Title: Charbonneau-Man of Two Dreams
Genre: Currently #3 in Best Seller’s Rank in Kindle Store, Kindle eBooks, Biographies & Memoirs, Sports & Outdoor, and Adventurers & Explorers
Publication Date: September 2012
Charbonneau-Man of Two Dreams – Dreamcatcher on Cover is a Nice Touch!
Charbonneau-Man of Two Dreams by Win Blevins is a beautifully written story woven in and around Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, (variously known as Baptiste or Paump) born of Sacajawea and his French-Canadian father, Toussaint, at the Lewis and Clark winter camp, Ft. Mandan, ND in 1805. A fur trapper, Toussaint was far less support for the westward expedition of Lewis and Clark to the Pacific than was the better-known Sacajawea (a Lemhi Shoshone), who provided excellent trail guidance as well as interpretive services in dealing with the other tribes of the northwest.
It was William Clark who took a vested interest in the boy he nicknamed “Paump” (Shoshone for “first born” and more correctly spelled Pomp) and became his guardian. (It was after his parents took him to Ft. Lewis in 1811 that they conceded care of Paump to Clark.) (Perhaps the misspelling of the name is a deliberate acknowledgement of the poetic license with his story as well?)
Blevins notes at the beginning of the book, “…I have played free with history where it suited my dramatic and thematic purposes.” And play, he did!
While he admits that he made the character more sophisticated than his actual historical personage did, he definitely changed the whole scene of his ending, including allowing him 10 more years than he actually lived, as he died in 1866 (and could not have been viewing the rising sun from the flap of the tepee in 1876).
There is a lot of poetic license in this account of an historic figure of our early northwestern development. In fact, Charbonneau and his mother made such an impact that he is the only child (along with his mother) to ever be depicted on a US (gold) dollar coin.
Still, Blevins catches the major events in the man’s life, most particularly Clark’s insistence of Baptiste’s education, and his accidental meeting of a German prince who took him back to Germany and introduced him to royal society as well as traveled to Africa. Six years later when Baptiste returned to the frontier, he was fluent in German, Spanish, and French (as well as the language of the tribes he was acquainted with through his mother).
Baptiste went on to enjoy a number of vocations, including guiding and fur trapping and spent his years in the high mountains of the rugged northwest where he was happiest.
Blevins includes notes from the journals of Lewis and Clark, as well as letters, and peripheral historical documents. Many of the expedition notes included contain a hefty amount of misspelling and other obvious errors and is assumed to be original. I enjoyed Blevins’ rough chronological order of the development of the frontier and his beautiful description of the animals and the wilderness. He totally nails the heaven-sent natural beauty, the scent, and the sites. He points out differences in the various tribes and includes several Interesting recitals of native songs, though I doubt Charbonneau was as gifted musically as might be Blevins himself.
Blevins also manages the switch of dialogue from uneducated back-woodsmen, frontiersmen, Native American, and that of learned or upper middle class to royals.
The author in his Preface notes that Charbonneau’s life could probably be summed up in several pages and admits that some of the most well-known facts fly in the face of what he wrote, acknowledging for instance that Charbonneau was one of the first to join the California gold rush. Of course, that would contradict what he wrote also.
Blevins concludes it was the conflict in the lifestyles and values of the two peoples–that of white French-Canadian and Native American to which Charbonneau was born–that he strove to solve. And it’s that conflict that drove this author’s story–not wholly an historic one–but more a fictional account of an historic figure. Blevins ends his Preface in a plea from Henry James’s celebrated edict “that a novel can be held to no rule except one–that it be interesting.” And in that, this book succeeds.
I downloaded this book from an offering on BookBub when I recognized the author’s name. Really, Charbonneau is a touching and emotional tribute to the native peoples and a personal bow of acknowledgement to Charbonneau for his contribution. Recommended for a compelling fiction read.
Rosepoint Publishing: Four of Five Stars
The Author: Will Blevins is the author of thirty-one books dating back to 1973. He has received many awards, including twice named writer of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers, and more for his western literature. His novel about Crazy Horse, Stone Song, (see that review here) was a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. (And also my personal favorite.) Blevins is a native of Little Rock, Arkansas and is of Cherokee and Welsh Irish descent. (I can understand his interest in the conflict of the two life values.) He holds a master’s degree and attended a music conservatory at the University of Southern California. He has had a long and distinguished writing career as well as movie critic. Since writing his first novel he has freelanced, published essays, articles, and reviews. Blevins has five children and a “growing number” of grandchildren. He lives with his wife among the Navajos in Utah and has been a river runner as well as mountain climber. ©2017 Virginia Williams