Pike, Zebulon Montgomery, 1779-1813

Alternative names
Birth 1779-01-05
Death 1813-04-27
Spanish; Castilian, English

Biographical notes:

Army officer and explorer.

From the description of Papers of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, 1805-1806. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 71070072

Zebulon Montgomery Pike was a soldier and explorer of the Louisiana Purchase.

From the description of Journal of a voyage to the source of the Mississippi in the years 1805 and 1806, 1805 August 9-1806 April 30. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122473970

Explorer and U.S. Army officer.

From the description of Letters of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, 1796-1806. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79450077

United States Army officer and explorer, who discovered Pikes Peak in 1806. Pike was the son of Isabel and Major Zebulon Pike and the brother of George and Maria Pike.

From the description of Zebulon Montgomery Pike letters, 1801-1811 [microform]. (Rhinelander District Library). WorldCat record id: 45474134

From the description of Zebulon Montgomery Pike letters, 1801-1811. (Rhinelander District Library). WorldCat record id: 22342046

Zebulon Montgomery Pike was a soldier and explorer.

From the description of Biographical materials, 1780-1956. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122488823

U.S. Army officer and explorer, famed for discovery of Pikes Peak 1806 during an expedition to the Southwest. After crossing into New Mexico, the explorer was met by Spanish troops and taken to Santa Fe, N.M., then Chihuahua, Mexico, and later released 1807.

From the description of Papers, 1806-1813. (Denver Public Library). WorldCat record id: 13807117

American soldier and explorer. Known for discovering Pike's Peak in Colorado.

From the description of Letter, 1798-1813. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122605138

Amerian explorer sent to find the sources of the Mississippi and Red Rivers and soldier who achieved the rank of Brigadier General.

From the description of Letter, 1809. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122495231

Zebulon Montgomery Pike led an expedition to explore the Arkansas and Red Rivers in 1806. After crossing into New Mexico, he and his party were taken into custody by the Spanish. Pike was released at Natchitoches, Territory of Orleans, in July, 1807.

From the description of Receipt for money paid by W. Carson, District Paymaster : Red River, [Territory of Orleans?], [1807 Jul?]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 83210794

From the description of Receipt for money paid by W. Carson, District Paymaster : Red River, [Territory of Orleans?], [1807 Jul?]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702150326

Explorer sent to find the sources of the Mississippi and Red Rivers and soldier who achieved the rank of Brigadier General.

From the description of Letter, 1813. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122630970

From the description of Letters, 1811-1813. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122630331

Soldier, explorer, and author.

Brig. Gen. Pike was appointed commander of the April, 1813, U.S. attack on York (Toronto) and was killed in a powder magazine explosion during the successful assault.

From the description of Letter : Sacketts Harbor, [N.Y.], to Major General Henry Dearborn, Albany, [N.Y.], 1813 Apr. 8. (Newberry Library). WorldCat record id: 39529220

In the earliest days of the War of 1812, New Jersey Governor, Joseph Bloomfield, resigned his office to accept a commission as Brigadier General in command of the 3rd Military District. Though nearly 60 at the time, Bloomfield organized and trained new troops near New York City, then marched a column of 8,000 to the scene of action at Plattsburg, N.Y. Later in the war, he was instrumental in the defense of Philadelphia.

For Zebulon Pike the war was an opportunity to repair his somewhat tarnished reputation. As a hero for his role in leading an exploring expedition into the West in 1805-1807, Pike had been accused of complicity in Aaron Burr's treasonous scheme for a Southwest empire. Formally exonerated, he was promoted to Brigadier General early in 1813 and assigned to the northern theater. Charged with leading American forces in the assault on York (now Toronto) in April, 1813, Pike organized an effective campaign that resulted in a major victory. During the assault of April 27th, however, he was killed in an explosion of the enemy's powder magazine.

From the guide to the Bloomfield-Pike letterbook, 1812-1813, (William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan)

Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779-1813) was an explorer and soldier, most often remembered two exploratory trips to the newly acquired Louisiana territory. The first of these trips was to the source of the Mississippi River in 1805; the second was to explore the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers in 1806. Because General James Wilkinson was responsible for organizing Pike’s two expeditions, when the conspiracy charges again Aaron Burr implicated Wilkinson, suspicion was, for a short time, also focused on Pike. Pike worked his way up the ranks of the United States Army, becoming a brigadier-general during the War of 1812. He was killed in the Battle of York in Upper Canada (now Toronto) in 1813.

