Tomorrow 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 have been remembering Lewis all week here on “American Heroes,” including posting excerpts from the book. Tomorrow: some final thoughts.
Dogwood Mudhole, Tennessee
October 10, 1809
“Neelly, I can’t stay here in these woods. You know I can’t. I can’t just sit here and wait.” Lewis choked, hating the desperation in his own voice. “I have to go on. For the love of God, give me my weapons and let me get out of here.”
“Gov’ner…” Neelly’s eyes darted around in an agony of indecision. “I don’t feel right about lettin’ you go off by yerself. But I know—I know you can’t stay here.” He looked at Lewis. “We got one horse left. I have to find the others. I’ll let you go on, under one condition. You pull off at the next settlement up the road, and wait for me. All right? About twenty miles up, there’s a couple of cabins run by a family named Grinder. You wait for me there! Understand?”
“I understand.” Lewis looked down; the bottle green coat was falling to pieces around him. The wool felt had dissolved in the rain. He pulled it off his body. “Shoddy,” he whispered. “Trottier’s work. Can you believe I owe that bastard seven dollars?”
“Can you believe you owe me two-forty?” Pernia asked. Neelly silenced him with a murderous look.
They didn’t have anything to eat for breakfast. Lewis found some dry tobacco in his saddlebags and smoked a pipe, letting the sweet soothing smoke drift into his lungs and calm the seething tempest in his mind and the violent chills in his body. He felt jumpy and stupid from drugs and fever. He couldn’t talk anymore. He just wanted to leave this place.
But he waited. He wasn’t even sure anymore what he was waiting for. He sat for a very long time and smoked and gazed down the road, just watching. A time or two he thought he heard the sound of horses coming, and familiar voices calling his name. But nobody came.