Malaria may have contributed to the death of North American explorer Meriwether Lewis, writes author Stephen Ambrose.
In his book, “Undaunted
Courage,” which chronicles Lewis’ and William Clark’s 1804-1806 exploration of the Missouri River, Ambrose addresses Lewis’ bouts with depression and lethargy.
“Any analysis of his lethargy is speculating: some that have been offered include being unlucky in love, or suffering from a manic-depressive psychosis, alcoholism, malaria or some other physical illness,” Ambrose wrote in his 1996 essay.
“My own guess is that some combination of these explanations…was among the causes,” he wrote.
Lewis also was believed to suffer from depression and was a heavy drinker after his exploration of the US Louisiana Purchase territory ended in 1806. In addition to those problems, Lewis also contracted malaria during his journey with the Corps of Discovery, and suffered frequent attacks of the illness.
“He swallowed a pill containing a gram of opium every night at bedtime to ward off such attacks,” Ambrose wrote.
One of Lewis’ jobs on the completion of his exploration of the newly acquired US territory was to have his journals published in book form—a task he never completed, Ambrose supposes, because of health problems. And, Lewis was also appointed governor of the Louisiana Territory, which covered most of the western US, from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.
Stresses from his jobs, hereditary mental illness, use of alcohol and other drugs, combined with the malaria, finally took their toll.
“He was in terrible condition, possibly suffering from a malaria attack, certainly in a deep depression that caused him unbearable pain,” Ambrose wrote.
On Oct 11, 1809, in a tavern along in Tennessee state Lewis succumbed to the pain and took his own life.
Malaria is caused by a parasite that is transmitted to humans by the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito.
The disease causes periodic chills with fevers, which if left untreated, can kill.