Meriwether Lewis, American-Welsh Frontiersman and Hero Blew His Brains out in a Bar. or Did He? Relatives Want to Exhume the Body of Pioneer to Find the Truth

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), June 30, 2009 | Go to article overview

Meriwether Lewis, American-Welsh Frontiersman and Hero Blew His Brains out in a Bar. or Did He? Relatives Want to Exhume the Body of Pioneer to Find the Truth


Byline: Robin Turner

ON October 10, 1809, Meriwether Lewis a dashing US army captain whose family had emigrated from Pembrokeshire, rode up to a log cabin inn called Grinder's Stand in the Tennessee Mountains.

After taking a few drinks and saying "lovely evening ma'am" to a fellow customer, the 35-year-old American-Welsh frontiersman apparently blew his brains out with pistol.

He had been a national hero and his untimely death shocked Americans.

Three years earlier, Lewis and Captain William Clark had carried out an epic pioneering expedition from the east coast of America to the Pacific.

The pair braved Indian territory and the worst the weather had to throw at them to chart the vast unknown territory America had acquired under the $15m Louisiana Purchase from France.

They sailed up the Missouri and crossed the Rockies to Clearwater River, which led them to the Columbia and down to the Pacific in modern-day Oregon. Then they headed back, arriving in 1806, having covered some 8,000 miles..

The trip was a crucial building block in the creation of the United States as a transcontinental nation with a huge hinterland and access to two oceans.

When Lewis was buried his death was officially explained as suicide after dark talk of debts, drug taking and irrational behaviour.

But, now, 200 years later, the explorer's family is calling for his body to be exhumed.

Retired businessman Howell Lewis Bowen, 73, of Charlottesville, Virginia, Lewis' great-greatgreat-great nephew, said yesterday: "What we want is the truth.

We've had one roadblock after another. It's very frustrating - every time we take a step forward, we have to take two steps back." Mr Bowen and almost 200 distant nieces, nephews and cousins have signed a petition seeking permission to exhume Lewis'

remains in the hope of learning what really killed him.

But Tennessee National Park Service does not want to dig up Lewis' body because it's at the centre of a monument to the dead explorer's memory.

Mr Bowen said: "I personally think it was murder.

"But no matter how he died, we will accept it. If it was suicide, that's fine, if it is not the case, fourthgraders [schoolchildren who study the explorer] should know." Thomas C McSwain Jr, of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, another Lewis descendant, said: "The family's demand for the truth is outranked by no other demand.

"While authorising 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. …

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