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President Jefferson Sent Explorers

When the United States bought Louisiana the country from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean was a vast unknown area. President Jefferson was eager to learn something about the great West, and sent out several exploring parties. Lewis and Clark. The first expedition, sent in 1804, the year following the purchase of Louisiana, was in charge of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

They were instructed to move up the Missouri River and on to the Pacific Ocean. After a difficult journey lasting two and a half years the party returned to St. Louis and brought to the people of the United States much important information concerning the West. It is the part of their journey along the border of what is now Kansas in which we are most interested.

The Journey 

With about forty-five men and three boats Lewis and Clark started up the Missouri River in the spring of 1804. Two horsemen rode along the bank to hunt and bring in game, which was to go far toward supplying provisions for the expedition. After a five weeks ' journey they reached the mouth of the Kansas River, and encamped that night on the present site of Kansas City, Kansas. From there they continued up the Missouri River where it forms the present boundary line of Kansas, along the border of what has since become Leavenworth, Atchison, and Doniphan counties. Their account of the journey describes the country through which they passed and the different Indian tribes and villages they saw. It speaks of an Indian tribe as "hunting on the plains for buffalo which our hunters have seen for the first time." Again we read, "Pecan trees were this day seen, and large quantities of deer and wild turkey." By July 4 they had reached a point not far from the present city of Atchison. They did not have the means for much of a celebration, but their observance of the day included the firing of "an evening gun" and the naming of two streams. Fourth of July Creek, and Independence Creek. Independence Creek still retains its name. A week later they passed the fortieth parallel, which afterward became the northern boundary of Kansas, and continued on their way to the Pacific.

Pike's Expedition

In 1806 another exploring party was sent out in command of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, a young lieutenant in the army. He was instructed to ascend the Missouri River, visit the various Indian tribes in the Kansas country, go west until the frontier of New Mexico was reached, then south toward the source of the Red River which he was to descend to the Mississippi, and thence to St. Louis, the starting point. The journey did not, however, follow just this route. Pike Visits the Osage Indians. The Osage Indians lived in the eastern part of Kansas, south of the Kansas River. At their villages Pike purchased supplies for the overland journey. From there he went west and then northwest toward the Pawnee village which is believed to have been within the bounds of what is now Republic County.

Pike Among the Pawnees

About the time he crossed the Solomon River he came upon the trail of Spanish troops. It seems that the authorities in Mexico had in some way heard of the Pike expedition and had sent an army of five hundred men to intercept him. These forces missed each other, but when Pike reached the village of the Pawnee Indians he found them in possession of many blankets, bridles, saddles, and other things which they had received from the Spaniards. After having been visited with much ceremony by the mounted and lordly army from Mexico, the Indians were not inclined to be courteous to Pike and his score of dusty, bedraggled footmen. After much unpleasantness and delay a council attended by four hundred warriors was held. In his opening address Pike spoke, among other things, of the numerous Spanish flags in the village. Pointing to one which floated above the tent of the head chief, he demanded that it be lowered and that an American flag be put in its place. Several Indians made speeches without mentioning the flag. Pike again told them they must choose between the Spanish and the American governments. The Americans awaited the answer in anxious suspense. Finally an old chief arose. He slowly hauled down the Spanish flag, laid it at Pike's feet, and received the American flag in return. This he unfurled above the chief's tent, and for the first time, so far as is known, the Stars and Stripes floated over Kansas.

Pike in Colorado

From this place Pike and his men moved southwest to the Arkansas River, where the party divided, some of them going down the river and on home. Pike and his remaining men, instead of searching for the Red River according to instructions, followed the Arkansas River into what is now Colorado. They pushed westward, and after many days of travel sighted a mountain, which appeared at first like a small blue cloud but which proved to be a great bald peak of the Rocky Mountains. This peak has since been named Pike's Peak in honor of the explorer. By this time it was winter and their supplies were low. Pike and his men suffered terribly from cold and hunger while wandering among the mountains. Hoping to better their condition they moved toward the southwest, only to find themselves taken prisoners in Spanish territory. Later, however, they were escorted across Texas to the American frontier in Louisiana and released. The Return of Pike. A whole year had passed before they found themselves again in St. Louis, a year of hardship for them, but well worth while, nevertheless, for Pike The Expedition of Pike, and the Location of the Original Indian Tribes. There were no clearly defined boundaries between the tribes. brought back a great deal of valuable information. That he was a better soldier than farmer may be seen from this passage taken from his journal : "From these immense prairies may rise one great advantage to the United States, viz., the restriction of our population to certain limits, and thereby a continuation of the union. Our citizens, being so prone to rambling and extending themselves on the frontiers, will, through necessity, be constrained to limit their extent on the west to the borders of the Missouri and the Mississippi, while they leave the prairies, incapable of cultivation, to the wandering aborigines of the country." 1. Coues, Expedition of Zebulon Montgomery Pike. The Great American Desert. Another explorer, Major Long, who came in 1819 and 1820, Likewise expressed the idea that most of the country was unfit for cultivation, and therefore uninhabitable by an agricultural people. He even went so far as to say the country bore a "resemblance to the deserts of Siberia." Washington Irving, the great writer, said of this region: " It could be well named, An Indian Village.

