In America's early national period, Meriwether Lewis was a towering figure. Selected by Thomas Jefferson to lead the expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase, he was later rewarded by Jefferson with the governorship of the entire Louisiana Territory. Yet within three years, plagued by controversy over administrative expenses, Lewis found his reputation and career in tatters. En route to Washington to clear his name, he died mysteriously in a crude cabin on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee. Was he a suicide, felled by his own alcoholism and mental instability? Most historians have agreed. Patricia Tyson Stroud reads the evidence to posit another, even darker, ending for Lewis.
Stroud uses Lewis's find, the bitterroot flower, with its nauseously pungent root, as a symbol for his reputation as a purported suicide. It was this reputation that Thomas Jefferson promulgated in the memoir he wrote prefacing the short account of Lewis's historic expedition published five years after his death. Without investigation of any kind, Jefferson, Lewis's mentor from boyhood, reiterated undocumented assertions of Lewis's serious depression and alcoholism.
That Lewis was the courageous leader of the first expedition to explore the continent from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean has been overshadowed by presuppositions about the nature of his death. Stroud peels away the layers of misinformation and gossip that have obscured Lewis's rightful reputation. Through a retelling of his life, from his resourceful youth to the brilliance of his leadership and accomplishments as a man, Bitterroot shows that Jefferson's mystifying assertion about the death of his protege is the long-held bitter root of the Meriwether Lewis story.
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Patricia Tyson Stroud is an independent scholar. She is author of Thomas Say: New World Naturalist, The Emperor of Nature: Charles-Lucien Bonaparte and His World, The Man Who Had Been King: The American Exile of Napoleon's Brother Joseph, and, with Robert McCracken Peck, A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science, all of which are available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
Chapter 1. An Unexpected Proposal
Chapter 2. Early Life
Chapter 3. The Threat of War
Chapter 4. Jefferson's Choice
Chapter 5. Cocaptain
Chapter 6. Doctrine of Discovery
Chapter 7. Under Way
Chapter 8. The Teton Sioux
Chapter 9. Fort Mandan
Chapter 10. A "Darling" Project
Chapter 11. Across the Rockies to the Pacific
Chapter 12. The Return
Chapter 13. Unspeakable Joy
Chapter 14. Philadelphia Interlude
Chapter 15. A Classic Cast of Characters
Chapter 16. Land of Opportunity
Chapter 17. Honor Questioned
Chapter 18. Defamed
Chapter 19. Jefferson's Letter
A Selection of Plants Collected by Meriwether Lewis
"Rich in analysis, Bitterroot: The Life and Death of Meriwether Lewis provides a candid look and adds provocative insights into the historical conversation surrounding Meriwether Lewis."-Jay H. Buckley, author of William Clark: Indian Diplomat "Bitterroot is a learned account of the heroic and tragic life of Meriwether Lewis set in the historical context of early America. In his amazing career as soldier, explorer, and pioneer naturalist, and later as politician, he had to deal with unsympathetic government bureaucrats and the animosity of scoundrels in all walks of life."-Alfred E. Schuyler, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University "Bitterroot offers a refreshing and overdue new perspective on the complicated and often contradictory life of Meriwether Lewis. Patricia Tyson Stroud carefully separates the verifiable facts from the quick judgments of history that have obscured Lewis's character for more than two centuries. This is an arresting portrait that challenges the conventional wisdom and makes a compelling case to restore Lewis's reputation to the luster he enjoyed in his lifetime."-Landon Jones, author of William Clark and the Shaping of the West
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