Seeking the Truth

Nearly 200 years ago—on Oct. 11, 1809, to be exact—explorer Meriwether Lewis died at age 35. At the time, he was governor of the Louisiana Territory. Gov. Lewis’ untimely death came just three years after he accomplished one of the most heroic, groundbreaking feats in American history: the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Meriwether Lewis Monument
Meriwether Lewis gravesite and monument, along Natchez Trace Parkway near Hohenwald, Tenn. Photo credit: Sharon Murray

Today, Lewis’ remains are buried at a site in Tennessee along the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile trail operated by the National Park Service. Sadly, Gov. Lewis has not rested in peace since almost the minute he died at Grinder’s Stand, near Hohenwald, Tenn.

Since 1809, mystery has shrouded Gov. Lewis’ death. Lewis and Clark historians and devotees have debated for decades about what caused it. Was it suicide? Was it murder? Was it assassination? Various theories have been bandied about, but there continues to be no consensus.

Since 1996, collateral descendants (nieces, nephews, cousins) of Gov. Lewis have been imploring the National Park Service to issue the necessary permit to allow exhumation and examination of his remains by a team of academicians and other experts—in hopes of solving the mystery swirling around his death—and to give him a well-deserved Christian burial. But the federal agency repeatedly has impeded the Lewis family’s 13-year quest for the truth.

Uncovering the truth matters to scholars and historians concerned with the integrity of their profession, and it matters to Americans who expect accuracy in our history. Uncovering the truth also matters to the Lewis family.
While authorizing exhumations on federal land may not be welcomed by certain National Park Service officials, such action is appropriate—and even morally required—when requested by family members.

The Lewis family urges Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department runs the National Park Service, to clear all of the bureaucratic hurdles so that Gov. Lewis’ remains finally may be exhumed and examined, and so that he can be provided a proper Christian burial. In the words of President Thomas Jefferson: “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead …”


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