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Although this book was written in 1962, this is a 1995 reprint; it is perhaps the most detailed account of the mysterious death of Meriwether Lewis at a remote frontier Inn called Grinder's Stand. The only direct witness to testify was Mrs. Grinder herself who provided numerous and somewhat fantastic accounts essentially stating that Lewis shot himself twice, staggered outside, begged for water and help and was initially refused and then slashes his wrists and throat to die a slow death. Like the title states, was it in fact suicide or murder? Fisher offers a very analytical history of Lewis's life in St. Louis preceding his death and he often challenges perceptions of Louis being overtly depressed by examining Lewis' writings and by demonstrating that many previous writers created many factual errors. Fisher provides a cast of central characters starting with Frederick Bates, the Territory Secretary, who seems to have blatantly made Lewis's life difficult, the Indian Agent Neelly who is riding with Lewis but allows him to ride ahead to the Stand, Pernia, a free slave who attends to Lewis, the Grinder family and so on. Although other writers such as Clay Jenkinson recently suggests that Lewis may in fact have been bi-polar suffering depression, Fisher argues that Lewis more likely was melancholy. Melancholy in itself is not destructive argues Fisher and may be another form of intellect as noted by Lincoln's own bouts. Other writers suggest that Lewis was suffering from syphilis contracted from the Indians during the expedition. The main thrust of Fisher's book reviews the testimonies of the main participants at Grinder's Stand that learns to the suicide theory. However, no one provided a detail account other than Mrs.Read more ›
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Anyone who is interested in the Lewis and Clark expedition, it is a must to have this book as a supplement. Anyone who likes to 'try' and figure out: mystery, truth from lies, to folklore, will also enjoy this book. This book gives all the accounts known of Meriwethers death. The problem is, there are about 20 accounts, and all of them differ, and the one person who we know for sure that was present - told at least four different versions. After reading this book, you will understand why some writers think it was murder, some suicide, and some haven't a clue. I happen to lean to the side of murder, but I could also understand the next reader thinking it was suicide. In the beginning of this book, Vardis Fisher says - To the memory of Meriwether Lewis, the greatest American of his breed and the most neglected. I thought the statement was pretty dumb, but my the time I finished reading the book, I understood what he meant.
It seems more than a little ironic that both Vardis Fisher and Meriwether Lewis have had the cloud of "suicide" suggested about their deaths; and strange are the unseen ties that seem to connect people to others across years, even across the centuries. A search for justice and truth denied; a salute to a great man maligned seems to be the cause for Fisher in his quest for unearthing documented evidence in the untimely demise of Meriwether Lewis.
I have long wondered about the highly unlikely circumstances surrounding Meriwether Lewis' death, and finally found the time to delve into some of the historical accountings of it. I chose two books, one by Vardis Fisher, since I already had respect for him as a thorough historian, driven by nothing but the genuine search for truth; and one by John D.W. Guice which I have not finished yet.
Mr. Fisher's accounting was an excellent effort to disclose what little is known and expose the layers of the events; it is one of "uncommon common sense", discounting myths, laying comparisons out for the reader to see for himself what discrepancies had obviously been perpetuated against this celebrated American. Perhaps the truth should never be known now, since it obviously was not fairly conducted when the events were fresh; perhaps it was directed by fate to be part of the enduring legend; a "sampler fabric" of the times these gutsy people lived in; and therefore, perhaps it should forever be part of the mystique of the sensitive, brilliant, courageous personality that was Meriwether Lewis.