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Meriwether Lewis

The Family of Meriwether Lewis Seeks Answers in His Death

June 08, 2009 06:30 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
Suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the death of Meriwether Lewis, the family of the famed explorer wants to exhume his body to try to learn the truth.

Suicide or Murder?

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For years, historians have been undecided on how Meriwether Lewis died. His descendants want answers, too, the Charlottesville Daily Progress explained.

Lewis was 35 when he passed away on Oct. 11, 1809, three years after completing the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition, The Columbian reported.

Some say Lewis shot himself in a suicide attempt, while others suggest murder, the Charlottesville Daily Progress said. His family has been asking the National Park Service to help them resolve the matter since 1996.
 
“All we’re looking for is the truth,” Howell Lewis Bowen, a relative of Meriwether Lewis, told the Charlottesville Daily Progress. “The family is united in trying to resolve the mystery. We just want to know if he committed suicide or if he was murdered.”
But getting the information they need hasn’t been easy. Lewis is buried in Tennessee on land controlled by the National Park Service, and the family needs permission from the agency to exhume his body.
 
The Charlottesville Daily Progress noted that the Park Service has been hesitant to allow Lewis’ remains to be moved, considering it an “unnecessary disturbance” of his grave. The site was opened in 1840 to ensure it truly held Lewis’ remains before a headstone was placed there.

To gather support for their cause, members of Meriwether Lewis’ family have started a Web site, SolveTheMystery.org. On the site, the family says that in addition to hopefully finding answers about Lewis’ death, they also want to give the man “a proper Christian burial.”

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Key Players: Lewis and Clark, Thomas Jefferson

Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis displayed an adventurous spirit at a very young age. At 8 years old, he would frequently venture out on hunting escapades in the middle of the night during winter. His mother’s knowledge of medicinal herbs helped fuel his passion for natural history. He joined the U.S. Army at age 20, becoming a captain within six years. Shortly thereafter, he became a personal secretary to President Thomas Jefferson, his former neighbor and mentor.

William Clark

Once Jefferson charged him with exploring the West, Lewis decided he wanted a partner to accompany him on the journey. He chose a friend and former commanding officer, William Clark.

When the explorers returned home from their journey, President Jefferson made Clark a “principal Indian agent for the Louisiana Territory and brigadier general of its militia,” PBS writes. Clark tried to become governor of Missouri when it achieved statehood, but failed. He was Superintendent of Indian Affairs at St. Louis from 1822 until just before his death in 1838.
Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson served as the third U.S. President from 1801 to 1809, during which time he nearly doubled the size of the United States by buying 828,000 square miles of land in the Louisiana Purchase. He also co-authored the Declaration of Independence.

Reference: Lewis and Clark Resources

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