A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. — Alexander Tytler

Trails of the Pathfinders - G. B. Grinnell




Zebulon M. Pike—I

Side by side in fact—though by no means in popular estimation—with the heroic explorers, Lewis and Clark, stands Zebulon M. Pike, the young soldier, who first reached the sources of the Mississippi, later those of the Arkansas, and who was one of the first genuine Americans to see the Spanish City of the Holy Faith. Born in New Jersey in 1779, Pike entered the army in his father's regiment about the year 1794. In July, 1805, a lieutenant, he was detailed, by order of General James Wilkinson, to explore the sources of the Mississippi. From this expedition he returned in 1806, and shortly afterward set out on an expedition up the Kansas River to the country of the Osages, and thence to the Kitkahahk village of the Pawnees, then on the Republican River. From here he went westward to the sources of the Arkansas River, in what is now Colorado. On this expedition he approached Santa Fe, was captured by the Spaniards, and escorted south through Mexico and what is now Texas to the Spanish-American boundary on the borders of the present State of Louisiana, where he was set free.

It would be perhaps difficult to point out, since Revolutionary times, a more heroic figure than that of Pike, or to name a man who did more for his country. It is chiefly as an explorer that we must now consider him, and must briefly tell the history of his journeyings for two years through that country which was then Louisiana; yet his subsequent and involuntary wanderings through Mexico and Texas cannot be separated from his earlier travels. Some time after his return from the Southwest, he wrote a book, which was issued four years before the journal of Lewis and Clark. In reviewing his life of exploration, we shall in large measure let him tell his own story.

On the 9th of August, 1805, with one sergeant, two corporals, and seventeen privates, Pike started from St. Louis up the Mississippi River in a keel boat seventy feet long and provisioned for four months. The water was swift, the way hard, and they had much foul weather, which held them back, and made their days and nights uncomfortable. Occasionally they saw fishing camps of Indians, and passed the farms of some Frenchmen, lately transferred without their knowledge or consent from allegiance to old France to citizenship in the new United States.

One of Pike's especial duties was to conciliate the Indians he met, and, so far as possible, to arrange for peace between warring aboriginal tribes. On the 20th he came to a Sac village, where he had a talk with the Indians, who listened to him respectfully, and appeared to agree to what he said. Further along he met villages of the Reynards, or Foxes, showing that at this time the Sacs and Foxes were living separately, though allies.

The way was long, and progress, though often covering thirty or forty miles a day, was slow, owing to the windings of the river. Pike was now approaching that debatable land over which the Sioux and Sauteurs or Ojibwas were continually fighting backward and forward. He tells of meeting, September i; Monsieur Dubuque, who told him that these tribes were then engaged in active hostilities, and, among other things, that a war party "composed of Sacs, Reynards, and Puants (Winnebagoes), of 200 warriors, had embarked on an expedition against the Sauteurs, but they had heard that the chief, having had an unfavorable dream, persuaded the party to return, and that I would meet them on my voyage." This is interesting, as showing that at this time the Sacs and Foxes, who are of Algonquin stock, had allied themselves with the Winnebagoes of Siouan stock against people of the latter race.

Indians were abundant here, and were always on the lookout for enemies. The firing of guns by Pike's party, who had landed to shoot wild pigeons, was the signal for some Indians in the neighborhood to rush to their canoes and hastily embark. Indeed, Pike was told that all the Indians had a dread of Americans, whom they believed to be very quarrelsome, very brave, and very much devoted to going to war; a reputation which had undoubtedly reached the savages through the English and French traders.

A little further along, the Ouisconsing River was reached, and they met the Fols Avoin Indians, the Menominees, a tribe still existing at Green Bay, Wisconsin. Further on he had a meeting with a number of Sioux and Pike reports the council:

"On the arrival opposite the lodges, the men were paraded on the bank with their guns in their hands. They saluted us with ball with what might be termed three rounds; which I returned with three rounds from each boat with my blunderbusses. This salute, although nothing to soldiers accustomed to fire, would not be so agreeable to many people; as the Indians had all been drinking, and as some of them even tried their dexterity, to see how near the boat they could strike. They may, indeed, be said to have struck on every side of us. When landed, I had my pistols in my belt and sword in hand. I was met on the bank by the chief, and invited to his lodge. As soon as my guards were formed and sentinels posted, I accompanied him. Some of my men who were going up with me I caused to leave their arms behind as a mark of confidence. At the chief's lodge I found a dean mat and pillow for me to sit on, and the before-mentioned pipe on a pair of small crutches before me. The chief sat on my right hand, my interpreter and Mr. Frazer on my left. After smoking, the chief spoke to the following purport.

