Across the Endless River

Across the Endless River

by Thad Carhart

NOOK Book(eBook)

View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now


Born in 1805 on the Lewis and Clark expedition, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau is the son of Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau. He is raised both as William Clark’s ward in St. Louis and by his parents among the villages of the Mandan tribe on the far northern reaches of the Missouri river. In 1823 eighteen-year-old Baptiste is invited to cross the Atlantic with the young Duke Paul of Württemberg, whom he meets on the frontier. During their travels throughout Europe, Paul introduces Baptiste to a world he never imagined, and Baptiste ultimately faces a choice: whether to stay in Europe or return to the wilds of North America. As we follow this young man on his intriguing sojourn, this remarkable novel resonates with the richness of three distinct cultures, languages, and customs.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385532051
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/01/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 533,071
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

A dual citizen of the United States and Ireland, Thad Carhart lives in Paris with his wife, the photographer Simo Neri, and their two children.

Read an Excerpt

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
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
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
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
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
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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Across the Endless River 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, born in 1805 during the Lewis and Clark expedition, is one of the most unique figures in American history. The son of a French fur trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, and Sacagawea, the Indian woman who played such a prominent role in the expedition, Baptiste was carried on his mother's back all the way to the Pacific Ocean. He was born with a foot in two different worlds and, before he was twenty years old, the young man would find himself visiting Europe's major cities as the five-year guest of amateur natural historian, Duke Paul of Wurttemberg. In "Across the Endless River," Thad Carhart recounts how the two men met and imagines what Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau might have experienced during his half-decade living among Europe's minor royalty. As Carhart points out in his "Author's Note," while no record of Baptiste's European years exists today, some details of Duke Paul's history during those same years are known. Carhart largely uses what we know about Duke Paul to frame Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau's European adventure. Baptiste would have been, for instance, instrumental in assembling and cataloging the Duke's huge North American natural history collection and would have witnessed the Duke's arranged marriage (a marriage very much to the Duke's economic advantage) and his equally arranged separation after the birth of his son. "Across the Endless River" clearly contrasts the differing lifestyles Baptiste experienced before he turned twenty. In America, as a boy, he moved between his Mandan village and Captain Clark's St. Louis home, and learned the skills that would allow him to make his living as a frontier guide for Europeans looking for adventure and fortune. He was able to converse in several Indian languages and is known to have also spoken English, French, German and Spanish, a skill that allowed him to move relatively easily within whatever world he found himself. One can only imagine, of course, what Baptiste thought of the different cultures he experienced and this is the real theme of "Across the Endless River." What would a man raised in the wilds of a young country think of the decadent lifestyle of European royalty? What would he think of the servant class and its relationship to the wealthy? Would he relate to the servants or would he learn to reflect the attitudes of the Duke and the Duke's royal family? Would he have sexual adventures in Europe and who might those couplings involve - prostitutes, servants, members of the royal family? Would he be treated as a mere curiosity in Europe or as an equal? The possibilities are endless for a man caught between two, so different worlds, and Thad Carhart makes the most of them. The book does suffer a bit because of the contrast between its fast paced early sections and the much slower pace at which the book's European sections move. Much of Baptiste's time in Europe is spent idly traveling from one royal home to another where little more than another banquet or ball ever seems to occur. This may perfectly reflect the lifestyle of Europe's "rich and famous" of the day but even Baptiste grew bored with it and it gives the book an uneven feel. In the end, though, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau is a fascinating character and it is great fun to speculate along with the author about what he was really up to from 1824 to 1829. Rated at: 3.5
ntempest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel focuses on the life of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, who was the son of a French fur trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, and Sacagawea, the Indian woman who served as a guide for the famed Lewis and Clark expedition. Baptiste was born early in 1805, and subsequently carried on his mother's back for the entire journey across the country. He is an intriguing character whom I knew very little about, caught between two worlds--the Paris that was his father's home, and the Native American wilderness that was his mother's home. Unfortunately, I found this book somewhat dull a great deal of the time. Carhart describes both worlds beautifully, but the pacing is often slow and I had to push myself to keep reading at times. While the period and history was interesting, I felt like the narrative itself needed more of the focus.
kathy_h on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
i very much enjoy LT's Early Reviewers program, and i received "across the endless river" through it. i've been in a reading slump for over a month, since finishing "the shadow of the wind." i was hopeful "river" could pull me out of it. unfortunately, it did not. "river's" subject matter intrigued me, as i know little about sacagawea, other than her association with lewis and clark (and her appearance in the ben stiller flick, night at the museum - sad, i know!). anyway, i also adore historical fiction. while i found "river" to be well written in a technical sense...and apparently, well was SO boring. the characters were cardboard, one dimensional - they never come alive on the page, and there's little conflict, if any, between them. i just couldn't get excited about them or their lives. perhaps the story would have been more interesting if the author had focused on sacagawea, b/c she was clearly ahead of her time. i feel bad not giving it more than two stars, b/c it's perfectly...serviceable...and that's my problem with it. i want more than that. life's too short for perfectly serviceable!!
