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MURDER OR SUICIDE ?
THE FATE OF CAPTAIN MERIWETHER LEWIS

After the return of the Corps of Discovery the men of the corps were treated to celebrity status. This new found fame was more than welcomed by one of itís leaders Captain Meriwether Lewis. After reveling in St. Louis he was off to Washington to spend time with President Jefferson and his new appointment as Governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory. Lewis had some problems adjusting to a desk job and began drinking, this caused more bouts of depression that Lewis suffered from.

When James Madison became president in 1809 he refused to pay Lewis' vouchers for legitimate expenses. This sent Lewis into extreme debt and forced him to go back to Washington to explain the situation. It was on this journey that Lewis was murdered or took his own life.

From the information available at the time Lewis was unhealthy and abusing alcohol and drugs &  was kept at Fort Pickering to recuperate. With his health improved Lewis changed his plan of proceeding via water routes to Washington and headed out on the Natchez Trail a wilderness land route. It was on this trail that Lewis stayed at an inn, called Grinder's Stand, about seventy miles southeast of Nashville, Tennessee. It was there that Lewis took his life with two pistol shots one to the chest and one to the head on October 11, 1809. Was this suicide brought on by the depression? Alcohol? Or maybe the effects of Syphilis? Captain Clark and Thomas Jefferson thought is was suicide and accepted the story told to them in a letter by Captain Gilbert Russell.

The murder theorists however think that Captain Lewis was killed for his money and horses.  Could it have been Frederick Bates, a Washington official, who was appointed secretary to serve under Governor Lewis. Bates disliked Lewis and took every opportunity to make Lewis look bad.

Modern day forensics could answer some questions, but the National Park Service (who manage the Natchez Trace Park) refuse to exhume the grave of Meriwether Lewis. Does it really matter how Lewis died? Would his suicide change the accomplishments of the Corps of Discovery? It does raise the question however. Did someone get away with murder?

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