"That notwithstanding he had seen me at the Prairie (du Chien), he was happy to take me by the hand among his own people, and there show his young men the respect due to their new father (President Jefferson). That, when at St. Louis in the spring, his father (Gen eral Wilkinson) had told him that if he looked down the river he would see one of his young warriors (Pike) coming up. He now found it true, and he was happy to see me, who knew the Great Spirit was the father of all, both the white and the red people; and if one died the other could not live long. That he had never been at war with their new father, and hoped always to preserve the same understanding that now existed. That he now presented me with a pipe, to show to the upper bands as a token of our good understanding, and that they might see his work and imitate his conduct. That he had gone to St. Louis on a shameful visit, to carry a murderer; but that we had given the man his life, and he thanked us for it. That he had provided something to eat, but he supposed I could not eat it, and if not, to give it to my young men.'

"I replied: 'That although I had told him at the Prairie my business up the Mississippi, I would again relate it to him.' I then mentioned the different objects I had in view with regard to the savages who had fallen under our protection by our late purchase from the Spaniards; the different posts to be established; the objects of these posts as related to them, supplying them with necessaries, having officers and agents of Government near them to attend to their business; and above all, to endeavor to make peace between the Sioux and Sauteurs. 'That if it was possible on my return I should bring some of the Sauteurs down with me, and take with me some of the Sioux chiefs to St. Louis, there to settle the long and bloody war which had existed between the two nations. That I accepted his pipe with pleasure, as the gift of a great man, the chief of four bands, and a brother; that it should be used as he desired.' I then eat of the dinner he had provided, which was very grateful. It was wild rye [rice] and venison, of which I sent four bowls to my men.

"I afterward went to a dance, the performance of which was attended with many curious maneuvers. Men and women danced indiscriminately. They were all dressed in the gayest manner; each had in the hand a small skin of some description, and would frequently run up, point their skin, and give a puff with their breath, when the person blown at, whether man or woman, would fall, and appear to be almost lifeless, or in great agony, but would recover slowly, rise, and join in the dance. This they called their great medicine, or, as I understood the word, dance of religion, the Indians believing that they actually puffed something into each others' bodies which occasioned the falling, etc. It is not every person who is admitted; persons wishing to join them must first make valuable presents to the society to the amount of forty or fifty dollars, give a feast, and then be admitted with great ceremony. Mr. Frazer informed me that he was once in the lodge with some young men who did not belong to the club; when one of the dancers came in they immediately threw their blankets over him and forced him out of the lodge; he laughed, but the young Indians called him a fool, and said 'he did not know what the dancer might blow into his body.' "I returned to my boat, sent for the chief, and presented him with two carrots of tobacco, four knives, half a pound of vermilion, and one quart of salt. Mr. Frazer asked liberty to present them some rum; we made up a keg between us of eight gallons—two gallons of whiskey, the rest water. Mr. Frazer informed the chief that he dare not give them any without my permission. The chief thanked me for all my presents, and said 'they must come free, as he did not ask for them.' I replied that 'to those who did not ask for anything, I gave freely; but to those who asked for much, I gave only a little or none.'

"We embarked about half-past three o'clock, came three miles, and camped on the west side. Mr. Frazer we left behind, but he came up with his two peroques about dusk. It commenced raining very hard. In the night a peroque arrived from the lodges at his camp. During our stay at their camp there were soldiers appointed to keep the crowd from my boats, who executed their duty with vigilance and rigor, driving men, women, and children back whenever they came near my boats. At my departure, their soldiers said, 'As I had shaken hands with their chief, they must shake hands with my soldiers.' In which request I willingly indulged them."

Pike was now journeying through the country passed over forty years before by Carver, and he was evidently familiar with his journeyings. Of La Crosse prairie he says:

"On this prairie Mr. Frazer showed me some holes dug by the Sioux when in expectation of an attack, into which they first put their women and children, and then crawl themselves. They were generally round and about ten feet in diameter, but some were half-moons and quite a breastwork. This I understood was the chief work, which was the principal redoubt. Their modes of constructing them are, the moment they apprehend or discover an enemy on the prairie, they commence digging with their knives, tomahawks, and a wooden ladle; and in an incredibly short space of time they have a hole sufficiently deep to cover themselves and their families from the balls or arrows of the enemy. They (enemies) have no idea of taking these subterraneous redoubts by storm, as they would probably lose a great number of men in the attack; and although they might be successful in the event, it would be considered a very imprudent action."

