by Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun
Yes, my calendar says that Feb. 22nd is George Washington’s Birthday, 1732.
Skip to Feb. 26, and my calendar says: “1807: Zebulon Pike’s party was captured by Spanish soldiers from Santa Fe.”
Who was Zebulon Pike? His father was an officer in George Washington’s army and who, after the war, continued to serve, in frontier military posts.
So Pike was just about born in the army. He was 15 years old when he became a cadet in his father’s regiment and 20 years old when he was commissioned a first lieutenant.
He was at a new post in Illinois when Meriwether Lewis came through in 1803 and recruited some of Pike’s men for the Lewis and Clark expedition.
It was in 1805 that Pike was sent on an exploratory mission similar to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He was sent to explore the headwaters of the upper Mississippi River by the Commanding General of the U.S. Army, Gen. James Wilkinson.
Pike and his party left on Aug. 9, 1805 and returned to St. Louis on April 30, 1806 after a journey of nearly 5,000 miles.
Pike was immediately sent on another mission by Wilkinson.
He was given a number of tasks but his real mission was that of a spy, according to some historians. He was to find what the Spanish were doing south of the Louisiana Purchase.
So on July 15, 1806, Pike and his party of soldiers and an interpreter began their journey. They were well into it when Pike and his men found a Pawnee village where a Spanish flag was flying.
Pike learned that a troop of Spanish cavalry, about 300 strong, had recently visited the village.
After, taking down the Spanish flag and putting up the stars and stripes, Pike began following the hoof prints of the Spanish cavalry down what has become known as the Santa Fe Trail.
On Feb. 1, 1807, Pike found the headwaters and what he thought were the headwaters of the Red River. It was actually he Rio Grande. There, they built a fort.
And on Feb. 26, 1807, the fort was discovered by a 100-man mounted Spanish patrol. Pike and his men were captured and brought to Santa Fe and then through Albuquerque, El Paso and down to Chihuahua, Pike taking notes all the way.
The Spanish governor Salcedo decided not to antagonize the Americans and had Pike and some of his men escorted through Texas, through San Antonio, to Natchitoches, Louisiana. They arrived on July 1, 1807.
Spain and the U.S. broke off relations. Pike was killed in the War of 1812.
It wasn’t until 1821 when the Republic of Mexico founded and traded with the U.S. was welcomed, that American traders were able to make the trip Pike had made, escorted by Spanish cavalry, in 1807.
Pike, however, kept a journal and many of his stories of his trips are hailed as the first ads for tourism in New Mexico.
Chelle Delaney is associate publisher for the Quay County Sun. She can be contacted at 461-1952 or by e-mail at