By: Donald E. Clare, Jr., Rabbit Hash Historical Society
Originally published: March 22, 2007 in the Boone County Recorder
After testifying in the conspiracy trial of U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr, Silas Dinsmoor left for New Hampshire to bring his wife of 18 months, Mary (nee Gordon), and his new baby boy (Silas Gordon Dinsmoor) back to Mississippi. Silas had completed a substantial brick house for them there in the Choctaw Indian territory. He first had to travel to Washington City for official government business. He arrived in New Hampshire at Christmastime and remained there with the family until the spring of 1808.
Early summer found the Dinsmoor family at their destination at the Choctaw Agency near Natchez. The family had set up housekeeping while Silas resumed his myriad duties as Indian Agent. Silas had built another house in a little town not far away called Washington where he helped in establishing a school named Jefferson Academy, both named for presidents and both acquaintances of Silas. Washington was very near Fort Adams, where a good friend of Silas's was stationed: General Zebulon Pike. Just three years earlier (1806), Pike had discovered Pike's Peak in present day Colorado. President Jefferson had sent Pike to determine the most south-western boundaries of the recently acquired Louisiana territory. His wife Clarissa (sometimes called Clara) was daughter of Capt. James Brown and granddaughter of Capt. John Brown, from the North Bend area of Boone County, Kentucky. Clara and Silas's wife, Mary, were friends and corresponded often.
As part of his duties as Choctaw Indian agent, Silas was responsible for checking any travelers who passed by the agency on the Natchez Trace. He had the authority from the Secretary of War to arrest anyone traveling the trace without a passport. This was a security measure designed to reduce the number of robberies and murders by land pirates and thieves along this much traveled road between Nashville and Natchez. Meriwether Lewis died along the trace in October, 1809. At first, it was reported that Lewis committed suicide. Then later in the 1800s, it was said that he was murdered, either by these preying road criminals or at the hands of conspirators, linked to several government associates, including the notorious James Wilkinson.
Silas had no direct contact with Governor Lewis, but he surely was aware of his tragic death along the Trace. He was an acquaintance of both the men who were with Lewis at the final stages of his life. Captain Gilbert C. Russell happened to be the commanding officer of Fort Pickering at the Chickasaw Bluffs. Silas had co-signed a note on a loan Russell borrowed to pay off some military expenditures. He was in the same predicament that Lewis was traveling to Washington City to remedy: i.e., trying to collect the outstanding reimbursements owed him by the military and U.S. Government. Silas was forced to pay off the note himself and would never recover his money from Russell.
On Sept. 15, 1809 while Lewis was traveling down the Mississippi to New Orleans, his boat pulled into the Bluffs and he received a hospitable welcome from Captain Russell. Seeing that Lewis was in a terrible mental and physical state, either from alcohol, medication or mental illness, he kept close watch over Lewis for close to two weeks. Once Lewis was sufficiently recovered, Russell allowed him to go on to Nashville, this time traveling along with a party that included Major James Neelly, a Tennessee militia major and one of Silas's fellow federal Indian agents to the Chickasaws. Lewis relapsed close to Nashville while Neelly had split from the group for two days to search for two strayed pack horses. When Neelly regained the group, Lewis was dead. It was Neelly who penned the first account of Lewis's death to former President Jefferson.
…to be continued…