Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Murder or Suicide?

The Grand Lodge AF & AM Museum in Helena displays the masonic apron of Meriwether Lewis. Not only is this treasure important to Freemasonry, it is also important for the role it played in the nation’s most intriguing unsolved mystery: Lewis’s controversial death.

Portrait of Meriwether Lewis by Charles Willson Peale
Independence National Historical Park
According to family lore, Lewis died with the apron in his breast pocket. He was traveling to Philadelphia along the Natchez Trace, on his way to Philadelphia to arrange publication of the Expedition’s journals. This was a dangerous route, called the “Devil’s Backbone,” infamous for criminal activity. Mystery surrounds what happened at Grinder’s Stand, a stopping place along the trail. Lewis died there of gunshot wounds. Mrs. Grinder, the innkeeper, wrote the letter informing President Jefferson that Meriwether Lewis had died by his own hand. The family, however, always suspected foul play.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment