Biography and History

The answers to the question, “Who was Jedediah Smith?” lie in many sources, but the five listed here are good starting places.

“A Biography of Jed for Students” on this website.

Barbour, Barton. “Jedediah Strong Smith (1799-1831).)” Oregon Encyclopedia. Oregon Historical Society. 2020. Updated July 1, 2022.

Despain, S. Matthew, and Fred R. Gowans. “Jedediah S. Smith.” Utah History Encyclopedia. Utah Division of State History. 1994. Jedediah S. Smith | History to Go (

Eddins, Ned. “Jedediah Smith Travels Pictures Maps.” In The Fur Trade Role in Western Expansion. Afton, Wyoming: 2023. Jedediah Smith | American Western Expansion (

Sears, Stephen W. “Trail Blazer of the Far West.” American Heritage 14, no. 4 (June 1963): 60-64, 80-83.

Lesson One

For elementary students . . .

  • You might begin by reminding students of the difference between biography and autobiography. Once these definitions are clear in your young scholars’ minds, you could then tell them about Jed’s biography
  • Write or provide students with a bullet-summary of Jed’s life, with emphasis on the main events.
  • Then ask students to use the facts you have just shared to write a brief bio of Jed. For some elementary students, this bio may be merely four or five sentences in length.
  • Students would then share their bios in small groups or in front of the class. The effect would be that they would understand and appreciate Jed’s story.
  • Now extend the lesson from biography to autobiography. Ask your students to write down five facts about themselves in list form. Then have them revise their lists if necessary by adding or deleting details.
  • The last step for elementary students is to write a short but formal autobiography in paragraph form. For students who aren’t yet writing paragraphs, you could have them present their facts orally to small groups or to the entire class.

Lesson Two

For older students . . .

  • Assign students to read one of the three biographies of Jed listed above.
  • Now ask them to draw conclusions about the type of person Jed was, supporting their conclusions with facts from one or more of the bios.
  • Students could then share their lists of conclusions orally.
  • Now restrict the focus. Ask students to think of the one quality of Jed that stands out (determination, bravery, etc.) Some students may look at the evidence and think of a negative word to describe Jed (foolhardy, greedy, etc.). Create a topic sentence for a formal paragraph that includes this key word, e.g., “Jed demonstrates his bravery in at least three ways.”). Students should let the evidence be their guide.
  • Note: if your students have time, they might like to use, or at least peruse, Jed’s journals. These journals appear in a number of sources, including Jedediah Smith’s Journals ( These journals would provide even more specific evidence for your students’ paragraphs (or essays?).

Lesson Three

For middle school or high school students . . .

This lesson is designed to evoke the students’ thoughts on an important concept in American history.

  • Begin by defining Manifest Destiny. Three common definitions appear in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “a future event accepted as inevitable . . . in the mid-19th century expansion to the Pacific was regarded as the Manifest Destiny of the United States . . . broadly, an ostensibly benevolent or necessary policy of imperialistic expansion.”
  • Assign the biography of Jed on this site or the three bios listed above. After students read about Jed, pose this question: “In what ways did Jed contribute to the Manifest Destiny of the United States?” This question is an opportunity for students to draw conclusions based upon the details provided in the biographies.
  • You, as teacher, know that the question asked above is “loaded,” for the word contribute implies a positive answer. So, ask your students this important question, “Were the effects of Manifest Destiny positive, negative, or both?” Students should use the facts from the biographies to answer these questions: “In which ways did Jed demonstrate that Manifest Destiny was a positive force?” “In which ways did he show that it was negative force?” Or “Was Manifest Destiny both positive and negative?”
  • Have students share their respective answers orally and then write their answers in formal paragraphs.

Lesson Four

For all grades . . .

  • There are several organizations that put on “living history” shows and performances of fur traders and trappers. Arrange for one of these to come to your school. Reenactors often bring hand-built canoes, trapping and camp equipment, wear fur trapper costumes, and explain how trappers lived. Often they prefer to perform outdoors.
  • As a substitute to a live reenactment, share an appropriate video about the fur trade in the early 19th century. There are several excellent ones, many of which are listed in this website’s Media Gallery.