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The Scenic Route: Mystery On The Natchez Trace

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

When it comes to the payoff awaiting those who take The Scenic Route, no one would understand the benefits of exploring the off-the-beaten-track world better than those original American road-trippers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. 

While everyone knows the story of the two men and their Corps of Discovery, however, few people realize the unfortunate end that befell Meriwether Lewis just three years after his safe return from their famous expedition. In fact, the circumstances surrounding his death read like a regular historical whodunit.

Carrying out his duties as the first governor of the Louisiana Territory, Lewis was traveling to the nation’s capital on the Natchez Trace on October 11, 1809 when he stopped for the evening at an inn called Grinders Stand. During the night, the innkeeper’s wife heard gunshots and Lewis was discovered on the floor of his room the next morning with multiple bullet wounds. A hotly contested debate still rages as to whether Meriwether Lewis’ death was murder or suicide.

Today, all that’s left to remind us of that night’s tragic events is the marker erected over his grave along the Natchez Trace Parkway seven miles south of Hohenwald, Tennessee (mile marker 385). Though this is perhaps the most direct connection between the exploits of Meriwether Lewis and the National Scenic Byways program, there are a number of other scenic byways that retrace the adventures of the Corps of Discovery: 

Lewis and Clark Historic Trail: This route traces the 3,700-mile journey of the Corps of Discovery from St. Louis, Missouri all the way to the Oregon Coast. The trail passes through 11 states and contains 100-plus expedition-related sites including recreated forts, a replica of the 55-foot keelboat they loaded with tons of provisions, original campsites and more. 

Sakakewea Scenic Byway: It may be short—just 23 miles through central North Dakota— but this byway contains several significant Lewis and Clark sites. Topping that list is Fort Mandan where the expedition spent the winter of 1804-1805 and met the native girl Sacagawea who would go on to become an important member of their party.

Lewis and Clark Trail Highway: This byway follows the Corps’ travels for 572 miles through the state of Washington, from the Snake River, down the mighty Columbia to its ultimate end at the Pacific Ocean.


Scenic Route

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