13 January 2013

The death of Meriwether Lewis

Some of the most interesting aspects of history are not routinely taught in schools.
Lewis got out his pistols. He loaded them and at some time during the early hours of October 11 shot himself in the head. The ball only grazed his skull.

He fell heavily to the floor. Mrs. Grinder heard him exclaim, "O Lord!"

Lewis rose, took up his other pistol, and shot himself in his breast. The ball entered and passed downward through his body, to emerge low down on his backbone.

He survived the second shot, staggered to the door of his room, and callled out, "O madam! Give me some water, and heal my wounds."
Lewis staggered outside, fell, crawled for some distance, raised himself by the side of a tree, then staggered back to his room. He scraped the bucket with a gourd for water, but the bucket was empty. He collapsed on his robes.

At first light, the terrified Mrs. Grinder sent her childern to fetch the servants. When they got to Lewis's room, they found him "busily engaged in cutting himself from head to foot" with his razor.
Lewis saw Pernier and said to him, "I have done the business my good Servant give me some water." Pernier did.

 Lewis uncovered his side and showed them the second wound. He said, "I am no coward; but I am so strong, [it is] so hard to die." He said he had tried to kill himself to deprive his enemies of the pleasure and honor of doing it.

He begged the servants to take his rifle and blow out his brains, telling them not to be afraid, for he would not hurt them, and they could have all the money in his trunk.
Shortly after sunrise, his great heart stopped beating. 
Text from p. 465 of Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, which includes a discussion of possible reasons why this remakable man ended his life in this fashion.  The background of his memorial is described as follows:
Lewis is buried today at the site of Grinder's Inn, along the Natchez Trace.  Alexander Wilson saw to preparing a proper plot and putting a fence around it.  A broken shaft, authorized by the Tennessee Legislature in 1849 as symbolic of "the violent and untimely end of a bright and glorious career," marks the spot.
Photo credit: Dels Journey.


  1. ... and this is the part of the book where I couldn't stop crying. What a man!

  2. I know not what film I watched in my early teens, of a failed suicide attempt, but throughout my darkest years of being picked on and wanting to end my life, I could not go through with it because I worried that if I failed to do it properly there would be much suffering - especially if I survived the ordeal.
    Damn good thing I did not have access to the internet back then.


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