Pioneer History of IllinoisLewis 5102

Soon after the purchase of Louisiana, President Jefferson projected a peaceable campaign across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. The object of this exploration was to acquire information of the country between the two oceans and secure the friendship and trade of the Indians. Merryweather [sic] Lewis and William Clark, brother of Gen. G. R. Clark, were appointed the leaders of the expedition. The exploring party, consisting of thirty-four men, camped the winter of 1803 and 1804 in the American Bottom, not far from the Mississippi, below the mouth of Wood river. This camp was the ultama thule of the white settlements in Illinois at that day. Lewis was a captain and Clark a lieutenant in the United States Army. They visited Cahokia, St. Louis, and the settlements around in Illinois during this Winter. They embarked on the Missouri river on May 14, 1804, and returned to St. Louis in December 1806. Many of the party, John B. Thompson, Collins, Willard, Newman, Windsor, Frazier, Gibson, and perhaps some others settled in Illinois and most of them remained there.

From Wikitree Profile for Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis born in Albemarle County, Virginia August 18,1774. [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [3] [10] [11] He was the second child and first son of William and Lucy Meriwether Lewis. [7] [3] [8] [9] [12] Their other children included Jane Meriwether Lewis (later Anderson), Reuben Lewis, and Lucinda Lewis (who died as an infant). Meriwether's father, who served in the Continental Army, died after his horse fell into an icy stream in 1779.[3][13][12] Six months later, his mother married another Army officer, Captain John Marks, who raised Meriwether and his two siblings while managing a 1,000 acre plantation about 10 miles from Monticello.[14][3][12] Captain John and Lucy had two children as well, John Hastings Marks and Mary Garland Marks.

As a young boy, Lewis showed an interest and skill in plant knowledge. His mother, an herbalist, encouraged that interest, which would later be useful in his expeditions.[3]

Meriwether was not known to have married (though he apparently considered it at one point).[12] Some family traditions holds that Meriwether Lewis and a Teton Sioux woman named Ikpsapewin (Winona) conceived a child. The boy, known both as Turkey Head and as Joseph Lewis DeSmet, lived until the age of 84. His baptismal record, which was written when he was an elderly man, lists Meriwether as his father.[4][10]

The standard history of the county in which Joseph DeSomet Lewis's descendants live, Early Settlers in Lyman County[15], identifies Mamie DeSmet Thompson and Amy DeSmet Carpenter as the great granddaughters of Meriwether Lewis and their grandfather as the son of Meriwether Lewis.[16][17]

On January 30th, 1946, Samuel Charger, a grandson of Joseph DeSmet Lewis, wrote a letter to Doane Robinson[18], in which he recounted a story told to him by his aging uncle John Lewis Desmet (Joseph's son). In the letter, Samuel stated that his grandfather, Joseph, was invited to visit an uncle, who was an Indian agent[19]. That uncle gave Joseph two horses, a gun, and ammunition so that he may train the horses to chase and hunt buffalo. The uncle also offered young Joseph the opportunity to live with the family, but Joseph decided, instead, to live with his Indian family in South Dakota. Some surmise the uncle may have been Merwether's brother, Reuben.

According to other traditions, Meriwether fathered a man named Martin Charger when among the Sioux. Other sources list Joseph Lewis DeSmet as the father of Martin Charger.[4] Martin Charger is, in fact, the son of Joseph.

To date, no DNA research has been able to confirm any of the familial traditions surrounding Meriwether's possible children.[4]

300px Lewis 6141
Side by side images of Meriwether Lewis and Joseph Lewis DeSmet


Meriwether was described as a lean man of six feet in stature.[3] He was considered fiercely loyal, disciplined, and flexible, while also prone to being moody, speculative, and melancholic.[3] His developed sense of observation and detailed written accounts of what he observed would prove to be ideal as a leader of the important Discovery expedition. [3]


"Lewis was a member of Door to Virtue Lodge, No. 44, Albemarle Co., Virginia, having petitioned the Lodge on December 31, 1796. He also received the Royal Arch Degree in Staunton Lodge, No. 13 but the exact date is unknown, however, a diploma in the Library of Congress is dated October 31, 1799. Lewis was one of the petitioners to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania for authorization to form St. Louis Lodge No. 111 and this Lodge was constituted on November 8, 1808, with Meriwether Lewis as its first Master."[20]

The Corps of Discovery

Meriwether joined the Army in 1794 and served six years in the Frontier Army, serving during the "Whiskey Rebellion".[5][3][11][21][22][23] In 1801, he was appointed personal secretary to President Jefferson.[3][11][5] Jefferson had mentored Meriwether in his youth and was a friend, as well as appreciative of Meriwether's unique skills.[3] His party affiliation didn't hurt, either.[3] It was at Jefferson's suggestion that the Corps of Discovery expedition was undertaken and Meriwether put in charge.[3]

The mission of the Corps of Discovery was to explore the territory of the Louisiana Purchase, establish trade and sovereignty over the natives near the Missouri River, and claim the Pacific Northwest and Oregon territory for the United States before European nations.[11] The expedition also collected scientific data, and information on indigenous nations.[2][3] The expedition was approved by Congress in 1803.[3][11][5]

Following the Louisiana Purchase, it was clear that the expedition was more important than previously understood. Meriwether needed someone else to help him lead the expedition.[3] Both President Jefferson and Meriwether showed support in adding William Clark to the group, the president offering Lewis and Clark both a permanent rank of Captain as part of his proposal. Clark graciously accepted, having remembered his time spent with Meriwether during their Army service.[3][11][5]

In addition to his role as naturalist, Meriwether also served to represent the new government which had purchased the area to the native peoples living there.[3] The trip had many perilous moments for Meriwether, who managed to survive falls, gun shot wounds, and accidental poisoning.[3] The group returned to St. Louis in 1806 to start reporting their findings and accomplishments.[3][11][5]

President Thomas Jefferson appointed Lewis governor of Upper Louisiana in 1807, as part of his payment for successfully completing the expedition, in addition to 1600 acres of land and double pay.[2][3][11][5]

Meriwether's life degraded, as did his relationships, as he aged.[3] He attempted marriage but never followed through, and started drinking excessively, which negatively affected his relationship with Jefferson.[3] Conflicting information from sources indicate he was either rather ill (possibly from the drinking) or had trouble with hypochondria and visited his mother in hopes of some care.[5] He didn't even make it to St. Louis, the Upper Louisiana Territory capitol, to take his position as Governor, until a year after being named as such.[3]


Meriwether was overcome by the rapid changes happening in St. Louis, and fled to Washington to plead his case to the administration there.[3]. On the riverboat, he twice attempted to take his own life.[3] Meriwether Lewis died of gunshot wounds in what was either a murder or suicide, at a roadhouse near Natchez Trace, October 11, 1809. [5] [7] [8] [9] [2] [11] [3] [12] [24] [10] He was buried next to the tavern, where a monument now stands in his honor.[3][10]

Counties in six U.S. states have been named in Meriwether Lewis's honor: Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, and Washington. 

Joseph Desmet Lewis 

Joseph DeSmet Lewis

The case for Meriwether Lewis as the father of Joseph DeSmet Lewis is apparently laid out in an article by Harry F. Thompson, Meriwether Lewis and His Son: The Claim of Joseph DeSomet Lewis and the Problem of History, North Dakota History, 2000, pp. 24-37, published by the North Dakota State Archives. I have not been able to find a copy of this journal available on line.

it's listed in an index of the Society's journal. Jillaine Smith has requested a copy of this article. Smith-32867 12:46, 25 May 2019 (UTC)

Side by side images of Meriwether Lewis and son, Joseph

18 August 1774 Meriwether Lewis born in Virginia

1797 "In 1797, after the Spanish had evacuated the area near Memphis, Lewis commanded a company occupying Fort Pickering at that site. This was Chickasaw Indian Territory and here Lewis showed his great ability by learning the Chicasaw language and their customs, knowledge that would stand him in good stead in later years."[1]

1800 Reuben Lewis was living at District of Fredericksville Parish, Albermarle County, Virginia. He was a slave owner, and he was a Retailing Merchant.[2]

18 Jan 1803 Corps of Discovery is commissioned: "Both Jefferson and Lewis had long harbored a desire to locate a land route to the Pacific. It was on January 18, 1803, that Jefferson requested from Congress an appropriation of $2,500, for this project. Congress readily concurred."[3]

Winter 1803-1804 "The expedition assembled in Illinois, near the mouth of the Missouri River. The winter of 1803-1804, was spent recruiting and training the men who enlisted for the expedition."[4]

Journals of Corps members digitized in full at: journals

1803-05 Birth of Joseph DeSmet Lewis

"I will say that assuming that my Grand father died at the age of 86, then he would be born in 1803, and then the relationship to Meriwether Lewis would have some bearing... " quoting Samuel Charger, grandson of Joseph, in a letter to Doane Robinson, 1946. at letter

Birth date given in Find A Grave profile as 1805. Find A Grave - Joseph DeSmet Lewis

