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Recent Entries

Motive for Russell Statement forgery

New evidence re Meriwether Lewis’s death revealed on History Channel

Stephen Ambrose’s loss of credibility and the death of Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis betrayed by Cahokia postmaster John Hay

Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks Exhibit at Jefferson Library

Death of Meriwether Lewis book talk at Charlottesville

Was Meriwether Lewis at the Aaron Burr treason trial?

Death of Meriwether Lewis Book Expo of America podcast

Was Clark deceived about Lewis’s suicide?

Our Lady of Navigation

Were lead mines the reason Meriwether Lewis was murdered?

Lewis and Clark Proceeding On Newsletter Archives

Prince Maximilian’s Journals provide the text for Bodmer’s paintings

Ioway Chief Hard Heart’s Trading Posts in Omaha-Council Bluffs: A Lewis and Clark Day Trip

Was Meriwether Lewis Assassinated? The 1850 Grave Exhumation Report

Aaron Burr, Meriwether Lewis and the Burr-Wilkinson Conspiracy, Part 3

Aaron Burr, Meriwether Lewis and the Burr-Wilkinson Conspiracy, Part 2

How I got started writing Lewis and Clark Road Trips

The New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-12

Sacagawea’s Children in St Louis

What happened to Sacagawea’s children?

Aaron Burr, Meriwether Lewis and the Burr-Wilkinson Conspiracy, Part 1

Book TV provides insight into Aaron Burr’s character

Lewis and Clark for libraries; Boy Scout, Girl Scout and 4-H leaders

Lewis and Clark Mystery Map at NAVTEQ MAPS Exhibit

Jefferson at Home: Personal Reminiscences

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello: the Ultimate House and Garden Experience

Meriwether Lewis’s Fateful Encounter with the Blackfeet: Was It a Set-Up?

Meriwether Lewis Events on the Divide and at Harper’s Ferry, July 7, 2007

Poking Around the Mississippi: Buffalo Bill, Nathaniel Pryor and Ulysess S Grant

Lewis and Clark Road Trips at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska

Pipestone National Monument, a Peaceful Place in Southwestern Minnesota

Lewis & Clark Statue Serves as Missouri River Flood Marker in St Louis

Lewis and Clark Road Trips Book Wins a 2006 Midwest Independent Publishers Award

Lewis and Clark Memories: Catfish Dinners and Earth Lodges on the Missouri River

Meriwether Lewis Flower Lewisia or Bitterroot Discovered in Grocery Store

How Did the United States Acquire Title to Indian Lands?

Escape from Death and a Sister’s Revenge: the Daughters of Omaha Chief Big Elk

St Joseph Missouri Has a Unique Combination of Museums

Lewis & Clark Statue Underwater Near St Louis Arch and Eads Bridge

Cahokia Mounds, a World Heritage Site, Near Lewis and Clark’s Wood River Camp

Cantonment Wilkinsonville, A 200 Year Old Secret Military Base in Southern Illinois Is Revealed

Movie Reviews: History Comes Alive in A Night at the Museum

Vote for Pvt. George Shannon in Yankton SD Name the Bridge Contest

Break Dancing with Lewis and Clark on New Year’s Day 1805: Mandan Indian Villages, North Dakota

Christmas Days With Lewis and Clark (1803-1806): Excerpts From Their Journals and 2006 Annual Events

Lewis and Clark War Vessels, Then and Now

ITs WOOT Chinook Canoe Comes to Clarksville, Indiana

Gary Moulton Reviews Bicentennial

Google Earth Adds Historic 1814 Lewis and Clark Map

Page 1 of 4 pages  1 2 3 >  Last »

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Motive for Russell Statement forgery

Ever since Donald Jackson published the so-called “Russell Statement” in his 1962 edition of the Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it has served as a leading document supporting the suicide theory. Jackson discovered this document, which was later proven to be a forgery, in the papers of Jonathan Williams at the University of Indiana Lilly Library. Jonathan Williams was the first superintendent of the West Point Academy and a close personal friend of General James Wilkinson.

The so called “Russell Statement” was created by General Wilkinson during his court martial at Frederick Town, Maryland, which took place during September-December, 1811. The court martial brought up a variety of charges against the General—that he was an agent of the Spanish government from 1789-1804; that he had conspired with Aaron Burr to commit treason in 1805-06; and his disobedience to orders, neglect of duties and waste of money and supplies at New Orleans during 1809. It was a complete list of accusations that had been hurled against the General for years. The military court-martial was meant to be a “white wash.” Wilkinson skillfully defended himself and was exonerated by his fellow officers. President James Madison, after reviewing the testimony, accepted its findings “with regret” and restored the General to active duty in February, 1812, just before the War of 1812 started.

The “Russell Statement” is written in the hand of an unknown person. Two other documents have surfaced written in the same hand, related to Wilkinson’s activities. One was written during the same month and is a 12 page legal brief prepared by Wilkinson for his defense. Author Thomas Danisi says he knows whose handwriting it is. Hopefully he will tell us. Just the fact that he doesn’t want to say who it is makes it doubly interesting! We have been searching the historic record with no luck so far. So what is the “Russell Statement”? Even though its contents are often referred to as coming from a letter, it is in the form of a legal deposition. It is dated November 26, 1811; signed “Gilbert Russell” and witnessed by Jonathan Williams. The entire document is in the same handwriting, including the two signatures. The trouble with Russell’s signature is that he invariably signed his name “Gilbert C. Russell.” The “C” stood for Christian. There is no indication on the document that it is a copy, as would have been needed with any legal document, so it is simply a forgery meant to fool the reader.

The “Russell Statement” was examined by two document examiners at the Coroner’s Inquest in 1996 who certified it was not in the handwriting of either Russell or Williams. Its authenticity had been questioned as far back as 1961, when author Vardis Fisher corresponded with Donald Jackson and told him that that the language and content was very unlike anything Russell had ever written. Its contents are in the familiar ranting hyperbole of General Wilkinson. It contains lies that are directly contradicted by the authentic letters that Major Russell wrote to President Jefferson giving an account of Lewis’s stay at Fort Pickering and what he had been told of Lewis’s last days of life after he left the fort. Major Russell was in command of Fort Pickering and a friend of Lewis’s.

So, why did General Wilkinson chose to write a false document in the name of Major Russell, claiming that Lewis had tried to commit suicide twice while en route to Fort Pickering and that he had “destroyed himself in the most cool, Desperate and Barbarian-like manner.” He also claimed that after shooting himself twice with a .69 caliber bullet, Lewis began cutting himself with razors. He finishes with the statement that Lewis “died with a Declaration to the Boy that he had killed himself to deprive his enemies of the pleasure and honor of doing it.”

I have long wondered about the General’s motivation to raise this subject two years after Lewis’s death. I obtained a transcript of the court martial and found that Gilbert Russell had testified about a trivial matter on November 26, the same date as the deposition statement. I wondered if somehow the General and Russell had “cut a deal” and Russell had agreed to this cover-up—even if it was in the handwriting of an unknown scribe. I knew that Russell was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on January 12, 1812.Then, in preparing to be the “Wilkinson killed Lewis” expert on the Brad Meltzer’s Decoded show on The History Channel, I reread the court martial transcript again, and found the motive for the forgery—

Russell had testified three weeks earlier, on November 5, 1811, when he was asked if he knew about any hostility of Major Seth Hunt, the former Commander of Camp Bellefontaine at St. Louis, towards General Wilkinson. Russell replied that yes, he did know about this. He reported that he had met Major Hunt at Hager’s Town, MD on “his way from Louisiana to Washington City; we travelled together to the city; he expressed himself with violent resentment against the General, and said he had a list of charges against him, sufficient to have him removed from office in both his military and civil capacity.” He said that Hunt’s horse fell and injured him, and that Hunt said “there was one man in the world who would have rejoiced if he had been killed. I asked him who that was? He answered Gen Wilkinson.” Russell continued that “He uttered, in the general tenor of his conversation, the most abusive epithets against Gen Wilkinson; he alleged that Gen Wilkinson had tried to get him killed, and had set his officers upon him, who had maltreated him, etc.” Russell also commented that after his arrival in Washington, Seth Hunt had not pursued his charges against Wilkinson and left the city. No further questions were directed to Russell. Seth Hunt took the stand at a later date, and nothing was said about this.

