Episode 99

The Mysterious End of Merriwether Lewis

🎙 Warning: These new shirts may cause history-inspired travel

Scott and Jenn delve into the life and enigmatic death of Meriwether Lewis, renowned for his role as co-captain in the Lewis and Clark expedition. After exploring the newly acquired American West, Lewis's story takes a dark turn as he dies under suspicious circumstances in 1809, sparking debates over whether his death was a suicide or murder. The hosts explore various facets of Lewis's life, including his contributions as an explorer, his role as the governor of the Louisiana Territory, and his struggles with mental health and potential illnesses.

They also discuss differing accounts and theories surrounding his death, emphasizing the historical significance of Lewis's achievements and the lingering questions about his demise. This episode reflects on Lewis's contribution to American history and investigates the mystery of his tragic end.

The Mysterious End of Merriweather Lewis

0:00 99 Merriweather Lewis

00:27 Intro

01:52 Setting Off on Horseback: The Life and Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis

03:01 Meriwether Lewis: The Man Behind the Lewis and Clark Expedition

06:01 The Mental State of Meriwether Lewis: A Deep Dive

09:40 Governorship and Financial Struggles: Lewis's Later Years

15:39 The Final Journey: From Memphis to the Mysterious End

19:43 The Mysterious Night at Grinder's Stand

20:49 Theories and Family Folklore

22:47 The Aftermath and Investigation

27:24 Exhuming the Truth: A Historical Puzzle

34:12 The Legacy and Lasting Questions of Meriwether Lewis

36:14 Exploring the Site Today: A Call to Action

36:33 Reflecting on the Legacy of Lewis and Clark

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Transcript
Jenn:

And when they dug up the body, . The commission wrote in its official

Jenn:

report, even though the impression had long prevailed that Lewis died by

Jenn:

his own hand, it seemed more probable he died by the hand of assassins.

Jenn:

And that's what opened up this whole idea that

Scott:

Welcome to Talk With History.

Scott:

I'm your host, Scott, here with my wife and historian, Jenn.

Scott:

On this podcast, we give you insights to our history inspired world travels,

Scott:

YouTube channel journey, and examine history Through deeper conversations

Scott:

with the curious, the explorers and the history lovers out there.

Scott:

Now, Jenn, before we get into this episode intro here, I do want to

Scott:

mention if folks are listening to this for the first time, this is our 99th.

Scott:

episode

Jenn:

Yeah.

Scott:

and so this is our 99th episode so you're gonna naturally if you're

Scott:

well what are you guys doing for your hundredth episode well you guys are just

Scott:

gonna have to subscribe and follow us to find out the guest the very special guest

Scott:

that we have we have for our hundredth episode it's a truly legit celebrity

Jenn:

and big

Scott:

and in a big one especially in her history circle so make sure

Scott:

that you tell your friends and make sure you're following us, either

Scott:

Apple podcast, Spotify, wherever you listen, because a hundredth episode, I

Scott:

actually already finished editing it.

Scott:

So that one is scheduled as we are recording this, but this one will

Scott:

come out and our hundredth episode.

Scott:

We'll have a very special guest that I think our listeners are

Scott:

getting almost guaranteed to enjoy.

Scott:

Today, we're setting sail, well, technically we're setting off on

Scott:

horseback, on a journey to explore the life and untimely demise of Meriwether

Scott:

Lewis, the intrepid co captain of the Lewis and Clark You know him as the

Scott:

guy who explored the vast unknown of the American West alongside William Clark.

Scott:

But Lewis's story takes a dark turn after their triumphant return.

Scott:

In 1809, at the young age of 35, Lewis was found dead under mysterious Was it

Scott:

a tragic case of suicide, or was there a foul play that led to his demise?

Scott:

The evidence is murky, and the debate rages on.

Scott:

We'll be diving deep into the final days of Lewis's life, examining the

Scott:

clues and exploring the theories behind this historical whodunit.

Scott:

So saddle up history detectives.

Scott:

Join me as we untangle the truth about the mysterious death of Meriwether Lewis.

Scott:

All right, Jenn.

Scott:

Meriwether Lewis, Lewis and Clark.

Jenn:

I know, Big

Jenn:

name in American history,

Scott:

names.

Jenn:

big name, first name, right?

Jenn:

He's the beginning of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Jenn:

And really when it comes down to it, Lewis is Jefferson's secretary.

Jenn:

When Jefferson buys the Louisiana Purchase.

Scott:

know how I remember that?

Scott:

is the

Jenn:

Oh my gosh

Scott:

History.

Scott:

The Drunk, there was a Drunk

Jenn:

There is a junk history

Scott:

and it wasn't about Meriwether Lewis or Jefferson, but it was about who

Scott:

was that kind of newspaper article writer?

Scott:

Calendar, James Calendar.

Jenn:

we made a

Scott:

It was a Drunk History about James Calendar and they mentioned

Scott:

very briefly that Meriwether Lewis is the secretary for Jefferson at the

Jenn:

So they're close, right?

Jenn:

They're both from the same area of Virginia.

Jenn:

They've kind of run in the same circles and they're close and he's helped

Jenn:

squash like the Whiskey Rebellion.

