‘Tis about time that I mention an individual who plays a key part in some of my stories, including To Seek, To Find and Intertwined Destinies, as well as another novel which I have yet to name. Passionate about history, I always use it in my writings–thus, I bring into my stories individuals of past time periods…one of these eras that I love is the Federal Era, more specifically Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Both Meriwether Lewis and William Clark–mostly Lewis–play pretty major roles in my tales. Now, to speak of this American explorer, often an MC… one of my favorite American heroes (arguably), Meriwether Lewis is one of the captains of the expedition which my original character Andrew Grant joins. Below I insert an excerpt, Master Grant narrating his first sight of Captain Lewis . . .
There on the side of the boat that faced the water, stood a tall man, speaking to a boatman. He turned when Clark came forward, I at his heels. “Captain Lewis,” Captain Clark stopped beside the man, and with a flourish of his hand, indicated the boy at his side.
I looked up into Captain Lewis’s face, yet untouched by the sun. There before me stood someone I had never known existed; this I knew right off. Aye, he was tall, quite tall and slender—well over six feet, with the same broadness of shoulder Captain Clark exhibited, a strength that spoke for itself in the large, powerful hands and in his deep-set eyes beneath a protruded forehead, and a dark forelock of hair rested on his brow. His mien was long, as was his sharp nose, but even that feature offset a sensitive mouth and softness of face. There was an ever so slight resemblance to Napoleon, whose picture hung in many of the homes there in the French village of St. Charles.
As I canvassed Captain Lewis, he had been watching me. “A visitor from the village?” he inquired, glancing at Clark.
“This is Andrew Grant, son of the man who owns a store in town.”
“How can we help him?”
“Well, I expect we could use a clerk—that’s where he’d help us. I’ve seen the way he does figurin’, and he seems to be an intelligent young fellow, he can write, and reads, and he has experience clerkin’. And like I said, he’s lookin’ for his uncle, whose more’n likely somewhere upriver with one of those tribes. You hear of the like oftener than not, these days. I propose to have him on as a recruit for the expedition.”
“But so young a lad?” asked Captain Lewis, slightly cocking his head.
“We’re going to keep watch for his uncle, somewhere upriver.”
“I see.” Captain Lewis folded his arms, brow furrowed with thought. I stood between the two captains, breathless, heart racing and tangled again. He studied me intently. “This is a military expedition, son,” he said in a soft voice, although beneath that, I could sense its hard tone of musing. Something in me quivered, yet I looked him straight in the eye.
“Yes sir.” The way he looked at me made me want to stand up taller, to please him in some tacit way. The gray eyes held intellect, a deep introspection that bespoke of his knowing all that should be known, a sternness and authority that said you’d be wise not to irritate or cross him.
“I can shoot, sir, and I know a thing or two about Indians, and if we find my uncle, sir, I know he’d want to help the expedition,” I drove on a bit impulsively, and might have gone on longer had the captain not broken in.
“What would your father say about this, lad: about your joining this expedition?” queried Captain Lewis, arms still crossed. I wondered if perhaps he was trying to suppress a smile. Did my avid cupidity espouse it? I didn’t know, but right then I was set on this, and he knew it. So did Captain Clark.
“I’ll speak with him sir; get his permission.”
So, I was almost a new recruit of the expedition called the Corps of Discovery—a little nod of Captain Clark’s head said that much.
© R. E. Williams
You rather perceive a small bit of this famed explorer’s personality… a little stiff, stern, and firm, fit to be a captain, and balanced by the genial, more friendly William Clark. I enjoy reading about this Expedition, in fact I fall upon every book on this subject that I can get my hands on! Oh well…I’m a history buff so what could you expect?
Right: The Explorer (photo credit: the internet)
Meriwether Lewis, one could say, possesses an immortal name. (Not to lave out William Clark, but this post I’m focusing on Lewis)…true, he met a tragic fate on October 11, 1809, thus ending a short life of only 35 years. A close friend of Thomas Jefferson, later Governor of the Louisiana Territory, ambitious, intelligent and of ‘courage undaunted’, Lewis made for an interesting character, a fascinating person to study about. He has appeared often in fiction and non-fiction, such as:
Meriwether by David Nevin (quite fictional, in fact) (2004)
[Left: Meriwether Lewis by Michael Haynes]
Meriwether Lewis by Richard Dillon (1965)
The Magnificent Adventure by Emerson Hough (1916)
And he shows up in The Rose of Old St. Louis (1904)
Lewis and Clark by John Bakeless (1947)
In Undaunted Courage (pg. 481) Ambrose says of Meriwether Lewis:
He knew the wilderness as well as any American alive during his day, including Daniel Boone and William Clark, and was only surpassed later by John Colter and a few other of the most famous mountain men. His intense curiosity about everything new he saw around him was infectious. Certainly he would be anyone’s first choice for a companion on an extended camping trip. Imagine sitting around the campfire while he talked about what he had seen that day.