However, to me this is the “smoking gun.” The only way the lies in the Russell Statement could have been used during Russell’s lifetime is that he would have backed them up. The document was useless, if Russell said it was a forgery. Russell had testified at the court-martial that General Wilkinson had tried to kill Seth Hunt. Wilkinson must have brooded over this, and decided that he would kill Major Russell if he got any indication that Russell was going to accuse him of assassinating Meriwether Lewis. Then the Russell Statement would not be disputed. Unfortunately, another conclusion to be drawn is that Wilkinson trusted his friend Jonathan Williams to confirm its contents. The next fascinating piece of information is that Major Russell went AWOL from December 3 to December 25, 1811, the day the court martial adjourned. And then, on January 12, 1812, he received a promotion to Lt. Colonel. Perhaps President Madison rewarded him.

Posted by Kira Gale on 12/12/2010 at 01:27 PM

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

New evidence re Meriwether Lewis’s death revealed on History Channel

Brad Meltzer, bestselling author of thriller mysteries, has a 10 part series on the History Channel called Brad Meltzer’s Decoded.  In episode two, Presidential Secret Codes, he argues for the exhumation of Meriwether Lewis’s remains to determine whether he was murdered or committed suicide. In this episode, new evidence supporting the murder theory is presented for the first time. Meltzer’s team of investigators, Buddy Levy, Christine McKinley and Scott Rolle, investigate the case while driving a black Porsche around the Tennessee countryside. (Porsche is a sponsor of the series.) The new evidence is presented by Tony Turnbow, a lawyer, who has researched the death of Lewis for many years. Turnbow, who practices law in Franklin, Tennessee, examined court house records concerning James Neelly, who was accompanying Lewis on his travels just before his death. Major Neelly has long been a prime suspect in the conspiracy to assassinate Lewis.

Turnbow discovered that Neelly had been sued for debt in several court cases. But he was astonished to learn that on the day of Lewis’s death, October 11, 1809, Neelly appeared in court in Franklin, Tennessee on a suit to recover a debt from him. Neelly’s signature on these court records has been confirmed by document specialist Jerry Richards, former head of the FBI documents operation. Until discovery of these court records, it was believed that Neelly had stayed behind looking for “lost horses” while Lewis continued traveling on to Grinder’s Stand, the wayside inn and tavern on the Natchez Trace, where he met his death.

Neelly wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson, dated October 18th, containing the news of Lewis’s death by suicide. In the letter he said that because he was looking for “lost horses,” he was not riding with Lewis on the days preceding Lewis’s death. The letter is deliberately vague on several points. He said that he “came up some time after & had him as decently Buried as I could in that place.” Franklin is approximately 55 miles from Grinder’s Stand (now the site of the Meriwether Lewis National Monument and Gravesite near Hohenwald, Tennessee.) It took 1 ½ to 2 days to travel that distance by horseback. Neelly most likely arrived at Grinder’s Stand on October 13th.

The new evidence serves an ironic double purpose—it clearly gave James Neelly a solid alibi for where he was on the day of Lewis’s death. However, since it was never used and he lied about where he was, it is a strong indication that he was a party to the conspiracy to murder Lewis. Neelly’s letter to Jefferson is considered the primary account of Lewis’s death, even though it was based on the hearsay evidence of what Mrs. Grinder supposedly told Neelly.

Local tradition has it that Mr. Grinder actually participated in the killing of Lewis. It is known that the family came into a substantial sum of money and moved to central Tennessee. “Grinder’s Switch,” the fictional hometown of Grand Old Oprey star Minnie Pearl, was a real railroad switching track near Centerville, named for the Grinders.

I also appear in this Decoded episode, presenting my theory that General James Wilkinson, the Commanding General of the United States Army, was the mastermind behind the plot to assassinate Lewis. In the course of preparing for the show, I discovered new evidence, which I will reveal in my next blog post, A motive for Wilkinson’s forgery re the death of Meriwether Lewis.

Kira Gale is the co-author with James E. Starrs of The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation. It is available both in paperback and e-book formats.

Posted by Kira Gale on 12/11/2010 at 03:46 PM

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Stephen Ambrose’s loss of credibility and the death of Meriwether Lewis

Stephen Ambrose’s loss of credibility and the death of Meriwether Lewis by Kira Gale,  April 28, 2010 (1)

The revelation that Stephen Ambrose fabricated interviews with President Dwight D. Eisenhower (“Channeling Ike” by Richard Rayner, The New Yorker, April 26, 2010) raises new concerns regarding the credibility of America’s leading popular historian.  Ambrose claimed to have spent “hundreds and hundreds of hours” interviewing Eisenhower, while instead, presidential records show that he met with the former president for a total of less than five hours.  Ambrose, whose first book on Eisenhower was published in 1970, a year after the president’s death, cited numerous dates for fictitious interviews, and claimed to have spent two days a week interviewing him.

Ambrose faced years of criticism for plagiarism. The author or editor of over thirty books of American history, he produced over a book a year with the help of his children who served as research assistants.  Evidence of plagiarism, however, date back to his 1963 Ph.D. thesis and his earliest book, Crazy Horse and Custer, published in 1975 (2).  Ambrose, who died in 2002, gained wide popularity as the writer of World War II and other American histories.  His book on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Undaunted Courage, is said to have earned over four million dollars in royalties (3).  Ambrose wrote (or copied without quotation marks) vivid, dramatic prose that portrayed a positive picture of American history. In choosing Meriwether Lewis as the focus of his narrative on the Lewis and Clark expedition, however, he provided a very mixed message about the explorer, choosing to accept the suicide story without question.  In this he was taking the easy way out, denying the fact that only a few years earlier he had endorsed the murder theory in his introduction to Richard Dillon’s biography, Meriwether Lewis.  Richard Dillon concluded “Was Meriwether Lewis murdered? Yes. Is there proof of his murder? No.” (4)  Stephen Ambrose in writing a new introduction to Dillon’s book in 1988, stated: “But the American figure I admire most, and like the best, and spent the most time with, is a man I’ve never written on, Meriwether Lewis. The only reason I have not written his biography is that Richard Dillon did it first, and his is such a model biography there is no need for another one.”  Eight years later, Ambrose published Undaunted Courage, and without any discussion of various merits of the suicide or murder debate among historians, declared that his hero committed suicide.

His daughter, Stephenie Ambrose, has written a book of essays in which she suggests that Lewis suffered from “Asperger’s syndrome, a highly functioning autistic spectrum disorder” and that this was the cause of his suicide (5).  His son, Hugh Ambrose, is serving as a consultant on a planned HBO mini-series.  It is to be hoped that they will respect the wishes of the Lewis family who have requested the exhumation of Meriwether Lewis’s remains in order to determine the cause of his death, and acknowledge their father’s mixed message as to the cause of Lewis’s death.  We all deserve to know the truth.

(1) The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation by James E. Starrs and Kira Gale (River Junction Press, 2009)  (2) “Ambrose Problems Date Back to Ph.D. Thesis” by Mark Lewis, Forbes Magazine, May 10, 2002 and “Ambrose Has Done It Before” by Mark Lewis, Forbes Magazine, January 7, 2002. (3) “Stephen Ambrose Dies at 66” New York Times obituary by Richard Goldstein, October 14, 2002. (4)  Meriwether Lewis by Richard Dillon (Coward McCann, 1965) New Foreword by Stephen Ambrose, 1988 (Great West Books, 2003), p. 344. (5)  Why Sacagawea Deserves the Day Off and Other Lessons from the Lewis & Clark Trail by Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs (University of Nebraska Press, 2008), p. 72.