Zebulon Montgomery Pike was born in Lamberton (now part of Trenton), New Jersey in 1779. His father was also named Zebulon Montgomery and his mother was Isabella Brown. His father served in the Revolutionary Army under Washington and remained in the Army after the Revolution, eventually reaching the rank of Major. Pike entered the Army early, joining his father’s company as a cadet. At the age of twenty he was commissioned a first lieutenant.

In 1805 Pike was chosen by General James Wilkinson to head a company of twenty men to explore the source of the Mississippi River. After the onset of winter, Pike reached what he mistakenly declared the source of the river. In 1806 he was chosen to lead a longer expedition to the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers. Part of his mission was to reconnoiter the Spanish settlements in New Mexico. After Pike crossed the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in 1807, Spanish authorities arrested him for crossing their border. Pike acquiesced freely, welcoming the chance to see the territory of Santa Fe and Chihuahua, where he was questioned by the commandante general.

After his return to the United States, Pike found himself under suspicion by some of being part of the Wilkinson-Burr conspiracy to acquire land in the Southwest. Henry Dearborn, the Secretary of State, cleared Pike of all charges related the conspiracy, and Pike continued military duty. He was commissioned major in 1808 and colonel in 1812. When the second war with Great Britain started in 1812, Pike was made brigadier-general. He led the attack on York (now Toronto), Canada in 1813. While the campaign was successful, Pike was killed when a powder magazine exploded. Pike is best remembered for his expeditions to the Southwest, for which his journals have been published in several additions. Several counties are named for him in various states, and Pikes Peak, a mountain in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, is named in his honor.

From the guide to the Zebulon Montgomery Pike biographical materials, 1780-1956, 1780-1956, (American Philosophical Society)

William Dunbar A merchant and cotton planter and one of the great scientific observers of the Old Southwest, William Dunbar led the 1804-1805 expedition to explore the southwestern boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase. With his second in command George Hunter, the Dunbar expedition provided some of the earliest records of the flora and fauna of the Ouachita Mountains as well as the first detailed chemical analyses of the Hot Springs of Arkansas.

Born into a noble family near Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland, in 1749, Dunbar had gained a sound education at Glasgow in science and mathematics before emigrating to North America in 1771. From the moment of his arrival, he threw himself into the mercantile community in Philadelphia, transporting a load of goods he had brought with him from London to Fort Pitt as his first effort at entering the Indian trade. He formed a partnership with the well established Philadelphia merchant John Ross (also a Scot) in 1773 and soon removed to a plantation in West Florida near modern day Baton Rouge to carry their enterprise down the Mississippi and into the Caribbean.

Despite the vicissitudes of war, Dunbar and Ross prospered, and in 1792, they established another plantation, the Forest, southeast of the important port city of Natchez in Spanish West Florida. Using the profits from his cultivation and sale of indigo and cotton, Dunbar was able to buy out his partner by the late 1790s.

Despite all his frenetic activity as a merchant and planter, Dunbar became known for his scientific talents. His agricultural activities in particular were viewed as progressive, involving innovations in the form of plows and harrows, the cotton gin, and other aspects of cotton production, and this reputation, combine with his great wealth, earned him a succession of important positions in the Spanish colonial administration. As Surveyor General for West Florida and a member of the boundary commission in 1798, Dunbar was introduced to the surveyor Andrew Ellicott, and through him, to Thomas Jefferson and much of the rest of the small American scientific establishment. During the later 1790s and early 1800s, Dunbar developed an increasing interest in scientific matters, building a remarkably well equipped astronomical observatory at the Forest, conducting investigations into natural history, Indian languages, and paleontology, among an eclectic range of topics. After gaining election to the American Philosophical Society in 1800, Dunbar contributed a dozen articles to the Transactions over the course of a decade.

Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Jefferson conceived of organizing not only the expedition of Lewis and Clark, but a parallel expedition to the southern Mississippi Valley to help delineate the still murky southwestern boundaries of the Purchase. As the most prominent scientist in the Old Southwest, and despite being over 50, Dunbar was the logical choice to lead the expedition, and George Hunter, a Scottish chemist and druggist from Philadelphia, was selected as second in command. Although the Dunbar expedition was originally slated to survey the entire region subtended by the Arkansas and Red River watersheds, friction with the Osage Indians and Spanish colonial officials led Jefferson and Dunbar to curtail the scope to a more manageable foray up the Red River to the Ouachita as far as the Hot Springs.

On October 16, 1804, Dunbar, Hunter, and a party of 15 left St. Catharine's Landing for an expedition that lasted just under three months. Although the scale of the enterprise was less dramatic than that of Lewis and Clark, and the results somewhat more modest, Dunbar and Hunter provided some of the earliest natural historical observations on the region and performed the first detailed chemical analyses of the hot springs.