(pg. 482-483) Ambrose goes onto mention Lewis’s personality, both negative and positive:
He had a short temper and too often acted on it . . . He was a man of high energy and was at times impetuous, but this was tempered by his great self-discipline. He could drive himself to the point of exhaustion, then take an hour to write about the events of the day [on the expedition]. . .As a man he was full of contradictions. He had been a curious, active boy; hard-drinking, hard-riding army officer; an intensely partisan secretary to the president; an eager explorer; a scientific scholar who paid close attention to detail . . .
Let me say this: Lewis had many faults…took to bouts of something called melancholia, which some believe might have been the cause of his death?? (the age-old debate of suicide or murder) and never married, which may have contributed . . . and yes, he did drink, and was sadly addicted to opium. I have understood this, perceived without a doubt that this man was not like George Washington or Robert E. Lee, did not possess the same moral strength that these two men had. But still, on other grounds, he is an American Hero–for his perseverance, courage, determination, passion for his country and highly patriotic. Realistically these traits made him someone worthy of being placed in history’s hall of men who played key parts in this country’s foundations–he with William Clark drew aside the curtain to the West, thus beginning a whole new age, opening the future of America. They introduced to the America her Manifest Destiny.
May I say that Lewis has been thought of as a romantic figure in history–romantic as in he is depicted with a mysterious aspect about him, one who historians still speculate about, who wistful lovers of history wonder what if this or what if that. In The Magnificent Adventure Emerson Hough retells the story of the expedition in his 1916 novel.
The insert below tells of “His Excellency”, the explorer turned governor (Lewis was given the position by Thomas Jefferson as a reward for his long trek to the Pacific and back). ‘Tis of Lewis, recounting when he is setting off East to Washington, to sort out disputes and conflict concerning his reputation and job…note that this is shortly before his death.
(By Emerson Hough)
Allied in fortunes as they had been in friendship, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark went on side by side in their new labors in the capital of that great land which they had won for the republic. Their offices in title were distinct, yet scarcely so in fact, for each helped the other, as they had always done.
To these two men the new Territory of Louisiana owed not only its discovery, but its early passing over to the day of law and order. No other men could have done what they did in that time of disorder and change, when, rolling to the West in countless waves, came the white men, following the bee, crossing the great river, striking out into the new lands, a headstrong, turbulent, and lawless population.
A thousand new and petty cares came to Governor Lewis. He passed from one duty to another, from one part of his vast province to another, traveling continually with the crude methods of transportation of that period, and busy night and day. Courts must be established. The compilation of the archives must be cared for. Records must be instituted to clear up the swarm of conflicts over land-titles. Scores of new duties arose, and scores of new remedies needed to be devised.
The first figure of the growing capital of St. Louis, the new Governor was also the central figure of all social activities, the cynosure of all eyes. But the laughing belles of St. Louis at length sighed and gave him up–they loved him as Governor, since they might not as man. Wise, firm, deliberate, kind, sad–he was an old man now, though still young in years.
Scattered up and down the great valley, above and below St. Louis, and harboring in that town, were many of the late adherents of Burr’s broken conspiracy. These liked not the oncoming of the American government, enforced by so rigid an executive as the one who now held power. Threats came to the ears of Meriwether Lewis, who was hated by the Burr adherents as the cause of their discomfiture; but he, wholly devoid of the fear of any man, only laughed at them. Honest and blameless, it was difficult for any enemy to injure him, and no man cared to meet Meriwether Lewis in the open.
But at last one means of attack was found. Once more–the last time–the great heart of a noble man was pierced.
“Will,” said he to his friend, as they met at William Clark’s home, according to their frequent custom, “I am in trouble.”
“Fancied trouble, Merne,” said Clark. “You’re always finding it!”
“Would I might call it fancied! But this is something in the way of facts, and very stubborn facts. See here”–he held out certain papers in his hand–“by this morning’s mail I get back these bills protested–protested by the government at Washington! And they are bills that I have drawn to pay the expenses of administering my office here.”
“Tut, tut!” said William Clark gravely. “Come, let us see.”
“Look here, and here! Will, you know that I am a man of no great fortune. You also know that I have made certain enemies in this country. But now I am not supported by my own government. I am ruined–I am a broken man! Did you think that this country could do that for either of us?”