pennyshima on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The blurb indicated a book that combined elements I knew I could enjoy. Upon reading I found that and much more. This novel contains historical fiction, American frontier history, and European history in a delightful way by combining travelogue, epistolary writing, and journal entries into a novel which kept me turning pages. That it also raised thoughts on the servant/slave/whoami debate made me stop and think and want to read more about this time as I am sadly ignorant. Several reviewers have complained about lack of plot, but I found this writing style -- the interwoven viewpoints and methods used to tell Baptiste's unique story incredibly fascinating and a change from my normal reading. Overall this is an easy enjoyable and delightful read. (note: I received this book after wining a giveaway at another website.)
Cariola on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having read several novels about Sacagawea and the Lewis and Clark expedition, I was looking forward to this novel about her son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau. The novel plays with dualities¿-white/Native American, US wilderness v. Paris, buffalo hunts v. noble hunting parties, Theresa v. Maura. Similarly, I had two distinct reactions to the book: admiration and, at times, boredom. Carhart¿s depictions of both worlds are exquisitely detailed. While he successfully draws the reader into each, some stretches become rather tedious, especially in the European section, and he does tend to be rather obvious in pounding home the themes of racial prejudice and the decadence of the aristocracy. In some ways, the descriptions themselves and the idea of the book--Charbonneau¿s search for identity, as a man of mixed blood traveling through two worlds, neither of which fully accepts him¿-overwhelm the rather thin plot and flat characters. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about a historical figure and an era that I hadn¿t delved into very deeply before.
bpompon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart, is a great fictional account of Jean- Baptiste, son of Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau. The book begins with his birth and covers a brief account of his early years with the Lewis and Clark expedition. The majority of the book takes place in Europe from 1824 ¿ 1829 and covers Baptiste's early 20¿s.After working for Duke Paul Wilhelm as a guide and interpreter in the United States, Baptiste also known as Pompy agrees to return with Duke Paul to Europe and help him catalog his vast acquisitions of plants, animals and Native American artifacts. Baptiste is accepted into European society, but struggles with a totally foreign culture.Even though the account is fictitious, I still learned a lot about early studies of Natural History and the acquisition of Native American artifacts. It left me wondering who the more civilized culture was at the time. The book was a little slow going in places, but overall was very engaging and a thoroughly good read.
cyderry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a fictional account of the life of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea who was born during the great exploration of Lewis & Clark. Starting with a short account of the exploration, the story continues with the tales of his youth and visits to Europe (across the endless river= Atlantic Ocean).The author includes numerous facts of Baptiste's life while weaving an entertaining though unverified story of his travels with Duke Paul of Württemberg. Mainly, the book strives to show the difference between the two worlds that he is art of - the Indian world from his mother and the European or civilized world from his father. I has a tendency to drag when ,the areas of Natural history were being discussed, but overall, it was entertaining and educational combined together.
bookmagic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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 rating 4/5
VickiLN on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Fourpawz2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This fictionalized tale of the life of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau puzzled me ¿ or at least the author¿s choice to concentrate upon this particular part of this man¿s life did. The only child of Sacagawea ¿ of Lewis and Clarke fame ¿ Jean Baptiste, at the age of eighteen, meets a German nobleman, Duke Friedrich Paul Wilhelm of Wurttemberg who is traveling about the West collecting animal and bird specimens as well as Native American artifacts for his collection. The duke invites Charbonneau to return home with him and he agrees, living and traveling around Europe with him for some six years ¿ six, excruciatingly dull years, if Mr. Carhart¿s rendition of these years is anywhere near correct. A little research on my part left me with the opinion that he might have done much better concentrating on the years of Charbonneau¿s life after he returned to the American West. These last 37 years of his life, were spent in various ways ¿ as a part of different expeditionary forces, working as a gold prospector, working as a hotel manager - until his death in 1866 and they struck me as having much greater possibilities as interesting fodder for a fictionalized life about Jean Baptiste. There is even a bit of mystery about the exact circumstances of his death during the course of a trip he undertook at the age of 61. But, alas, the author chose otherwise.This is not a badly written book. No, instead is something much worse ¿ a dull book. A dull book with blah characters set in a place and time period that did not interest me and written in a manner that was not, in my opinion, either interesting or captivating. Harsh words, I know, but I cannot help them. I have discovered in my reading of this not-so-long book (a chore that took me an appalling 34 days), that there is something more painful than a truly bad book and that is a truly tedious one. At least with the truly bad ones there is plenty of material in them for writing satisfyingly snarky reviews. As for my recommendation regarding this book, I fear that it is fit only for use as a really good soporific, should you have need of one.
jmchshannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love historical fiction. It offers me a chance to learn more about a person or about an era or a culture while reveling in my love of reading. It's like a pleasurable history lesson without the boring teacher droning on about dates. I agreed to review Across the Endless River solely because of my love of historical fiction, and I am supremely glad that I did. While I love historical fiction, I find myself not reading it as often as I would like. Mr. Carhart reminded me why I love this particular genre so much. The descriptions of life on the frontier and in 1800s Europe was amazingly and gloriously detailed. I was able to immerse myself into the sights and smells of the scene. I mention the smells because it isn't often that scents are described in such detail, but I was able to imagine the scent of a huge herd of buffalo or a southern German forest. Descriptions like that definitely add to the overall historical aspect of the book, in my opinion.Baptiste's struggles to find his place in society definitely highlight similar plights and cause the reader to reflect on what life was like for those considered inferior. From royalty looking down on their servants and villagers to women struggling to enter into a profession considered only suitable for men, Mr. Carhart brings these struggles to the fore and offers the reader a chance to look at history from another angle, one not often mentioned in the history books.The other interesting aspect of the book was the lesson regarding learning for learning's sake without thinking of the consequences. Given the furor over environmental issues in today's society, the discussion of lost or conquered civilizations and a scientist's duty to preserve those civilizations any way possible does seem very pertinent to today's issues. Should we become so concerned with preserving specimens that we fail to see the big picture? What is a scientist's duty to civilization, to a culture?As enjoyable as it was, Across the Endless River was not without its drawbacks. From one, there was a constant switch in narration that was extremely distracting. Switching from Baptiste to Paul and even to Maura left the reader feeling confused and prevented one from truly being engrossed in the book. The narrator's omniscience also felt as if it was a part-time plot device - when it suited the plot, the narrator was omniscient. When it was not necessary, then the narrator was as much in the dark about feelings and inner thoughts as the reader. Again, it was distracting.Other than that, as I already mentioned, I really enjoyed this book. I had never given much thought to Sacagawea other than what she did for Lewis and Clark. To see the expedition from her eyes and then see the results of that expedition through the eyes of her son was a historical thrill. Having lived in Germany and having specialized in European history, to read about life as a royal in Europe from the inside circle was also engrossing. I have already passed along this book to my husband, who is currently reading it without any prompting from me. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction, especially life on the frontier.Thank you to Anna Suknov from FSB Associates for the opportunity to review this book!
dchaikin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If I had picked this book up at a book store and read the first few pages describing the birth of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, I would have quickly replaced it on the shelf and moved on. This is too bad, because the book changes and there¿s some nice stuff here.If you haven¿t caught it in another review, this is a fictional account of Charbonneau¿s rather fascinating life. He was the son of Sacajawea and French trader Toussaint Charbonneau. He was born during the Lewis & Clark expedition, carried across the mountains, to the Pacific and back as an infant. Charbonneau then grew up in two separate societies, going to school in St. Louis under the custody of William Clark and spending his off time with the Mandan Indians. Then, in 1823, at the age of 18 he was hired by Duke Friedrich Paul Wilhelm of Württemberg, a naturalist and obsessive collector, to travel to Europe and help catalogue the Duke¿s North American artifacts and specimens. He spent six years in Europe, traveling extensively and learning German & Spanish on top of the English, French and Mandan he already spoke.Someone looking for an account of Lewis and Clark will be disappointed; it takes maybe 20 pages. I found this confusing until I realized the maybe subtle game Carhart is playing. Late in the book Charbonneau is working on cataloguing the Duke¿s collection when some sensitive artifacts upset him. He stops working on the collection and instead goes around the Duke¿s mansion selecting various sacred and everyday objects and begins cataloguing these instead. At this point in the book we¿ve joined the Charbonneau on several travels throughout Europe, all to visit and attend various functions of nobility. We¿ve met various figures of nobility in various positions. And, we¿ve even watched a ritualistic ¿hunt.¿ Carhart has turned the Duke¿s study around on itself and instead of giving us a study of Native Americans he¿s given us a fictional study of the post-Napoleon Europe.This is a neat trick that works toward Carhart¿s apparent strengths as an author. He excels when writing a story at a distance, and when summarizing or describing. I can¿t exactly explain it, but I found myself hypnotized, really lost in his descriptions. Unfortunately, he struggles when he gets close up ¿ like in that opening scene is. He can¿t quite bring his characters to life; instead they are stilted, some stereotypical. And his scenes can be clunky.Overall this was OK, fun at times, interesting. But, it¿s not resounding success.
horomnizon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The concept is an interesting one - the story of a famous person most of us have never heard of. Historical fiction...but for my taste, perhaps too historical and not enough fiction.I couldn't do it....I got about half way through and wondered why I was wasting my time and quit reading. Perhaps for extreme history buffs, it has enough to hold your interest - or maybe I quit right before the fascinating part...but I doubt it.
Chris_Phillips More than 1 year ago
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.
sandiek More than 1 year ago
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.
debbook More than 1 year ago
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
VickiLN More than 1 year ago
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.
bridget3420 More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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