Jenn:

He's part of the Virginia militia and he's just a very trusted ally.

Jenn:

advisor to Jefferson, and he's kind of an outdoorsy guy.

Jenn:

And so it's really Lewis who brings Clark on board, because Jefferson picks

Jenn:

Lewis, and Lewis is like, Who have I worked with before that I really liked?

Jenn:

I liked Clark when I when we were in the military

Scott:

had just finished up the Louisiana purchase.

Scott:

So Jefferson's Hey,

Jenn:

We need someone to go out and see what I

Scott:

you're out doorsy.

Scott:

Go explore all

Scott:

that, you

Jenn:

go see what I bought.

Scott:

a jillion acres of land that I just bought.

Jenn:

And really, I have to give Lewis a lot of credit, and I love his first

Jenn:

name, Meriwether, it's super cool.

Jenn:

But he's the one who brings

Jenn:

the people together.

Jenn:

He's the one who kind of hires Sacagawea's husband, who's a French

Jenn:

trader, trapper, who knows the area,

Jenn:

sees the knowledge of Sacagawea, sees her importance.

Jenn:

Clark who brings his enslaved man York with him, but it's Lewis who's very

Jenn:

adamant that we are not going to treat enslaved like enslaved on this trip.

Jenn:

Everyone's going to get a fair vote.

Jenn:

Everyone is a member of this expedition and it's Lewis who sets this precedence

Jenn:

and they very much, even when Sacagawea, they're very much involved in her life

Jenn:

because she's pregnant at the time.

Jenn:

They're a part of her delivery.

Jenn:

They all help with her child, as he's growing up.

Jenn:

I mean, Clark will eventually take care of the child.

Scott:

And,

Scott:

and the expedition's takes two and a half

Jenn:

yeah, it's a long

Scott:

time

Scott:

So by the end of the, the expedition, I mean, her child is probably two years old.

Scott:

And,

Jenn:

like I said, they're just very close and it's, it's Lewis who

Jenn:

sets this whole precedence here.

Jenn:

But People see Lewis's

Jenn:

mental state.

Jenn:

and sometimes he can be melancholy, sometimes he can

Jenn:

get a little forlorn, depressed.

Scott:

during the expedition as

Scott:

well?

Jenn:

during the expedition, and Jefferson had seen him do it sometimes as well.

Jenn:

There is some family history for Lewis of his father having kind

Jenn:

of a mental health deterioration.

Jenn:

So there could be a family history of that.

Jenn:

And that's not always hereditary, but it can be.

Jenn:

So it's just, you have to, acknowledge

Scott:

sure

Jenn:

Also acknowledge

Jenn:

that this expedition took so long.

Jenn:

They doubled back a couple times.

Jenn:

And in a way, as much as Meriwether,

Jenn:

Lewis is

Jenn:

very.

Jenn:

Vital to all the drawings and all the all those things they

Jenn:

are bringing back, all the

Scott:

the documentation,

Jenn:

he's very good at all of that.

Jenn:

They aren't quite getting

Jenn:

the whole, the important thing they were supposed to

Scott:

get, Yes.

Jenn:

which is the waterway,

Scott:

They were looking for a waterway from, basically from east to

Jenn:

From east to west.

Jenn:

And so maybe, maybe almost not Mississippi up, they're just looking for a waterway

Jenn:

that could take you from Pacific, maybe down the Mississippi, maybe to Gulf.

Jenn:

So basically, you're not going completely around South America,

Jenn:

because at the time, there's no Panama.

Jenn:

And so you can tell that Maybe he's in that.

Jenn:

And I'm a historian.

Jenn:

I'm just kind of giving an idea.

Jenn:

I don't know.

Jenn:

He's feeling less

Jenn:

optimistic

Jenn:

about that.

Jenn:

And so then he's the pessimism that he's not hitting the thing that he

Jenn:

was really supposed to discover.

Jenn:

And that's becoming more realistic as the expedition goes on.

Scott:

I think it's It's something that the general public doesn't really think

Scott:

about when you're learning about the whole Lewis and Clark expedition, because we see

Scott:

it as a, in a, through a fairly romantic

Jenn:

Mm hmm

Scott:

Oh my gosh, that's so amazing.

Scott:

What would it be like to be on the Lewis and Clark expedition?

Scott:

Exploring this.

Scott:

all this land and seeing Oregon for the first time and all the stuff that the, you

Scott:

kind of, especially as someone from the West coast, learning about that, but you

Scott:

don't think about, well, what was their true mission, their mission, like what

Scott:

was their goal and if their goal, like the one thing that they set out to accomplish,

Scott:

aside from just the general nature of the expedition that they weren't able to.

Scott:

Someone like Mary Weather Lewis that might have affected

Jenn:

Sure, so you can think, he's almost in charge of

Jenn:

this.

Jenn:

He's worked for Jefferson.

Jenn:

He knows how important this is for Jefferson.

Jenn:

Jefferson hasn't.

Jenn:

just

Jenn:

said, Oh, and if you find a waterway, that would be great.

Jenn:

He's probably that's what you need to find.

Jenn:

I hope I bought this with a

Jenn:

waterway.

Jenn:

It's a trade thing.

