News / USA

Mystery Still Surrounds Death of Explorer Meriwether Lewis

Explorer Meriwether Lewis
Explorer Meriwether Lewis

American explorer Meriwether Lewis is best known for his efforts in the early 1800s to chart the Louisiana Purchase territory.  His expedition with William Clark paved the way for the westward expansion of the United States. After the journey, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Lewis as Governor of the Louisiana Territory. While on a trip from St. Louis to Washington D.C. in 1809, Lewis died under circumstances that, to this day some 200 years later, remain a mystery.

What is known about the last hours in the relatively short life of explorer Meriwether Lewis is that on the night of October 10, 1809, it ended at Grinders Stand along a trail known as the Natchez Trace, in what is now the state of Tennessee.

What is not known, definitively, is how he died.

"There is a great debate about whether or not Governor Lewis committed suicide, or there are theories he was murdered," said Cameron Sholly, the National Park Service [NPS] Superintendent of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which is home to the final resting place of Meriwether Lewis. "Most historians believe that he died from his own hands - suicide," he said.

"Our family believed he was murdered," said Keith Vanstone is a descendent of Meriwether Lewis. He and other family members are trying to solve the mystery surrounding the famed explorer's death. "Bits and pieces put together make up a story.  So if we could learn just a little bit more, then we'll have a better understanding of him and his times."

There was no eyewitness to Lewis' death, no real evidence gathered at the scene. His friends, including Thomas Jefferson and William Clark, did not doubt it was suicide, given Lewis's reported fragile state of mind at the time. But tales of political intrigue, a murder-for-hire, or robbery, began to circulate many years after his death.

"The Natchez Trace was one of the most dangerous areas in the country at the time, and Lewis was dressed as a man who had means. He was carrying about $200 with him, and that money was never recovered," said Tony Turnbow, Chairman of the Lewis County Museum. He believes the only way to solve the mystery is to exhume his remains. "That may be the only way we find out. All the accounts are conflicting."

When a monument commission opened Lewis's grave in 1847, their inspection of his remains led them to believe an assassin caused his death.

Despite advances in forensic technology some 160 years later, the National Park Service, which is responsible for Lewis's grave as a National Historic Site, has denied current exhumation requests. Sholly says the NPS is concerned about the precedent it would create, as well as the physical risk to his remains, and those of 107 others buried near him.

"This isn't a typical gravesite. Captain Lewis is under a foot and a half of reinforced concrete, three feet of crushed gravel, more fill, more concrete. Most importantly, we don't know exactly where his remains are in relationship to the monument. So no one can guarantee that Captain Lewis' remains would not be destroyed through an exhumation process," Sholly said.

For Lewis's descendents, opening the grave is also an opportunity for closure. "He never was given a proper Christian burial, and even a proper burial at that. So to identify the remains, and then re-inter them with the proper burial is also an objective," Vanstone said.

Though Lewis's death remains unsolved, Sholly says it does not change the way the NPS, and history, views one of the important figures of early American history. "The way he died does not affect his incredible contributions to the country," he said.

The $4-million improvement project at the site where he died is scheduled for completion by next year.

Once completed, Sholly says the visitor's center and historic displays will focus more on the accomplishments in life, not the controversy surrounding the death, of one of the most celebrated explorers in U.S. history.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid