Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."


Zebulon Pike

Brig. Gen. Zebulon Montgomery Pike, Jr., was born near modern-day Trenton, New Jersey during the Revolutionary War. In 1805, as a 27-year-old Lieutenant, Pike was charged with mapping the upper Mississippi River while a more-famous expedition mapped the Missouri River for President Jefferson.

Though Pike incorrectly designated Leech Lake as the Mississippi's headwaters (some 20 miles to the east of Lake Itasca, the "veritas caput" -- or "true head"), upon his return he was immediately ordered to lead a southwestern expedition to find the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers.

It was on this expedition that the peak that bears his name in south-central Colorado was mapped. Pike never reached the 14,115' summit of "Pikes Peak" -- turning back atop Mount Rosa (the peak to the southeast of the higher summit) in waist-deep snow after having gone without food for two days.

Though captured by Spanish authorities during this expedition, his incarceration in the Mexican state of Chihuahua led to several findings: access to more maps of the southwest, and the revelation of Mexican discontent with Spanish rule.

Pike continued to serve in the U.S. Army. At the Battle of Tippecanoe he is listed as a Lt. Col. with the 4th Infantry Regiment, and during the War of 1812 he was Quartermaster-General and Inspector-General in New Orleans.

His final expedition was the successful attack on York, Ontario (contemporary Toronto) in April 1813. During surrender negotiations, the retreating British garrison detonated their ammunition depot without warning. Pike was struck and killed by the debris on this date, April 27th, 1813.

Zebulon Pike's account of his travels, published in 1810, became required reading for all explorers who followed in his footsteps. His insights into the politics and economics of Chihuahua led to the establishment of the Santa Fe Trail to promote trade, and ultimately to the Mexican independence movement of the 1810s and 1820s.



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