Jenn:

And, but even when they come back like you said, it took a couple

Jenn:

of years and they come back.

Jenn:

They are very much treated as celebrities.

Jenn:

This has made news.

Jenn:

I mean, cause they've, they've seen things that never been seen before.

Jenn:

They've discovered things that never been seen there by, by the English settlers.

Jenn:

I know they're meeting American Indians out there.

Jenn:

They've seen the

Scott:

Yeah.

Scott:

And, French fur

Jenn:

French, which they've seen, but this is like for the general public, no one's.

Jenn:

And now it's American land.

Jenn:

Cause before it was all French land.

Jenn:

So kind of letting all the Americans know what's out there.

Jenn:

So they are seen as, as.

Jenn:

celebrities, . And because of that, after they return home, Lewis is

Jenn:

rewarded 1600 acres and he is made the governor of the Louisiana Territory.

Jenn:

So when you think Louisiana Purchase, Louisiana Territory,

Jenn:

it's bigger than the state.

Jenn:

It's like that area.

Jenn:

And so the capital Quotes is in st.

Jenn:

Louis, and that's where he settles.

Jenn:

So

Scott:

Yeah, and remember, just for time frame here, I

Scott:

mean this is the early 1800s.

Scott:

So the expedition was 1803 to 1806, and so they come home, great

Scott:

fanfare, and he's made the governor of the general Louisiana area.

Scott:

I don't know what they call it,

Jenn:

so they call it the upper upper Louisiana

Scott:

Okay.

Jenn:

And so he's made governor in 1807.

Jenn:

So he's gotten back 1807, governor of this Louisiana Territory.

Jenn:

Now, what starts to happen is he's, he's writing his journals, he wants

Jenn:

to get his journals published.

Jenn:

He's, he's starting to establish roads.

Jenn:

He's starting to establish laws, right?

Jenn:

This is a former French territory.

Jenn:

This is a very much American Indian territory.

Jenn:

So he has to negotiate peace among all these quarreling Indian tribes.

Jenn:

And he's trying to enforce these Indian treaties.

Jenn:

And he's trying to protect Western Indian lands and encroachment

Jenn:

because Manifest Destiny is a big

Jenn:

proponent now of this Lewis and Clark expedition because Americans realize

Jenn:

that it's all this land and we want to go

Scott:

want to go settle it.

Scott:

historian here.

Scott:

But the, the American government kind of stoked that fire, right?

Scott:

It was, it was part of the whole Manifest Destiny and said, Hey, Manifest

Scott:

Destiny, partly to get population out there so that they could kind of expand

Scott:

the American population which would then expand everything else within

Jenn:

Yeah.

Jenn:

And so he's, he's fighting DC, which Jefferson's no longer president.

Jenn:

After this, it's going to be Madison, who's very good friends with Jefferson.

Jenn:

So it's not like Lewis still isn't, held in high esteem because he

Jenn:

is because Madison and Jefferson are basically the same person.

Jenn:

And then you, you're going to have these, you're going People who want

Jenn:

to come out and settle, you have the American Indians, you have treaties, and

Jenn:

he's trying to negotiate all of this.

Jenn:

And people in D.

Jenn:

C.

Jenn:

are wondering, why is this so difficult?

Jenn:

Why is, are you having a hard time?

Jenn:

And historians have argued that he was a poor administrator, because

Jenn:

he was trying to handle all of this.

Jenn:

And as he's handling all of this, and bringing in different, Chiefs, he's paying

Jenn:

for all of these logistics, whether it is to travel in chiefs or bring people,

Jenn:

he's paying for logistics of this.

Jenn:

And so he's reaching back to DC to get reimbursed for these things.

Jenn:

And DC is well, you're not doing a very good job.

Jenn:

And we don't believe that this is the these are accurate receipts and it's

Jenn:

putting Lewis in a financial burden.

Jenn:

And so this is why he's traveling to DC.

Jenn:

He's going to DC to Basically be in person, make the argument, talk

Jenn:

about these are the receipts for this and this is the receipts for

Jenn:

this and this is what happened here.

Jenn:

Now

Jenn:

his letters are not very quick and timely and people equate that to his mental

Jenn:

illness, that his melancholy, that all these things that he, he wasn't quick

Jenn:

to respond to the inquiries from D.

Jenn:

C.

Jenn:

and because of that.

Jenn:

He, the mental illness, and that's also what people don't trust him.

Jenn:

It's also why they feel like he's a poor administrator.

Jenn:

No one knows for sure.

Jenn:

but it could have been other medical reasons that are happening at the

Jenn:

time.

Scott:

So he, does the expedition for a couple years,

Scott:

is kind of disappointed.

Scott:

I don't know, did he write that in his journals?

Scott:

I mean, I don't remember, I don't remember, but obviously they didn't

Scott:

accomplish the one primary mission.

Scott:

Accomplished a lot.

Scott:

Came back, I don't know if he volunteered, asked for, or was saddled

Scott:

with governorship, but it sounds like he, after spending a couple years

Scott:

exploring the wilderness, that's quite a shift, going from one to the other.

