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The Life and Death of Meriwether Lewis

Patricia Tyson Stroud

Narrated by Mark Caldwell Walker

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Pennsylvania Press

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 protégé is the long-held bitter root of the Meriwether Lewis story.

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.


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

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

“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

All titles are published by:
University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks