Brigadier General Zebulon Montgomery Pike -
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Pikes Peak History:
Zebulon Montgomery Pike (January 5, 1779 – April 27, 1813) was an American Brigadier General and explorer for whom Pikes Peak in Colorado was renamed (from El Capitan). As a U.S. Army officer he led two expeditions, first in 1805-06 to reconnoiter the upper reaches of the Mississippi River, and then in 1806-07 to explore the Southwest to the fringes of the northern Spanish-colonial settlements.
The Pike Expedition (July 15, 1806 – July 1, 1807) was a military party sent out by President Thomas Jefferson and authorized by the United States to explore the south and west of the recent Louisiana Purchase. Roughly contemporaneous with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it was led by United States Army Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, Jr. (He was promoted to captain while on the trip.) It was the first official American effort to explore the western Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains in present-day Colorado. Pike contacted several Native American tribes during his travels and informed them of the new US rule over the territory. The expedition documented the United States' discovery of Pikes Peak. After splitting up his men, Pike led the larger contingent to find the headwaters of the Red River. A smaller group returned safely to the US Army fort in St. Louis, before winter set in.
Pike's company made several errors and ended up in Spanish territory in present-day Southern Colorado, where the Americans built a fort to survive the winter. Captured by the Spanish and taken into Mexico in February, their travels through present-day New Mexico, Mexico, and Texas provided Pike with important data about Spanish military strength and civilian populations. Although he and most of his men were released because the nations were not at war, some of his soldiers were held in Mexican prisons for years, despite US objections. In 1810, Pike published an account of his expeditions, which was so popular that it was translated into French, German and Dutch for publication in Europe.
On November 15, 1806, Pike recorded the first sight of the distant mountain he called "Grand Peak". It has since been called Pikes Peak in his honor. Pike tried to climb the peak, hoping to get a view of the surrounding area to record on maps, the 14,000-foot summit. Pike's group ascended a lesser summit nearby—likely Mount Miller, which was named for Theodore Miller, one of the soldiers who accompanied Pike. With winter threatening, Pike pressed onward up the Arkansas, and on December 7 the party reached Royal Gorge, a spectacular canyon on the Arkansas at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
Pike next intended to travel to the headwaters of the Red River and head downstream to the Mississippi and relative safety in the lowlands. But, the company had gotten confused in its bearings, and they made several blundering steps trying to find the river. They were not equipped for a mountain expedition, nor for hard winter weather. Heading north, the party found the South Fork of the Platte River and, following it upstream, came to what they thought were the headwaters of the Red. Turning back downstream, they returned to the point at which they had left the Arkansas originally. They had executed a large loop, taking weeks of precious travel time.
Hungry, cold, and exhausted, the party headed south over the mountains. Several men were left behind as they dropped from fatigue, but Pike doggedly pressed on. By January 30, he and the ten men still with him came to the Rio Grande at a point near Alamosa in present-day southern Colorado and then part of the Spanish empire. Pike mistook the Rio Grande for the Red River he had been seeking. Here, he built a fort and attempted to collect the rest of his men, who were strewn across miles of mountains behind him.
On February 26, in the night Pike and his remaining men were captured at their fort by Spanish soldiers from nearby Santa Fe. Arresting the party as spies, the Spanish collected the rest of his men who had been scattered in the mountains, and marched them all south. The Spanish took them through Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and El Paso, to Los Coabos, the state capital Chihuahua. Along the way, Pike's party was treated with respect and celebrated by the Mexican locals, and Pike made careful notes of the military strength and civilian population.
Chihuahua's Governor Salcedo released Pike and most of his men, as they were military officers of a neighboring country, with whom Spain was not at war. He ordered the repatriation of Pike, but held some of the soldiers of his party in jail in Mexico for years. The Spanish military escorted Pike and some of his party back north, through San Antonio, Texas, arriving at the border with Louisiana at Natchitoches on July 1, 1807.
The Spanish formally complained to the United States Department of State about the military expedition in its territory, but the government maintained that the party had been one of exploration only. Pike's capture by the Spanish and travels through New Mexico, northern Mexico, and Texas, gave him more information about Spanish power than his expedition could have done.
Pike was promoted to captain during the southwestern expedition. In 1811, Lt. Col. Zebulon M. Pike with the 4th Infantry Regiment fought at the Battle of Tippecanoe. He was promoted to colonel in 1812. Pike's military career also included service as Deputy Quartermaster-General in New Orleans and Inspector-General during the War of 1812.
Pike was promoted to Brigadier General in 1813. Along with General Jacob Brown, Pike departed from the newly fortified rural military outpost of Sackets Harbor, on the New York shore of Lake Ontario, for what became his last military campaign. On this expedition, Pike commanded combat troops in the successful attack on York (now Toronto), on April 27, 1813. Pike was killed, along with numerous other American troops, by flying rocks and other debris when the withdrawing British garrison blew up its ammunition magazine as Pike's troops approached Fort York. His body was brought by ship back to Sackets Harbor, where his remains were buried at the military cemetery.
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