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Corps of Discovery - Had the Mandan and Hidatsa Ever Seen an African-American Before?

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York and Hidatsa paintingApparently not. When Clark’s slave York made his appearance among the tribes of the Upper Missouri, he was a constant source of amazement to those who saw him. Standing perhaps six foot tall, he was an imposing physical specimen who immediately became the favorite member of the Corps among the Mandan and Hidatsa. In one of the more famous Charlie Russell paintings, York stands in the midst of an earth lodge while puzzled Mandan touch him and try to rub the paint off. Sadly, upon York’s return to St. Louis, he again lived the life of a slave, even being beaten by William Clark for asking for at least the freedom to live with his wife and children.

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