Lewis & Clark at Three Forks

On this day, August 11, in 1806

Who Shot Meriwether Lewis In The Tuchus?

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began their epic journey across the continent in 1804. They led a special army unit known as the Corps of Discovery. In the course of two years the members of the Corps Of Discovery experienced many dangerous adventures. However they lost only one man, Sergeant Charles Floyd, in the entire two years of the excursion.

In the summer of 1806, the Corps Of Discovery was on its return journey when Lewis and Clark divided the party into two groups. Their purpose was to explore additional new territory. Lewis took a group of nine men one way, while Clark took the main body of the expedition another way. The two groups planned to meet up at the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.


On August 11th, 1806, while traveling down the Missouri River, Meriweather Lewis spotted some Elk on a bar in the river. This presented an opportunity to get meat for the men. Lewis brought the boat to shore and set out to hunt Elk. He brought with him one other soldier, Private Cruzatte.

Why Lewis took Private Cruzatte to hunt with him is a good question. The soldier was popular with the other men for playing fiddle and entertaining. But Private Cruzatte was nearsighted in one eye, and completely blind in the other eye.

As they walked through the brush, Lewis spotted an elk again. He raised his rifle, and was just about to shoot. From out of nowhere a bullet struck him right in the backside, spun him around and left a gash in his hip. Assuming that Private Cruzatte had mistaken him for an an animal, Lewis shouted in the direction he had last seen Cruzatte, “Damn you! You have shot me!”

Cruzatte did not answer. Meriwether Lewis then thought it might have been Indians who had attacked him. He quickly limped back to the boat and got the men together. He sent two men to go and save Private Cruzatte.

The two men returned twenty minutes later with Cruzatte. None of them reported seeing any Indians. And Private Cruzatte insisted he did not shoot Meriwether Lewis. He also said he did not hear Lewis shouting at him. For the rest of his days, Cruzatte stuck to his story.

Meriwether Lewis

For the next several days, Meriwether Lewis had to lie face down in the bottom of a canoe while his men headed the boat downriver. They met up with Clark at the junction, and the Corps of Discovery proceded along the river until on September 23, 1806 the Lewis and Clark Expedition reached St. Louis.

By the time they reached home, Lewis’s wounds had healed. He held onto the .54 caliber bullet that had pierced his backside. The slug came from a U.S. Army rifle exactly like the one Private Cruzatte carried.

While circumstantial evidence points to Private Cruzatte, historians have never been able to prove it was he who shot Meriwether Lewis. He always insisted that he didn’t shoot Lewis. And he continued to insist that he did not hear his captain shouting at him.

If it Private Cruzatte did not shoot Lewis, who did?


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