Scott:

Becomes governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, isn't doing a good

Jenn:

good job

Scott:

is Basically spending money that he doesn't

Scott:

have and

Scott:

trying to get reimbursed for it.

Scott:

So he says, Hey, I'm going to go make my case to DC.

Scott:

I'm going to go talk to Madison who's, I already know because

Scott:

he's good buddies with Jefferson.

Scott:

I'm going to go to DC, make my case, see if they can get them to reimburse

Scott:

me for all this stuff so that I can keep the wheel spinning over

Scott:

here in Upper Louisiana Territory.

Scott:

Okay.

Scott:

Okay.

Jenn:

that's the point.

Jenn:

He's, he's leaving St.

Jenn:

Louis to travel to D.

Jenn:

C.

Jenn:

to make the argument about these receipts.

Jenn:

To get reimbursed, so he's not in financial ruin, to kind

Jenn:

of defend his governorship.

Jenn:

And he's fighting with the former Louisiana governor, who's down

Jenn:

in the lower Louisiana territory.

Jenn:

There are differences in governing.

Jenn:

Decides

Jenn:

to travel from St.

Jenn:

Louis.

Jenn:

to New Orleans where he's going to get on a big ship and then travel from

Jenn:

New Orleans across the Gulf over to

Scott:

Okay, so take the Mississippi down to the, basically the Gulf

Scott:

and Ocean go up around the coast.

Jenn:

And with him, he's bringing I think it was like four big

Jenn:

trunks, six big trunks of all of his journals to get published.

Jenn:

So finally, that was everybody wanted to see what do these fish look like?

Jenn:

What does this fauna

Scott:

look

Scott:

like, Yeah, it's been a couple years.

Jenn:

It's been a couple years, right?

Jenn:

And he's finally got them finished.

Jenn:

He's going to bring them to DC as well.

Jenn:

So it's very precious cargo.

Jenn:

So when he hits Memphis, 18.

Jenn:

09.

Jenn:

This

Jenn:

is around the time when the British are starting to act up with impressments.

Jenn:

This is going to lead us into the War of 1812.

Jenn:

So he's getting a little nervous about going to New Orleans.

Jenn:

He's getting nervous about putting his trunks on a ship and, and traveling

Jenn:

around Hatteras, North Carolina.

Scott:

Yeah, and if you've heard any of our past episodes, like that's

Scott:

very dangerous sailing out there

Scott:

sometimes.

Jenn:

there.

Jenn:

Important documents can be lost forever.

Jenn:

Aaron Burr.

Jenn:

And so he gets nervous and he's when he hits Memphis and he's

Jenn:

I'm going to travel from Memphis.

Jenn:

Cause you're like, why doesn't he travel from St.

Jenn:

Louis across?

Jenn:

Why?

Jenn:

Why does he go down to Memphis?

Jenn:

And then, so for Memphis, he goes, I'm going to go across to DC and I'm going to

Scott:

so, he's I'm going to go across Tennessee, kind of take that route

Jenn:

I'm going to get on the Natchez trace, which is a trail that's easily

Jenn:

traveled and I'm going to go to DC.

Scott:

Gotcha.

Jenn:

So he hits Memphis.

Jenn:

He gets malaria.

Jenn:

He gets sick.

Jenn:

And if we know anything about Memphis, mosquitoes, yellow fever, right?

Jenn:

And he gets sick.

Jenn:

Malaria can make you delirious.

Jenn:

He's taking opium.

Jenn:

Those are the kind of pills that you took to combat the

Jenn:

fever that you get with malaria.

Jenn:

And he He has a suicide attempt or that's what they claim.

Jenn:

He was trying to jump off the side of the ship

Scott:

Yeah.

Scott:

He was probably just like super high or hallucinating.

Jenn:

they stop him from doing that and they're like, he had a suicide attempt.

Jenn:

So this is, these are the things that kind of

Jenn:

back the case of the future

Jenn:

Suicide claim.

Jenn:

So

Jenn:

he's there for a couple of weeks.

Jenn:

He, It gets a travel buddy.

Jenn:

Basically, his name is Neely, and he's a Chickasaw Indian agent.

Jenn:

He will bring his enslaved man with him.

Jenn:

Lewis is traveling with a free black servant, Perna.

Jenn:

He's not.

Jenn:

enslaved.

Jenn:

He's, but he's, hasn't been paid in a while.

Jenn:

So he's owed like 200, so he's traveling with Louis still but he hasn't been paid.

Jenn:

Because Louis doesn't have any money, because it's all tied up in his receipts.

Jenn:

Neely comes with him, they take, they take, two big trunks with

Jenn:

them, two goes with Lewis, two goes with Neely on a a wagon.

Jenn:

And they start to travel from Memphis about two weeks later after he gets better

Jenn:

to up the Natchez trace up to Nashville.

Jenn:

Cause the Natchez trace takes you from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville.

Jenn:

And he hits grinder stand alone because two of the horses have run

Jenn:

away and Neely goes looking for those two horses and he goes by himself.

Jenn:

The two servants, the one enslaved man and the one free man of color travel

Jenn:

behind Lewis with the four trunks.

Scott:

Okay.

Scott:

And Grindr stand was like, basically like an inn, like a

Scott:

place for the people to stop.

