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Meriwether Lewis and His Son

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: North Dakotamap
Surnames/tags: lewis desomet
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Article copy (PDF) available for purchase (about $4) from the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Citation format

Harry F. Thompson, "Meriwether Lewis and His Son: The Claim of Joseph DeSomet Lewis and the Problem of History," in North Dakota History, Vol. 67, No. 3, 2000; pp 24-37.

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This article examines, without concluding one way or another, the evidence for the claimed father-son relationship between Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis & Clark Expedition) and Joseph (or Michael) Desomet Lewis (1805-1889). It is well footnoted.

It includes (among other things):

  • photostat image of the 18 January 1872 adult baptismal record at the St Philip of the Deacon Chapel, of Joseph DeSomet Lewis from the Yankton Mission Register, Volume I, in which either the pastor or 68-year-old Joseph DeSomit Lewis recorded that Joseph's father was "Capt. Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark Exp.)", his mother as "Winona" and listed his place of birth as "Yankton Agency."
  • Also names Joseph's wife, Annie Tamakoce (no age given, birth place Ft. Pierre, Dakota; parents: Hunkanwicasa and Wisdo); and their sons Francis Saswena Lewis (21) and Joseph Wanikiya Lewis (19) and two grandchildren by their son John DeSomit Lewis. <-- Is John called Lewis? He's just John Desmet in censuses etc.
  • Joseph DeSomet Lewis is buried at St Albans Cemetery, Fort Hale, Lower BrulĂ© Reservation.
  • Theory for the possible origins of the Desmet/Desomet surname used by Joseph
  • Evidence for the theory that Joseph=Michael Desomet
  • Earliest mention of Desomet as son of Meriwether Lewis: an 1856 expedition report by W H Hutton, assistant to topographical engineer Lt. G K Warren, who wrote: "[Michael Desomet] was a hunter (a half breed Sioux who says that his father was Lewis & Clarke [sic])".
  • Photostat of marriage record of Joseph Desomet Lewis and Ann Tomakoce , Yankton Mission Register, Vol II.
  • Details about Desomet's involvement in the 1855/6 surveying party of Lt G K Warren.
  • Mentions of Joseph Desomet's appearance in records pertaining to Ft. Pierre as early as 1837 through 1848
  • Reference to the 1860 census entry for Michael Derzannette, age 58, listed in Yankton Indian Agency being the same man as Michael/Joseph DeSomet. Recognition that this age doesn't jive with the age 68 he gives 12 years later.
Editorial comment: a close look at that 1860 census record-- linked to above-- includes only two names (Frank/Francis and Winona) associated with known family members of Joseph Desomet, shedding some doubt onto the Michael=Joseph theory. Smith-32867 23:53, 8 June 2019 (UTC)
  • A review of the journal and other details of Lewis and Clark that include no reference to Lewis having relations with the Native American women he encountered, despite the many offerings (to both Lewis and Clark) of sexual relations with the Sioux. Clark's own journals said that they declined such offers.
  • Lewis was in the vicinity of Yankton during the time that Joseph DeSomet was conceived. (The author admits that anyone in the expedition party could have claimed to have been one of its leaders in order to gain sexual relations with a Native American woman.)
  • Contextual history to help us understand what was going on during this time and place
  • There were many cases of syphilis among the men of the L&C expedition; no mention that either Lewis and Clark were so infected.
  • Lewis' death-- by either suicide or murder-- was preceded by some form of dementia, and at least one scholar claims it could have been syphilis-caused
  • Late 20th century failed attempts by historians and Lewis family members to convince the National Park Service to exhume Lewis' body for study of whether or not he had syphilis (and which would also provide DNA to compare to Desomet descendants).

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