“But Merne, you, the soul of honor—-”
“Some enemy has done this! What influences have been set to work, I cannot say; but here are the bills, and there are others out in other hands–also protested, I have no doubt. I am publicly discredited, disgraced. I know not what has been said of me at Washington.”
“That is the trouble,” said William Clark slowly. “Washington is so far. But now, you must not let this trouble you. ‘Tis only some six-dollar-a-week clerk in Washington that has done it. You must not consider it to be the deliberate act of any responsible head of the government. You take things too hard, Merne. I will not have you brooding over this–it will never do. You have the megrims often enough, as it is. Come here and kiss the baby! He is named for you, Meriwether Lewis–and he has two teeth. Sit down and behave yourself. Judy will be here in a minute. You are among your friends. Do not grieve. ‘Twill all come well!”
This was in the year 1809. Mr. Jefferson’s embargo on foreign trade had paralyzed all Western commerce. Our ships lay idle; our crops rotted; there was no market. The name of Jefferson was now in general execration. In March, when his second term as President expired, he had retired to private life at Monticello. He had written his last message to Congress that very spring, in which he said of the people of his country:
I trust that in their steady character, unshaken by difficulties, in their love of liberty, obedience to law, and support of the public authorities, I see a sure guarantee of the permanence of our republic; and retiring from the charge of their affairs, I carry with me the consolation of a firm persuasion that Heaven has in store for our beloved country long ages to come of prosperity and happiness.
Whatever the veering self-interest of others led them to think or do regarding the memory of that great man, Meriwether Lewis trusted Thomas Jefferson absolutely, and relied wholly on his friendship and his counsel. Now, in the hour of trouble, he resolved to journey to Monticello to ask the advice of his old chief, as he had always done.
In this he was well supported by his friend Dr. Saugrain.
“You are ill, Governor–you have the fever of these lands,” urged that worthy. “By all means leave this country and go back to the East. Go by way of New Orleans and the sea. The voyage will do you much good.”
“Peria,” said Meriwether Lewis to his French servant and attendant, “make ready my papers for my journey. Have a small case, such as can be carried on horseback. I must take with me all my journals, my maps, and certain of the records of my office here. Get my old spyglass; I may need it, and I always fancy to have it with me when I travel, as was my custom in the West. Secure for our costs in travel some gold–three or four hundred dollars, I imagine. I will take some in my belt, and give the rest to you for the saddle-trunk.”
“Your Excellency plans to go by land, then, and not by sea?”
“I do not know. I must save all the time possible. And Peria—-”
“Have my pistols well cared for, and your own as well. See that my small powder-canister, with bullets, is with them in the holsters. The trails are none too safe. Be careful whom you advise of our plans. My business is of private nature, and I do not wish to be disturbed. And here, take my watch,” he concluded. “It was given to me by a friend–a good friend, Mr. Wirt, and I prize it very much–so much that I fear to have it on my person. Care for it in the saddle-trunk.”
“Do not call me ‘Excellency’–I detest the title! I am Governor Lewis, and may so be distinguished. Go now, and do as I have told you. We shall need about ten men to man the barge. Arrange it. Have our goods ready for an early start tomorrow morning.”
All that night, sleepless, fevered, almost distracted, Meriwether Lewis sat at his desk, writing, or endeavoring to write, with what matters upon his soul we may not ask. But the long night wore away at last, and morning came, a morning of the early fall, beautiful as it may be only in that latitude. Without having closed his eyes in sleep, the Governor made ready for his journey to the East.
Whether or not Peria was faithful to all his instructions one cannot say, but certainly all St. Louis knew of the intended departure of the Governor. They loved him, these folk, trusted him, would miss him now, and they gathered almost en masse to bid him godspeed upon his journey.
“These papers for Mr. Jefferson, Governor–certain land-titles, of which we spoke to him last year. Do you not remember?” Thus Chouteau, always busy with affairs.
“These samples of cloth and of satin, Governor,” said a dark-eyed French girl, smiling up at him. “Would you match them for me in the East? I am to be married in the spring!”
“The price of furs–learn of that, Governor, if you can, while on your journey. The embargo has ruined the trade in all this inland country!” It was Manuel Liza, swarthy, taciturn, who thus voiced a general feeling.
“Books, more books, my son!” implored Dr. Saugrain. “We are growing here–I must keep up with the surgery of the day; I must know the new discoveries in medicine. Bring me books. And take this little case of medicines. You are ill, my son–the fever has you!”
“My people–they mourn for me as dead,” said Big White, the Mandan, who had never returned to his people up the Missouri River since the repulse of his convoy by the Sioux. “Tell the Great Father that he must send me soldiers to take me back home to my people. My heart is poor!”
“Governor, see if you can get me an artificial limb of some sort while you are in the East.”
It was young George Shannon who said this, leaning on his crutch. Shannon had not long ago returned from another trip up the river, where in an encounter with the Sioux he had received a wound which cost him a leg and almost cost him his life–though later, as has already been said, he was to become a noted figure at the bar of the State of Kentucky.
“Yes! Yes, and yes!” Their leader, punctilious as he was kind, agreed to all these commissions–prizing them, indeed, as proof of the confidence of his people.
He was ready to depart, but stood still, looking about for the tall figure which presently he saw advancing through the throng–a tall man with wide mouth and sunny hair, with blue eye and stalwart frame–William Clark–the friend whom he loved so much, and whom he was now to see for the last time.
General Clark carried upon his arm the baby which had been named after the Governor of the new Territory. Lewis took him from his father’s arms and pressed the child’s cool face to his own, suddenly trembling a little about his own lips as he felt the tender flesh of the infant. No child of his own might he ever hold thus! He gave him back with a last look into the face of his friend.
“Good-by, Will!” said he.
A sad, portentous scene, Hough paints this last moment of glory, this last moment before the explorer sets off on his last journey.
Moving on . . . my MC actually meets this explorer. Fantasy+fiction+history…ah what a combination! I enjoyed writing this scene greatly,
She had taken great pleasure in her introduction to the two Louisiana officials—the general and the governor. General Clark, she had at once decided, was among the most genial of men she had met, and was anxious to put down in pen, in a letter to Father and Mammy, that his eyes were as blue as the sky’s azure, clearer than the sea. His blazing red hair also impressed her a good deal, as it gave her an indication of his prevailing disposition, one with a commendable, forceful spirit. Even the driest natures could not deny, however, a keen sense of insight and munificence that swathed his entire heart. She had the awareness that this man, and the other one, the governor, had crossed a country’s wilderness, been absent from the states these past two years and now had come back—and she had met them this evening, almost wordless with awe and intense fervor.
Her opinion of the governor, however, was not as clear as it was for General Clark. Almost at once, she observed that his companion’s geniality was not congruent in his own bearing. In brief, the governor’s manner denoted explicit stiltedness, gravity and aloof formality. His appearance too well defined these aspects of his nature, she thought, upon introduction. As she had once before been shown his portrait by good Mr. Peale of Philadelphia, she now took the opportunity to affirm that the representation was accurate. When shown the portrait, she had thought him to be handsome, and her friend who had met him in Washington had declared him extremely good-looking, and then this friend winked at her impishly.
Diana had been rather perplexed and chagrined by that, but forgot soon afterwards. Now she found herself recalling her conclusion of Governor Meriwether Lewis in the portrait, her friend’s statement, and the man himself before her. She found that her comrade had been correct in his assertion; quite right in fact, and there was no wonder that a rumor had begun that half the girls in Philadelphia were mad about Captain Lewis, now Governor Lewis. At once as she peered up at him, when introduced, she made notations involuntarily out of expanded curiosity. His tallness evidenced strength and gave an air of formidable intellect and great potency. Acutely-chiseled features suggested, in Diana’s artist’s mind, that the sculptor endowed his entire soul to his work in this visage, for a long, sharp nose furnished it with severity, while deep-set eyes of a shadowy gray bequeathed impenetrable melancholy, dominance, and idealism to the mien. His mouth was sensitive, as though the sculptor had paid close attention to that, and a forelock of dark hair, graying nonetheless, lay over his pale forehead.
He did not speak to her, she realized afterwards when having separated from the officials with Uncle Matt. Nor did he smile, as General Clark had. He only looked, and that disquieted her somewhat. The fact that he did not bow made her frown slightly, but then she laughed herself out of her thoughts, and found a quiet place near the sweets table. She only knew, Diana concluded calmly, that General Clark was remarkably pleasant, and Governor Lewis was irrevocably stern. He seemed to regard everything sternly, she thought when catching a glimpse of him standing in the crowd, silent, still, and brooding. During her initial meeting, Diana later remembered, only two thoughts had entered her mind. The first was on his latterly mentioned sternness, which she deemed ‘formidable’, and the second, ‘I shall never get on with him.’ Yet she’d managed in spite of that to say quite civilly a soft ‘good evening’ and briefly express her joy at meeting them, though this was almost entirely directed to the General Clark.
© R. E. Williams