Jenn:

So Grinders stand is a stand or an inn.

Jenn:

They call it a stand is kind of a word for in,

Scott:

Oh, okay.

Jenn:

and it's located on the Natchez Trace.

Jenn:

It was owned by the grinder.

Jenn:

So Robert grinder and Priscilla grinder, but there was no D in their name.

Jenn:

So it's Grinner,

Scott:

Oh, okay.

Jenn:

but the D was added for the stand.

Jenn:

Grinder stand, but they're Grinner.

Jenn:

And so kind of a, when you're looking for their names in the, in the

Jenn:

archive, there's no D in their names,

Scott:

classic historian switcheroo,

Jenn:

is hard for historians.

Jenn:

There's a lot of these names that we use here are misspelled

Jenn:

or the spelling is changed.

Jenn:

It was two rough log cabins.

Jenn:

And this is the whole reason why we do this video is we stopped at that

Jenn:

location where they have recreated grinder stand along the trace.

Jenn:

And there is Merriweather Lewis's grave.

Jenn:

There were two cabins that kind of were adjoined at right angles.

Jenn:

There was kind of a dog trot between them, so they weren't connected.

Jenn:

And that's why when you hear Priscilla Grinder doesn't sleep in the same

Jenn:

cabin as Merriweather Lewis that night, it's because she's in the other one.

Jenn:

A dog trot between them is not a lot, right?

Jenn:

And with wood planks, there's not a lot.

Jenn:

You can hear, right?

Jenn:

So just, just bear in mind,

Scott:

And that's that's what, that's why she's able to hear what

Jenn:

Yes.

Jenn:

Even though she's going to give three separate accounts.

Jenn:

over the years of what happened that

Scott:

Like three different

Jenn:

three different

Scott:

ones,

Scott:

Oh,

Jenn:

even though she really is the only witness, besides the two men

Jenn:

who are traveling with them, the two men of color, which we'll talk about.

Jenn:

So Meriwether Lewis gets there on the night of October 10th,

Jenn:

1809.

Jenn:

He

Jenn:

gets there about six o'clock and He asks for a room, and she gives him

Jenn:

the one whole cabin, and then she with her children are in another room.

Jenn:

Now, where's Robert, where's her husband?

Jenn:

There's a family folklore from the Grinder family that Robert

Jenn:

caught Priscilla and Louis in bed

Jenn:

together.

Jenn:

And Robert was will be the one to shoot Lewis and then he runs away to Texas

Jenn:

and that really did happen right after Meriwether Lewis is killed at the log

Jenn:

cabin.

Jenn:

Robert is gone to Texas.

Jenn:

He runs away.

Scott:

I didn't know that.

Jenn:

So this stand used to be called

Jenn:

Indian Line

Jenn:

stand, and they had just opened it because the Chickasaw had seceded this

Jenn:

land to Tennessee in 1805, and they had just established this stand in 1807.

Jenn:

So it's only been around for two years.

Jenn:

But Robert Grinder made his money by selling alcohol to the American Indians.

Jenn:

That's the whole, that's what he, that was his business there.

Jenn:

So he's not like the most upstanding guy.

Jenn:

You have to understand, the trace, too, is not a very, lawful area.

Scott:

Yeah, I mean, it's a wilderness path.

Jenn:

Yes.

Jenn:

And so you're going to get highwaymen, you're going to get bandits,

Jenn:

because most people are traveling with some kind of means with them.

Jenn:

And it's just think of Robin Hood.

Jenn:

It's a very easy way to rob people because who are they going to rob?

Jenn:

We're going to get right here along this middle of nowhere path.

Jenn:

So Meriwether Lewis gets there before his enslaved men who are coming behind

Jenn:

him with these four trunks, gets a room.

Jenn:

He gets, he eats dinner, Priscilla and the children go to the other room.

Jenn:

cabin and he's there in the night or before the end of the night, the two

Jenn:

men of color get there and they're put up in like a barn, like a lean to

Jenn:

that's a little bit away from the house.

Jenn:

Not far, but because we've been there, if you want to see our video, it's

Jenn:

probably where the parking lot is.

Jenn:

So it's not

Scott:

Yeah, everything's pretty

Scott:

close

Jenn:

pretty close.

Jenn:

And they there and there for the night.

Jenn:

Well, about two o'clock in the middle of the night, two gunshots

Jenn:

pretty close together go off.

Jenn:

Now, Priscilla like I said, there's three different stories that she gives.

Jenn:

She gives a story right away when Neely gets there,

Jenn:

the day later, Neely will get there after he's died.

Jenn:

Neely will be the one who will be the eyewitness to, he'll

Jenn:

hear Priscilla's first story.

Jenn:

Her first story is, she heard the two gunshots.

Jenn:

She had her children go wake the servants, the two men, the two men went to Lewis.

Jenn:

Lewis was distraught and he's, he gave these great like last lines,

Jenn:

like I am too strong to die.

Jenn:

The Lord take me.

Jenn:

He was begging for water.

Jenn:

They gave him water.

Jenn:

He basically bled out and died.

Jenn:

About six years later, she's interviewed again for a newspaper and she

Jenn:

claims that Louis came to her door.

