Zebulon Pike


Zebulon Pike
Zebulon Pike was born in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of a Continental Army officer. The younger Pike spent his childhood in several Midwest outposts along with his family, and at the age of fifteen he joined his father’s regiment as a cadet. He became an ensign in 1799 and was commissioned as a first lieutenant later that year. In 1801, Pike married Clarissa Harlow Brown, and the two were soon blessed with a daughter, their only surviving child, who would later marry the son of President William Henry Harrison. After his marriage, Pike continued his military career, working at a series of frontier posts until he was appointed by James Wilkinson, then governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, to find the source of the Mississippi River. He did so, and upon his return in 1806, he was ordered out again, this time to explore the southwestern part of the Louisiana Territory. Thus the “Pike Expedition” was begun.

In early November of that same year, Pike and his men reached the mountain summit now named Pikes Peak, but they were unable to travel upward beyond Mt. Rosa, and, half-starved, they headed back to a more survivable elevation. The expedition was cut short when Pike and some of his party were captured by Spanish officials while camping in present-day Colorado. Pike was taken to the capital of Chihuahua, where he was housed with the cartographer and interpreter Juan Pedro Walker. The Spanish protested Pike’s expedition, but they could not legally hold him, and eventually he was released and escorted to the Louisiana border. Some of his men, however, were forced to remain behind, and they continued to be held as prisoners for many years.

While on his southwestern exploration, Pike was promoted to captain, and in 1811 he served at the Battle of Tippecanoe as a lieutenant colonel before being promoted to colonel. He remained in the military throughout the War of 1812, serving as quartermaster-general in New Orleans. In 1813, Pike was promoted to brigadier general, and during his final campaign, he commanded his troops in the successful attack on York. During the British retreat, the soldiers blew up their ammunition without warning, and Zebulon was killed by falling rocks and other debris. His body was brought back to Sackets Harbor and was buried at the military cemetery.

Key events during the life of Zebulon Pike:

Joined his father's regiment.
Commissioned as first lieutenant.
Married Clarissa Brown.
Discovered the source of the Mississippi River.
Led the 'Pike Expedition' to explore the Southwest.
  Attempted to scale Pike's Peak but was unsuccessful.
Captured by Spanish authorities in northern New Mexico but later released.
  Promoted to captain.
Served as inspector-general during the War of 1812.
Promoted to brigadier general.
  Killed by flying rocks during an explosion near the British fort at York.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Pike Explores the Arkansas Valley in  America First—100 Stories from Our History  by  Lawton B. Evans
Zebulon M. Pike—I  in  Trails of the Pathfinders  by  George Bird Grinnell

Image Links

It's the wrong Peak men; yes, the wrong peak.
 in With Lieutenant Pike

Short Biography