This Day In History: The Great Explorer Lewis Dies In Mysterious Circumstances

On this day in the Old West in 1809, the famous explorer Meriwether Lewis died. He along with Clark had been the first to reach the Pacific by land and had opened up the West for settlement. Lewis died in very strange and unusual circumstances after he had stopped at an inn on the Natchez Trace,  a famous trail,  in Tennessee.

It was only three years previous that Lewis along with his colleague William Clark had concluded their exploration of the west. The area known as Louisiana Territory was largely unknown until their expedition and they also explored in the Pacific Northwest. The two men returned as national heroes and their expedition is rightly seen as a turning point in American history. Lewis was a very able man and a man of many talents and President Thomas Jefferson rated him very highly and appointed him governor of Louisiana. However, his character was not well-suited to politics and he made himself many enemies and soon found himself an isolated figure. Then he had some financial troubles, during the expedition he had authorized the purchase of land in the name of the United States. He feared that he may become personally liable for the sums of money after some of his purchase were rejected by the bureaucracy in Washington D.C. He may have worried that the US government suspect that he may have engaged in fraudulent transactions. The Lewis-Clark expedition had been a scientific expedition and Jefferson had expected them the duo to publish their findings, much to the disapointment of the President.

Natchez Trace

It is clear that Lewis was under a great deal of personal and professional pressure. The explorer was found dead in his room at the tavern where he had stayed for the night. The proprietor of the inn, a Mrs. Grinder heard two shots coming from Lewis room. Previous to this he had been heard talking to himself in a loud and agitated manner which frightened the owner. She also reported that after she heard the second shot that Lewis had staggered from his room badly injured and had asked for water. He also asked her for medical attention and treatment, however, rather cruelly she did nothing and he returned to his room. Lewis badly wounded stayed in his room all night and in the morning two servants entered and they found him cutting himself with a knife. Soon after Lewis died possibly of a stab wound to his stomach. Most historians argue that the great explorer had killed himself. There is still no agreement on whether he did actually kill himself.  One historian has claimed that Lewis was actually murdered and that Mrs. Grinder may have been involved. However 200 years later we may never be able to discover the truth of what happened that night.

However, all historians agree that Lewis died far too young at the age of 35.