Saturday, April 23, 2005


Raving and Drooling

Very few reviews for Thomas Lowry's Venereal Disease and the Lewis and Clark Expedition: so far I've only spotted the Complete Review and (curiously enough) today's Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. But as Lowry himself is quoted in the latter article:

"Comments about sex and venereal disease run rampant in the pages of their journals, yet they are mentioned only in passing in the many books about Lewis and Clark..... And what caused Meriwether Lewis' terminal insanity? What drove him to a truly bizarre mode of suicide, one in which he shot himself twice and then, some say, slashed his body from head to toe[?].... Lewis and Clark, on their immortal voyage of discovery, faced many perils: swelling rivers, thundering waterfalls, hostile Indians, blizzards, frostbite, starvation, grizzly bears, rattlesnakes, and the great unknown of the Rocky Mountains. Of these dangers, one of the greatest and most feared was venereal disease.... Four years after meeting with the Shoshones, Lewis was dead... long enough for tertiary syphilis to work its dreadful effects on brain and personality."

Not mentioned in the reviews is another curious sidelight: the work of archaelogist Ken Karsmizki in tracing the route of Lewis and Clark's campsites by looking for telltale mercury deposits in old privies, the remains of VD patent medicines gulped down and excreted by the exploration party. As the Detroit Free Press noted, "Lewis recorded purchasing 600 of the pills for $5 for the expedition. The practice of the day called for administering mercury until the patient began to drool -- a sure sign that he had had enough."


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