Scientific pursuits occupied much of the last half decade of Dunbar's life. He remained a minor political and cultural force in the Mississippi Territory as a member of the territorial legislature and in other offices until his death on the twelfth anniversary of the Red River expedition, Oct. 16, 1806.

Zebulon Pike In a relatively brief military career, Zebulon Montgomery Pike rose to the rank of Brigadier General, led two expeditions into the heart of the western wilderness, was a prisoner of war, a spy, the center of an international incident, and a suspected traitor, all before dying an heroic death at the age of 34 during the War of 1812.

Born in Lamberton, New Jersey, during the American Revolution, Pike enjoyed only a scant education before following his father, Maj. Zebulon Pike, into the military. Enlisting as a cadet at the age of 15 while his father was stationed in Cincinnati, Pike served in a succession of forts on the Ohio frontier, Kentucky, and Illinois, rising through the ranks of the Provisional Army on the strength of a record that was distinguished more by ambition than actual achievement. Although lacking the refinement and erudition of a Meriwether Lewis, he was a considered a zealous officer and hard-nosed and disciplined leader.

While serving at St. Louis in 1805, Pike gained the attention of Gen. James Wilkinson and through him, received the opportunity for advancement he was seeking. Spurred in part by the expedition of Lewis and Clark, but without the backing (or knowledge) of the President, the perpetually self-interested Wilkinson selected Lt. Pike to lead a reconnaissance northward to locate the source of the Mississippi River and to collect geographic information about the region. In many ways, the expedition could not have been more poorly planned. Bereft of any semblance of appropriate training for conducting a scientific expedition, Pike set off without even an interpreter or surgeon in his party and with only a limited idea of what he was to accomplish. On August 9, 1805, Pike led 20 soldiers out of St. Louis, ascending the Mississippi as far as the Little Falls in present day Minnesota, where they set in for the winter. Taking a small contingent with him, Pike then headed overland by sled to present day Lake Leech, which he decided (in error) was the source of the Mississippi. After negotiating with the Dakota to purchase 155,000 acres for a military reservation and drawing up a minor treaty with them, he returned to St. Louis, arriving at the end of April 1806.

Not surprisingly, the expedition returned little useful information. None of the Indians with whom Pike parlayed could be convinced to visit St. Louis and the treaty he signed was never actually ratified by Congress. Perhaps the most useful outcome was his simple presence in a region in which British influence was gaining, making the implicit statement that America was finally exerting its territorial claims.

Regardless of the merits of the Mississippi expedition, the scheming Wilkinson immediately convinced Pike to lead a second, more ambitious expedition, to scout the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers and enter Spanish territory as far west as present day New Mexico. Once again, Wilkinson operated without Jefferson's approval on motives that remain unclear. Whether Wilkinson intended, as some believed, a conspiracy to separate the western territories from the union or, as others insist, to investigate Spanish territory for the good of the nation, Pike followed orders without question, though he was probably aware that his mission was tantamount to spying. In July 1806, Pike crossed Missouri and Kansas, by late November reaching (but not ascending) the peak that was later named after him in the front range of the Colorado Rockies. The party surveyed the headwaters of the Arkansas River and headed southward, deeper into Spanish territory. Having crossed the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, his party dwindling in number from the hardships of the voyage, a disheveled Pike was taken prisoner by Spanish forces in February 1807. He was released in the early summer and after returning to the east, successfully cleared himself of suspicion for his involvement with the duplicitous Wilkinson. Resuming his military career, Pike enjoyed a succession of promotions culminating in his appointment to Brigadier during the early stages of the War of 1812. He was killed in action leading his troops in the capture of York, Ontario in 1813.

From the guide to the Expedition Journals, 1804-1806, (American Philosophical Society)


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  • Ojibwa Indians
  • Exploration
  • Manuscripts, American
  • Soldiers--Biography--Sources
  • Hot springs--Arkansas
  • Explorers--Correspondence
  • Osage Indians
  • Caddo Indians
  • Explorers--Biography--Sources
  • Trade
  • Military engineering
  • Indians of North America
  • Travel
  • Chickasaw Indians
  • Soldiers--Correspondence
  • Natural history--Louisiana
  • Native America
  • Military appointments
  • Discoveries in geography--American
  • Meteorology--Louisiana
  • Dakota Indians
  • Explorers
  • Frontier and pioneer life
  • Chippewa Indians


  • Army officers
  • Explorers
  • Explorers--19th century.--Southwestern states


  • New Jersey, NJ, US
  • United States, 00, US
  • Toronto, 08, CA