The tribes that lived in permanent homes built lodges consisting of an embankment of earth topped with a row of poles brought together at the center and thatched with bark and grass.

The Great American Desert

It spreads forth into undulating and treeless plains and desolate sandy wastes, wearisome to the eye from their extent and monotony. It is a land where no man permanently abides, for at certain seasons of the year there is no food for the hunter or his steed."

The views of these men largely molded public opinion concerning the West. The country out of which has been carved such prosperous agricultural states as Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska was, a hundred years ago, known as the "Great American Desert," and was so named on the maps of that time.

Indian Tribes in Kansas

The western prairies had for untold ages been occupied by Indians. At the time of Pike's expedition there were four tribes living within the present bounds of Kansas. These were the Kanza, the Osage, the Pawnee, and the Comanche tribes. The Kanza, or Kaw, Indians lived in the northeastern part of the State and were the ones seen by Lewis and Clark in their expedition up the Missouri River. It is from this tribe that Kansas probably received its name. The Osage Indians were located in the eastern part, south of the Kansas River. The Pawnee tribe lived north and west of the Kanza Indians. It was in the Osage village that Pike secured supplies for his journey, and in the Pawnee village that he caused the Spanish flag to be lowered.

The Pawnees were once called the Quiviras 

The first of their tribe that we know anything about was "Turk," who led Coronado into the wilderness. These three tribes lived in permanent homes and had their tribal villages, but the fourth tribe were wanderers. They were the Comanches, sometimes called the Padoucas, and they roved over the western part of Kansas and adjacent territory, hunting buffaloes and following the herds as Interior of an Indian Lodge.

They grazed from place to place. They were fine horsemen, and brave, but very fierce and warlike. The Kansas of a Century Ago. This was the Kansas of a century ago. At that time it had received neither name nor boundaries. For the first fifty years that this region was a part of the United States, that is, from the purchase of Louisiana until Kansas was organized as a territory in 1854, the country was little used by the white people except as a pathway to the West.


President Jefferson, wishing to learn something of the unknown western country, sent out two exploring expeditions. The first, in 1804, was in charge of Lewis and Clark, who were to follow the Missouri River and to go on across the mountains until they reached the Pacific coast. They passed along the northeast border of Kansas. The next exploring party was in command of Pike. His route was somewhat in the form of a circle. Beginning at St. Louis it was to pass through Kansas, then south, then east, and up the Mississippi to St. Louis. He visited the Osage Indians in eastern Kansas, the Pawnee Indians in northern Kansas where he raised the American flag, and then marched into Colorado where he discovered Pike's Peak. From Colorado he went into what is now New Mexico, where he was taken prisoner by the Spaniards. They took him nearly to the Mississippi River and released him. On his return he reported this country as unfit for settlement, and his opinion was shared by later explorers. At the time of Pike's expedition there were four tribes of Indians in Kansas, the Osages, the Kanzas, the Pawnees, and the Comanches.


Prentis, History of Kansas, pp. 31-41.

Andreas, History of Kansas, pp. 49-53.

Coues, Expedition of Zebulon Montgomery Pike.

Blackmar, Kansas, vol. ll.

Historical Collections, vol. ix, p. 574; vol. vii, pp. 261-317; vol.

VI, p. 325; vol. X, pp. 15-159.



1. What was known of the Louisiana Purchase at the time it was acquired by the United States?

2. Who were Lewis and Clark? Give an account of their expedition as it related to Kansas. 

3. What route was Pike instructed to take? 

4. Describe Pike's visit to the Osages. His visit to the Pawnees. By what other name do we know the Pawnees? 

5. Give an account of the remainder of Pike's journey. 

6. What was Pike's opinion of the Kansas country? Long's opinion? Washington Irving's opinion? 

7. How much of Kansas did the Louisiana Purchase include? 

8. What Indian tribes lived within the present bounds of Kansas? Locate and tell something of each. 

9. When was Kansas Territory organized? How long was this after the Louisiana purchase? 

10. What use did the white people make of Kansas during this period?


Source: A History of Kansas / Anna E. Arnold. pp. 20-27