Jenn:

After she heard the two gunshots, knocked on her door, screaming and

Jenn:

like moaning, asking for water.

Jenn:

She was too afraid to give him water.

Jenn:

She heard him scratching the, the gourd of the bucket at

Jenn:

the well, trying to get water.

Jenn:

And she's still too afraid to go out and give him water.

Jenn:

He comes to her door again, knocking for water.

Jenn:

Please help me get some water.

Jenn:

He , wanders around, they see him like, fall down.

Jenn:

He falls over a tree stump, he falls down, and then, and then she sends her

Jenn:

two kids to go get the two servants.

Jenn:

And then two servants come and help him.

Jenn:

And same thing, he's asking for water, they give him water and he dies.

Jenn:

And then the end of her life it's, it's a It's, he was the night

Jenn:

he was screaming and yelling.

Jenn:

He was like talking to himself.

Jenn:

He, it was almost like he was having a conversation with himself at dinner.

Jenn:

And then he got very aggressive.

Jenn:

He looked out the window and was like talking to someone

Jenn:

who was very aggressive.

Jenn:

And she asked him questions and he like just stared at her and she

Jenn:

didn't understand what was happening.

Jenn:

And he was, he was just very like, someone's following me.

Jenn:

Like he was very anxious.

Jenn:

And.

Jenn:

She wasn't sure what that was all and that's like the end of her life.

Jenn:

She's telling this

Jenn:

story.

Jenn:

So three separate

Jenn:

stories Even though she really is the only eyewitness and then the

Jenn:

family story is Robert grinder

Jenn:

. When the ser when when Perna and Neely's servant find the Lewis in the room.

Jenn:

He's conscious, but a piece of his forehead is blown

Jenn:

away, exposing his brain.

Jenn:

And it says without having blood much, which I find very hard to believe,

Jenn:

but he was wearing a Buffalo robe, Buffalo skin robe, probably what he

Jenn:

got from his expedition, because he probably gathered a lot of things.

Jenn:

He's I bet the blood, you couldn't tell from the Buffalo skin.

Jenn:

And he had uncovered the side with, he showed the, but a bullet

Jenn:

had entered right under his chest.

Jenn:

So when I say he was shot in the gut, like he was shot in the

Jenn:

gut, like right under his chest.

Jenn:

It was the second and he begged them to take his rifle and blow out his brain.

Jenn:

So he had asked them to finish the job.

Jenn:

And in return, he'd give him all the money he had in his trunk.

Jenn:

He said, I'm no coward, but I'm so strong, so hard to die.

Jenn:

He told Perna, not to be afraid that he would not hurt him, but

Jenn:

two hours later he had died just as the sun rose above the trees.

Jenn:

They kind of just let him die.

Jenn:

He will bury him in the Pioneer Cemetery, which is right beside

Jenn:

the cabin, if you see our

Scott:

like 50

Jenn:

So Pioneer Cemetery what are you talking about?

Jenn:

When people take this Natchez Trace, think of it a lot like the Oregon Trail.

Jenn:

Think of people are settling, right?

Jenn:

They're moving their families and people will die along the trail

Jenn:

because of disease and sickness.

Jenn:

And it's very sad even when we looked at some of them that are marked, which I'm

Jenn:

sure that is very few that are marked.

Jenn:

But do you see

Jenn:

infant?

Scott:

I think we saw

Jenn:

Yes.

Jenn:

Do you see a whole families?

Jenn:

You see it, so it very much is reminiscent of the Oregon Trail, where people will

Jenn:

get sick, it'll take out a whole family.

Jenn:

You probably have different kind of massacres that are

Jenn:

happening along the trace.

Jenn:

I mean, this is still very volatile, white settlers, American Indians.

Jenn:

And it's just a, a cemetery that was along the trace there.

Jenn:

And so he's buried there in that cemetery.

Jenn:

Neely wrote a letter to Jefferson saying that he decently buried him

Jenn:

as I could in that place, and if there's anything else they'd like him

Jenn:

to do, he's, he waited instructions.

Jenn:

So the only doctor to examine Lewis's body did not do so

Jenn:

until 40 years later in 1848.

Jenn:

The Tennessee State Commission, including Dr.

Jenn:

Samuel Moore, was charged with locating Lewis's grave.

Jenn:

So there was some guy who ran the cemetery who knew where Lewis's grave was.

Jenn:

It's it's over here.

Jenn:

And when they dug up the body, they verified that there was a

Jenn:

gunshot to the head and to the gut.

Jenn:

The commission wrote in its official report, even though the impression

Jenn:

had long prevailed that Lewis died by his own hand, it seemed more probable

Jenn:

he died by the hand of assassins.

Jenn:

And that's what opened up this whole idea that it wasn't suicide.

Jenn:

It

Scott:

Well, to be perfectly just from a common sense perspective, it, it

Scott:

seems unlikely to me that someone would try to shoot themselves in the gut.

Scott:

And then in the head, right?

Scott:

Like he would do this himself.

Scott:

Like he would try

Jenn:

Yeah, well, if they think he shot himself in the head first,

Scott:

And then he tried to shoot

Jenn:

yeah, which I think you'd be so delirious from a headshot.

