A Lewis & Clark Lesson: Forensic Examination of Artifacts …

Meriwether Lewis


Lesson Overview:

We know much about the historical journey of Lewis and Clark and have probably even imagined the fears, uncertainties, and dangers that the Corps of Discovery overcame. Only a few years after the journey’s end, however, Meriwether Lewis went from finding himself as one of the most celebrated men in the country and a newly appointed governor to being found dead in some woman’s house. Was this a case of suicide? Was this a case of murder? Almost 200 years later, even with all we know about crime scene investigation, we still do not have an answer – only theories.

In this interdisciplinary lesson, students will embark on a webquest to travel back in time and explore the evidence surrounding the mysterious death of Meriwether Lewis. In the role of a forensic scientist, students will collect data and form their own opinion as a pre-write activity for a letter in which they argue for the exhumation of Meriwether Lewis’ body for forensic analysis.

It is helpful if students have completed a study of the Lewis and Clark Expedition prior to this lesson plan. This will better prepare them with an understanding of the historical background and the historical impact of the expedition.

Essential Questions:
  • What did Meriwether Lewis do after his famous journey with William Clark?
  • What evidence can we gain about an event through primary sources that are almost 200 years old?
  • How does one develop and support a historical interpretation?
  • How will the passing of almost 200 years affect a forensic study of the body?
Essential Understandings:
  1. Students will collect data from a variety of primary sources in order to investigate Meriwether Lewis. They will summarize a variety of first-hand accounts of the events surrounding his death.
  2. Students will learn to state the premises of various theorists in regard to the death of Meriwether Lewis.
  3. Students will utilize the internet to research other theories and findings related to this mystery.
  4. Students will be able to state their opinions as to the cause of Meriwether Lewis’ death and give reasons and supporting evidence for their decisions.

This lesson is available from the Washington State Historical Society