Posted by Kira Gale on 04/29/2010 at 10:16 AM

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Meriwether Lewis betrayed by Cahokia postmaster John Hay


Cahokia Courthouse, built c. 1740, Cahokia, Illinois.

Meriwether Lewis's letters from St. Louis took two to three times longer to reach Washington than letters written by other government and military officials in St. Louis! Thomas Danisi announced this startling fact at the annual meeting of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation held in Olive Branch, Mississippi on October 3-7, 2009. The meeting commemorated the death of Meriwether Lewis 200 years ago on October 11, 1809 on the Natchez Trace.

Danisi, co-author of Meriwether Lewis (1), has assembled a spreadsheet database for the years 1806-1810 tracking correspondence sent from St. Louis to the federal capitol. In a footnote to an article published in the August, 2009 issue of We Proceeded On, the quarterly publication of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation , Danisi stated: "I compiled a spreadsheet to track the delivery time of letters that Lewis, Clark, Bates and military personnel at Belle Fontaine wrote from St. Louis to Washington. Delivery time averaged 30 days. Curiously, Bates's letters arrived sooner than Lewis's or Clark's. Lewis's letters were the slowest to arrive, and one important letter took 100 days. Some of his bills of exchange took even longer,132 days. The evidence from the data suggests than an adversary might have intentionally delayed Lewis's correspondence. The database will eventually be available for sale, probably through a website." (2)

The most obvious suspect for delaying his mail is the postmaster of Cahokia, the town across the river from St. Louis in present day Illinois. John Hay, a respected territorial official, was the postmaster of Cahokia from 1801-1814. He was indeed a close personal friend of Meriwether Lewis's. No one has indicated any suspicions of John Hay's allegiances before this.

However, John Hay's father, Jehu Hay, was second in command under the famous "hair-buyer" general, Henry Hamilton during George Rogers Clark's capture of Fort Sackville in Vincennes, Indiana in February, 1779. Both Hamilton and Hay were treated as common war criminals during the three years they spent in American prisons.George Rogers Clark was the older brother of William Clark and is known as the "Conqueror of the Old Northwest" for his military victories during the American Revolution. When Hay was released from prison he went to England with Hamilton, returning to Detroit in 1782 to become Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. He died in 1785. While serving as Commissioner of Indian Trade in Detroit Jehu Hay rented a home for 500£ ($100,000 in 1767), indicating that he was a very wealthy man. His son John Hay was born in 1770, and thus was witness to the changing fortunes of his father, and orphaned at the age of fifteen. Perhaps this may explain his treacherous behavior towards Meriwether Lewis.

Lewis stayed as a guest at Hay's home in Cahokia during the winter of 1803-04. Lewis and Clark relied heavily on John Hay for advice and help, including translating documents and interpreting during meetings with French officials. It should be noted that Meriwether Lewis complained to Secretary of War William Eustis in his August 18, 1809 letter from St. Louis: "I have reason to believe that sundry of my letters have been lost, as there remain several important Subjects on which I have not yet received an Answer." (5) So in assessing Danisi's account of letters received, it must also be remembered that an unknown number of letters most likely were never delivered. Danisi and Jackson plan to publish more about John Hay in We Proceeded On. I look forward to reading it.

(1) Meriwether Lewis by Thomas C. Danisi and John C. Jackson (Prometheus Books, 2009)

(2) "Observations and Remarks from Lewis to Dearborn in 1807" We Proceeded On, 35:3, p. 38, n. 1

(3) Opening New Markets: The British Army and the Old Northwest by Walter S. Dunn, Jr.; p. 60 (Praeger Publishers, 2002)

(4) Lewis and Clark in the Illinois Country by Robert E. Hartley; pp.124-143 (Sniktau Publications, 2002)

(5) This quotation comes from the file copy in the Grace Lewis Miller Archives at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St Louis. The phrase "I have reason to believe that sundry of my letters have been lost" is omitted in the Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by Donald Jackson (University of Illinois Press, 19621st ed./1978 2nd ed.). The entire quotation is found in Territorial Papers of the United States,Louisiana-Missouri Territory, 1806-1814 by Clarence E. Carter, Vol. XIV;pp. 290-293 (US Govt. Printing Office, 1949)

SUPPORT THIS WEBSITE: Stay in touch with the latest developments regarding the Lewis family's application to exhume the remains of Meriwether Lewis to determine the cause of his death, by visiting our website at You may receive We Proceeded On by joining the foundation at You may purchase The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation by James E. Starrs and Kira Gale and Meriwether Lewis by Thomas C. Danisi and John Jackson at the website's Amazon affiliate bookstore

Posted by Kira Gale on 10/17/2009 at 01:27 PM

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks Exhibit at Jefferson Library

I visited Charlottesville in late May, 2009 to give a book talk on our new book, The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation, which I co-authored with James E. Starrs. While there, I had the pleasure of meeting Lewis family members, Howell Lewis Bowen and his wife Janice. They took me to visit the Jefferson Library near Monticello to see an exhibit on the life of Meriwether Lewis’s mother, Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks, Virginia Planter and Doctoress (1752-1837). Howell is a five times great grandson of Lucy Marks. Lewis family members have launched a website, asking for an exhumation of Lewis’s remains to determine the cause of death and provide for a Christian reburial. Our book also has a website,  In this book I discuss “The Case for Murder” and present my theories as to who did it and why. But this blog is about Lucy Marks, who had another theory.

Lucy Marks always believed that her son Meriwether was murdered, and she suspected that Lewis’s servant, John Pernier, who brought her the news, was the murderer. In this she was undoubtedly wrong, but what excited her suspicion is unknown. Pernier was present at the death scene, but supposedly (according to the report of Indian Agent James Neely) did not hear the two gun shots. He and Neely’s servant were sleeping in the stable loft and had to be awakened by Mrs. Grinder, the tavern keeper. Neely adds that both servants came in  “too late to save him.”
Pernier also brought the news to Presidents Jefferson and Madison. Pernier,  a free mulatto of mixed French and African descent, had been a servant in the Jefferson White House. He went with Lewis to St. Louis as his personal valet, and was still owed $271.50 in back pay after Lewis’s death.While he was in Washington D. C. attempting to get his pay, he met an untimely death on May 1, 1810. Though “wretchedly poor an destitute” he had obtained a quantity of laudanum (tincture of opium) and died of an overdose. The circumstances surrounding his death are certainly suspicious.
The Jefferson Library has over 10,000 books and other materials in its collection. The exhibit was handsomely mounted and featured two portraits of Lucy Marks, one painted from life by John Toole, and the other by a contemporary artist, Janet Brome. She did a lot of research in creating this painting, even learning how to use paints made from plant dyes. I thought the portrait was quite lovely.  The exhibit also features many  botanical drawings by contemporary artists. Altogether, it was a fine exhibit in an absolutely beautiful library. To see the paintings featured in the exhibit, in nice detail, visit the Jefferson Library website, where there is a link to the online exhibit. The website has many interesting links and features.

  The Jefferson Library near Monticello

Interior of the Jefferson Library

Lucy Marks by Janet Brome

Lucy Marks by John Toole

Posted by Kira Gale on 07/09/2009 at 01:48 PM

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Death of Meriwether Lewis book talk at Charlottesville

We launched our book tour for The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation at Virginia's oldest bookstore, the New Dominion Bookshop,in downtown Charlottesville. Charlottesville is Meriwether Lewis's hometown, as he was born a few miles outside of town at Locust Hill, his family's plantation, in Albemarle County. Co-author James E. Starrs and I had never met before this book talk. Thankfully, we had no trouble in sharing the presentation, and I think it made it more interesting. We gave another talk at Barnes & Noble bookstore at Baltimore's Inner Harbor a few days later.

PODCAST: Before I left Omaha to fly to Charlottesville I did an interview with radio host Coy Barefoot on Charlottesville--Right Now, a talk show on radio station WINA.To listen to the 19 minute interview, in which you will learn whom I think murdered Meriwether Lewis and why, click here.

