Fall 2009 | Volume 59, Issue 3
Two centuries after his death, explorer Meriwether Lewis finally gets a funeral with well-deserved honors
Two hundreds years ago, Meriwether Lewis, the leader of one of America’s most famous expeditions, met an ignoble end at an obscure inn near Hohenwald, Tennessee. Two years earlier the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s triumphant return to St. Louis—after an arduous and extraordinary three-year journey to the Pacific and back—had thrilled the young nation. The 35-year-old Lewis was returning east to deliver his journals to his friend and expedition sponsor, Pres. Thomas Jefferson, when he died from a gunshot wound to the head at Grinder’s Stand Inn.
Both the president and William Clark believed that depression had caused Lewis to take his life although rumors and some circumstantial evidence suggest that it may have been murder. Buried hastily not far from the inn, Lewis received neither military nor civilian honors.
This October 7, the Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail Foundation will conduct a national memorial service at the gravesite, complete with full military honors. A highlight will be the unveiling of a bronze bust of Lewis, commissioned from Missouri sculptor Harry Weber.
While working on the bust, Weber tried to imagine the raw emotion Lewis must have experienced returning from such a rich and difficult expedition. Jefferson had been so pleased with Lewis’s work that he appointed him governor of the Louisiana Purchase, which has nearly doubled the area of the United States in 1803. “When Lewis’s journey culminated with his return to St. Louis,” says Weber, “I think he was struck by the realization that a part of his life was over for which becoming governor was no recompense.”
Recently, members of Lewis’s family, hoping to prove he was murdered, have petitioned the National Park Service to exhume the explorer’s remains for a full forensic examination and launched a website calling for public support (www.SolvetheMystery.org).