Meriwether Lewis: Murdered? Or Suicide?

Today in History, October 11, 1809:

We all know of the adventures of Lewis and Clark.

But on this day in 1809, only 3 years after the completion of his groundbreaking expedition, Meriwether Lewis died. He was only 35 years old.

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 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, the result of 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. Not publicized nearly as much as his courageous exploits is the reality that he battled depression and alcohol.

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.

“FROM WHERE THE SUN NOW STANDS, I WILL FIGHT NO MORE FOREVER.” 

Today in History, September 21, 1904:

“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ He who led the young men (Olikut, his brother) is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. FROM WHERE THE SUN NOW STANDS, I WILL FIGHT NO MORE FOREVER.” 

 Chief Joseph, who in 1877 had led his band of the Nez Perce in a running battle for 1400 miles in an attempted retreat into Canada from the US Cavalry, ending in his surrender to US troops under Gen. Nelson A. Miles, dies in Washington State.

His people had been friendly with the white people since the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. After the Expedition had made it across the Rockies, they were starving and winter was approaching. They met the Nez Perce, who provided them with food and taught them how to survive.

In less than a generation their generosity was repaid with near extinction.