Although no two accounts of her life are the same,
Sacajawea is famed as a courageous woman who played an important part
of the settling of the west. Sacajawea was a Shoshone princess whose
tribe inhabited the northwestern part of the country. Country still
unexplored by white men. When she was only eleven years old her tribe
was attacked by the Hidatsa, a rival Indian tribe. Before she could
get away, she was captured by an enemy brave and taken from her home
in Idaho. As a slave in North Dakota, Sacajawea learned a new
language and skills that she had never learned in her own tribe.
Unlike the Shoshone, the Hidatsa stayed in one place building homes
from clay and timber. They also farmed which was very different from
the Shoshone. Sacajawea learned to grow corn, beans, and squash. It
wasn't long, however, before she experienced another sudden change in
her life. Accounts of what happened next vary, some say she was
bought and others say she was won in a gambling bet by French
Canadian trader Toussaint Charbonneau. Either way, Sacajawea became
one of Charbonneau's many Native American wives.
In 1804, Charbonneau was employed by Lewis and
Clark to accompany them on their expedition west though the Louisiana
Territory. Charbonneau was not very highly thought of by other fur
traders who often referred to him as a knave, sneak and a scoundrel.
He could, however, make himself understood by most of the river
Indians. This wasn't the only reason Charbonneau was hired on though,
Lewis and Clark were contemplating how useful Sacajawea would be on
their journey, especially if they came in contact with her old tribe.
Sacajawea was, at this time, only sixteen years old and expecting the
couples first child. She delivered a baby boy just two months before
they set out on their journey. The baby was christened Jean Babtiste
and nicknamed "Pomp" meaning firstborn in Shoshoni. Some of the men
thought that the young Shoshone woman with her new baby would be a
hinderance and were not anxious to take her along. Others saw that it
would be to their advantage to have them. The men hoped that
Sacajawea and little Pomp would be seen as symbols of peace so that
their expedition would not be mistaken by the Indian tribes as a war
On April 7, 1805, the Lewis and Clark party set
out on their expedition to explore the unknown Northwest. The group
consisted of thirty-one explorers, Charbonneau, sixteen year old
Sacajawea, and the two month old Pomp. The newborn was simply wrapped
up and strapped to Sacajawea's back on a cradle board. It was a very
exciting time for everyone involved. The explorers were doing what
they loved best, exploring, and Sacajawea was beginning a great
adventure that would lead her back to her home and people.
Sacajawea was a great help on the journey. Any of
the men who had doubts about her before quickly replaced them with
admiration. She knew more about the Indians they encountered on the
way than anyone else in the group. She taught them that the sign of
peace for these Indians was to dab their cheeks with red paint. Often
times she would save the men from starvation by finding fruits and
nuts that small animals had hidden to save for the winter.
Sacajawea was always cheerful, Captain Clark wrote
in his journal that she was uncomplaining. Along with her spunk and
energy she was also known for her ability to keep a cool head. One
day while Charbonneau was at the helm of the ship, a strong wind came
up that nearly caused the boat to capsize. Charbonneau panicked in
the confusion and many of the much needed supplies were dumped into
the river. It was Sacajawea who saved most of the expedition's
valuable supplies. Although she couldn't swim and was still holding
the baby, she managed to keep her cool and pick up anything that
floated near her as she balanced herself in the stern. In his journal
Clark wrote that Sacajawea was able to preserve most of the light
articles that were washed overboard in the accident. Had she not done
this, he further wrote, they would have been deprived of most of the
necessary items for their journey. They were between two and three
thousand miles from any place where they could replace the lost
The highlight of the journey for Sacajawea was
when they passed through the land where she grew up and found her old
tribe. She learned that many of her relatives had been kidnapped or
killed in the attack five years before, but that her brother had
become chief. Sacajawea threw her blanket around his shoulders and
exclaimed, "We are of one blanket!" (Belcher-Hamilton, 26, 1989) Then
she sucked on her fingers. This was a Shoshone tradition that meant,
"You are from my tribe, the people who suckled me."
(Belcher-Hamiliton, 27, 1989) Although Sacajawea did not stay with
her people, since her loyalties were now committed to the white men,
she was able to negotiate a trade that enabled the expedition to
obtain much needed horses to continue their journey.
After leaving Shoshone country the journey must
have been the hardest, but also the most exciting for Sacajawea. She
and Pomp, along with the rest of the group, suffered through as many
of the discomforts of being in the wilderness as nature could offer.
Gnats and mosquitoes were so thick the group would have to cover
their heads with nets. Rattlesnakes were a constant danger. Food was
scarce and did not contain the necessary vitamins for one to stay
healthy. If this were not enough, the weather was seldom in their
favor. Usually either the heat was unbearable or else the cold was
causing frostbite. For all of the hardships though, Sacajawea must
have felt great excitement to be part of such an expedition. Imagine
her amazement at seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time, after
only ever having seen lakes and rivers. By the time the expedition
returned home, the group had traveled through present day Montana,
Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
It is interesting to note that nearly all of the
information we have concerning Sacajawea, her life and her
accomplishments, come from the journals of Lewis, Clark, and a few of
the other explorers who took time to write about the expedition. This
makes it hard to decipher exactly what happened to her following the
expedition when she no longer had ties to these men. Some historians
believe that she died of a fever on December 20, 1812, while still a
young woman. Others believe that she lived until 1884 on a Shoshone
Indian Reservation where she died of old age. Regardless of which one
is correct, Sacajawea was a remarkable young woman whose perseverance
and resourcefulness while traveling with the Lewis and Clark
Expedition helped make the journey west a success. It is said that
there are more memorials and monuments to honor Sacajawea than any
other woman in U.S. History. For most people she will be remembered
as the courageous young girl with a baby strapped to her back,
gathering food for the men as they made their way through the great
unknown territories of the West.