I also met Howell Bowen, a Lewis family member, and collateral descendant, who grew up in his native Albemarle County hearing stories of "Uncle Meriwether." Howell and Tom McSwain are leaders of the Lewis family's efforts to have the remains of Meriwether Lewis exhumed in order to determine the cause of death. Starrs, an emeritus professor of forensic science and law at George Washington University, will lead the exhumation team if and when the National Park Service grants the family's request.

The family has launched a website, and our book has a website,  Join the mailing list to receive monthly email newsletters with Lewis and Clark news from around the country.

I have visited Charlottesville several times, but never had the opportunity to see the famous George Rogers Clark, Conqueror of the Old Northwest, statue. It turned out I could see it right across the street from my motel window at the Red Roof Inn. GRC, as he is called, was an older brother of William Clark. He won the Old Northwest Territory for the United States by capturing the British fort at Vincennes, Indiana. There is a massive memorial for him there.

Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, and George Rogers Clark are all native sons of Albemarle County.

Howell Bowen and Kira Gale outside the New Dominion Bookshop

Interior of the New Dominion Bookshop, a wonderful bookstore

George Rogers Clark statue, "Conqueror of the Old Northwest"

Walkway to the University of Virginia
The university was founded and designed by Thomas Jefferson, who considered it one of his greatest achievements. Together with his nearby home at Monticello ("little mountain"), it has been designated a World Heritage Site.


Posted by Kira Gale on 07/08/2009 at 02:53 PM

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Was Meriwether Lewis at the Aaron Burr treason trial?

A reader of my blog, Earl Weidner, has raised a couple of interesting questions. The blog in question is “Aaron Burr, Meriwether Lewis and the Burr-Wilkinson Conspiracy, Part 2.” Weidner asks if there is any definitive evidence that Lewis attended the Burr trial?—a question that has plagued historians for years. It was sometimes stated that he did (Stephen Ambrose and Richard Dillon both said this), but no source for the information was provided. Thomas Danisi, the co-author of a new biography Meriwether Lewis has found confirmation and cited his source. It is a letter from General James Wilkinson to President Thomas Jefferson, dated September 15, 1807.
It begins: ” Sir: I did intend to transmit you a copy of Capt Pikes report by Governor Lewis, but have been too occupied to fulfill my purpose—I shall have the honor to hand it to you in person at the seat of government.” Danisi is to be congratulated for doing the obvious and researching Wilkinson’s letters to Jefferson, which may be seen online at the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson papers website.
Another question Weidner raises is whether Lewis’s relationship with Jefferson cooled because of attending the trial and discovering that Jefferson “wasn’t exactly the man Lewis thought he was.” I don’t think so. Lewis understood more than anyone the dynamics of Jefferson, Wilkinson, Burr and the possible establishment of a second country west of the Mississippi. His first assignment from Jefferson was to root out suspected Burrites from positions of power and influence in Louisiana Territory. I think the lack of letters from Lewis to Jefferson in 1808-09 may actually reflect sabotage and interference from his enemies—that he wrote some letters, but Jefferson didn’t receive them. He wrote in one of his last letters (to Secretary of War William Eustis, dated August 18, 1809) that “I have reason to believe that sundry of my letters have been lost, as there remain several important Subjects on which I have not yet received an Answer.” Another reason for Lewis to go to Washington and deal with matters face to face.

Posted by Kira Gale on 06/22/2009 at 03:15 PM

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Death of Meriwether Lewis Book Expo of America podcast

James E. Starrs and Kira Gale, the co-authors of The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation were interviewed on a Book Expo of America podcast. To listen to the five minute podcast, click here.

Posted by Kira Gale on 06/22/2009 at 01:04 PM

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Was Clark deceived about Lewis’s suicide?

The first of a series of blogs based on the book The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation by James E. Starrs and Kira Gale
William Clark seems to have been fooled by James Wilkinson at three different times in his life—first, when he didn’t realize that Wilkinson had sabotaged the career of his older brother George Rogers Clark in 1786—then, when he served under General Wilkinson in 1790-94 during the Indian Wars and took Wilkinson’s side in his feud with General “Mad Anthony” Wayne—and, finally, when he believed the story of his friend Meriwether Lewis’s suicide.
Like many young officers, Clark admired the charismatic Wilkinson. The great historian Frederick Jackson Turner described Wilkinson as “the most consummate artist in treason the nation ever possessed.”

Despite Wilkinson’s treacheries and conspiracies, his rival, Wayne managed to win the Battle of Fallen Timbers, ending the Indian Wars in the Old Northwest Territory in 1794.  Two years later, Anthony Wayne died of “stomach gout,” and Wilkinson succeeded him as Commanding General of the United States Army. (“Stomach gout” sounds suspiciously like a case of poisoning.)
Eventually William Clark grew to distrust Wilkinson, but did he ever realize that the General had caused the ruin of his older brother, General George Rogers Clark? Like Anthony Wayne, George Rogers Clark was Wilkinson’s rival for power in the army. Clark’s capture of the British fort at Vincennes had won the Northwest Territory for the United States at the close of the Revolutionary War. In 1786, Wilkinson succeeded in destroying George Rogers Clark’s career through the use of anonymous letters and false charges. A year later, in 1787, Wilkinson became a highly paid secret agent for the Spanish government. His Spanish connections were widely suspected but not proven until years after his death. He died an opium addict in Mexico City in 1825, while acting as an adviser to the newly established Mexican government.
In The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation, I make the case for Wilkinson arranging for the assassination of Meriwether Lewis. Lewis replaced Wilkinson as the Governor of Louisiana Territory in 1807.

William Clark and the suicide story
A key question is why did Lewis’s best friend, William Clark, accept the story that the 35 year old Lewis committed suicide? Clark knew his friend was agitated about the government’s failure to reimburse him for government expenses—one of the reasons why Lewis was traveling to Washington in the fall of 1809. Then, after his friend’s death, Clark received letters citing suicide attempts by Lewis while he was en route to Fort Pickering and 15 days of mental derangement while he was at the fort. It was enough to convince him at the time. But most likely, these letters were forgeries created by General Wilkinson to mislead Clark. Clark thought the letters were written by Captain Gilbert Russell, the commander of Fort Pickering (today’s Memphis, Tennessee), where Lewis spent two weeks in September.
Lewis died under mysterious circumstances on the Natchez Trace on October 11, 1809 after leaving Fort Pickering. Clark wrote to his brother Jonathan Clark on November 26, 1809 with news of Lewis’s suicide attempts and mental derangement—information contained in the letters Clark had received, supposedly written by Captain Russell. These letters from Russell have never been found, so the handwriting cannot be analyzed. However, we have two authentic letters written by Captain Russell to President Thomas Jefferson in January, 1810. These letters to the President provided a wealth of detail, but they contain no report of prior suicide attempts while en route to the fort, no report of 15 days in a state of mental derangement while Lewis was at the fort, and no report of a second will written at the fort.  All things Captain Russell would surely have reported to the President if they were true.
William Clark searched for the second will—a will which was never found, because it never existed. The existence of a second will was undoubtedly put in the letter to make Clark believe the rest of the information. Clark was told the second will made him executor of the estate and gave him the authority to take over the publication of the journals, which happened anyway, by everyone’s agreement.
At the same time that Lewis was traveling to Washington, D. C., Clark was also traveling east with his wife and their infant son, Meriwether Lewis Clark. The Clarks were taking another route to visit their families in Louisville, Kentucky and Fincastle, Virginia. Clark also had worrisome issues to deal with regarding the federal bureaucracy.
At some point after Lewis’s death, Clark and Jefferson must have compared notes regarding the information in the letters they had received. It is noteworthy that neither Clark nor Jefferson ever wrote anything about Lewis’s death that has been found. There is nothing in the historic record, with one exception—a biographical essay on Lewis that Jefferson was asked to write for the publication of the Lewis and Clark Journals in 1814. Jefferson mentions symptoms of mental illness he had observed in Lewis, but most of his long essay is devoted to praising his friend, and includes the famous quotation, that “he was of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness & perserverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction.”
It is a 200 year old mystery, whether Lewis committed suicide or was murdered. Over 170 Lewis family descendants have signed a petition requesting the exhumation of his remains at the National Monument & Gravesite in western Tennessee. To learn more, visit the family’s website, . Twenty historic documents are provided with commentary in the The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation. These documents constitute all of the historic record relating to the circumstances of his death. You may read them for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Professor Starrs and myself, and the Lewis family members, are all willing to attempt to solve this mystery by exhuming his remains and letting scientific truth decide the matter. —Kira Gale

