Zebulon Montgomery Pike

Zebulon Montgomery Pike

Pike, Zebulon Montgomery, 1779-1813, American explorer, an army officer, b. Lamberton (now part of Trenton), N.J. He joined the army (c.1793) and was commissioned second lieutenant in 1799. In 1805 he led an exploring party to search for the source of the Mississippi River; although he mistakenly identified Red Cedar Lake (now Cass Lake) in Minnesota as the source, he was not far wrong. After his return he was sent on an expedition (1806-7) to explore the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red rivers and to reconnoiter Spanish settlements in New Mexico. Pike and his men went up the Arkansas River to the site of Pueblo, Colo., and explored much of the country, sighting the peak that is named after him, Pikes Peak. When he and a small party went to the Rio Grande, they were taken into custody by the Spanish who brought them to Santa Fe and then to Chihuahua and finally released them at the border of the Louisiana Territory. Upon his return, Pike was accused of complicity in the plot of Aaron Burr and James Wilkinson to detach Western territory from the United States, but he was exonerated by the Secretary of War. Pike was promoted to the rank of brigadier general during the War of 1812. He was killed while commanding his troops during the successful assault on York (now Toronto).

See his journals (2 vol., 1987) and biography by W. E. Hollon (1949, repr. 1981).

Zebulon Montgomery Pike Jr. (January 5, 1779April 27, 1813) was an American soldier and explorer for whom Pikes Peak in Colorado is named. His Pike expedition, often compared to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, mapped much of the southern portion of the Louisiana Purchase.

Early life

Pike was born in Lamberton, New Jersey, now a part of Trenton. His father, also named Zebulon Pike, was an officer in the Continental Army under General George Washington and served in the United States Army after the end of the Revolutionary War. The younger Pike grew to adulthood in a series of Midwestern outposts — the frontier of the United States at the time — in Ohio and Illinois. He joined his father's regiment as a cadet in 1794, earned a commission as ensign in 1799 and a first lieutenancy later that year.

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..

Northwest expedition

On his way to the Mississippi's source, Pike encountered the Sauk leader Black Hawk along the banks of the Rock River. According to Black Hawk's account, Pike received meat and provisions and presented an American flag to him and his people. He considered Pike "a good man" and "a great brave. Pike also bought of the Sioux Indian's land for $200 and hunting rights.

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.

Southwest expedition

Nearly immediately upon his return, Pike was ordered out once again to lead an exploratory expedition to find the headwaters of the Arkansas River and Red River. Near St. Louis on July 15, 1806, Pike led what is now known as "the Pike expedition" from Fort Bellefontaine to explore the southwest.

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.

Subsequent military duty

Pike was promoted to captain without his knowledge while on the southwestern expedition. In 1811, he was listed as Lt. Col. Zebulon M. Pike with the 4th Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Tippecanoe. He was promoted to colonel in 1812. He continued his role as a military functionary, serving 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 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.


Although his actual journals were confiscated by the Spanish authorities, and not recovered from Mexico until the 1900s, Pike's account of his southwest expedition was published in 1810 as 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 and later published in French, German, and Dutch. His account became required reading for all American explorers that followed him in the 19th century. Pike's account had a dramatic effect on the exploration of the southwest. He described the politics in Chihuahua that led to the Mexican independence movement, as well as the trade conditions in New Mexico and Chihuahua, which descriptions helped promote the development of the Santa Fe Trail.

Named for Zebulon Pike

Ancestry and family

Zebulon's descent from his immigrant ancestor John Pike is as follows:

  • John Pike (1572–1654)
    • John Pike (1613–1690)
      • John Pike (1650–1714)
        • Zebulon Pike (1693–1763)
          • James Pike (1721–?)
            • Zebulon Pike (1751–1834)
              • Zebulon Montgomery Pike

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.

See also



  • Hollon, W. Eugene (1949) The lost pathfinder, Zebulon Montgomery Pike Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK

External links

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