Saturday, September 3, 2016

Zebulon Montgomery Pike

This is from a book on the Louisiana Purchase ©1894. These events happened in 1806. This is a long excerpt but it contains some interesting material. It shares a little about indians, exploration, weather, how Pike handled his men, etc. Enjoy!

Pike kept a daily record, noting the country, weather and all incidents he considered valuable or interesting. As a literary work, Pike's diary may not rank very high; but as the narration of a sincere and patriotic soldier it will ever hold a place in the esteem of those who admire the straightforward story of a simple and brave man.

As the record of Colorado's discoverer, the journal of the man who built the first house and raised the first American flag upon the domain of our present state, I commend the perusal of his book to every citizen that loves his state.

Aside from his duty as explorer, Pike was instructed to visit the Pawnee and other Indian tribes and to make treaties of peace and alliance with them. This was not always easy to accomplish.

Not long before a splendid troop of Spanish cavalry, coming from Santa Fe, had passed through this same region upon a similar errand. In anticipation of boundary disputes arising between Spain and the United States, the Spaniards made an effort to form friendly alliances with the Indians. This troop was a magnificent body of men, five hundred strong. Every soldier was mounted on a milk white steed, while the commander and his two aides rode jet black stallions. This cavalcade of Spaniards had been lavish in presents to the chiefs. They left medals and flags of the Spanish king. The Indians had been much impressed with the superb uniforms, with the glitter and the boast of the Spanish officers. They were, indeed, in strange contrast with the sorry equipments and number of the American soldiers. It required much diplomacy to induce them to surrender the Spanish emblem and receive the Stars and Stripes. Often the small troop was in imminent danger, but the wonderful coolness, courage and decision of their leader saved them. With the Indians Pike was exacting, but just. As he wrote, "His experience had taught him that if you have justice on your side and do not enforce it, the Indians will universally despise you."

The Pawnees he found very reluctant to accept his tenders of peace and protection. They had been fascinated and flattered with the attention and magnificence of the Spaniards, and they sought no alliance with any power less splendid. Like most primitive people, the Indians judged the king by his em- bassador; the sender of a message by the display of the messenger that brought it. They looked with contempt upon this American captain, who wore the dress of a hunter; who carried packs and pioneered the trail. Like the Jews of old, they were disappointed in appearances and scoffed at Pike as being the representative of a mighty power, whose embassador he claimed to be. Proud of their many hundred warriors, these Pawnees refused to treat or smoke. They gathered their warriors in battle array and threatened to sweep the little band of whites from the earth. But when they saw no fear or signs of retreat, but instead the most cool and determined preparations to meet their assaults, they changed their mind, and, under a flag of truce, offered the calumet. In writing of this event, Pike writes as though he was a little disappointed that the Pawnees did not carry out their intention to fight, "as he had arranged his small troop so as to kill at least one hundred of the Indians before they could have been exterminated."

Day by day they press up the Arkansas. At first, on either hand great rolling prairies, and then the ocean-like plains. He is amazed at the vast herds of buffalo, deer, elk and other game. A single hunter could supply a small army with food; but as a mat- ter of humanity he forbids the killing of more game than required. Were it not that some of our living citizens have seen on the same plains herds of buffalo that were limited only by the horizon's line, and had felt the earth shake beneath their myriad tread, we might question the estimate Pike gives of the game he saw.

As -Pike enters the buffalo country, he comments freely upon the barrenness and desolation. He forgets that game could not be so plentiful if the land were so desolate. So impressed was he with the worthlessness of the plains, that when, reviewing his travels across them, he said: "The plains may in time become equally celebrated with the deserts of Africa. From these immense prairies may arise one great advantage to the United States by the restricting of our population to some certain limits, and thereby insuring a continuation of the Union. Our citizens through necessity will be constrained to limit their extent on the west to the Mississippi and Missouri, leaving the prairies—incapable of cultivation —to the uncivilized aborigines."

