|Portrait of Meriwether Lewis by Charles Willson Peale|
Independence National Historical Park
Stephen Ambrose in Undaunted Courage does not examine the evidence and dismisses the possibility of murder, believing that Lewis was suicidal due to either depression, which he claims is evident at various times throughout Lewis’s life, or due to mental instability, possibly brought on by final stage syphilis. This narrow view ignores the evidence extant.
In 1848, the Tennessee legislature allocated funds to create a memorial at Lewis’s gravesite, but first had to prove Lewis was buried there. The body was partially exhumed and Dr. Samuel Moore examined the remains. He concluded that assassination was the likely cause of death, but it is unknown how he came to this conclusion. According to renowned forensics expert Dr. James Starrs, most historians fail to acknowledge this finding. Further, in 1928 when the Lewis monument was refurbished, the skull was “accidentally” exposed. Delong Rice of the National Park Service reportedly commented, “Isn't it interesting that a man who killed himself had a bullet hole in the back of the head?”
In the 1990s, Dr. Starrs collected 160 signatures of Lewis descendants on a petition to exhume Lewis’s body and settle the question once and for all. The Park Service has refused, perpetuating the mystery.