Sunday, October 11, is the 200th anniversary of the mysterious death of Meriwether Lewis on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee. Was it suicide or murder? Lewis’s death and the mystery surrounding it are the subject of our historical novel To the Ends of the Earth: The Last Journey of Lewis & Clark. We will be commemorating Lewis all week here on “American Heroes,” including posting excerpts from the book.
Big Town, Chickasaw Agency, Mississippi Territory
October 3, 1809
The pain was making him simple, that was all there was to it.
Lewis lay on the floor on his buffalo robe and tried to breathe. It won’t help to panic, he told himself. If he forced himself to lie quiet, if he just waited patiently enough, the medicine would take effect and everything would be all right.
He pushed his sweaty hair off his forehead and swallowed convulsively. On the way down from Chickasaw Bluffs, he’d had a relapse. By the time they reached here yesterday afternoon, he’d been on the verge of collapse. He had never before experienced the fear of not being in control of his own body. All the potions in his medicine chest had proven useless in defeating this fever; all the herbs and remedies he could think of did nothing to stop the tremors that wracked his body; all the mental determination he had was not enough to drive the black wolf from his mind.
The one thing, the only thing that helped, was laudanum.