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How Did Meriwether Lewis Die?

March 2023
1min read

Did Meriwether Lewis, who with William Clark first blazed a trail to the Pacific in 1804–06, die by his own hand at Grinder’s Stand on the Natchez Trace in 1809, or was he murdered? If he was murdered, who was the murderer and what was the motive?

Through the years the names of several suspects have been advanced, but little is known about most of them. On the list are Robert and Priscilla Grinder, or Griner, who operated the inn where Lewis died violently. Others are James Neelly, an Indian agent traveling with Lewis; John Pernier, Lewis’s servant; and Tom Runions, believed to be an occasional land pirate. In the documentation that exists are numerous discrepancies.

Questions are also unanswered in the evidence that has been presented to give credence to the suicide of Lewis. Some of it came from the suspects themselves. Recent scholarship leans toward the suicide theory, but in the area of Tennessee where Lewis died, local folklore still strongly supports the belief that he was murdered, even among descendants of some of the suspects.

The solution may be in Lewis’s use of laudanum, an opium-based drug, if proof can be found that he was carrying any at the time of his death.

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