News Release

July 15, 2009

Media contacts

Howell Lewis Bowen

John Egan


Meriwether Lewis family urges NPS nominee to approve exhumation

HOHENWALD, Tenn.—Collateral descendants of Meriwether Lewis are asking Jonathan B. Jarvis, nominated July 13 as the next director of the National Park Service, to help remove bureaucratic obstacles blocking the exhumation and scientific study of the famed explorer’s remains.

Since 1996, nearly 200 members of the Lewis family collectively have sought federal permission for the exhumation and scientific study as well as a Christian reburial of the explorer’s remains. Lewis is buried near Hohenwald, Tenn., on National Park Service land along the Natchez Trace Parkway. The U.S. Department of the Interior and its National Park Service repeatedly have rejected the family’s exhumation requests.

 Since Lewis’ death in 1809, historians have debated whether the explorer committed suicide or was murdered.

Lewis descendant Howell Lewis Bowen of Charlottesville, Va., said: “We congratulate Mr. Jarvis on his appointment by President Obama and ask him, if confirmed as director of the National Park Service, to take a fresh look at the Lewis family’s calls for exhumation of Meriwether Lewis’ remains. We hope Mr. Jarvis will be undaunted by past decisions made by the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service regarding the exhumation.”

Bowen is a great-great-great-great nephew of Lewis.

Thomas C. McSwain Jr. of Shepherdstown, W.Va., another Lewis descendant, said: “A careful review of American history by Mr. Jarvis would clearly show that there’s precedent for the family’s requests to exhume the remains of Meriwether Lewis. Mr. Jarvis should take into consideration the fact that President Zachary Taylor’s remains—buried on federal property—were exhumed at the request of his family, and that government-approved exhumations have happened at Little Big Horn and the Tomb of the Unknowns.”

McSwain is a great-great-great-great nephew of Lewis.

As Pacific West regional director of the National Park Service, Jarvis oversees the agency’s activities in seven states—Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington—as well as the territories of American Samoa, Guam and Saipan. His Park Service career started in 1976. Like Meriwether Lewis, Jarvis is a native of Virginia.

President Obama’s nomination of Jarvis as director of the agency must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Jarvis would replace Mary A. Bomar, who retired in January.

“Positive consideration of the Lewis family’s wishes by Mr. Jarvis could go a long way toward ensuring that Meriwether Lewis and his family rest in peace,” Bowen said.

The Meriwether Lewis burial site in Middle Tennessee features the Lewis grave and monument, along with a pioneer cemetery, a campground, picnic tables, exhibits and trails. The site is about 70 miles southwest of Nashville.

Lewis died in Oct. 11, 1809, at Grinder’s Stand, a cabin along Natchez Trace. Lewis was co-leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-06 and was governor of the Louisiana Territory in 1807-09. The expedition covered roughly 8,000 miles and paved the way for expansion into the American West.

During a ceremony Oct. 7, 2009, marking the 200th anniversary of his death, a bronze bust of Lewis will be dedicated to the Natchez Trace Parkway for a planned visitor center. The Meriwether Lewis Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation will host the event, called “Courage Undaunted—The Final Journey.”


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