Pike, Quincy, Webster and other of our famed ancestors were great explorers and statesmen, but as prophets they were failures. After many days the mountains burst upon the vision of the explorers. To the left a pair of twin peaks cut the horizon; to the right, a mighty single mountain stood like a sentinel upon the boundary of plain and mountain. From the first sight of the grand peak it became the pole star—the compass of the explorer. During all his wanderings over plain and mountain he was seldom out of sight of the great mountain which he called his friend and guide, and a grateful people have made it his monument—one that will carry the name of Pike down the stream of time. Seldom have peaks been so royally named; seldom have heroes been worthy so lofty a commemoration.

When Pike reached the mouth of the Fountaine, and where Pueblo now stands, he established camp; built a rude temporary stockade, and over it raised the first American flag that had ever been kissed by the radiant sun and floated upon the crystal air of the Rocky Mountains. Considering it his duty as an explorer to ascend a peak that was such a prominent feature of the landscape, Pike, with several soldiers, took an early start one morning from his Pueblo camp, so that he might reach and climb the peak and return to camp in reasonable time. To their infinite surprise, the second day had well near passed before they came to the south end of Cheyenne Mountain. In this incident you will find the germ of that ancient story that is told to and about every tenderfoot that has visited this region since the days of Pike. It was near the first of December, and a winter of deep snow and intense cold. They had no blankets and little food, but they determined to attempt the ascent. After the best part of two days' struggling through the snow, they found themselves upon the top of the great ridge which, west of Cheyenne, leads up to the peak. They were in snow to their waists, and the mercury below zero. Still the peak, in its soaring grandeur, seemed as distant as ever. This led Pike to say that it seemed impossible that human foot could ever press its summit. To him it was as though the Almighty had marked "no thoroughfare" upon it rugged heights and eternal snows. As his men were without food, and dressed only in army overalls, shoes without stockings, no blankets or overcoats, he decided it folly to go farther, and ordered a return. Two days later they were in camp at Pueblo.

This was the first attempt to scale Pike's Peak, and that was as near as Pike ever came to its summit. Sixteen years later, Dr. James and others of Long's exploring party ascended the Peak in midsummer. It is a different task climbing Colorado mountains in August than in December.

In honor of this first ascent Long gave the name of James to the peak, and that is the name it bears in early government maps and reports. Pike gave it no specific name, and just when the name of James was dropped and it was christened Pike is one of the historical mysteries. I question whether it was ever legally baptized Pike. Trappers, traders and early voyagers across the plains resented the apparent slight to Pike and persisted in speaking of the mountain as Pike's Peak, in defiance of government reports and the envy of rival explorers. The name of Pike's Peak begins to appear in the literature of the prairies and mountains about the middle of the century, but it was not irrevocably christened until the Pike's Peak gold excitement, when the name was fixed to remain as long as men love to listen to stories of valor; as long as history is written.

From Pueblo Pike passed up to the soda springs at Canon. The walls of the Grand Canon prevented his following the course of the Arkansas. From here he drifted over the divide into South Park and upon the waters of the Platte. He recognized the streams as tributary to the Platte. He came into the Arkansas valley again near Buena Vista. He wandered west over routes we cannot identify until he must have found the Tomichi, a tributary of the Gunnison, and the only tune Pike touched Pacific waters. He recognized that this stream running west could not be the Eed he sought, and turned east and south. After a month of incredible exposure, hardship and suffering, he came back to his camp at Canon. His horses had been killed or disabled; his men were worn and frozen, weak and faint from exposure and starvation; his supplies exhausted ; guns injured and broken. During this terrible month of wandering in the wintry mountains the Christmas holidays and Pike's twenty-eighth birthday were passed. Christmas they spent in the heart of the mountains. They were almost starving and in a strange and wintry land. Yet this heroic man writes in his journal on that Christmas day " that food and diet were beneath the serious consideration of men who explore new countries." So often were their rations scant that "his men thought themselves fortunate with having plenty of buffalo meat without salt or any other thing whatever.'' As he was in camp celebrating this holiday he writes of the condition of his men: '' Not one person was properly clothed for winter; many without blankets, having been obliged to cut them up for socks and other articles; laying down at night upon the snow or wet ground, one side burning, the other pierced with the wind, the men making a miserable substitute for shoes and other covering out of raw buffalo hide."

