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The Arikaras practiced ritual cannibalism of their fallen enemies, but that was a far cry from consuming village youth.With Arikara chiefs embroiled in factional disputes and Teton agents ready to use those tensions against the expedition, Lewis and Clark did not need rumors drifting through the earth lodges that the Americans kept a great he-bear ready to eat Indian children.”(5). Jolm Ordway adds, “All the nation made a great deal of him.
The I children would follow after him, & if he turned towards them they would run from him & hollow as if they were terrified, & afraid of him.” (6) This incident suggests more than just a “celebrity” status aong the Indians, but that in fact York had a significant amount of freedom in movement and to conduct self-expression as he sought entertaining to himself.
The Arikaras viewed York’s darkness as a sign of commanding great spiritual forces.
Yet, in the end, his experiences were fleeting, no lasting greatness gained.
Although eventually freed, he died a poor and miserable man.
The term”servant” is significant, meaning that York was a “body servant” of Clark, “a term that signified the assignment of a young slave to his equally young master for companionship.”(2) During the yearly years York would have been a playmate to Clark.
Clark told William Clark Kennerly that during his Youth of tramping the woods searching for game, fishing, and riding about the countryside, he was “always accompanied by his little Negro boy.
They were to study the indigenous peoples, study their warfare, languages, political structure, and economic relationships a Inong other tribes and Europeans.
It is during Lewis and Clark’s negotiations with the Indians that York’s contributions to the expedition are most noted in the journals.
Clark writes concerning the Arikaras first contact with a black man, “The Indians were much astonished at my Servent, They never saw a black man before, all flocked around him & examined him from top to toe, he Carried on the joke and made himself more turribal than we wished him to doe.” Clark further records concerning the Arikaras’ assessment of York, “something strange & from his very large size more vicious than whites.” James P.
Ronda states in his book, Lewis and Clark Among the Indians, that among these tribes, York began to enjoy a new status: “York thoroughly enjoyed his newfound celebrity status and had already ‘made himself more turribal’ than the captains wished.