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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify Power Base

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' 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.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs