Last night on The History Channel H2 series, America Unearthed, the episode Motive for Murder explores the death of explorer Meriwether Lewis. Some of you may recall that another History Channel series, Brad Meltzer′s Decoded, also investigated whether Lewis committed suicide due to financial problems, or was murdered by supporters of some corrupt government officials that Lewis was going to expose. Forensic geologist Scott Wolter picks up the cold trail based on some new evidence, an inscribed piece of sandstone known as the Brandenburg Stone as well as blood stains found on Lewis′ Masonic apron. Were pages torn from the journal of Lewis by people trying to cover up a possible land claim by ancient Welsh on the Louisiana Purchase, thereby calling into question the legitimacy of a large portion of the United States? Were the Mandan Indians of the Dakota plains descendents of 6th Welsh immigrants? Did Thomas Jefferson order Lewis and Clark to not only explore the new territory, but also look for signs of a pre-Columbian Welsh community?

america unearthed motive for murder

The ′accepted′ historical story of the death of Meriwether Lewis is that in 1809, he was very deep in debt. He had begun writing a journal of his famous expedition to sell. But that Fall, he left for Washington taking the Natchez Trace. He stopped one night along the trail at Grinders Stand, about 60 miles from Franklin, Tennessee. The only ′witness′ to events that evening was the inn keeper′s wife, who told three different versions of how Lewis died. One was that he was mentally distraught and shot himself twice, once in the head and once in the abdomen. Lewis had spent the night at a fort earlier in the trip and the fort′s commander confirmed that Lewis was very depressed and was drinking a great deal.

Scott Wolter begins his investigation after talking with a local reporter in Minnesota, Don Shelby. He shows Scott a 1st edition copy of the original chronicle of the Lewis and Clark expedition published in 7 volumes between 1804 and 1806. Shelby raises the question of the missing pages from Lewis′ 1809 journal and a possible connection the Welsh in early America. Shelby believes that Jefferson ordered Lewis and Clark to search for signs of Welsh settlements in the Louisiana Territory. That a stone found in Kentucky, the Brandenburg Stone, discovered in 1912, bears an inscription that looks like ancient Welsh.

Wolter goes to Kentucky and meets with local historian Gerry Fischer who shows Scott the stone. Upon inspection, Wolter determines that there is enough weathering to prove that the sandstone is fairly old, but an exact age is hard to pin down. Scott then goes to the rock quarry at Paradise Bottom where the stone was found. Comparisons to other sandstones show it does match. An expert on the stone, Lee Pennington, tells Wolter that the stone may be a land claim left by descendents of a 6th Century Welsh expedition of some 700 ships. That the Mandan Indians of the Dakotas may be those Welsh descendents. Not only do the Mandans have European features, but also some of their technology is similar. One example is a type of small boat used by both.

Meeting next with another local historian, Jim Holmberg, Wolter gets more background on a potential motive for murder. Perhaps the missing pages from the Lewis journal held the key to connect the Mandan with the Welsh, giving them a legitimate claim to the lands involved in the Louisiana Purchase? Holmberg does believe the suicide story, but is curious about the two gunshot wounds. As we saw in the Brad Meltzer Decoded episode, Lewis used a .68-caliber ′horse pistol′, a powerful handgun which would make a second shot very unlikely. Especially if the first shot had been to the head since a medical examination done later showed part of the skull blasted off.

The existing descendents of the Lewis family tree are not buying the suicide story at all. Scott meets with one such distant relative, Keith Vanstone, who tells Wolter that repeated attempts to have a modern autopsy done have been rejected by the National Parks Service. We also learn from Vanstone that Lewis was a Freemason and that his Masonic apron, which was found on his dead body, folded and in a pocket, is an exhibit at the main Masonic Lodge in Helena, Montana. The apron apparently has blood stains on it.

Scott travels to Helena and meets with the head of the Lodge, Thom Chisolm. There are actually two stains of blood, which Chisolm says were tested back in 1970. One stain is of human blood, the other from a deer. Wolter wants to do a DNA test and asks if he can take swab samples? After assurances that the tests will be as minimal as possible in damaging the relic, the Lodge Masters agree.

Then the whole story starts to unravel. First, Scott Wolter learns that the inscription on the Brandenburg Stone is NOT ancient Welsh, but a Welsh dialect invented by a forger/con artist in the 18th Century. Oops! So much for the stone being a land claim marker left by ancient Welshmen. The results from the DNA tests are also inconclusive. Both samples are of human blood but neither match the DNA signatures of Keith Vanstone. One of the stains appears to be a mix of two or more DNA samples, possibly indicating some contamination. A possible explanation is that DNA testing only really works when you have an unbroken chain of descendents of the same sex. Then the Y or X chromosome sets remain consistent.

But even with this bad news, Scott Wolter of America Unearthed still believes that there may be a motive for murder. Perhaps the mixed blood stain indicates a possible struggle occurred at the alleged suicide of Meriwether Lewis? The Brandenburg Stone issue seems to rule out a connection to a land claim on the Louisiana Purchase by the Welsh. But, perhaps, the murder motive was one investigated by another History Channel series, Brad Meltzer′s Decoded. That General James Wilkinson, a good friend of Arron Burr, had been part of a plot to form another nation from the Louisiana Territory?