At Canon camp they remained five days to recruit the strength of their men, and to make other necessary preparations for an assault against the mountains to the west, which was the barrier that they supposed hid the river they sought. When leaving Canon, the party was on foot, the horses living being in no condition to travel. The luggage was divided, giving seventy pounds to each man.

From Canon they started up Grape creek. After two or three days they entered Wet Mountain valley. Snow fell, covering the country to a depth of two to three feet. Most of the game had been driven out of the mountains, and the party was soon in a desperate condition, frost and hunger making sad havoc. On January 17 nine of the men had their feet frozen, among them the hunters. They had been two days without food, so a camp was made, and Pike and Dr. Robinson—his friend and companion— went out to hunt. The first day they killed nothing. Night came on and they thought it useless to go to camp and add to the general gloom, so took shelter under some rocks, where they remained all night, hungry and without cover or rest, as the cold was too intense to permit sleep. Next day they got eight shots at a buffalo, but failed to kill. Here, for the first time in his career, Pike weakened in courage. They had been four days without food, and the helpless men depending upon them. All these four days without sleep and tramping the deep snow, they were weak and faint, and it looked as though fate had decreed that the expedition should end in tragedy. They sought a small grove, determined to remain absent and die by themselves rather than return to camp and witness the misery of their companions. Just as they had made this resolution of despair, they discovered at a distance several buffalo. Hope at once took command, and with great exertion they crept through the snow and succeeded in killing a buffalo. At midnight they returned to camp with the food that saved the lives of the men and the exploration from tragic failure.

On January 21 two men—Thomas Dougherty and John Sparks—were so badly frozen that they could not travel. A cruel alternative was forced upon the leader. For all to remain with the poor cripples was almost equivalent to deciding that all must perish. The two were left. They gathered wood and left what meat remained with the poor men. After bidding them show their fortitude and bear up until help could be sent back, the party pushed on. A day or so later another man— Menaugh—became helpless, and he was left alone— not even the consolation of a comrade.

In all the danger and risk of exploration, be it in mountain land or polar ice, I know of nothing more terrible and desperate than the condition of these poor men left to fight the awful perils of a severe winter in the unknown mountain land. They were helpless; they could not hunt or fight; they could not retreat or go on. Their agony and suspense cannot be measured by words. I know of no parallel, unless it be in the solitary leper camps in the wintry solitudes of the Siberian forests.

On January 24 the condition of the party again became desperate—no food, and heavy snow through which they beat their slow and painful march. On this day Pike heard the first complaint that had ever fallen from the lips of his men. To illustrate the man as a soldier and a disciplinarian, I will ^ive this incident. Floundering through the snow, famished from want of food, private Brown scolded and said '' that it was more than human nature could bear to march three days without food through snows three feet deep and carry burdens only fit for horses."

Pike passed over the sedition at the moment, but that evening, after the company had broken their long fast and eaten their fill of game the doctor had been so fortunate as to kill, Pike called Brown and addressed him as follows:

" Brown, you this day presumed to make use of language that was seditious and mutinous. I then passed it over, pitying your condition and attributing your conduct to your distress. Had I reserved provisions for ourselves, whilst you were starving; had we been marching along light and at our ease, whilst you were weighed down with your burden, then you would have some pretext for your observations. But when we were equally hungry, weary, emaciated and charged with burdens which,! believe, my natural strength is less able to bear than any man's in the party, when we are always foremost in breaking the road, reconnoitering and enduring the fatigues of the chase, it was the height of ingratitude for you to indicate discontent. Your ready compliance and firm perseverance I had reason to expect, as the leader of men who are my companions in misery and danger. But your duty as a soldier called on your obedience to your officer and a prohibition of such language, which, for this time, I will pardon; but assure you, should it ever be repeated, by instant death I will revenge your ingratitude and punish your disobedience."

