York's Islands and Other Sites
I drove between Great Falls and Helena on Interstate 15, which passes to the west of the Gates of the Mountains on the Missouri River. I wrote about that site in a previous post.
At Helena, I left I-15 and drove along the river on U.S. 287, which connects Helena and the Three Forks area. There are several Lewis and Clark sites on this stretch of highway, shown in the photos below. The most important of these sites is the place known as York's Islands, a cluster of islands in the river named for York in 1805 on the expedition's westward journey.
Sign at the entrance to the York's Islands site. This sign retains the apostrophe, but some of the interpretive markers drop it, which drives me crazy!
View of one of several islands (eight) at this spot in the Missouri named for York. The islands themselves are private property.
Montana maintains public fishing access along its many rivers, posted with a sign familiar to travelers in the state. Sometimes these sites are just a little parking area along a river, but some are more substantial, with camping facilities, boat ramps, and so forth. York's Islands is such a site and includes an interpretive sign.
Boat ramp at the site. This view is looking upriver, approximately south or a bit southeast.
Interpretive sign under the trees at York's Islands.
The interpretive sign's text reads in part: “York played an important role in the success of the Corps of Discovery. The journals document how York tended to the sick, hunted and fished for food, and contributed to wildlife observations. This muscular black man’s appearance was curious to the native people the Corps encountered and he gained their respect which helped the expedition.”
The discussion of York himself is highly complimentary, but the following is inexcusable: “York requested his freedom upon returning from the expedition citing his contributions to its success. However it would not be until almost 5 years later that William Clark was successful in negotiating York’s freedom as a slave.” It sounds as if poor Clark struggled for years to "negotiate" York's freedom with some unnamed external obstacle! I would say it was York who was successful at negotiating his freedom, not Clark! What a strange and misleading way to express it.
The text ends with: “Still York remained a black man in a world of slavery and segregation; history has not fully revealed how successfully this man who traversed the continent was able to function in a society still developing its ideals of equality and freedom.” A bit ambiguous here: are they saying York was successful at functioning in society, or that we don't really know yet? Certainly, we do not know much about what happened to him after the expedition.
Also along this portion of U.S. 287 is a picnic area with an attractive new interpretive station about Lewis and Clark and the region. Another fishing access site near the Three Forks, named for expedition member George Drouillard, does not have any interpretive marker.
This interpretive station at a picnic area along the river includes panels on regional history, Lewis and Clark, and the Missouri River.
Poor Drouillard gets only a rules and regulations sign at his fishing access site.
[All photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2007.]