagewea in a gambling wager in a Minnetaree Village, and because he could speak the language of the Indians, he engaged on the expedition, thus bringing his wife along with him, although she was with child.
It’s said by historians that Baptiste inherited his mother’s sunny disposition, her intelligence and attractive features. Captain Clark was particularly fond of him and called him, “my little dancing boy, and also as “my boy, Pomp,” from Pomp’s tower. Indeed, Captain Clark had become to so fond of the little boy, that he begged his parents to let him take the boy, whereupon he promised to raise him as his own. Baptiste’s parents declined, but over the years, Clark apparently did enter both Baptiste and his older, half-brother into school.
Now, here’s where the story gets really interesting. In 1823 (Baptiste would have been 18), he was introduced to Prince Paul of Wurtemberg, Germany. The prince was twenty-six and he had come to America in search of scientific information. It was at the mouth of the Kaw or Kansas River that the two were introduced and a fast friendship began between the two. Indeed, the prince declared in his written diary in 1829 that he “hunger(ed) for the vast silent places and the simple life among free unaffected children of nature.” Prince Paul offered to bring Baptiste with him back to Germany, where he promised to educate the lad and to tour the European continent. Captain Clark, who by now was like a father to Baptiste, agreed, and so on November 3, 1823. Baptiste began his journey to Europe with Prince Paul.
For six years, Baptiste lived the life of a prince. He lived in a castle in a beautiful woodland setting, he learned many different languages, including German, English,Spanish and French, He was instructed in the arts and social graces of the court and Baptiste was the companion of Prince Paul for all those years, developing a fast, fast friendship. Here’s where the story gets even stranger.
To the left is a picture of Prince Paul. In 1829 Baptiste and Prince Paul returned to America. Here somewhere along the route, Prince Paul and Baptiste parted, never to see each other again. Baptiste went on to become a mountain man and a scout for various private and governmental parties. Why the two friends parted remains a mystery, as none of Prince Paul’s published works mention the affair. It is, however, speculated that their separation was less than amicable.
To the right here is a painting of Baptiste. The mystery of Baptiste became highly enigmatic since he never again corresponded with Prince Paul, nor did he keep a diary. However, because Baptiste went on to be one of the best scouts the West has ever known, we have learned of him from the writings of travelers at that time.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Baptiste’s life is that he neither married, nor produced heirs, and this in a land where a man could easily have taken more than one wife or mistress.
What happened? Why did he suddenly cut all ties to the prince in Europe? Had he fallen in love with some princess, only to be dismissed out of hand because he lacked any real royal standing? Perhaps. My asking this question led me to write the story of THE PRINCESS AND THE WOLF, which is still available for purchase.
It’s one of the strangest stories that I uncovered in my research into the West and the many legends What do you think? Why did the Prince and Baptiste, who had been fast friends for six years — had toured together, learned together, hunted together — why did they separate, never to see one another again? Come on in and tell me your ideas. And if you haven’t done so already, pick up your copy of THE ANGEL AND THE WARRIOR today. Also on sale soon — in June is THE SPIRIT OF THE WOLF.