Posted by Kira Gale on 06/08/2009 at 03:03 PM

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Our Lady of Navigation

I gave thanks to “Our Lady of Navigation” many times while traveling in the Baltimore-Washington DC area on my Death of Meriwether Lewis book tour in June, 2009. I decided to try using the VZ Navigator feature on my new Verizon cell phone rather than rent a gps navigation unit with the rental car. The car rental navigation unit was $15 a day; the VZ Navigator optional feature for the cell phone was only $2.99 a day or $9.99 a month.
As the author of Lewis and Clark Road Trips, I have travelled over 8,000 miles using car GPS units. We have used them since the earliest models because our son and daughter-in-law work for Navteq, the world,s leading digital map maker, which was acquired by Nokia in 2007. Navteq supplies the VZ Navigator map database and route guidance.

For years I have yearned to have a “qwerty” keyboard to enter street addresses instead of the baffling virtual keyboards, and that is what sold me on the Verizon cell phone with its real keyboard. But I wondered about its small screen size, and where to put it. The young man who sold me the phone, an LG enV2 model, advised me to get ear buds so that the voice guidance of “the Lady” could be heard above traffic noise. I got the ear buds, plus a universal headphone adapter (2.5 mm to 3.5mm) for the smaller size jack hole of the cell phone. I also got a car charger cord.
I was very impressed by the quickness of response from the Lady, and the quality of route information. She was patient with me when I disregarded her instructions. I felt like we were cooperating together in getting me safely and sanely to my destinations, which were quite varied. I put the cell phone on the passenger seat, and would glance down occasionally to see how many miles before the next maneuver. The screen would count down the miles, and I knew that she would alert me with voice instructions at 0.3 miles on city streets, and 0.7 miles on highways as to upcoming lane changes and turns.
Driving back to my motel 30 miles from D.C. at night, in torrential rains, really tested my reliance on the Lady and I vowed that when I got home I would blog about it. After a decade of using gps navigation units, I would recommend this system as the best and most convenient that I have used.—Kira Gale and

Posted by Kira Gale on 06/08/2009 at 02:58 PM

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Were lead mines the reason Meriwether Lewis was murdered?

The immense fortunes to be had in lead mining operations south of St. Louis may have been the reason Meriwether Lewis was murdered. Captain Amos Stoddard reported to Congress that “no part of the world furnished lead ore in greater quantities and purities.” Lead was used to make bullets for guns; and Congress voted to reserve and lease all land containing lead in the territory. William Carr, the federal land agent, said that the profits from the leasing and sale of public lands could pay for almost the entire $15 million cost of the Louisiana Purchase within a few years. But after the U. S. acquired the territory, the lead district became the scene of raging “mineral wars,” with armed groups battling for control. The chief troublemaker was John Smith T., a relative of General James Wilkinson. 



When Meriwether Lewis was appointed Governor of Louisiana Territory he wrote to William Clark appointing him Brigadier General of Louisiana Territory. In this letter of March 13, 1807, he wrote “It is my wish that every person who holds an appointment of profit or honor in that territory and against whom sufficient proof of the infection of Burrism can be adduced, should be immediately dismissed from office without partiality favor or affection, as I can never make any terms with traitors.” He named three men, one of whom was John Smith T. The three men had set off down the Mississippi to join Aaron Burr in his planned invasion of Mexico, but had turned back upon learning of President Jefferson’s denouncement of Burr as a traitor. 

John Smith T. 

John Smith T. added a “T.” for “Tennessee” to his name. He was reputed to be the most dangerous man in Missouri and was said to have killed 12-14 men in duels and 4-5 others (though this cannot be substantiated). John Darby, the Mayor of St. Louis, called him “as mild a mannered man as ever put a bullet into the human body.” He always carried four pistols, one dirk (bowie knife), and a rifle called “Hark from the Tombs.” By the 1820’s he was known as the “Lead King of Missouri.” 

Smith T. had speculated in the Yazoo land frauds and owned or claimed a quarter of a million acres in Tennessee and northern Alabama. He kept numerous and prominent lawyers busy with multiple law suits. Smith T. managed his affairs with litigation, dueling challenges, and hired gunmen. Two of his slaves worked fulltime as gunsmiths; their guns were considered the finest in the West. A shot tower on the White Cliffs of Selma along the Mississippi River produced the bullets. 

Smith T. was ready to supply the guns and ammunition needs for any filibustering expedition. In fact he was a participant in at least four filibuster attempts to invade Texas and Mexico through the years. Smith T.’s mother was Lucy Wilkinson Smith. Historians agree that she was a relative of James Wilkinson, but their exact relationship is not known. Perhaps Smith T. was either a nephew or second cousin. Contemporaries didn’t seem to be aware of their family relationship, though they were associates. (I am hoping that some genealogist can solve this puzzle.) 

When James Wilkinson became the first Governor of Louisiana Territory in 1805-06, he dismissed Moses Austin (the father of Stephen Austin of Texas fame) from several offices and replaced him with Smith T. Moses Austin, the leading mine owner in the district, was Smith T.’s biggest enemy. He had enough armed manpower to resist Smith T.’s takeover attempts. Smith T. employed both thugs and lawyers in staking out the“floating” land claims he had purchased from the brother of the Spanish governor, and he dared anyone to do anything about it. 

Governor Lewis travels to Washington

Meriwether Lewis left St. Louis on September 4th,1809,  intending to go by boat to Washington D. C. He was upset because federal officials were refusing to pay bills that he had authorized as Governor of Louisiana Territory, and was being held personally responsible for these amounts. All of these bills were eventually honored by the government and paid to Lewis’s estate after his death. His death occurred on October 11th on the Natchez Trace, some 70 miles south of Nashville, Tennessee. 

Lewis stayed at Fort Pickering (Memphis, Tennessee) for 15 days, from September 15-29th. Upon his arrival at the fort, he changed his travel plans and decided to go by horseback to the federal city, giving as his reason that he was afraid his papers (the expedition journals) would fall into the hands of the British at sea. Initially he was sick with malarial fevers, but he wrote sensible and coherent letters during this time. 

The commander of the fort, Captain Gilbert Russell, wanted to accompany Lewis to Washington. Russell wrote a letter to President Jefferson (dated January 4, 1810) saying that Lewis was sick for the first six days, but after that he was “perfectly restored and able to travel.” He continued, “Being then myself placed in a similar situation with him by having Bills protested to a considerable amount I had made application to the General [James Wilkinson] and expected leave of absence every day to go to Washington with Governor Lewis. In consequence of which he waited six or eight days expecting that I would go on with him, but in this we were disappointed & he set off with a Major Neely who was going to Nashville.” Neely, a local Indian agent appointed by General Wilkinson, had unaccountably arrived at the fort “on or about September 18th,” and waited eight days to travel with Lewis. 

After Lewis’s death, his papers were brought to Virginia, where they were found to be all in a jumble, personal and business papers mixed together. That, and a missing will William Clark was looking for, point to the theft of documents. It seems likely that Lewis was carrying papers that some people did not want to have reach Washington.

A recent reading of a biography, Frontier Swashbuckler: The Life and Legend of John Smith T. by Richard Steward, provides a plausible motive for an assassination, because John Smith T. was going to Washington on business also.

