Feb. 28—BALDWYN — Clark Richey has long been interested in the pre-statehood era of Mississippi history and the people who shaped it.
Richey — a Baldwyn historian, writer and filmmaker — is especially intrigued by Meriwether Lewis, who traveled the multi-state trail that became the Natchez Trace Parkway. Primarily known for leading the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Lewis also a solider, a politician and a confidant of Thomas Jefferson.
"He crossed paths with the greatest men of that era," Richey said of Lewis. "He was in with the movers and shakers of the United States of America at that time."
While Richey is interested in Lewis' life, he has questions about his death. Lewis was 35 when he died on Oct. 11, 1809, in Tennessee near the old parkway.
Was Lewis robbed and murdered, or did he take his own life?
"His death was under mysterious circumstance," Richey said.
"Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis" is the title of a motion picture Richey has written and will direct. T'he film, whose cast is a blend of noted actors and local talent, begins filming in March on locations in Northeast Mississippi.
As a local newspaper columnist, Richey enjoyed writing about the people who were a part of Mississippi before it became a state in 1817. It's a time in history, he says, many Mississippians today know little about.
"It's sort of an untapped time period when Mississippi was the wild, wild west," he said. "Mississippi was a frontier before Texas, Arizona, Kansas and all that. The story of Meriwether Lewis is one of many of nationally prominent people who traveled the Natchez Trace and worked and moved through Mississippi during that time."
Lewis was commander of the Corps of Discovery (the expedition with William Clark) that explored the Louisiana Purchase territory between 1803-06. Before that, Lewis served two years under Jefferson as secretary to the president.
Jefferson in 1807 appointed Lewis governor of the upper Louisiana Territory. Lewis governed the region until his death from multiple gunshot wounds near Grinder's Stand, an inn along the old Natchez Trace. The Meriwether Lewis National Monument and Gravesite is located at milepost 385.9 on the modern-day parkway near Hohenwald, Tennessee.
In 2016, Richey created Six Shooter Studios — a filmmaking and screenwriting company in Baldwyn. The more Richey researched the details of Lewis' death, the more he wanted to develop it into a motion picture.
"As I was jotting down findings, I realized that the discontinuities in the various stories of Lewis' death could themselves be woven into a great story," he said. "Even the simplest version of events has twists and turns, many uncertainties. This one night in the life of Meriwather Lewis, his last one, is filled to the brim with layers of mystery and intrigue. I just thought, 'This is a story that needs to be made into a movie.'"
Richey said he spent the early months of the pandemic lockdown writing four movie screenplays, including one about Lewis. Amye Gousset, general manager of Six Shooter Studios and an actor with nearly 40 screen credits, sent the Lewis script to Robbie Fisher, a Water Valley-based filmmaker, for review.
Fisher, owner of Fisher Productions LLC, liked what she read.
"I was sent Clark's script for 'Mysterious Circumstance' by a mutual friend (Gousset), and I could not put it down," Fisher said. "It compelled me to research Lewis to learn more about his story. I knew I wanted to be a part of this project, to be a part of such great storytelling."
Richey said getting Fisher on board was a boost for the project.
"Connecting with Robbie was the right thing for us to do at this time, not just to talk about it but to actually get the movie made," he said.
Richey and Fisher began pre-production work on the film, along with co-producers Gousset; Morgan Cutturini, a filmmaker and Itawamba Community College teacher; and New Jersey-based producer PJ Leonard. Richey is directing the movie. Maven Entertainment is executive producer and Michael Williams is director of photography.
The production team began filling out the cast, and it has added some notable names. One of the most recognizable is John Schneider, best known for his role as Bo Duke on TV's "The Dukes of Hazzard." Gousset worked with Schneider in the 2019 film "The Favorite."
"It was very helpful that John had worked with someone in our movie when we started contacting people," Richey said. "It was a huge coup for us to get John Schneider to do this film for us."
The lead role of Lewis went to Evan Williams, who played Chevailer in the Netflix series "Versailles" (2015-18) and Jack Russo in "Midnight at the Magnolia." Joining them will be Sonny Marinelli ("Entourage"), Lance E. Nichols ("House of Cards"), Billy Slaughter ("Magnificent 7") and Gousset ("The Purge," "Nashville").
"Each of them are very well-credited actors," Richey said.
Richey said he wanted Mississippians to be part of the supporting cast.
Jamie Fair and Josh Whites, two Mississippi-born actors, will be bandits in the film along with State Sen. Chad McMahan and Cotton Yancey, a former recording artist and rodeo announcer. Also signed on are two youngsters from Tishomingo County: Rider Mayo, 9, of Iuka, and Keandre Wicks, 13, of Burnsville. Marcus Dupree, the much-heralded football player from Philadelphia, also has a role in the film.
Richey has been involved in numerous entertainment ventures in Baldwyn and the surrounding area. They include revitalizing and hosting events in Baldwyn's Claude Gentry Theatre and productions through Six Shooter Studios, but nothing the size of directing "Mysterious Circumstance."
"This will be the biggest entertainment project I've ever done, no doubt about it," Richey said. "It's a culmination of a lot of entertainment interests of mine coming together at this late point of life for me."
The actors have been doing videoconference script reads to learn their lines before the cameras start rolling. Richey said it's been his dream to be a filmmaker, and he hopes as director he can bring the mysterious events surrounding Lewis' death to life on the screen.
"I'm a huge movie buff. I'm a huge history buff. Bringing all those things together, I guess it's something I was meant to do. Six months from now, they might say 'Maybe he wasn't cut out for that.'" Richey said, and then laughed. "But hopefully it will proven that I was cut out for it. I hope so."