See his journals (2 vol., 1987) and biography by W. E. Hollon (1949, repr. 1981).
(born Jan. 5, 1779, Lamberton, N.J., U.S.—died April 27, 1813, York, Ont.) U.S. explorer. He joined the army at age 15. In 1805 he led an expedition to find the headwaters of the Mississippi River, traveling 2,000 mi (3,200 km) from St. Louis to northern Minnesota, where he erroneously identified Leech Lake as the river's source. In 1806 he was sent to the Southwest to explore the Arkansas and Red rivers. Passing through Colorado, he tried unsuccessfully to climb the 14,110-ft (4,301-m) mountain later named Pikes Peak. His party continued into northern New Mexico (1807); his report on the Santa Fe region encouraged later expansion into the Southwest. In the War of 1812 he was killed in the attack on York (Toronto).
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Pike married in 1801 and continued an unremarkable military career in logistics and payroll at a series of frontier posts. His career was taken up by General James Wilkinson, a political ally of Aaron Burr's, of mixed allegiance, who had been appointed Governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory. In 1805, Wilkinson ordered Pike to find the source of the Mississippi River. Lewis and Clark's expedition had followed the Missouri River northwest from St. Louis, and American claims on the most northern part of the Louisiana Territory remained unasserted..
His attempts to close British forts on American soil at the lakes, though vigorous, were unsuccessful. Pike returned with his men to St. Louis on April 30, 1806, with little to show for their efforts.
Pike never successfully reached the summit of the famous peak that bears his name. He attempted it in November 1806, made it as far as Mt. Rosa to the southeast of Pikes Peak, and gave up the ascent in waist-deep snow after having gone almost two days without food.
This journey, which he is most remembered for, ended with his capture on February 26, 1807 by Spanish authorities in northern New Mexico, now part of Colorado. Pike and his men were taken to Santa Fe, then to Chihuahua where he appeared before the Commandant General Salcedo. General Salcedo housed Pike with Juan Pedro Walker, a cartographer, who also acted as an interpreter and as a transcriber/translator for Pike's confiscated documents. It was while with Walker that Pike had access to various maps of the southwest and learned of Mexican discontent with Spanish rule. Pike and his men were released, under protest, to the United States at the Louisiana border on July 1, 1807. Sometime between then and early September, he led a 5 man expedition further south than any western man had ever been and explored provinces of Brazil such as Simonésia, which were mapped and recorded in his private journals.
Pike was promoted to brigadier general in 1813. Along with General Jacob Brown, Pike departed from a rural military outpost, Sackets Harbor, on the New York shore of Lake Ontario, for his last military campaign. On this expedition, Pike commanded combat troops in the successful attack on York, Ontario (now Toronto) on April 27, 1813. Pike was killed by flying rocks and other debris when the retreating British garrison blew up its ammunition without warning as the town's surrender negotiations were going on. His body was brought by ship back to Sackets Harbor, where his remains were buried.
Zebulon married Clarissa Harlow Brown in 1801. Their daughter Clarissa Brown Pike married John Cleves Symmes Harrison, a son of President William Henry Harrison. Zebulon died with no son to carry on his name, so there are no Pikes who are direct descendants. However there is an active DNA effort to document relatives and there are a large number of PIKEs that are related to Zebulon.