Zebulon Pike’s 1806 Expedition

By | Jul 15, 2017

After The United States under President Thomas Jefferson completed what is known as the Louisiana Purchase, the government found it necessary to explore the region. The most commonly known expedition to explore the vast ‘purchase’ is the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It wasn’t the only one. Perhaps just as important was the Pike’s expedition, which left the city of St. Louis on July 15, 1806.

The leader of this expedition was Zebulon M. Pike, an Army Captain who had just returned from an expedition to find the source of the Mississippi River. Even though he didn’t find the source he did travel much of it. When he left St Louis his party included 17 men from his Mississippi River expedition; two new volunteer soldiers; his second-in-command, Lt. James Biddle Wilkinson, a volunteer physician, Dr. John H. Robinson; and Baronet Vasquez, an interpreter from St. Louis.

Spain, who still held a great deal of territory in what is now the United State’s southwest, was not happy that France transferred the rights of ‘Louisiana’ to the Americans. Tensions were high between the two countries and even within the United States. Aaron Burr was part of a group who conspired to separate the western territories from the rest of the United States to form their own country.

During the expedition which explored across the great plain which he described as an “immense and trackless deserts”. A desert in the 19th century was thought to be any treeless or uninhabited lands whether they were arid or not. On November 15 he saw a great peak in the distance. This peak now bears his name as Pikes Peak.

Even though winter was coming, Pike’s expedition began climbing the mountain range. Once the weather got too bad they abandoned their quest to climb to the top of the over 14,000 foot peak. They were able to explore the base of the Rocky Mountains.

By the end of January 1807 they reached a river, that they thought to be the Rio Grande, but was actually the Red River. Here they decided to build a fort. It was at this fort that the party was captured by Spanish troops who arrested them as spies. They were released, but all of their records and journals were kept. Pike was still published in 1810, The expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike to headwaters of the Mississippi River, through Louisiana Territory, and in New Spain, during the years 1805-6-7.


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