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Document signed by Lewis and Clark could be worth $80,000 or more

Sunday, March 30, 2008 | 8:51 p.m. CDT; updated 12:37 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ST. LOUIS — An 1809 land sale document going up for auction this week is valued at $80,000 or more because of the two famous signatures on it — belonging to explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

The document, dated Aug. 23, 1809, outlines a land sale by Lewis to Pierre Chouteau Sr., a prominent fur trader, in an area that is now the St. Louis suburb of Florissant, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday. Clark signed the document as a witness.

Lewis was the governor of the Louisiana Territory and serving in St. Louis at the time. Lewis soon left on a trip to Washington. He died on the Natchez Trace southwest of Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 11, in what many historians believe was a suicide.

The land document is scheduled for auction Thursday in New York at Sotheby’s auction house, which estimates the document’s value at $80,000 to $120,000.

Historians say documents bearing the signatures of Lewis and Clark are rare outside of the official reports from their exploration of the American West, which took them from the St. Louis area to the Pacific Ocean and back from 1804 to 1806.

The deed is one of the historical documents being sold by the trust of Dr. Robert Small, a physician and collector in New York. It shows that Chouteau agreed to buy several land parcels from Lewis “at or near the village of St. Ferdinand,” an old name for the farm settlement that eventually became Florissant.

Other documents show Lewis had bought some of those same parcels from Chouteau just the previous year.

Selby Kiffer, a staff historian for Sotheby’s, said most of the original documents from Lewis and Clark’s expedition are held by the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia and don’t come into circulation for purchase. “So, for these signatures to show up together on the market is extremely rare,” he said.

The document shows that Chouteau bought the land from Lewis for $4,355. Kiffer noted that the document includes a second signature on Jan. 5, 1810, by William C. Carr, a prominent St. Louis businessman who had been among the original witnesses to the sale.

Kiffer said that could have been an effort to verify authenticity, given the controversy over Lewis’ death. Most historians believe he shot himself over depression and worry but there are also theories that he was murdered.


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