Jenn:

I mean, your brain is exposed.

Scott:

Whole thing is just

Jenn:

a gun.

Jenn:

Right.

Jenn:

So it just seems.

Jenn:

improbable, but because Jefferson and Clark, when they both hear of

Jenn:

the suicide, and because of what had happened two weeks earlier with them,

Jenn:

with him trying to jump off the boat, and because they knew him to be melancholy

Jenn:

at times and not good keeping up his correspondence, they weren't surprised

Jenn:

by the suicide the suicide theory.

Jenn:

And because of that, you get.

Jenn:

Like I said, famous historian Stephen Ambrose, who wrote Undaunted Courage

Jenn:

about the whole Lewis and Clark expedition, who's not questioning the

Scott:

suicides.

Scott:

Yeah it was just kind of universally

Jenn:

very much.

Jenn:

And because there could be a family component because, and for me, there is

Jenn:

one thing that kind of really is strong for me that it, that it was more suicide

Jenn:

than someone else is that when Lewis sees.

Jenn:

the two servants.

Jenn:

He doesn't say, someone shot me, right?

Jenn:

He doesn't say this was someone else.

Jenn:

Now, he doesn't say he was robbed, although no money is found that he

Jenn:

had, he had borrowed money when he went to Fort Pickering to make the trip.

Jenn:

The money's gone.

Jenn:

But there could be other people.

Jenn:

Plus, there are other theories.

Jenn:

People have put forth James Wilkinson that was the governor of Louisiana.

Jenn:

That didn't like him very much, that was kind of following him,

Jenn:

that he had paid someone to do it.

Jenn:

And that's kind of what he was so kind of afraid about.

Jenn:

Like he knew someone was after him and that he was more mad about the situation.

Jenn:

So he's not going to be like, someone shot me.

Jenn:

He was more like, why can't I just die just so now there's other

Jenn:

theories against the suicide that he.

Jenn:

was not in his right state of mind, and the theories for that are the

Jenn:

malaria because of the opium and syphilis has been put because,

Jenn:

and Clark has a child with an American Indian woman while he's on the expedition.

Scott:

Lewis?

Scott:

Oh, Clark does.

Jenn:

So it's not far fetched to think Lewis probably wasn't sleeping

Jenn:

with American Indian women as well.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jenn:

And you see there is evidence of Lewis looking up ways to cure

Jenn:

syphilis, ways to cure venereal disease.

Jenn:

And he was taking, I think it was Mercury tablets or something to help and but

Jenn:

if everybody knows stages of syphilis do involve mental delirium because

Jenn:

it does it's a disease that affects your brain and so those are theories.

Jenn:

that family has put forth about his erratic behavior, about the way he was

Jenn:

acting, about the melancholy, about all of these things where he's so good in some

Jenn:

essences of his job as governor, and then he'll be so backwards and not communicate.

Jenn:

And then he's so good again.

Jenn:

And then he's so backwards that he he's having these issues with this mental.

Jenn:

health, and it's brought on by these illnesses.

Jenn:

Now, the family has tried to exhume the grave, because if you can exhume

Jenn:

the grave and get DNA samples, which would still be present in bone

Jenn:

marrow, you can test for those things.

Jenn:

And it could give some families, some closure or to try to make sense

Jenn:

of these these very few eyewitness stories that you have which really

Jenn:

one lady changing her story three times and Maybe putting together

Jenn:

what's really going on with Lewis.

Jenn:

don't know if the family feels ashamed of the suicide I don't know if that is

Jenn:

the case or they just want more answers

Jenn:

But the family has signed a suicide petition over 200 family members.

Jenn:

Now, Lewis doesn't have any direct descendants because he

Jenn:

never had any children, but he had sisters who had children.

Jenn:

He has nieces and

Scott:

and

Jenn:

He had, and they're descendants of the Lewis family.

Jenn:

So he does have

Scott:

that

Jenn:

that.

Jenn:

They are a

Scott:

and they're

Jenn:

And there's like people in William and Mary or Lewis family members.

Jenn:

And so they have, they're all on board with this.

Jenn:

They would really love to have this body exhumed for testing.

Jenn:

Now this area, and we talked about it, is owned by the National Park Service,

Jenn:

and the National Park Service does not do disinterments to test for any kind of

Scott:

Yeah, I think you even said that they, it was one of

Scott:

those things they just can't set

Jenn:

They don't want to set the precedence, and then, when you see

Jenn:

our video, you see how sporadic these pioneer graves are, there really is no

Jenn:

rhyme or reason to how they're buried.

Jenn:

It looks very haphazard and scattered as a pioneer cemetery would be.

Jenn:

And so the national park service is concerned about disrupting other

Jenn:

graves, which completely makes sense.

Jenn:

I don't think Stephen Ambrose did a great job.

Jenn:

I think because it probably was a secondary story to what he was telling.

Jenn:

And he just kind of, Because Thomas Jefferson, and William Clark

Jenn:

are not questioning the suicide, he just says that is accurate.

Jenn:

Instead of what, there's other stuff, if you were just investigating the

Jenn:

death, there's other stuff around the death that probably could Use

Jenn:

more of a lens to look through.

