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Theodore Roosevelt

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 Pike and his Explorations

While Lewis and Clark were descending the Columbia and recrossing the continent from the Pacific coast, another army officer was conducting explorations which were only less important than theirs. This was Lieut. Zebulon Montgomery Pike. He was not by birth a Westerner, being from New Jersey, the son of an officer of the Revolutionary army; but his name will always be indelibly associated with the West. His two voyages of exploration, one to the head-waters of the Mississippi, the other to the springs of the Arkansas and the Rio Grande, were ordered by Wilkinson, without authority from Congress. When Wilkinson's name was smirched by Burr's conspiracy the Lieutenant likewise fell under suspicion, for it was believed that his south-western trip was undertaken in pursuance of some of Wilkinson's schemes. Unquestionably this trip was intended by Pike to throw light on the exact nature of the Spanish boundary claims. In all probability he also intended to try to find out all he could of the military and civil situation in the northern provinces of Mexico. Such information could be gathered but for one purpose; and it seems probable that Wilkinson had hinted to him that part of his plan which included an assault of some kind or other on Spanish rule in Mexico; but Pike was an ardent patriot, and there is not the slightest ground for any belief that Wilkinson dared to hint to him his own disloyalty to the Union.

He Ascends the Mississippi

In August, 1805, Pike turned his face towards the head-waters of the Mississippi, his purpose being both to explore the sources of that river, and to show to the Indians, and to the British fur traders among them, that the United States was sovereign over the country in fact as well as in theory. He started in a large keel boat, with twenty soldiers of the regular army. The voyage up-stream was uneventful. The party lived largely on game they shot, Pike himself doing rather more hunting than anyone else and evidently taking much pride in his exploits; though in his journal he modestly disclaimed any pretensions to special skill. Unlike the later explorers, but like Lewis and Clark, Pike could not avail himself of the services of hunters having knowledge of the country. He and his regulars were forced to be their own pioneers and to do their own hunting, until, by dint of hard knocks and hard work, they grew experts, both as riflemen and as woodsmen.

Encounters with Indians

The expedition occasionally encountered parties of Indians.  The savages were nominally at peace with the whites, and although even at this time they occasionally murdered some solitary trapper or trader, they did not dare meddle with Pike's well armed and well prepared soldiers, confining themselves to provocation that just fell short of causing conflict. Pike handled them well, and speedily brought those with whom he came into contact to a proper frame of mind, showing good temper and at the same time prompt vigor in putting down any attempt at bullying. On the journey up stream only one misadventure befell the party. A couple of the men got lost while hunting and did not find the boat for six days, by which time they were nearly starved, having used up all their ammunition, so that they could not shoot game.

 Winters on the Headwaters of the Mississippi

The winter was spent in what is now Minnesota. Pike made a permanent camp where he kept most of his men, while he himself travelled hither and thither, using dog sleds after the snow fell. They lived almost purely on game, and Pike, after the first enthusiasm of the sport had palled a little, commented on the hard slavery of a hunter's life and its vicissitudes; for on one day he might kill enough meat to last the whole party for a week and when that was exhausted they might go three or four days without anything at all. [Footnote: Pike's Journal, entry of November 16, 1805.] Deer and bear were the common game, though they saw both buffalo and elk, and killed several of the latter. Pike found his small-bore rifle too light for the chase of the buffalo.

Council with the Sioux

At the beautiful falls of St. Anthony, Pike held a council with the Sioux, and got them to make a grant of about a hundred thousand acres in the neighborhood of the falls; and he tried vainly to make peace between the Sioux and the Chippewas. In his search for the source of the Mississippi he penetrated deep into the lovely lake-dotted region of forests and prairies which surrounds the head-waters of the river. He did not reach Lake Itasca; but he did explore the Leech Lake drainage system, which he mistook for the true source.

Hoists the American Flag

At the British trading-posts, strong log structures fitted to repel Indian attacks, Pike was well received. Where he found the British flag flying he had it hauled down and the American flag hoisted in its place, making both the Indians and the traders understand that the authority of the United States was supreme in the land. In the spring he floated down stream and reached St. Louis on the last day of April, 1806.

Returns to St. Louis and Starts Westward

In July he was again sent out, this time on a far more dangerous and important trip. He was to march west to the Rocky Mountains, and explore the country towards the head of the Rio Grande, where the boundary line between Mexico and Louisiana was very vaguely determined. His party numbered twenty-three all told, including Lieutenant J. B. Wilkinson, a son of the general, and a Dr. J. H. Robinson, whose special business it was to find out everything possible about the Spanish provinces, or, in plain English, to act as a spy. The party was also accompanied by fifty Osage Indians, chiefly women and children who had been captured by the Potowatomies, and whose release and return to their homes had been brought about by the efforts of the United States Government. The presence of these redeemed captives of course kept the Osages in good humor with Pike's party.

