Solving an Historical Mystery: Was Meriwether Lewis Murdered?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Meriwether Lewis, one half of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition that mapped vast stretches of the unexplored American West in the early 1800s, was said to have committed suicide only a few years after completing his journey. But current descendants of Lewis believe their famous forefather may have been the victim of foul play, and have lobbied the federal government several times to allow Lewis’ remains to be exhumed and analyzed using modern forensic technology.

After completing his three-year exploration in 1806 with his partner, William Clark, Lewis was appointed the governor of the Louisiana Territory. In September 1809, Lewis set out from St. Louis on a trip, during which he fell ill with a recurrence of malaria, forcing him to rest at Fort Pickering (now Memphis, TN). During his recovery rumors began to spread of Lewis feeling suicidal, which helped explain why people of the time easily accepted the story that Lewis shot himself after leaving Fort Pickering.
Lewis’ descendants argue that there are conflicting accounts surrounding the explorer’s death, including reports indicating Lewis may have been shot more than once, and perhaps in the back of the head. Relatives have launched a website,, to broaden awareness of their efforts to learn the truth about Lewis’ death. The problem is that Lewis was buried in Tennessee on land that’s now under the control of the National Park Service, which has refused requests to exhume the body, conduct a scientific study on the remains, and then conduct the “proper Christian burial” Lewis never received.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis (by Kathryn Moore, History News Network)


Jay Buckley 9 years ago
Related Research: By His Own Hand? The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis. (James J. Holmberg, John D. W. Guice, and Jay H. Buckley). Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006. ISBN: 0-8061-3780-0 / 0-8061-3851-3
Kira Gale 9 years ago
Professor James Starrs and I are co-authors of "The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation" published in April, 2009. Starrs is an emeritus professor of forensic science and law at George Washington University,who will lead the exhumation team if and when the National Park Service grants the family's request to exhume Lewis's remains. The 368 page book contains the testimonies of 13 expert witnesses at the Coroner's Inquest organized by Starrs in 1996, which was held in Lewis County, Tennessee where Lewis's National Monument and Gravesite is located. The second part of the book contains twenty documents pertaining to the death of Lewis, with my commentary. Some documents are lies, and one crucial piece of evidence for suicide was identified as a forgery by documents experts at the inquest. The third part of the book is my narrative, "The Case for Murder." I name the suspects, and their motives--General James Wilkinson, Commanding General of the U S Army, considered by historians to have been America's greatest traitor, and John Smith T. a notorious land speculator and duelist. Their motive was preventing Lewis from disclosing a planned filibuster invasion of Mexico, in order to revolutionize the country and gain control of its silver mines. The family provides the foreword to the book, and we are working together to solve the mystery. Our website is The family website is

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