Ascending peak of bicentennial

by Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

Uncovering the life of Zebulon Pike and similar dates that he shares with George Washington in February has led to further discoveries.

This year is the celebration of the Pike Bicentennial, which is being promoted by The Santa Fe Trail Association. It’s also inspired a new edition of the 1932 book, “The Southwestern Journals of Zebulon Pike, 1806-1807,” by the University of New Mexico Press.

Pike’s “words” in the book are not confined to his journals. The editors have also included the letters he wrote to Gen. James Wilkinson, who had sent him on both of his journeys of exploration.

Some of his travails compared to today’s world of ipods and Oscar nights highlight how far we’ve come and how easy day-to-day life has become.

For example, in one letter Pike explains that one of his first tasks was to return some 51 Osage Indians, including chiefs who had been ambassadors to Washington, to their own tribes.

Pike and most of his men traveled by boat down the Osage River. The Indians and some of Pike’s soldiers made their way down the riverbank.

Pike: “25th July, Friday, — We embarked at half past 6 o’clock and arrived at the entrance of the Gasconade river at half past eight o’clock, which place I determined to remain the day, as my Indians and foot people were not yet in the rear.”
In August, Pike was switching from boats to horses.
“26th August, Tuesday. Rose early and found my friends in council, which was merely relative to our horses. The chief then declared their determination to me, and that he himself gave me one horse, and lent me eight more to carry our luggage to the Pawnees. Sold the old batteaux for 100 dollars, in merchandise.”

As it is today, the weather was a problem. Pike wrote of remaining encamped because of snow.

“2nd December, Tuesday. — It cleared off in the night, and in the morning the thermometer stood a 17 below (-2 Fahr.)
Food was also a problem.

“4th December, Thursday. — Marched about five; took up Sparks wo had succeeded in killing a cow. Killed two buffalo and six turkies. Distance 20 miles.”

“31st December, Wednesday Marched; had frequently to cross the river on the ice, horses falling down, we were obliged to pull them over on the ice.”

“2nd January, Friday. Laboured all day, but made only one mile, many of our horses much wounded in falling on the rocks. Provision growing short, left Stoute and Miller with two loads, to come one with sled on the ice.”

When Zebulon Pike came by here, 200 years ago, this was Spanish territory. New Spain, they called it. And Zebulon and his men were being escorted by Spanish soldiers.
He had trespassed on the Spanish territory that lay west of President Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase.

When he published his journals, in 1810, Pike’s book provided the American public with its first written description of the trans-Mississippi West.

His journals, which captured the imaginations of the folks back east, are often considered one of the best advertisers of the Southwest.

Copies of The Southwestern Journals of Zebulon Pike, 1806-1807 are available from the Santa Fe Trail Association Last Chance Store or by phone at 888-321-7341.

Chelle Delaney is associate publisher for the Quay County Sun. Contact her at 461-1952 or by e-mail: