But on this day in 1809, Meriwether Lewis died. The big question is whether it was murder or suicide.
He was, at the time, the Governor of Upper Louisiana, and traveling the Natchez Trace to bring information to Washington, DC about his efforts as Governor and as an explorer.
He was staying at Grinder’s Stand, an inn along the Trace, when the owners and other travelers heard “several” gunshots ring out.
Depending on who you talked to, he suffered through the night, either by gunshots by his own hand or by murderers who stole the money he had with him.
Clark and President Jefferson, who knew him best, were easily convinced that he killed himself.
Others believed he was murdered by one of the many pirates along the trace. I have to wonder about the “several shots” at a time of flintlock pistols. How determined would a suicidal person have to be to shoot himself several times to complete a suicide then, or even now?
The cash he was carrying with him was never found. Those reporting the demise of one of our most significant explorers suddenly came into money.
Today in History, November 2: 1861 – President Lincoln relieves Gen. John C. Fremont of the command of the Western Department of the Union Army.
In his younger years Fremont had married Jessie Hart Benton, daughter of a successful US Senator. In the 1840’s he became an American hero exploring and mapping portions of the western US.
His popularity led him to become the first presidential candidate of the fledgling Republican Party, although he lost. While he and the second Republican candidate for president, Lincoln, may have shared political views, they didn’t share timing.
Fremont didn’t prove to be successful as a military commander in Missouri. As commander in the Western Department, he ordered all slaves in Missouri emancipated. Lincoln, who eventually would sign the Emancipation Proclamation, was not ready to do so in 1861 for fear that he would alienate the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware and Maryland, potentially losing their soldiers and resources to the Confederacy. Fremont refused an order to rescind his orders, and Lincoln fired him, a risky political move in itself due to Freemont’s popularity and connections.
Fremont was given a Mountain command in the east, but quit that when he became subordinate to Gen. Pope, who he felt he outranked. That ended his Civil War career, but he would eventually become Governor of Arizona territory. He passed away in New York in 1890.
Today in History, March 5: 1496 – English King Henry VII issues letters patent to Italian navigators John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) and his son Sebastian, sponsoring them for explorations. “…free authority, faculty and power to sail to all parts, regions and coasts of the eastern, western and northern sea, under our banners, flags and ensigns, with five ships or vessels of whatsoever burden and quality they may be, and with so many and with such mariners and men as they may wish to take with them in the said ships, at their own proper costs and charges, to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians.” John would find Newfoundland in North America, initiating future settlements in North America. The Vikings and Columbus came before the Cabots, but their explorations bore fruit for England.