Jenn:

And as historians today have done more, a deeper dive into those things

Jenn:

and giving them more probability, which is only could be answered by,

Scott:

So, how did his, his journals and all that stuff finally, I

Scott:

still, do they still make it to

Scott:

DC?

Scott:

He still made it.

Scott:

Neely took them?

Jenn:

So they, what's the aftermath here?

Jenn:

Clark, he has a great life.

Jenn:

He lives to old age, has a bunch of kids takes care of second to be

Jenn:

a son he is very much a, a mean

Jenn:

enslaver, which is too bad that Lewis couldn't have been

Jenn:

more of an influence on him.

Jenn:

Perna, Perna tries to go to Jefferson's house to get his 200, turned away by

Jenn:

Jefferson, ends up committing suicide.

Jenn:

So what did he know?

Jenn:

What did he not know?

Jenn:

Maybe he's just, so destitute as well.

Scott:

did he actually

Jenn:

Yeah, did he actually commit suicide?

Jenn:

His journals eventually make it to DC and he is completely

Jenn:

cleared of all wrongdoing.

Scott:

So he was right all

Jenn:

He was

Jenn:

right all along.

Jenn:

All his debts are paid.

Jenn:

He was right all along.

Jenn:

He's completely exonerated.

Jenn:

When they finally get his letters and get all of his stuff, they

Jenn:

realize he has done nothing wrong.

Scott:

he's been doing his best out

Jenn:

He's been doing his best.

Jenn:

Everything is documented and he's completely exonerated and paid.

Jenn:

So really the name of Lewis as a leader holds tight today as

Jenn:

an influencer holds tight today.

Jenn:

It's just the end of his

Scott:

of his

Jenn:

that has the big question mark.

Scott:

too, so much stuff going on, whether it's, it's disease or

Scott:

mental or external circumstances.

Scott:

It sounds like it sounds like those last couple of years were pretty tumultuous

Jenn:

and like I said, for a man that's so important to American history, so

Jenn:

tied, everybody learns about the Lewis and

Jenn:

Clark Expedition.

Jenn:

He's the first name in the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Jenn:

For his end of life to be such a question of American history,

Jenn:

I just think it deserves more

Scott:

of American history, I just it deserves some more answers.

Scott:

Place to visit.

Scott:

It's a fun video to watch.

Scott:

So obviously that link will be in the show notes of this.

Scott:

But I would encourage you guys about an hour outside of Nashville.

Scott:

If you want to go visit it, it's kind of out there.

Scott:

If you want to go do some outdoorsy stuff, but it was pretty neat.

Scott:

the Lewis and Clark expedition stands as a monumental

Scott:

achievement in American history.

Scott:

And Lewis's role in it should not be forgotten.

Scott:

Lewis alongside William Clark led the historic Corps of Discovery expedition,

Scott:

forging a path westward and opening up vast new territories in the United States.

Scott:

He documented countless plant and animal species, meticulously mapped

Scott:

the unknown and fostered relationships with Native American tribes.

Scott:

Though his final chapter remains a mystery, Lewis's legacy as a trailblazer

Scott:

is undeniable, but in the end, did Lewis succumb to his own demons or was

Scott:

there a more sinister plot at play?

Scott:

remains shrouded in mystery.

Scott:

Thank you for listening to the Talk with History podcast, and please reach out to

Scott:

us at our website, talk with history.com.

Scott:

But more importantly, if you know someone else that might enjoy this

Scott:

podcast, please share it with shoot 'em a text and tell 'em to look us up.

Scott:

We rely on you, our community to grow and we appreciate you all every day.

Scott:

We'll talk to you next time.

Jenn:

time.

Jenn:

Thank you.

Jenn:

Hey, let me record this real fast so you can cut it in.

Jenn:

Nearly.

Jenn:

So the guy who's traveling with Lewis, he continues for three more

Jenn:

years as an agent to the Chickasaws.

Jenn:

And then he's abruptly discharged by the secretary of war for incompetence.

Jenn:

And then he disappears from the pages of history.

Scott:

Really?

Scott:

Yeah.

Scott:

Just poof.

Jenn:

exactly.

Scott:

Huh.

Jenn:

So that all these kinds of people

Scott:

surrounded.

Scott:

This would make such an movie.

Scott:

You could totally just like kind of start from the tail end of the

Scott:

expedition and follow Lewis all the way

Jenn:

It's very

Scott:

Huh.

About the Podcast

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Talk With History
A Historian and Navy Veteran talk about traveling to historic locations

About your hosts

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Scott B

Host of the Talk With History podcast, Producer over at Walk with History on YouTube, Editor of HistoryNewsletter.com
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Jennifer B

Former Naval Aviator turned Historian and a loyal Penn Stater. (WE ARE!) I earned my Masters in American History and graduate certificate in Museum Studies, from the University of Memphis.

The Talk with History podcast gives Scott and me a chance to go deeper into the details of our Walk with History YouTube videos and gives you a behind-the-scenes look at our history-inspired adventures.

Join us as we talk about these real-world historic locations and learn about the events that continue to impact you today!

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Thank you for the great podcasts and for sharing your passion! Love hearing about the locations you visit.