But slavery played a part in earliest Idaho history, nevertheless.
Lewis and Clark, those great and fortunate explorers who first came into what would later become Idaho brought slavery with them. William Clark owned an African-American man named York. Clark’s father had given the explorer the man when both were boys.
By all accounts, York was treated well on the expedition and seemed to find some measure of freedom there, trusted to reconnoiter on his own. He was also given an equal vote with other members of the Corps of Discovery.
York’s taste of freedom turned bitter when he did not receive pay at the end of the journey, as others did. He asked for his freedom, but Clark at refused to grant it. Accounts are not in agreement about what happened to York in the ensuing years. Clark eventually gave him his freedom, but what York did with it is still unclear. One account has him living out his life as an honored member of the Crow tribe.
York has received some recognition. Wikipedia lists two books about him written by Frank X. Walker. A play and an opera were also written about York. Books about the Corps of Discovery often mention him admiringly. A statue of York (pictured) stands in Louisville, Kentucky.
York deserved better from Clark. But, both were men of their times and to expect Clark to behave differently would be to expect him to transcend his upbringing and the life he was accustomed to living.
I can’t resist adding a footnote to this story of a famous slave. York was not the only member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition who had been enslaved. Definitions can be tricky, but Sacagawea (or Sacajawea, if you prefer) was taken from her family at about age 12 in a battle between her Lemhi Shoshone Tribe and members of the Hidatsa Tribe. She was sold, or claimed as a gambling prize, by Toussaint Charbonneau and became his wife at age 13.