While working in Tennessee, I stumbled across the grave site of one of the most celebrated explorers in American History who died of mysterious circumstance while traveling to Washington DC in 1809 along a perilous section of trail called the Natchez Trace. Most believe that Meriwether Lewis took his own life while others believe he was murdered.
Meriwether Lewis was beyond an American icon at the time, he was a famous soldier adventurer, scientist, and explorer who helped lead the Corps of Discovery to find a Land Route which would connect the Atlantic based American States with previously uncharted lands leading to the Pacific Ocean often referred to as the “Northwest Passage”. It was the beginning of the Great Manifest Destiny which would consume American Dreams of a vast American Empire that would spread from the mighty Atlantic to the vast Pacific Ocean. The expedition lasted nearly two years and Captain Lewis returned to civilization as a National Hero and Celebrity.
It’s hard to fathom how a celebrated hero of the early 19th Century would be capable of committing suicide, but he suffered from deep bouts of melancholy which was exasperated by alcoholism and financial turmoil. It was widely reported that he attempted to take his own life previously and before he departed St. Louis, he provided guidance to his friends on specific instructions on how to distribute his belongings and property. At the age of 35, Captain Lewis met his premature demise due to multiple gunshot wounds to the head and abdomen. We all know how Americans love a conspiracy theory, but I agree with William Clark the co-leader of the historic expedition who stated, “I fear the weight of his mind has overcome him” when he heard of Meriwether’s death.
I would highly recommend reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose which provides a dramatic historical account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This book does not read like a historical text, its a pleasure to read.
5 Bonus Facts About the Lewis and Clark Expedition:
President Thomas Jefferson granted Leadership of the Corps of Discovery to Captain Meriwether Lewis who then invited William Clark to co-lead the Expedition. This is normally not the command and control structure in a military operation but it worked!
After living in the wild for two years, only one of the members of the expedition died during the perilous journey. Sargent Charles Floyd died near Sioux City, Iowa in August of 1804 most likely due to a ruptured appendix.
Captain Meriwether Lewis was shot in an accidental hunting accident by one of his own men on the return journey from the Pacific Ocean. The buttocks wound forced the co-leader of the expedition to lay on his belly for multiple weeks as the explorers floated down the Missouri River.
Sacajawea was a Native American who served as a guide and interpreter for the Corps of Discovery. She was originally part of Shoshone Indian Tribe but was kidnapped as an adolescent 5 years prior to the beginning of the expedition. During the groups trek across the continent, they ran into the Shoshone Peoples and the Chief of the tribe was Sacajawea’s long lost brother.
William Clark’s dog Seaman accompanied the Expedition and was mentioned several times in the participants journals of their adventure. Seaman was a Newfoundland who loved to swim and hunt. Most accounts indicate that Seaman survived the round trip cross country trek.