A black man by the name of York accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition as a slave to Clark. He had been a childhood companion to William Clark and made invaluable contributions to the expedition on many occasions. Clark reported that York was especially attentive to Sergeant Floyd during his final days. York also risked his life to save Clark in a flash flood on the Missouri River near Great Falls in present-day Montana.
York participated in the hunts to bring game to the camp. He helped put up tents, managed sails, and helped with the rowing. In short, he did all the things that everyone else did. He made his contributions and was part of the team.
York was also a curiosity to the Indians. Most had never seen a black man. They were intrigued by his color and there is the story about a Mandan chief trying to rub the black off of York’s skin. Yet the Indians loved York. They respected him. Indian children and women frequently followed him around because of his powerful build and his uniqueness.
Make no mistake, York was not a servant, but a slave owned by William Clark. However, for a brief period in his life, York was relatively "free." He had his own rifle and got to vote on matters related to the expedition. He was a full member of the expedition.
Think what it must have been like for York to re-enter a world of slavery after the expedition. To Clark’s credit, he eventually arranged for York’s legal freedom. But think what it would be like to be an African American free man in a world surrounded by race and slavery. You are free only because a piece of paper states you are free. At heart you are always on the edge of respectability, on the edge of freedom.
Clark did pay tribute to Sacagawea in a letter to Charbonneau referring to her as, "Your woman who accompanied you that long dangerous and fatiguing rout to the Pacific Ocean and back disserved a greater reward for her attention and services on that route than we had in our power to offer her."