John Smith T. brings petitions to Congress

A month before Lewis left St Louis, a “citizen’s committee” in St. Louis chose John Smith T. as a lobbyist to go to Washington, and to bring two petitions to Congress. The first petition asked for the removal from office of Judge John B. C. Lucas, a friend of both Meriwether Lewis and Albert Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury. Lucas was one of three land claims commissioners in St. Louis and a Judge of the Territorial Court. As a member of the commission reviewing Spanish land claims, he was blamed for too strictly following the law. In addition, the petitioners wanted the law changed, validating land claims that were recorded after France’s secret acquisition of the territory on October 1, 1800. 

The second petition asked for a change of status for Louisiana Territory; an upgrade which would allow residents to elect their own territorial officials, rather than be wards of the federal government. It was obviously also the intention of the petition leaders to urge that Lewis not be reappointed as Territorial Governor by the President. 

Reuben Smith’s trade mission to Sante Fe

John Smith T. planned to go to the federal city in the winter. Before that he undoubtedly helped his younger brother and business partner, Reuben Smith, get ready to set off on an unauthorized “trade mission” to Sante Fe. The expedition left the lead mine district on November 20, 1809. News of Lewis’s death had reached St. Louis by November 2nd.  This filibustering expedition into Spanish territory consisted of six men: Reuben Smith, two associates, one Mexican interpreter, and two slaves. They were well armed and supplied; they had money, but no trade goods. The group aroused the suspicions of Spanish officials and the men were captured in February, 1810. 

Unlike the hospitality shown by Spanish authorities to Lieutenant Zebulon Pike and his party after their capture in 1806-07, the Reuben Smith party was treated harshly. Smith and his two associates were put to work in the gold and silver mines of Chihauhua where they labored under irons for three years. It is said that John Smith T. went alone to Sante Fe and paid a bribe to Father Miguel Hidalgo and his Mexican revolutionary forces to secure their release.

The “smoking bullets”

What transpired in Washington D. C. during the early winter months of 1810 is unknown. No records have been found of John Smith T.’s activities. However, the results of the petition issues are known: Judge Lucas, was reconfirmed in his appointment as land commissioner, and a bill to elevate Louisiana Territory to second class status failed to be enacted by Congress. The lead mine claims remained in legal limbo, never being accepted by Congress, while all those involved ignored the issues of valid titles and continued to make money. 

The death of Meriwether Lewis was bracketed by two significant events: in August, the selection of John Smith T. to bring petitions to Congress, and in November, the departure of Smith T.‘s brother Reuben Smith on a trade mission to Sante Fe. Are these the “smoking bullets” revealing the role of large land claimants and “Burrites” in causing the death of Meriwether Lewis? 

In a later blog I will examine the story of the last days of Lewis’s life, which consist of second hand accounts reported in letters and news articles.

Posted by Kira Gale on 08/02/2008 at 09:02 AM

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Lewis and Clark Proceeding On Newsletter Archives

Featuring Lewis and Clark Trail news from around America, an archive of past issues of the monthly newsletter, Proceeding On, is now available. Kira Gale was awarded the Meritorious Achievement Award of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation in 2007. She is the author of Lewis and Clark Road Trips: Exploring the Trail Across America published in 2006.  There is a large website with links and MapQuest maps to over 800 destinations on the trail, a forum, and other interesting information. The website address is  Contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for permission to reprint articles featured in her newsletter. Send news, photo, comments to her for inclusion in the newsletter which goes out around the end of each month.

Join the mailing list to receive Proceeding On each month.


Proceeding On Newsletter Archives

PAST ISSUES   1850 Grave Exhumation and Monument Committee Report (June, 2008)  Unknown portraits of Lewis and Clark found (May, 2008)  Strange Happenings during the 1811-12 New Madrid earthquakes (April, 2008)  Jail Inmate rescues stolen Sacagawea statue heads (March, 2008)  Power plant on Portage Route stalls out (February, 2008)  Court record found for Sacagawea’s children (January, 2008)  Lewis and Clark comic book by Native American artist now available (Nov-Dec, 2007)  Beauty Queens stage protest at Sacagawea statue (October, 2007)  City of St Louis proposes developing Gateway Arch grounds (September, 2007)  Sacagawea dollar coins a hit in Ecuador (August, 2007)  Montana inquires about HBO mini series (July, 2007)  Lewis and Clark HBO mini series in 2008 with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton (June, 2007)

Posted by Kira Gale on 08/02/2008 at 07:48 AM

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Prince Maximilian’s Journals provide the text for Bodmer’s paintings

The North American Journals of Prince Maximilian of Wied, Volume 1If you love the watercolors of Karl Bodmer, you will want to read the journals of Prince Maximilian. Looking at the drawings alone is like reading a comic book missing its words. The first volume of a modern edition of the journals has just been published by the University of Oklahoma Press. It is available from the press at a cost of $85. (The ISBN number is 978-0-8061-3888-6.) The title is The North American Journals of Prince Maximilian of Wied: Volume 1: May 1832-April 1833. I just bought a copy at Joslyn Art Museum, the home of both the Bodmer drawings and the original journals of Prince Maximilian. This publication has been long awaited, and it was well worth the wait. It is a glorious publication. 

Joslyn Art Museum has a current exhibit, Karl Bodmer’s Eastern Views: Celebrating Volume 1 of the North American Journals of Prince Maximilian of Wied, which will be up through August 31st. The small paintings cover their voyage across the Atlantic, their travels from the east coast to St. Louis, and their stay in the utopian scholarly community of New Harmony, Indiana. It is worth a trip to Omaha, Nebraska to view. If you travel by car, many sites they visited are destinations in my book, Lewis and Clark Road Trips: Exploring the Trail Across America. With the publication of the next two volumes, we will be able to make many comparisons between the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Maximilian’s travels. When Maxmilian and his companions traveled up the Missouri they visited many of the same places, using copies of maps provided by William Clark. (The map copies are also part of the Joslyn collection.) Bodmer’s paintings have always been considered as primary resources for the Lewis and Clark Journals, as they were painted only about thirty years later.

The journals were written in old German script (which made it hard to translate); and contain delightful small illustrations by the Prince himself. We saw an original journal on display at the exhibit. Editors Stephen S. Witte and Marsha V. Gallagher have done a beautiful job of incorporating his illustrations and providing additional commentary in a page layout that makes it a joy to read.  The book is a classic, and upon publication of all three volumes, will provide much needed, valuable information. It is also fun to read; unlike the official report style of the Lewis and Clark Journals, it is a personal journal, filled with insights and observations. What a treat to finally get to know Prince Max, and to put the words with the pictures!

Posted by Kira Gale on 07/07/2008 at 01:25 PM

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Ioway Chief Hard Heart’s Trading Posts in Omaha-Council Bluffs: A Lewis and Clark Day Trip

Ioway Chief Hard Heart by Titian Peale "Council Bluffs 1819&20"Ioway Chief Hard Heart was an ally of the United States during the War of 1812. He was a distinguished war chief, who had fought in 50 battles and commanded in seven.The War of 1812 was very much an Indian war, with many Indians in the Upper Midwest fighting on the side of the British who supplied them with arms and ammunition.The Ioway mostly sided with the British, with whom they had been trading for many years; but Chief Hard Heart, who had been awarded a peace medal by President James Madison, sided with the Americans.

Hard Heart came with 50 or 60 of his warriors and their families to the Omaha-Council Bluffs area to live near the Otoe and Missouria, during the War of 1812.The Ioway were kin to the Otoe and Missouria, speaking the Chiwere Sioux dialect. It seems likely that Hard Heart may have been following orders from William Clark, who as Brigadier General of the Militia, was in command of the area’s military defense. Clark was moving Indian groups around the region, separating out those who remained neutral or friendly to the American cause.  Afterwards, Heart remained in the area until his death in 1823, and established trading posts on both sides of the river.

