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Meriwether Lewis Memorial, Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee


I'm not sure what they teach in American History anymore, but I hope it includes the fascinating expedition of Lewis and Clark.  These two men, under the direction of President Thomas Jefferson, lead the first expedition of European explorers across the unknown lands of the Louisiana Purchase and west of the Rocky Mountains, to make their way to the Pacific Coast.

Meriwether-Lewis-2(Captain Meriwether Lewis)

It's hard not to appreciate the bravery of this crew because only rumors existed about what lay in the unknown lands to the west.  President Jefferson appointed his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead the expedition.  It is said that President Jefferson hoped they would find dinosaurs along their journey but, of course, they never did.  What they found was a beautiful but harsh land, helpful native tribes, an abundance of wildlife, and a challenging journey.  The interested reader can learn more about the expedition at this website.

Sadly, Meriweather Lewis was not to live a long life.  When he returned from the expedition, President Jefferson appointed him Governor of the Louisiana Territory, a job to which he never fully adjusted.  He had financial and personal difficulties and died within three years of returning from this expedition.  I was unaware that he had died in Tennessee, but when my wife and I were on business there recently we had the opportunity to visit the Meriwether Lewis memorial and Natchez Trace.

07 Lewis(Plaque showing the site of the Grinder House)

Lewis died at the age of 35 years under mysterious circumstances, on October 11, 1809.  He had been traveling along the Natchez Trace in Tennessee and stopped to spend the high at Grinder's House.  That night he was shot twice, once in the stomach, once in the head.  By morning he had died.  What is unclear is how this happened.  Was he murdered?  Did he commit suicide?  Were the Grinder's involved?  There are no definite answers, and I can't pretend to know, but it seems to be a strange place and manner in which to commit suicide.

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If you visit today:

The heart of the memorial is a monument to Governor Meriwether Lewis—located in a pioneer cemetery.  This broken column was erected in 1848 by the state of Tennessee, symbol of a life cut short, and marks his grave.  A photo of the memorial was used as last weekend's One Clue Mystery photo, which was recognized by the incomparable George G.

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One Clue Mystery(Meriwether Lewis Memorial)

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Besides the Lewis Memorial, there are a number of plaques laid in the cemetery ground marking the gravesites of other pioneers.

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President Kennedy made the site part of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which generally follows the old Trace from Natchez to Nashville.  Today, the grave site draws visitors from around the world.

The Natchez Trace is a native and buffalo trail that was used as a pedestrian path during Lewis' time, and essentially became the first highway in the area.  Even though it hasn't been used for a long time, there are still clearly visible sections of it in this area.  The Trace makes for a nice walking/hiking path, and we spent about an hour exploring it, enjoying the nice spring weather and fresh air.

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(Portions of the Natchez Trace remain to this day)

12 Lewis(Last fall's leaves lingering on the Natchez Trace in the spring weather)

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There is an old log cabin at the site (see above) which functions as a visitor center (although it was closed when we visited).   

I came across these interesting fungi on fallen hardwood, which contains a thin band of color if you look closely.

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I think it would be an even more lovely site to visit in the summer months and is worth a diversion to visit if you're in central Tennessee.


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Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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