Saturday, December 22, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 The Journey of York: The Unsung Hero of the Lewis and Clark Expedition


"In May 1804 Captain Lewis, Captain Clark, and twenty-eight men set out from St. Louis, Missouri, in three boats with the goal  of reaching the Pacific Ocean. All but one of those men were volunteers. This is his story." So begins this picture book account of the Lewis & Clark Expedition from the viewpoint of York, Captain Clark's slave. The text points out that York had no choice in leaving his family and home, and also does a good job of choosing a few key milestones of the journey to frame the challenges and dangers the men faced. The reaction of the native tribes to seeing someone with skin the color of York's is mentioned, including a chief who called him "Big Medicine." A feeling of sympathy between York and Sacajawea is also described, bringing attention to the similarity between their situations as York learns that the young woman was stolen from her tribe and given in trade to the man who called her his wife.

Several pages that look like very old paper are inserted into the text to hold larger chunks of exposition. The background information included in the introduction tells of President Jefferson's desire for a detailed accounting of the new territory, while the author's note at the end shares facts about the rewards the party received on their return and York's continued enslavement. The illustrations capture the work of building shelters, poling boats, a portage around waterfalls, and the majesty of Mount Hood glimpsed for the first time by the party.

This is a very helpful look at a famous group of men, and one of the often overlooked members of the party. It draws attention to the contributions of York, and also to the way famous men in our country's history used slave labor and indigenous people for their own purposes. A good book to add to units on Westward Expansion, especially for those trying to offer a more balanced picture of what occurred from beyond the European male viewpoint.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

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