Fort Atkinson Heart, who spoke English, told Colonel Henry Atkinson, the commander of the military post established near the site of the original Council Bluff, about an old Indian trail to Chariton, Missouri. He showed Sgt. Gabriel Field the trail, who marked it out, and the trail then became known as “Field’s Trace.” Fort Atkinson was in existence from 1820-1827.The reconstructed fort is now a Nebraska State Historical Park, with living history weekends on the first weekends of the month from Memorial Day through October.
Heart’s daughter Nicomi married Surgeon John Gale of Fort Atkinson. After Dr. Gale left the area when the fort closed in 1827, Nicomi married fur trader Peter Sarpy, who ran the American Fur Company post in Bellevue. Sarpy helped raise Nicomi’s daughter Mary Gale, who married Joseph La Flesche, Jr., the Chief of the Omaha Indians. Two of their children became the famous La Flesche sisters: Susette La Flesche Tibbles , the Indian Rights activitist who toured the U. S. and Europe with Ponca Chief Standing Bear; and Susan La Flesche Picotte, who became the first Native American woman medical doctor.  Several books have been written about the La Flesche sisters, but their famous great-grandfather, Hard Heart, has been lost to history. 
The original Council Bluff Lewis and Clark met with the Otoe and Missouria on August 3, 1804 at the site of today’s Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, about ten miles north of Omaha, Nebraska. This site on the west side of the river was called “Council Bluff.”  In the following years, both sides of the river became known as “Council Bluffs.” In 1853, the Mormon town of Kanesville changed its name to Council Bluffs, Iowa. The naming of the town on the east side of the river has somewhat confused the idea of where the original council with Indians took place. It took place in Nebraska, and was the first council of the United States government with Indians living west of the Missouri River. It was commemorated as a Bicentennial Signature Event at Fort Atkinson in 2004. 
The Ancient Villages of the Otoe and Ioway William Clark noted on July 28th, the remains of ancient villages of the Otoes and Ioways in the modern cities of Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa which are situated across the Missouri River from each other. The village sites dated to the 1750’s-1770’s. After that time, the Otoe moved to the junction of the Platte and Elkhorn Rivers, where the Missouria joined them; and the Ioway moved back to the Mississippi River area of eastern Iowa.
Heart’s Trading Post in Omaha  Sometime during the War of 1812, Hard Heart established a defensive outpost on the Omaha plateau. Clark had described the area as “well situated for defense” when he explored mounds covering 2 to 300 acres in today’s downtown Omaha. The mounds were the collapsed earth lodges of the Otoe village which had been abandoned in the 1770’s. The first postmaster of Omaha, Alfred D. Jones, wrote an article about the mounds in the 1892 Nebraska State Historical Society Journal; explaining that they were not burial mounds, but rather old earth lodges. He was the first surveyor of Omaha and laid out the city streets in 1854.  Jones described the remains of an old fort that was located between 9th and 10th Street and Dodge and Capitol Streets, the location today of Omaha’s Qwest Convention Center. He wrote:  “The probabilities are that the old fort was that of Hart’s trading establishment, and the Indian village that of the Otoes, who occupied this part of the country at the same time, and who were here as late as 1835. Hart’s trading house, the fort, and Otoe village was located here about 1817, when Hart moved over to Iowa, above what is now the city of Council Bluffs.” 
The Stephen H. Long Report  Hard Heart was present at the Otoe Council held on October 3, 1819 at Engineer Cantonment about five miles south of Fort Atkinson. The dozen engineers, scientists and artists accompanying the more than 1,000 soldiers stationed at Fort Atkinson established their own winter camp, or cantonment, where they lived for about eight months. The site is now the subject of an archeology dig by the Nebraska State Historical Society.  Hard Heart was discussed in the 1823 Stephen H. Long Expedition Report, which stated that:  “During our late contest with Great Britain, he turned his back upon his nation, in consequence of their raising the tomahawk upon our citizens, and crossing the Missouri, united his destiny with the Otoes, who treated him with distinguished respect. Last autumn his nation joined him, and submitted to his guidance, so that the Otoes, Missouries, and Ioways were then united.” 
It is most likely that he was the subject of a portrait drawn by artist Titian Peale, the youngest son of artist Charles Willson Peale. The drawing was discovered in the collection of the Iowa State Historical Society in 1993 and is shown here. 
Heart’s Trading Post at the Lewis and Clark Monument Bluff The Ioway had formerly lived in a village south of today’s Lewis and Clark Monument Bluff and Big Lake in Council Bluffs, Iowa for a period of years up until the 1770’s. When Heart’s tribe rejoined him after the war in 1817-18, they moved back to their old village site. A U. S. census of 1821 reported 400 Ioway living there.  Big Lake is now a very small pond. It is a “cut-off” lake created from a former bend of the Missouri River, which was made when the river cut a new channel for its flow. This lake used to be called “Heart’s Cut-Off,”  and the bluff was called “Heart’s Bluff.” 
Father Pierre-Jean De Smet established his first Indian mission in Council Bluffs in 1838. He wrote in a letter to Alfred Jones in 1867 stating:  “The remains alluded to must be the site of the old trading post of Mr. Heart. When it was in existence the Missouri River ran up to the trading post. In 1832 the river left it, and since that time it goes by the name of ‘Heart’s Cut-Off,’ leaving a large lake above Council Bluffs.” 
Heart's Bluff by Karl Bodmer, May 4, 1834Hard Heart was also called “Grand Batture” or “Big Sandbar.” On May 4, 1833 the Yellowstone steamboat collided with a big sandbar, and artist Karl Bodmer had the opportunity to sketch “Ard’s Hills.” Prince Maximilian noted in his journals “Ard’s Hills, also incorrectly called Hard’s Hills….Here was once situated a trading house which has gone out of business….someone showed us a green prairie ridge a site where an Ayaway village once stood; the chief died and the people returned to their kin.” 
The site of Heart’s trading post was marked on a plat map prepared by Charles Babbitt, who published Early Days in Council Bluffs in 1916. Babbitt’s father was the first register of deeds in Council Bluffs.  He took his young son duck hunting at Heart’s Cut-Off Lake during the 1850’s and showed him the site of an “old Indian trading post.” Babbitt described the site as: “remains of buildings of considerable size, surrounded, or partly so then, by what appeared to have been a sod fence…The area of land embraced in the original enclosure had been two or more acres.”  This site is located about half a mile north of the Lewis and Clark Monument. It is a beautiful large valley, now enclosed by a chain link fence. 
Lewis and Clark Day Trips On July 5, 2008 I led a tour of Hard Heart’s Trading Post sites. We toured the Lewis and Clark Monument Bluff,  the Pioneer Courage and Spirit of Nebraska Wilderness outdoor sculpture parks of First National Bank, and visited Joslyn Art Museum, where we viewed the eastern watercolors of artist Karl Bodmer and a portrait of Otoe Chief I-etan by Charles Bird King. The First National Bank sculpture parks are located a few blocks from the site of Heart’s old trading post and on the land where the Otoe Village once stood. 
Earlier today I went by myself to take photos of the Independence Day living history celebration at Fort Atkinson. I am preparing to give a PowerPoint slide talk on Lewis and Clark Day Trips at the annual White Catfish Camp Festival at the Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs. My talk will be at 10 AM on Sunday morning, July 27th.  I will post a few photos taken this weekend.
Shown here scenes from Fort Atkinson’s Fourth of July weekend:  the Council House, Grand Parade, soldiers and musicians, the marker for the site of Council Bluffs, and Surgeon Gale’s office at the fort.  Florence Clouse is petting the buffalo at First National Bank’s Spirit of Nebraska Wilderness, and the wagon train is part of the Pioneer Courage outdoor sculptures. This is one of the world’s largest outdoor sculpture gardens. The loess hills cliff is located south Big Lake near 8th Street. It is the site of the old Ioway village.  The view from the Lewis and Clark Monument shows Big Lake, which is no longer very big.