Two days later Pike stood upon the summit of Medano or Music Pass and looked out upon the San Luis valley. After his experience it is no marvel that it seemed to him to be " a terrestrial paradise shut in from the sight of man." They hastened down the pass, skirted the range of sand hills, crossed the valley, arriving at the Bio Grande near where Alamosa stands, passed down the river a few miles to the mouth of the Conejos, up which stream they went a short distance to the warm springs, near where Judge Mclntire now has his ranch and home. Here Pike determined to establish a camp and build a fort. As soon as his camp was located he sent a corporal and men to bring in the frozen men that had been cached in the mountains.

In due time they returned, bringing in Menaugh, the man left alone on January 27. Dougherty and Sparks were still unable to travel and could not be brought. As the corporal was leaving them they gave him a handful of bones (taken from their frozen feet) to be delivered to Pike as silent messages of appeal that he would not forget or abandon them.

Pike explored the surrounding valley and kept his men busy building the stockade.

On February 16 two Spanish scouts appeared. They went direct to Santa Fe to report the presence of American soldiers on Spanish territory.

Ten days later one hundred Spanish or Mexican soldiers present their compliments to the American captain. They bore an invitation to visit Governor Allencaster at Santa Fe. Pike was reluctant, but they were persistent in their offer of hospitality, offering money, horses, supplies, everything, but insisting upon Pike visiting the governor, giving as an excuse for insisting the clumsy fable that they had learned of the intention of the Utah Indians to surprise and capture Pike, and that they could not permit a representative of the United States to submit himself to so great danger.

In discussing the matter, the Spanish captain informed Pike that he was upon the Rio Grande and not upon the Red. Pike then pulled down his flag and realized that he was a prisoner, no matter how they might cushion the fact with offers of friendly hospitality. Pike said he would visit the governor, but that he must wait until he could bring in his invalid men. This was adjusted by leaving fifty of the Spanish soldiers to wait, while the balance of the troop escorted Pike to Santa Fe.

He is entertained by Governor Allencaster and maintains himself with becoming dignity. In fact, he never forgets that he represents the United States, and always insists that the Spanish officials recognize in him the power of his government. When presented at the little court at Santa Fe, Pike was much chagrined at the appearance of himself and men. As he described their clothes, Pike was dressed in a pair of blue trousers, moccasins, coat made out of a blanket, and a red cap made of scarlet cloth and lined with fox skins; the men in raw buffalo moccasins and leggings, breech cloths, leather coats and not a hat in the party. A native, looking upon their motley raiment, asked if the people in the United States did not wear hats and regular clothes. Under such conditions it would take a keen eye to see the hero.

After entertaining the American the governor said Pike must go into the interior until he could receive instructions from higher authorities. The leader and men were allowed their arms and, though carefully guarded, they were treated with consideration. Pike seemed rather pleased at the new orders, as it gave him an opportunity to see the Spanish territory. In case he was ill-treated, he had determined to drive off the guards, and then go into the Apache country and defy the Spaniards.

They passed through Albuquerque and El Paso and across the Rio Grande into Old Mexico to Chihuahua, south along the great table land, until May 21, when, under new instructions, they turned east and north, crossed the country to Monterey, Laredo and to San Antonio, the capital of the Spanish province of Texas. Here Pike was entertained in the most friendly manner by two courtly Spanish governors. An escort was provided, which accompanied him across Texas and delivered him to the American frontier on the Red river.

Here ended the memorable expedition of Pike to the Rocky Mountains.

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