Valley News -

Scenic drive to Julian reminds one of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau


Last updated 1/31/2018 at Noon

A memorial stone stands in honor of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, scout and guide of the Mormon Battalion in 1847. Courtesy photo

Bonnie Martland

Special to Valley News

Last week on a drive to Julian, we saw some of the most picturesque and unchanged scenery in Southern California: rocky outcrops, foothills, leafy canopies and tan hills speckled with live oaks and grazing cattle. As we traveled through Aguanga, Oak Grove and Warner Springs, my mind wandered back to 1847, and the Mormon Battalion which traveled the same route in reverse from Warner Springs to Temecula in January that year.

I recently read Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke’s report of the battalion’s trek from Santa Fe to San Diego. Commanded by Cooke, their scout and guide was Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau. The Mormon Battalion made its legendary trek under orders from President James Polk during the Mexican-American War. Cooke’s orders were to join Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny’s Army of the West in California and to create the first wagon road into the state as they went. They arrived in Temecula Jan. 24, 1847.

Charbonneau was born at Fort Mandan, North Dakota, to Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian and her French Canadian husband Toussaint Charbonneau, a member of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, Feb. 11, 1805. William Clark recorded the baby’s birth in his journals noting Sacagawea’s prolonged labor and quick delivery after being administered a drink of pulverized rattlesnake rattle and water. After returning to St. Louis with the Corps of Discovery, Clark offered to take Charbonneau into his care and see to his schooling.

Charbonneau was educated at a Jesuit school in St. Louis and grew up to have an extraordinary life as an explorer, guide, trapper, trader, military scout, magistrate at Mission San Luis Rey, gold prospector and hotel operator. At 18, while working at a trading post, Charbonneau met Prussian Duke Friedrich Paul Wilhelm traveling in America on a natural history expedition. In 1823, Charbonneau accompanied Wilhelm to Wurttemberg and lived at his castle for six years before returning home. While in Europe, he traveled and improved his language skills, speaking French, English, Spanish, German, Shoshone and several other Indian dialects fluently.

From 1833 to 1840, Charbonneau worked for the American Fur company as a fur trader in the Rockies attending rendezvous with some of the West’s most famous mountain men.

He also spent several years as a trader with the Plains Indians and conducted exploring expeditions into the West for wealthy Europeans.

With the onset of the Mexican-American War, Charbonneau’s experience and skill proved invaluable to Kearny who hired him to lead the Mormon Battalion into the West.

Though the war was nearly over when the battalion arrived in California, their arrival in the Temecula Valley proved timely for the local Luiseno Indians who had just suffered numerous casualties at the hands of a band of Cahuilla in what became known as the Temecula Massacre.

Battalion members offered defensive support and helped retrieve Luiseno dead before heading on to San Diego.

Shoshone Indian Sacagawea’s son Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau traveled through the Temecula Valley as a guide and scout to the Mormon Battalion in 1847. Courtesy photo

Charbonneau served as magistrate at Mission San Luis Rey after the war, but he became upset with regulatory constraints and the poor treatment of the native population. He resigned and moved north to Auburn to mine the gold fields. He worked, operating a hotel and successfully mining in the Auburn area for 16 years. Once the mining played out, he hit the road to search for prosperity elsewhere. While traveling in Oregon, he suffered an accident of some sort, developed pneumonia and died May 16, 1865.

Gerry Nicholas will present Samuel “O.T.” Hackett in person for the Temecula Valley Historical Society, 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 22, at the Little Temecula History Center. For more information about the Temecula Valley Historical Society, visit


Reader Comments


Our Family of Publications Includes:

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019

Rendered 08/22/2019 01:20