Meriwether Lewis S.D.Legacy

Posted: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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I watched some of President Obama’s news conference last night and quickly realized I should have paid more attention to the teacher during high school economics and bookkeeping classes because nothing he was saying sounded familiar.  I kept thinking, isn’t this like a guy in debt up to his eyeballs, trying to get a few more credit cards in order to make his monthly payments and maintain his present lifestyle?  But what do I know? Clearly, something has to be done to right this ship of state and we don’t seem to have much of a choice other than to wait it out and pray these guys know what they’re doing.
What I did was to turn off the TV and reach for the latest issue of South Dakota Magazine which arrived in the mail while we were on vacation. It’s a great way to get lost for a couple hours through words and pictures featuring so many interesting people and places from all across the state.
One of Bernie Hunhoff’s articles in particular caught my attention; The New Lower Brule. It brought back memories of a trip I made to Lower Brule..gosh, it’s been nearly five years ago now. Keloland News photographer, Kevin Kjergaard, asked me one day if I’d ever heard of this guy on the reservation who claims he’s a direct descendant of Meriwether Lewis..of Lewis and Clark Expedition fame. I did some checking and sure enough, a man named Sheldon Fletcher, says he’s the great, great, great grandson of the noted explorer..and has the documentation to prove it. Fletcher also happens to be the Lower Brule reservation conservation officer and I was really excited about the chance to talk with him after I called and he invited us out.  It was late morning on a hot August day when we arrived at Lower Brule. The town itself, relocated to higher ground 45 years ago when the Big Bend Dam was built, has a lot of run-down houses that reflect the low income levels of their occupants but, as we came over the hill, I was stunned by the beautiful view of the bluffs and Missouri River below. It’s one of the most impressive sites in our state. In the administration building, Sheldon Fletcher gave us a well prepared power point presentation which followed his lineage to a man named Joseph DeSmet Lewis born in 1805 who, according to oral history and baptismal records, was who he claimed to be; the son of Meriwether Lewis and a Teton Sioux woman named Winona. It was not uncommon for Native Americans to offer women to members of the Corps of Discovery, including Lewis and William Clark. There are plenty of entries in their journals that suggest such offers were graciously accepted by the men except for the two captains, of course. They, in fact, likely partook in pleasures of the flesh too but chose to keep their dalliances discreet rather than write them down in a book that would one day be published for the whole world to see.  Sheldon Fletcher is convinced that he is the result of that encounter between Lewis and Winona and that it happened when the Corps passed throughDakota on its way up river in 1804. Others, though, aren’t so sure.    Meriwether Lewis and his great, great, great grandson Sheldon Fletcher?
Fletcher told me he’d be willing to resolve the question once and for all through  DNA testing but, apparently, that still hasn’t happened.  Grave marker at St. Alban’s Cemetery on the Lower Brule (SDPB photos)
I’d like to believe that Fletcher is right and that Lewis and Clark did, in fact, leave more than their moccasin tracks behind when they passed through this part of the country over 200 years ago. It sure would be fun to know. Maybe the president could be persuaded to spend a little economic stimulus money for researchers to find out.

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