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 are remembering Lewis all week here on “American Heroes,” including posting excerpts from the book.
Old Factor’s Stand, Mississippi Territory
October 6, 1809
Neelly shoved his way past the slave, with Ferbers behind and the Chickasaw bringing up the rear. Pernia hurtled towards them, yelling in French. The horses milled around the clearing, ready to bolt into the woods. Lewis waved his pistol. “Get back, get back, you filthy bastard.” He cursed at some unseen enemy, kicked at something that just wasn’t there—
Seaman barked and ran to Neelly with his tail up. Ferbers and the others looked on in amazement. Neelly didn’t know what to do. He tried saying, “Gov’ner, you gotta rest. You’re sick. It’s safe here.”
The Governor stumbled, then half-sat, half-sprawled on the ground, his pistol still grasped in his right hand. He was dirty and ragged, the cut on his forehead still raw, left hand swollen, face sweat-slicked and pasty, eyes sunk in bruise-colored caves. Neelly crouched beside him and started to speak, but Lewis interrupted in a husky whisper.
“All I want is some peace, Neelly. That’s all I want.”
“Gov’ner, I know.”
“They’ll be comin’ after me again. If I don’t get to Nashville—” Lewis dropped his head for a moment and whispered, “God, Clark, I need you. Why don’t you come? I can’t fight these bastards all by myself.”