African Americans traversed the plains of even the most remote of territories, including Idaho. York, the valued translator and mediator of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and legendary mountain man James Beckworth were among the first non-Native Americans to travel to the isolated Idaho territory.
Traditional accounts of history, however, have been grossly neglectful in acknowledging their presence and contribution. The following statement by a black woman from Boise [circa 1900] in making her funeral plans, best articulates the realities African Americans encountered.
“Don’t want to be buried from the church when I go. You see, I am the only colored member, and while everyone in the church has been good to me, I think it would better to be buried from the undertaker’s, for there might be some feeling, you know.”
In 1863, Boise County passed a law excluding blacks and Chinese from prospecting and 1865 introduced a bill prohibiting all black migration to the state.
A mining settlement established by William Rhodes, a African American miner who had been successful as a gold miner in California. He came to Idaho in 1860 and by 1862 had accumulated $80,000 in diggings. His skills brought him the attention of many financial backers and he died in the winter of 1886 while developing a mine for silver ore deposits in the Bitterroot Mountains.