Belcher-Hamilton, Lisa. (1989). Sacajawea: Her
Cobblestone. January. p. 24-27.
Howard, Harold P. (1989). Sacajawea.
Norman, Oklahoma: University of
Lake, A.I. (1990). Women of the West. Vero Beach, Fl: Rourke Publications, Inc.
Blumberg, Rhoda. (1987). The Incredible Journey
of Lewis & Clark. New York City, NY: Lothrop, Lee, and
1. Students will compare challenges they have had to face to those that Sacajawea experienced.
2. Students will be able to describe the contributions made by Sacajawea and the context in which they occurred.
3. Students will be able to recognize that we have ways of communicating through gestures just as the Native Americans did in Sacajawea's time.
4. Students will be able to identify at least three of the ways we communicate with gestures today.
5. Students will be able to identify ways the group may have used the natural resources available in the different environments to meet their basic needs.
Time Allotment: Approximately 1 week or 5 class periods.
Map of the United States
Handouts from the Appendix
The Incredible Journey of Lewis & Clark by Rhoda Blumberg.
1. Values Whip. Starting at one end of the room and going quickly around to the other side, like a whip, ask the students each to share what they feel is one of the hardest things they've ever had to do. Give them a minute to think about it before they start. It can be something that was physically, emotionally, or mentally hard for them to do.
2. Mini-Lecture. After discussing some of the hard things that the students in the class have had to do, introduce Sacajawea. Give them the background on her life and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Compare the hardships she had to face to some that were mentioned earlier in class.
3. Turn-2-Think. Have the students divide into groups of four by counting off 1-4. Have them count off again within their groups so that each member has a number. Instruct them to draw a card from the question pile (See appendix). Each member is to think of the answer and then they are to draw an answer card (See appendix) to see who will answer.
4. Think-Pair-Share. Remind the students of some of the gestures Sacajawea made to communicate with both those of her own tribe and those from other tribes, for example, sucking her fingers, throwing the blanket around her brother, and painting their cheeks red. Then ask them to get into groups of two and think of some of the gestures we use today to communicate with one anther. Some examples would be shaking hands, waving, kissing on the cheek, or pointing at certain things like our ears to indicate that we can't hear. Then have each group pair up with another group to share their ideas. Each group will then share three of their ideas with the class.
Activity. Using Rhoda Blumberg's book,
The Incredible Journey of Lewis & Clark, as a reference,
show the students the general route of the expedition from North
Dakota to the Pacific Ocean. Discuss the geography of each area and
brainstorm ideas of how they used the natural resources of each area
to meet their basic needs. Blumberg's book also gives examples of
what the group ate in each different area they were in, buffalo in
Montana, salmon in Idaho, and whale blubber from near the ocean, as
well as how they used different materials to make clothes. Compare
the student's ideas to those in the book and ask the students if they
have any more suggestions. Then have each child make a small flag of
something the group used or may have used to meet their basic needs
and let them put it up on the map in the area that they would have
6. Picture This. Have each student choose three things Sacajawea did that they think demonstrates courage or resourcefulness and have them illustrate each thing, adding a one line caption to explain the picture.
1. The Values Whip activity will be assessed based
2. The three contributions that each group makes in the Think-Pair-Share activity will be assessed informally.
3. Participation in and contributions to the questions asked in Turn-2 Think will be assessed informally through observation.
4. Each child's idea for and placement of a flag during the map activity will be assessed.
5. Pictures of the three things they learned about Sacajawea, her courage and her resourcefulness will be assessed.
Team member #1 answers
Team member #2 answers
Team member #3 answers
Team member #4 answers
Team member #1 answers
Team member #2 answers
Team member #3 answers
Team member #4 answers
What are Sacajawea's greatest strengths?
What might have been different if Sacajawea had not accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition?
How do you think Sacajawea might have changed emotionally, intellectually, and physically on the journey?
What do you think was her biggest challenge on the journey? Why?
What can you tell about the morals and values of Sacajawea based on her actions?
For what single action do you think Sacajawea will be remembered for?
What part does cultural background play in the life and accomplishments of Sacajawea?
What would you say was the highlight of Sacajawea's life?
Who do you think made the biggest impact on Sacajawea? Why?
What were the advantages and disadvantages of Sacajawea's age when she went on the expedition?
What sequence of events in Sacajawea's life led up to her joining the Lewis and Clark party?
If Sacajawea had kept a journal of the expedition what kinds of things might she have written about?
What adjectives might you use to describe Sacajawea?
What symbol would best represent Sacajawea? Why?
Knowing a little about her personality, what kind of mother do you think Sacajawea was?
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