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Lewis loved Clark? Intriguing hints abound about America's historic trailblazers.

In May 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, America's most famous same-sex coupling, led 45 men up the Missouri River with the purpose of exploring the newly acquired lands of the Louisiana Purchase and the goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean. Throughout this year our nation has been celebrating the bicentennial of their expedition of 1804-1806 with events and exhibitions from Missouri to Oregon. For gay and lesbian Lewis-and-Clark buffs, the recent speculation that Meriwether Lewis might have been gay has made an already fascinating story downright titillating.

In Brian Hall's beautifully written 2003 novel about the expedition, I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, the heterosexual author makes a case that one of the causes for Lewis's suicide in 1809 at the age of 35 was that after Clark married a woman named Julia, his farmer partner felt bereft. Lewis was already severely depressed after their trip and never fully readjusted to life back in civilization. Three years after, he still slept an the floor on buffalo skins because he claimed that he was no longer comfortable sleeping in beds. A couple of days before his suicide on the Natchez Trace trail, a delusional Lewis was convinced Clark was trying to catch up with him, coming to his "relief."

"What fascinated me about Lewis was his intense personal loneliness and the intriguing hints in the record that he had a much more intense feeling of comradeship for Clark than Clark did for him," explains Hall.

Many historians claim that there is na evidence that Lewis was gay It's true that Lewis never described Clark in his journals as a total hottie, but his surviving letters and journals should trigger the gaydar of open-minded readers.

When President Jefferson asked him to lead the expedition, Lewis wrote to Clark saying, "Believe me there is no man on earth with whom I should feel equal pleasure in sharing them as with yourself." He went on to say, "I should be extremely happy in your company and will furnish you with every aid for your return from any point you might wish it. With sincere and affectionate regard, your friend and humble sevt. Meriwether Lewis." It's a touching letter that reveals the bond between the two men. (Clark named his first child Meriwether Lewis Clark) Another letter of Lewis's excitedly describes a cozy little house that he and Clark will share together.

Although a crack shot and an expert woodsman, the handsome Lewis occasionally drops his Indian trade beads in his journals. He was considered a dandy in his youth, and he once wrote a letter about a newly purchased Army dress coat and complained at length that "the lace is deficient." On his journey with Clark Lewis carefully noted the clothing of the Indian tribes and expressed his admiration for a fur stole worn by Shoshone men. Lewis obtained one of these fur tippets and wore this foppish piece of clothing for an official portrait when he returned.

Clark also recorded his observations of cross-dressing Native American two-spirited people. He didn't fully understand the diversity of gender roles in each tribe or the complexity of the spiritual functions played by two-spirits, but his report is relatively nonjudgmental for its time.

It also appears that Lewis didn't have sex during the two years of their journey, despite numerous accounts of the enlisted men sleeping with Native American women. His comments about women run from an open distaste for their bodies to a chaste poetic appreciation for lovely fair damsels.

After the expedition, Lewis halfheartedly tried to marry and failed. A close reading of his writings won't reveal evidence of a passion for any woman that compares to the emotion he displayed in his letter to Clark, asking him aboard their epic, timeless journey.

"Lewis & Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition" will be open to the public at venues nationally:

Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, November 2004-March 2005 * Oregon Historical Society, Portland, November 2005-March 2006 * National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., May-September 2006
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Title Annotation:Our History; Lewis & Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition; gay expeditions
Author:Smith, Bob
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 26, 2004
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