Heretofore but little food had been killed by the expedition, except pigeons; but they were now getting into a country where there was more or less game. On September 14, Pike, who had gone ashore with three others of his party to hunt, saw abundant sign of elk, but failed to see any of them, though his men saw three from the boat; and from this time forth more or less mention is made of game by short entries, such as, "Saw three bear swimming over the river." "Killed a deer," "killed three geese and a raccoon," and other similar notes.

On the 23d of September Pike held a council with the Sioux, who, hearing by a rumor of his arrival in the country, returned from a war party on which they had set out. He talked with these Sioux, on many matters of which the principal one was the granting by the Indians of a site near the Falls of St. Anthony for a military post, as well as the establishment of peace between the Ojibwas and Sioux. Three important chiefs named Little Crow, Risen Moose, and the Son of Pinchow, replied, promising him about a hundred thousand acres of land, as well as a safe conduct for himself and such Ojibwa chiefs as he might bring back with him. They were doubtful, however, about the prospects of making a peace with their old-time enemies. The treaty, or grant, was drawn up and signed, and the Sioux returned to their homes.

The following day the flag from Pike's boat was missing. This he naturally regarded as a very serious misfortune. He punished his sentry, and calling up his friend, Risen Moose, told him of the trouble, and urged him to try to recover the flag, for he was not by any means sure that it had not been stolen by an Indian. However, the next day he was called out of bed by Little Crow, some of whose people had found the flag floating in the water below their village, and believing that this must mean that the white men had been attacked, Little Crow had come up to see what the matter was. The appearance of the flag at Little Crow's village had put an end to a quarrel which was in progress between his people and those of a chief called White Goose. Pike says: The parties were charging their guns, and preparing for action, when to! the flag appeared like a messenger of peace sent to prevent their bloody purposes. They were all astonished to see it. The staff was broken. Then Petit Corbeau arose and spoke to this effect: 'That a thing so sacred had not been taken from my boat without violence; that it would be proper for them to hush all private animosities until they had revenged the cause of their eldest brother; that he would immediately go up to St. Peter's to know what dogs had done that thing, in order to take steps to get satisfaction of those who had done the mischief.' They all listened to this reasoning; he immediately had the flag put out to dry, and embarked for my camp. I was much concerned to hear of the blood likely to have been shed, and gave him five yards of blue stroud, three yards of calico, one handkerchief, one carrot of tobacco, and one knife, in order to make peace among his people. He promised to send my flag by land to the falls, and to make peace with Outard Blanche." The flag was returned two days later by two young Indians, who had brought it overland.

It was now October, and clear weather, the thermometer falling sometimes to zero. Hitherto the principal food killed had been geese, swans, and prairie chickens; but on October 6 Pike saw his first elk—two droves of them. As they kept on up the river, geese, ducks, and grouse, with occasionally a deer, continued to be secured. Frequently Pike found hanging to the branches of the trees sacrifices left there by the Indians. These were sometimes bits of cloth, or articles of clothing, or painted skins. As the weather grew colder, and ice was often met with, Pike began to think of a place where he should winter. The boats were becoming very leaky, and the men, terribly overworked, were losing strength and becoming inefficient. He therefore determined to make a permanent camp, afterward called Pike's Fort, and to leave a part of his men there in block-houses while he proceeded up the river; but before the separation took place, there was much to be done. Happily, the country abounded in game, so that for those who were to be left behind there would be no danger of starvation. Pike went out one morning and killed four bears, while his hunters killed three deer.

