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Historian shares tale of explorers Charbonneau and Labiche

Posted at 9:03 AM, Jan 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-12 11:03:19-05

GREAT FALLS — If you ever happen to be intrigued by the history of Lewis and Clark’s expedition, look no further than what is referred to as the "Ida Johnson Lecture Series." The program is sponsored by the Portage Route Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.

Once a month, during the winter season, discussions are held about the expedition of Lewis and Clark, where people get to learn about various explorers who played a key role in America’s history.

Montana native, and life-long artist Ron Ukrainetz presented the story of two members that were part of what is said to be one of the greatest explorations of the Northwest: Toussaint Charbonneau, and François Labiche.

"The biggest thing that makes these two gentleman unique, is how much they contributed, yet how different they were," Ukrainetz said. "One of them was a very experienced hunter, and river boatman, and the other was nothing more than a trader. He knew the trade business very well, and both of them contributed immensely to the expedition."

He added, "I think that history would be different in Charbonneau's case had he not been around. I think he impacted so many trade expeditions up the river. He was the go-to-guy for interpretation, local gossip, food services ... Labiche played an extremely important part on the expedition, but like a lot of people, when it was done, he was ready to become a farmer, a husband, and a father."

Ukrainetz is a renowned professional artist and member of the Lewis and Clark Honor Guard. He is widely known for his passion for early history, and the stories of Charbonneau and Labiche is one of many that he loves to tell.

“I think what interests me the most about these two, is that they were average people who chose to do something that was quite a bit different than anybody was doing at the time," he said. "They needed four people to go up river, but they only needed thirty-three to go out and back. There were a lot of people that applied, but didn’t make it, because they knew the excitement, and the pay wasn’t that bad for that time. The thirty-three that went out and back were the thirty-three that made a difference, and that’s exciting to me. One or two people that can decide to do something, and gather the best people to do the job, and make history.”

For more information about the "Ida Johnson Lecture Series," contact the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at 406-727-8733.

Click here to learn more about the lives of Charbonneau and Labiche.