- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

CHARLOTTESVILLE (AP) A U.S. senator is asking the National Park Service to allow Meriwether Lewis' body to be exhumed to determine if the famous explorer died by murder or suicide.
Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, wants the mystery solved in time for the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Many of Lewis' living relatives back the exhumation in the hope that it will end speculation about his death. Historical records are not clear as to how he died, though conventional histories labeled it a suicide.
Some historians, though, believe Lewis might have been murdered, probably in a robbery.
The bicentennial celebration will kick off next year at Monticello. Thomas Jefferson was the moving force behind the expedition that explored the Western frontier from 1804 to 1806.
"Meriwether Lewis deserves better than to be in the middle of a mystery whose solution is within reach," Mr. Murkowski said. "World-class scientists and world-class technology are standing by ready to give his family and history the answers. All that stands in the way is world-class bureaucracy."
Mr. Murkowski is the former chairman and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Interior Department and the Park Service.
The Park Service denied a request for the exhumation by George Washington University professor James Starrs in July 1998. Lewis is buried on Park Service land in Tennessee.
The Park Service said then its policy was not to disturb graves unless threatened with destruction by park development or natural forces. The Park Service also raised concerns about setting a precedent allowing other exhumations on parkland.
Mr. Murkowski said the denial of Mr. Starrs' request for exhumation was "filled with a number of inconsistencies" and "thin excuses that were simply groundless. The Park Service simply has not convinced me that there is a reason why they should be denied. I am asking the Park Service to provide me with additional materials about their denial."
Mr. Starrs, who has exhumed other historical figures including Jesse James, is convinced he can determine how Lewis died if the remains are exhumed.
"The strategy is in the political arena now," said Mr. Starrs, a professor of law and forensic sciences who has sought the exhumation for over a decade.
Jane Henley of Charlottesville, where Lewis was born, is a relative of Lewis. She said more than 160 of Lewis' kin are in favor of the exhumation.
"We want the mystery cleared up," she said. "The mystery continually overshadows his contribution to American history."
In October 1809, Lewis was at a frontier outpost just off the Natchez Trace south of Nashville. At 3 in the morning the innkeeper heard "two pistols fire off" and found Lewis fatally wounded.
In pain, Lewis asked to no avail that he be killed, saying, "I am no coward but I am so strong, so hard to die." He died a few hours later at the age of 35.
He was buried near Hohenwald, Tenn.

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