27 August 1804 Corps seeks encounter with Sioux tribal leaders: "we Set the Prarie on fire, to let the Soues Know we wished to see them at two oClock an Indian Swam to the Perogue, we landed & two other Came they were boys, they informed us that the Souex were Camped near, on the R Jacke one Maha boy informed us his nation was gorn to make a peace with the Pania's [Pawnee] " Aug 27 Journal entry

17 Dec 1805 Meriwether Lewis was in Oregon.[5]

1807-1808 "After his mother’s marriage to Capt. John Marks, he accompanied his parents and brother Meriwether (age nine) in 1784 to the Broad River community in Georgia. with Meriwether, he was eventually sent back to Albemarle County to further his education. ...Reuben started west to St. Louis with his brother, Meriwether, in 1807, arriving in March, 1808. There he took a major role in fur trading expeditions up the Missouri River (Dahl, p. 3). From 1810 to 1820, he was a government agent to the Mandan, Osage and Cherokee Indians on the Arkansas River." Patricia Zontine, April 2009, Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies

This indicates that Meriwether made multiple trips back and forth across the country and traveled widely on a regular basis, as he would have had to return to Virginia in order to ride out again with his brother. Both had already traveled to Georgia, and back to Virginia, in their early youth, and were already acquainted with long distance travel.

11 October 1809 Meriwether Lewis dies in Tennessee

Thomas Jefferson provides a biographical sketch of Meriwether's life including his skills and personal issues. Genealogy of the Lewis Family in America page 26

1817 Reuben Lewis appointed agent to Cherokee and Osage in Arkansas "18 July 1817 Secretary of War to Governor Clark Appointment of Reuben Lewis, Esq. as Assistant Agent of Indian Affairs at Arkansas Enclosure, Secretary of War to Reuben Lewis, “You are hereby appointed….”

Vol. 15 of the U.S. Territorial papers digitized at appointment

1820 Reuben Lewis resigns "24 March 1820" Gov. Miller to Secretary of War "Major Lewis has resigned his office in consequence of ill health and the peculiarly distressed condition of his family, and is compelled to leave here in the month of April... "

Vol. 19 of the U.S. Territorial papers digitized at resignation

1820 Joseph visits white relatives. The year of 1824 is given in the narrative below, but so also is the birth year for Joseph given in the letters, which is 1803. The narrative also states that he was 17 years old when he went to see his "father." Thus, the event would have actually occurred in 1820, and the 1824 date would be in error. The rest of the narrative, particularly in the January 30th letter to Mr. Robinson, makes it clear that Joseph was a young man when receiving the horses. If the 1824 date were correct, then Joseph would have had to have been born in 1807, for which there is no record.

Letter from Samuel Charger to Doane Robinson, November 20, 1915: "... and in this history it says Martin Charger a grandson of Meriwether Lewis now I want to know where you got this information, because I asked my mother who is about 87 years of age and still living and this is what she told me, that in the year 1824 my grand father with some white men who was going down the river in a boat he went with them and visited his father and he got two horses from his father but did not like to stay with them so in the year 1825 he ran away from his father's house for he was raised amongst the Indians and so could not speak the English very good this was done when he was seventeen years of age." handwritten letter digitized at 1915 letter

It is significant that the party went "down the river." This implies the location where the meeting took place was near the river. St Louis is near the river, and St. Louis is where Reuben Lewis lived.[6]

Robinson replied on Dec. 6, 1915: "...I met your father [Martin Charger] many times and greatly admired him. He told me himself, through Mr. Barney Travesses, interpreter, that he understood that he was descended from Captain Lewis, and Lewis LaPlant told me it was generally understood when he came to this region in 1855.

Captain Lewis died in 1809. Consequently if your grandfather actually visited his father and secured horses from him, he must have been some other person than Lewis." letter digitized at doane December

and a second letter from Sam, written in 1946: ".... he spent much of his life with the Traders and the story runs something like this. One day one of the traders told, my grandfather, that he has a relative that is well to do, and this man is my grand fathers, father, and that the next time the post traders go down the river, after supplies, he should go along with them and probably his father would help him, he was convinced, and so he went with them down the river, and some where down south, they came to a House, where he was introduced to his father, who was a white man and had two daughters.... As you probably know, that amongst the indians, we would call an uncle a father, so long as they are full brothers, so according to the above story, it might his uncle, if not a father," digitized at [1]; a transcription of the entire letter is available on Wikitree.

