American Portraits

Bird Woman’s River: Sacagawea’s Diligence in a Historic Journey

In this lesson, students will understand the diligent behavior Sacagawea displayed throughout her journey with the Lewis and Clark expedition. They will also think about ways in which they can be diligent in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.


Sacagawea was in the middle of her journey with the Lewis and Clark expedition in which she acted as an interpreter and helped navigate through the wilderness. Her infant son, born three months earlier, was active, alert, and growing. His given name was Jean Baptiste, but her companions nicknamed him “Pompy.” Carrying him on her back every day, she talked to him about most everything they saw. As she noticed birds and small animals—clues to what plants she may find in an area—Sacagawea pointed them out, described them aloud, and told him their names. As they walked through forests, climbed hills, and rowed along rivers, he was her captive audience….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you be diligent in situations where the odds may seem to be against you?

Virtue Defined

Diligence is intrinsic energy for completing good work.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will understand the diligent behavior Sacagawea displayed throughout her journey with the Lewis and Clark expedition. They will also think about ways in which they can be diligent in their own lives.


  • Students will analyze Sacagawea’s identity, purpose, and performance during the Lewis and Clark expedition.
  • Students will understand and appreciate Sacagawea’s diligent behavior.
  • Students will apply their knowledge about diligence to their own lives.


Sacagawea was born around 1788 in what is now Idaho to a Shoshone chief. She was captured by an enemy tribe when she was about 12 years old and then sold to a French-Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. She later married Charbonneau and was carrying his child when the Lewis and Clark Expedition made its way to their home in what is now North Dakota. Lewis and Clark hired Charbonneau and Sacagawea to accompany them on their trek to act as guides and interpreters.


  • Flora
  • Fauna
  • Specimen
  • Seasoned
  • Pirogue
  • Salvaged
  • Terrain

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Explain how Sacagawea’s identity changed from the time she started on the trek with the Corps of Discovery to the end of the expedition.
  • What was Sacagawea’s purpose on the expedition?
  • What diligent behavior did Sacagawea display during her time with Lewis and Clark?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Ambrose, Stephen E. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
  • DeVoto, Bernard. Journals of Lewis and Clark. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1953.
  • Hunsaker, Joyce Badgly. Sacagawea Speaks: Beyond the Shining Mountains with Lewis and Clark. Guilford, CT: Falcon Publishing, 2001.
  • “Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Core of Discovery.” Directed by Ken Burns. PBS, 1997.
  • “Sacagawea: Reunited & Saved.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015.

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