When Lewis & Clark came to the area that is today North Dakota, they began to recruit men and women to join the Corps of Discovery. One of their new recruits was Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trapper who had been living among the Hidatsa. He had taken two Shoshone women as his wives–Otter Woman and Sakakawea (Sacagawea). Lewis and Clark saw an opportunity in hiring Charbonneau, since he could speak French and some Hidatsa, and his wives could speak Shoshone. Charbonneau was hired as a translator for the expedition, but was judged harshly by members of the Corps, and by historians in later days. Charbonneau was found to be timid in the water, and quick tempered with his wives. Although some came to appreciate Charbonneau’s cooking, in particular, a recipe for sausage made from bison meat, Meriwether Lewis said he was “a man of no particular merit.”
Charbonneau, North Dakota is in a very sparsely populated area of western North Dakota, in McKenzie County, about fifteen minutes west of Watford City. As far back as 1960, Charbonneau had already been de-listed from the Census, but according to North Dakota Place Names by Douglas A. Wick, Charbonneau was founded in 1913 and a peak population of 125 was reported in 1920. Charbonneau’s name was derived from nearby Charbonneau Creek, which was in turn named for the interpreter on the Lewis & Clark expedition, Toussaint Charbonneau.
Defining what exactly constitutes a “ghost town” can sometimes be tricky. In our years of exploring North Dakota’s abandoned places, we’ve often encountered former towns where the townsite itself is empty, but there’s a farm about half a mile down the road. Sometimes a former town like Sims, North Dakota has an active church, but nobody actually lives on the town site. And still other times, we will hear objections from people who feel as though we’ve misrepresented their town, or somehow labeled it a ghost town because it appears on this website, in which case we clarify that this site is about ghost towns and abandoned places, like the former First National Bank and Barber Auditorium in Marmarth, North Dakota, a town with a population numbering more than a hundred.Continue reading “20 True Ghost Towns: Population Zero”