Vermillion visitor shares unique link to Meriwether Lewis

Vermillion visitor shares unique link to Meriwether Lewis by David Lias Vermillion resident Donna Schafer almost waited too long to have a friendly conversation with a recent visitor in her home.

Had she not chatted with Rick Lewis shortly before he was scheduled to leave Vermillion, she never would have discovered that his family tree includes the famed explorer Meriwether Lewis.

Lewis teaches theology and history at Eugene Bible College, located in Eugene, OR, and during the summer the college sends a team to minister to churches and camps.

"Every year, I go out with the team for between two and four weeks," he said. "I was at Donna's church, and they hosted me and one of our other young people, so I stayed at Donna's home."

Schafer showed Lewis some of the sites around Vermillion. While the two took a walk on the bike trail bordering the Vermillion River, she mentioned that she is a Daughter of the American Revolution.

"I started looking out there at the river, and just mentioned that I'm a son of the Revolution, going back to Meriwether's father and his uncles. Many of them fought in the American Revolution."

Meriwether Lewis' uncle, John Lewis, was Rick Lewis' great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.

"That's my relationship to him," Lewis said, adding that Meriwether Lewis never married and therefore has no direct descendants.

Lewis said he has relatives in Kentucky that have gathered information about their relationship with the famous explorer.

"And because I have an undergraduate degree in history, I have researched and read quite a bit, and followed our family tree back through our genealogy," he said.

Citizens are growing increasingly aware of the Lewis and Clark expedition as the 200th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery's journey draws near.

"I have had a long, long standing interest in the Lewis and Clark expedition, and especially Meriwether Lewis, because I knew he was part of my heritage," Lewis said.

He added that he is happy that the journey of the Corps of Discovery is being re-visited so strongly by the Vermillion community and by recent books and television broadcasts.

"I think Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are very important, but I think Lewis was basically the average person of his day," he said.

Some of the explorer's characteristics are still alive today, Lewis added.

"There are personal characteristics of Lewis � I see some curses that have been on our family, and I see some things that most people really admire and appreciate about our family," Lewis said. "And I read about Meriwether Lewis, and I see some of those things � some of his strengths and some of his weaknesses.

"He drank too much, or ended up drinking too much, and that's been a problem in my family," Lewis said. "He struggled with depression back then, and that's been a problem."

Some of the explorer's strongest traits, however, included his honesty and integrity.

"Thomas Jefferson said his word was as good as his bond," Lewis said. "William Clark and his men really admired him for his honesty and integrity. "

The government failed to pay some members of the expedition for their efforts. Lewis dipped into his own pocket to make sure they were compensated.

"I think most people are also aware that William Clark was a tremendous outdoorsman, and very, very familiar with how to live off the land and how to find his way in the wilderness, but Lewis was probably as good as William Clark in that area," Lewis said.

Meriwether Lewis was a better horseman and scientist. Clark was a talented surveyor.

"That team really complimented one another very well," Lewis said. "Meriwether Lewis just deeply respected and admired William Clark and was willing to share command with him even though Clark didn't get his commission to being a captain until after the expedition was over."

It's no accident that the adventures of the explorers is commonly referred to as the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis said that even though the two men weren't of equal rank, the two men approached their tasks with an admirable degree of modesty.

"Clark was a subordinate officer, and Lewis shared that, so we call it the Lewis and Clark expedition," he said. "We don't call it the Lewis expedition. They both really liked one another," Lewis added. "They both really appreciated one another and respected one another. They could make hard, tough decisions, even when their men disagreed with them, and most of the time they made the right choice."

Meriwether Lewis was known as a man of tremendous physical strength.

"That's been inherited (in our family)," Lewis said. "My dad was a businessman in Bozeman, MT, and probably up until about three or four years before his death, he was one of the strongest men in Bozeman. He never lifted weights or anything like that, but he just had a tremendous constitution. I think that's probably one of the other things we've inherited."

He is proud to be related to the explorer, not just because of Meriwether Lewis' famous journey, but also because of his personal characteristics.

"He was very introspective," Lewis said. "He was a very colorful person, and very brave."

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