Log houses were built, and several small canoes were made for travel on the river. But after his canoes were launched and loaded, one of them sank and wet his ammunition, and in endeavoring to dry the powder in pots he blew up the powder and the tent in which he was working. It being necessary to build another canoe, Pike again went off to hunt to a stream where much elk and buffalo sign had been seen. The day following was spent in hunting, but with very little result; and the account which Pike gives of it shows how little the explorer and his party knew about the game that they were pursuing, or the proper methods of securing it. He says: "I was determined, if we came on a trail of elk, to follow them a day or two in order to kill one. This, to a person acquainted with the nature of those animals and the extent of the prairie in this country, would appear—what it really was—a very foolish resolution. We soon struck where a herd of one hundred and fifty had passed; pursued, and came in sight about eight o'clock, when they appeared, at a distance, like an army of Indians moving along in single file; a large buck, of at least four feet between the horns, leading the van, and one of equal magnitude, bringing up the rear. We followed until near night without once being able to get within point blank shot. I once made Miller fire at them with his musket at about four hundred yards' distance; it had no other effect than to make them leave us about five miles behind on the prairie. Passed several deer in the course of the day, which I think we could have killed, but did not fire for fear of alarming the elk. Finding that it was no easy matter to kill one, I shot a doe through the body, as I perceived by her blood where she lay down in the snow; yet, not knowing how to track, we lost her. Shortly after saw three elk by themselves, near a copse of woods. Approached near them and broke the shoulder of one, but he ran off with the other two just as I was about to follow. Saw a buck deer lying on the grass; shot him between the eyes, when he fell over. I walked up to him, put my foot on his horns, and examined the shot; immediately after which he snorted, bounced up, and fell five steps from me. This I considered his last effort; but soon after, to our utter astonishment, he jumped up and ran off. He stopped frequently; we pursued him, expecting him to fall every minute; by which we were led from the pursuit of the wounded elk. After being wearied out in this unsuccessful chase, we returned in pursuit of the wounded elk, and when we came up to the party, found him missing from the flock. Shot another in the body, but my ball being small, he likewise escaped. Wounded another deer; when, hungry, cold, and fatigued, after having wounded three deer and two elk, we were obliged to encamp in a point of hemlock woods on the head of Clear River. The large herd of elk lay about one mile from us in the prairie. Our want of success I ascribe to the smallness of our balls, and to our inexperience in following the track after wounding the game, for it is very seldom a deer drops on the spot you shoot it.

"Sunday, November 3. Rose pretty early and went in pursuit of the elk. Wounded one buck deer on the way. We made an attempt to drive them into the woods, but their leader broke past us, and it appeared as if the drove would have followed him, though they had been obliged to run over us. We fired at them passing, but without effect. Pursued them through the swamp until about ten o'clock, when I determined to attempt to make the river, and for that purpose took a due south course. Passed many droves of elk and buffalo, but being in the middle of an immense prairie, knew it was folly to attempt to shoot them. Wounded several deer but got none. In fact, I knew I could shoot as many deer as anybody, but neither myself nor company could find one in ten, whereas one experienced hunter would get all. Near night struck a lake about five milts long and two miles wide. Saw immense droves of elk on both banks. About sundown saw a herd crossing the prairie toward us. We sat down. Two bucks, more curious than the others, came pretty close. I struck one behind the fore shoulder; he did not go more than twenty yards before he fell and died. This was the cause of much exultation, because it fulfilled my determination; and, as we had been two days and nights without victuals, it was very acceptable. Found some scrub oak. In about one mile made a fire, and with much labor and pains got our meat to it, the wolves feasting on one half while we were carrying away the other. We were now provisioned, but were still in want of water, the snow being all melted. Finding my drought very excessive in the night, I went in search of water, and was much surprised, after having gone about a mile, to strike the Mississippi. Filled my hat and returned to my companions.

"November 4. Repaired my moccasins, using a piece of elk's bone as an awl. We both went to the Mississippi and found we were a great distance from the camp. I left Miller to guard the meat, and marched for camp. Having strained my ankles in the swamps, they were extremely sore, and the strings of my moccasins cut them and made them swell considerably. Before I had gone far I discovered a herd of ten elk; approached within fifty yards and shot one through the body. He fell on the spot, but rose again and ran off. I pursued him at least five miles, expecting every minute to see him drop. I then gave him up. When I arrived at Clear River, a deer was standing on the other bank. I killed him on the spot, and while I was taking out the entrails another came up. I shot him also. This was my last ball, and then only could I kill! Left part of my clothes at this place to scare the wolves. Arrived at my camp at dusk, to the great joy of our men, who had been to our little garrison to inquire for me, and receiving no intelligence, had concluded we were killed by the Indians, having heard them fire on the opposite bank. The same night we saw fires on the opposite shore in the prairie; this was likewise seen in the fort, when all the men moved into the works."

It was now the middle of November, and the river was closing up. Pike was obliged to hunt practically all the time, and was impatient of the slavish life led by the hunter, and the necessity of working all the time to support his party. Under such conditions the pursuit of game becomes work, and not play.

After the winter had finally set in, Indians began to be seen; some of them Sioux—Yanktons, and Sissetonsand some Menominees.