Another reference to the visit of Joseph Lewis to his father, from the book That Dream Shall Have a Name, by David L. Moore: [2] in an excerpt from the endnotes: "NOTES Introduction 1. In Lewis’s journal entry of August 19, 1805, written in what is now Montana, as he was describing the Shoshones he reflected back on the Corps’ sexual experiences among the Sioux during the previous travels of 1804. Other archival material suggests ambiguity in Martin Charger’s patrimony. There was a nineteenth-century St. Louis trader, Reuben Lewis (brother of Meriwether Lewis), whose name might have become confused with the more famous Lewis in this story. See correspondence dated November 20 and December 6, 1915, between Samuel Charger of LaPlant, South Dakota, son of Martin, and Doane Robinson, secretary of the South Dakota Historical Association in Pierre (Doane Robinson Collection, Alphabetical Correspondence, folder 58: “Charger, Martin,” South Dakota State Historical Society). Sam indicates that his grandfather, who would be the son of a “Lewis,” traveled to St. Louis in 1824 to receive a horse from his father there. Meriwether Lewis died in 1809, so the later trader is the more likely the father of Zomie and grandfather of Martin."

3 September 1855 Lt. G. K. Warren "One of the Indian guides Desmet who went out with the Dragoons armed with my shot gun had a most narrow escape with his life. The infantry took him for an enemy and charged upon him he laid down the gun to show he was a friend (he could not speak English)” Exploring The Black Hills,1855-1875:Reports of the Government Expeditions The Dacota Explorations of Lieutenant Gouverneur Kemble Warren, 1855-1856-1857. McLaird, James D. and Turchen, Lesta V. South Dakota State Historical Society, 1973. p. 372

It is unclear if the above is referring to Joseph Desmet Lewis, but it is the only reference in Warren's two published reports to anyone by this or a similar name. Warren's papers are extant, but only his two reports to the government seem to be digitized.

1856 "Joseph DeSomet Lewis made somewhat of a name for himself during his lifetime. With Jim Bridger, he guided and hunted for the U.S. Army Warren surveys between 1855 and 1857. Lt. Warren's assistant wrote in 1856 that Lewis was 'a hunter (a half-breed Sioux who says that his father was Lewis & Clarke [sic]).'"; Find A Grave - Joseph DeSmet Lewis

18 Jun 1872 "The Claim of Joseph DeSomet Lewis and the Problem of History, North Dakota History, 2000, pp. 24-37. Sixty-eight years after the Corps of Discovery ascended the Missouri River through the Dakotas, a Yankton (or possibly Teton) Sioux man, claiming to be the son of Meriwether Lewis, was baptized at St. Philip the Deacon Chapel, White Swan, Dakota Territory. As recorded in the Yankton Mission registers of the Diocese of South Dakota (Episcopal), Joseph DeSomet Lewis (also spelled "DeSomit" in the register) and his wife, Annie Tamakoce, their sons, Francis S. Lewis, Joseph W. Lewis, and two of their grandchildren by another son, John DeSomit Lewis, presented themselves for baptism on June 18, 1872. Joseph DeSomet Lewis (age 68), gave as his place of birth Yankton Agency, his father's name as "Capt. Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark's Exp.)," and his mother's name as "Winona." "; Find A Grave - Joseph DeSmet Lewis

Possible DNA Evidence Martin Charger Sep 7, 2016 at 1:14pm: Post by crashsmashley on Sep 7, 2016 at 1:14pm

"I have a interesting note to add to this tread I took a DNA test from and did my family tree I am a descendent of Joseph DeSmet Lewis so I added Meriwether Lewis in my tree as my 4th great grandfather. After about 6 months I was looking at the program and noticed it had a shared in the DNA matches a Shared Ancestor hints. Basically if you and another member share a common ancestry and your family trees match it will show you how you are related to other members. Going through the matches I got into the distant cousin and found I have several that are from Meriwether Lewis family line. So I had my Great Aunt tested and it is showing the same thing. I have called Ancestry and asked if it could be a false hit they have assured me that it is not a false hit. I'm going to continue to test family members and I'm going to try and get members of the Martin Charger to take the test. We are also connecting to members that are descendants of Basil Clement - Claymore which confirms we all share the same Great Grandmother Anna Tamakoce Waste Win (Good Ground Woman). She has left a unique genetic lineage being first married to Thomas Sarpy a member of the Chouteau family the to Joseph Desmet Lewis the son of Meriwether."

David Thomson has reached out to Joseph DeSmet Lewis descendants who claim to have DNA evidence. Results will be posted if received. David Thomson has also reached out to a distant nephew of Meriwether Lewis to also receive DNA results from the Lewis family who are not direct descendants of Meriwether Lewis.