Fort Atkinson Council House        Grand Parade at Fort Atkinson    

 Fort Atkinson soldiers      Fort Atkinson musicians     

 Council Bluff marker at Fort Atkinson     Surgeon John Gale's office

Florence petting the buffalo      Pioneer Courage First National Bank Sculpture Park

Ioway village site near 8th Street, Council Bluffs    View of Big Lake from Monument

Posted by Kira Gale on 07/06/2008 at 09:33 PM

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Was Meriwether Lewis Assassinated? The 1850 Grave Exhumation Report

Meriwether Lewis Monument and Gravesite, Hohenwald TennesseeIn the late 1840’s a movement got underway to place a monument at the gravesite of Meriwether Lewis. Until then, his gravesite consisted of a simple marker enclosed by a wooden rail fence. Lewis was buried at Griner’s Stand, a wayside inn near Hohenwald, Tennessee on the Natchez Trace Federal Road, where he met his death on October 11, 1809. Though as Governor of Louisiana Territory he might be considered the third ranking member of the federal government, his death was never investigated, nor was there an effort to rebury him in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. His death was labeled a suicide by second hand accounts and accepted as such by President Thomas Jefferson.  It was said in later newspaper accounts that a county coroner’s jury investigation was held at the time of his death; but this 1809 report has not been found. Reportedly the local jury members thought Robert Griner had participated in the killing of Meriwether Lewis, but were afraid to indict him. It has always been stated by the residents of Tennessee that Meriwether Lewis was murdered. 

I have been doing extensive research on the death of Meriwether Lewis, tracking down primary documents referred to in two books, Suicide or Murder? The Strange Death of Governor Meriwether Lewis by Vardis Fisher, published in 1962; and By His Own Hand? The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis, edited by John D. W. Guice, published in 2006. Richard Dillon’s biography, Meriwether Lewis, with a foreword by Stephen Ambrose, also states he was murdered. John Bakeless is another biographer of Lewis and Clark who believed he was murdered. You may purchase these books and others through my website’s Amazon’s Associates bookstore. 

I am planning to share some of my research on blogs at in the months to come. This is one of the most important documents I have found.  The document reveals that the Tennessee monument committee actually opened the grave of Meriwether Lewis to confirm that they had the right gravesite, and examined his upper torso. One of the members of the committee, Samuel B. Moore, was a physician. (History and Genealogy-State Records-Acts of Tennessee, 1831-1850). It was not their purpose to investigate the cause of Lewis’s death. However, later in their 1850 Monument Committee Report to the General Assembly of Tennessee, they stated: 

“The impression has long prevailed that under the influence of disease and body—of hopes based upon long and valuable services—not merely deferred but wholly disappointed—Governor Lewis perished by his own hands. It seems to be more probable that he died by the hands of an assassin.” 

Here follows the complete text of the Report, found in the Meriwether Lewis Memorial Association Papers, 1880-1931 at the Tennessee State Archives (Microfilm #13-74). 

R   E   P   O   R   T   of     the   L E W   I   S     M O N U M E N T     C O M M I T T E E

To the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee: By the 9th section of an act, passed at the last session of the General Assembly of this State, entitled an act to establish the County of Lewis the sum of $500 was appropriated, or so much thereof as might be necessary, to preserve the place of interment where the remains of GEN. MERIWETHER LEWIS were deposited; and the undersigned were appointed the agents of the General Assembly to carry into execution the provisions of the act, and report to the present General Assembly. Looking upon the object to be accomplished to be one highly honorable to the State, the undersigned entered upon the duties assigned them cheerfully and with as little delay as possible. They consulted with the most eminent artists and practical mechanics as to the kind of monument to be erected, and a plan being agreed upon, they employed Mr. Lemuel W. Kirby, of Columbia, to execute it for the sum of five hundred dollars. The entire monument is twenty and a half feet high. The design is simple but is intended to express the difficulties, successes, and violent termination of a life which was marked by bold enterprise, by manly courage and by devoted patriotism. The base of the monument is of rough, unhewn stone, eight feet high and nine feet square where it rises to the surface of the ground. On this rests a plinth of cut stone, four feet square and eighteen inches in thickness, on which are the inscriptions given below. On this plinth stands a broken column eleven feet high, two and a half feet in diameter for the base, and a few inches smaller at the top.  The top is broken to denote the violent and untimely end of a bright and glorious career.  The base is composed of a species of sandstone found in the neighborhood of the grave. The plinth and shaft, or column, are made of a fine limestone, commonly known as Tennessee marble.  Around the monument is erected a handsome wrought iron rail fence.
Great care was taken to identify the grave. George Nixon, Esq., an old Surveyor, had become very early acquainted with its locality.  He pointed out the place; but to make assurance doubly sure the grave was re-opened and the upper portion of the skeleton examined, and such evidence found as to leave no doubt as to the place of internment.  Witnesses were called and their certificate, with that of the Surveyor, prove the fact beyond dispute. 

The inscription upon the plinth was furnished by Professor Nathaniel Cross of the University of Nashville.  It is beautiful and appropriate.  It is placed on the different sides of the plinth, and is as follows:  M E R I W E T H E R   L E W I S BORN NEAR CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA, AUGUST 18, 1774 DIED OCTOBER 11, 1809;  AGED 35 YEARS; An Officer of the Regular Army – Private Secretary to President Jefferson – Commander of the Expedition To The Oregon in 1803–1806   – Governor of the Territory of Louisiana – His Melancholy Death Occurred Where This Monument Now Stands, And Under Which Rests His Mortal Remains. 

In the language of Mr. Jefferson: “His Courage Was Undaunted; His Firmness and Perseverance Yielded To Nothing But Impossibilities; A Rigid Disciplinarian, Yet Tender As A Father To Those Committed To His Charge; Honest, Disinterested, Liberal, With A Sound Understanding, And A Scrupulous Fidelity To Truth.
Immaturus Obi; Sed Tu Felicior Annos Vive Meos, Bona Republica!  Vive Tuos.  ERECTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF TENNESSEE, A. D., 1848.

In the Latin diatich, many of your honorable body will no doubt recognize as the affecting epitaph on the tomb of a young wife, in which by a prosopopocia, after alluding to an immature death, she prays that her happier husband may live out her years and his own. Immaturus pari: sed tu felicior annos. Vive meos, conjux optime!  Vive tuos. Under the same figure, the deceased is represented in the Latin diatich as altered, after alluding to his early death, as uttering as a patriot a similar prayer, that the republic may fulfill her high destiny, and that her years may equal those of time. As the diatich now stands, the figure may be made to apply either to the whole Union, or to Tennessee, that has honored his memory by the erection of a monument.

The impression has long prevailed that under the influence of disease of body and mind – of hopes based upon long and valuable services – not merely deferred, but wholly disappointed –  Governor Lewis perished by his own hands.  It seems to be more probable that he died by the hands of an assassin.  The place at which he was killed is even yet a lovely spot.  It was then wild and solitary, and on the borders of the Indian Nation.

Maj. M. L. Clark, a son of Governor Clark of Missouri; in a letter to the Rev. Mr. Cressey of Maury County says: “Have you ever heard of the report that Gov. Lewis did not destroy his own life, but was murdered by his servant, a Frenchman, who stole his money and horses, returned to Natchez, and was never afterwards heard of?  This is an important matter in connection with the erection of a monument to his memory, as it clearly removes from my mind at least, the only stigma upon the fair name I have the honor to bear.”

The undersigned would suggest to the General Assembly, the propriety of having an acre of ground, or some other reasonable quantity, around the grave secured against the entry of private persons. This can be done, either by reserving the title in the State, or by directing a grant to be issued in the name of the Governor and by his successors.  The first mode would perhaps be the best.

All of which is respectfully submitted, EDMUND DILLAHUNTY, BARCLAY MARTIN, ROBERT A. SMITH, SAMUEL B. MOORE.

Posted by Kira Gale on 06/22/2008 at 11:31 AM

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