A considerable part of the month of December was spent at various camps along the Mississippi River, below the mouth of the Crow Wing River, and the time was devoted to killing game and making preparations for the northward journey. About the middle of the month Pike started with sleds, sometimes hauled by men across the prairies, and sometimes along the ice on the river, wherever it was heavy enough to bear the load. The way was hard, and sometimes only short trips could be made with the sleds. As there was little or no snow, the men were obliged to double up, hauling a sled for a short distance, and then leaving it to go back and haul the next one along. One of the sleds broke through the ice, and everything it contained was wetted, including a considerable portion of the powder. Pike found his various duties laborious, for he was at once "hunter, spy, guide, commanding officer, etc."

In January he met a Mr. Grant, an English trader, by whom he was hospitably received and well treated. About the middle of the month, finding that his sleds were too heavy to be hauled through the snow, he manufactured toboggans, which would be more easily hauled, even though they carried smaller loads.

On the first of February he reached Lake La Sang Sue, now known as Leech Lake. This Pike believed to be the main source of the Mississippi. The lake crossed, he stopped at a trading-post of the Northwest Fur Company, where his men arrived five days later. Here he hoisted the American flag in place of the English flag which he had found still flying; and after a few days went north to Upper Red Cedar Lake, which we now know as Cass Lake, Minnesota. This was a country passed over in 1798 by David Thompson, a great explorer, whose journeyings, together with those of Alexander Henry, the younger, were edited by Dr. Elliott Coues.

Pike was now in the country of the Chippewas, whom he knew by their other name, Sauteurs, and on July 16 held a council with them, notifying them that the country was no longer in the possession of the British, advising them to make peace with the Sioux, and asking some of their chiefs to go with him to St. Louis, where they should see General Wilkinson. His talk with the Indians was pleasantly received, and they made no difficulty about giving up their flags and medals, which were to be replaced by flags and medals of the Americans. Two well-known young men of the Sauteurs, living hereabout, expressed their willingness to accompany the explorer to St. Louis, and a day or two later Pike struck out in a southerly and south-easterly direction, to return to his fort on the Mississippi. He reached that river about March i, and found all his people well.

Pike was now prepared to start south as soon as the river broke up, and to report success in all directions; a success due entirely to his own astonishing energy and industry, for he alone had made the expedition what it was. Something of what he felt he expressed when he wrote:

"Ascended the mountain which borders the prairie. On the point of it I found a stone on which the Indians had sharpened their knives, and a war-club half finished. From this spot you may extend the eye over vast prairies with scarcely any interruption but clumps of trees, which at a distance appear like mountains, from two or three of which the smoke rising in the air denoted the habitation of the wandering savage, and too often marked them out as victims to their enemies, from whose cruelty I have had the pleasure in the course of the winter and through a wilderness of immense extent to relieve them, as peace has reigned through my mediation from the prairie Des Chiens to the lower Red River. If a subaltern with but twenty men at so great a distance from the seat of his Government could effect so important a change in the minds of these savages, what might not a great and independent power effect, if, instead of blowing up the flames of discord, they exerted their influence in the sacred cause of peace?"

He was frequently seeing Indians, and he was treated with great respect and hospitality by all of them. He was especially impressed by his neighbors, the Menominees, in whom he recognized many good qualities.

On the morning of April 7, 1806, the party started on the return journey, and made good time down the river, reaching the Falls of St. Anthony, where Minneapolis now stands, on the morning of April 10. Below here, on the following day, at the mouth of St. Peter's River, was found a camp of Sioux, including several bands, and Pike had a talk with them. The council-house was capable of containing 300 men, and there were forty chiefs present, and forty pipes set against the poles. At the council all these Sioux smoked the Chippewa pipes, excepting three, who were still mourning for their relations killed during the winter. Within the next two or three days he met important Sioux chiefs, Little Crow and Red Wing, who were extremely cordial, and emphatic in expressing their wish to carry out the instructions which Pike had given them.

From here down the river the journey was interrupted only by occasional talks with Indians, until Prairie Des Chiens was reached, where there were many white people, and Pike received the first news of the outside world he had had for many months. He saw here a great game of lacrosse on the prairie between Sioux on one side and Winnebagoes and Foxes on the other. Councils were held here with various bands of Sioux, and with the Winnebagoes. On April 23 they once more started down the river, but were delayed by a head wind. Two days later Captain Many, of the United States Army, was met on his way up the river in search of some Osage prisoners among the Sacs and Foxes. At some of the Indian camps passed, all the people were drunk—sure sign of the proximity of the white men.

This practically completes Pike's voyage, for he reached St. Louis April 30, after an absence of eight months and twenty-two days.