Pike Journeys to the Osage and Pawnee Villages

The party started in boats, and ascended the Osage River as far as it was navigable. They then procured horses and travelled to the great Pawnee village known as the Pawnee Republic, which gave its name to the Republican River. Before reaching the Pawnee village they found that a Spanish military expedition, several hundred strong, under an able commander named Malgares, had anticipated them, by travelling through the debatable land, and seeking to impress upon the Indians that the power of the Spanish nation was still supreme. Malgares had travelled from New Mexico across the Arkansas into the Pawnee country; during much of his subsequent route Pike followed the Spaniard's trail. The Pawnees had received from Malgares Spanish flags, as tokens of Spanish sovereignty. Doubtless the ceremony meant little or nothing to them; and Pike had small difficulty in getting the chiefs and warriors of the village to hoist the American flag instead. But they showed a very decided disinclination to let him continue his journey westward. However, he would not be denied. Though with perfect good temper, he gave them to understand that he would use force if they ventured to bar his passage; and they finally let him go by. Later he had a somewhat similar experience with a large Pawnee war party.

The Swarms of Game

The explorers had now left behind them the fertile, tree-clad country, and had entered on the great plains, across which they journeyed to the Arkansas, and then up that river. Like Lewis and Clark, Pike found the country literally swarming with game; for all the great plains region, from the Saskatchewan to the Rio Grande, formed at this time one of the finest hunting grounds to be found in the whole world. At one place just on the border of the plains Pike mentions that he saw from a hill buffalo, elk, antelope, deer, and panther, all in sight at the same moment. When he reached the plains proper the three characteristic animals were the elk, antelope, and, above all, the buffalo.

 The Bison

The myriads of huge shaggy-maned bison formed the chief feature in this desolate land; no other wild animal of the same size, in any part of the world, then existed in such incredible numbers. All the early travellers seem to have been almost equally impressed by the interminable seas of grass, the strange, shifting, treacherous plains rivers, and the swarming multitudes of this great wild ox of the West. Under the blue sky the yellow prairie spread out in endless expanse; across it the horseman might steer for days and weeks through a landscape almost as unbroken as the ocean. It was a region of light rainfall; the rivers ran in great curves through beds of quicksand, which usually contained only trickling pools of water, but in times of freshet would in a moment fill from bank to bank with boiling muddy torrents. Hither and thither across these plains led the deep buffalo-trails, worn by the hoofs of the herds that had passed and re-passed through countless ages. For hundreds of miles a traveller might never be out of sight of buffalo. At noon they lay about in little groups all over the prairie, the yellow calves clumsily frisking beside their mothers, while on the slight mounds the great bulls moaned and muttered and pawed the dust. Towards nightfall the herds filed down in endless lines to drink at the river, walking at a quick, shuffling pace, with heads held low and beards almost sweeping the ground. When Pike reached the country the herds were going south from the Platte towards their wintering grounds below the Arkansas. At first he passed through nothing but droves of bulls. It was not until he was well towards the mountains that he came upon great herds of cows.

Other Game

The prairie was dotted over with innumerable antelope. These have always been beasts of the open country; but the elk, once so plentiful in the great eastern forests, and even now plentiful in parts of the Rockies, then also abounded on the plains, where there was not a tree of any kind, save the few twisted and wind-beaten cottonwoods that here and there, in sheltered places fringed the banks of the rivers.

Indians Hunting

Lewis and Clark had seen the Mandan horsemen surround the buffalo herds and kill the great clumsy beasts with their arrows. Pike records with the utmost interest how he saw a band of Pawnees in similar fashion slaughter a great gang of elk, and he dwells with admiration on the training of the horses, the wonderful horsemanship of the naked warriors, and their skill in the use of bow and spear. It was a wild hunting scene, such as belonged properly to times primeval. But indeed the whole life of these wild red nomads, the plumed and painted horse-Indians of the great plains, belonged to time primeval. It was at once terrible and picturesque, and yet mean in its squalor and laziness. From the Blackfeet in the north to the Comanches in the south they were all alike; grim lords of war and the chase; warriors, hunters, gamblers, idlers; fearless, ferocious, treacherous, inconceivably cruel; revengeful and fickle; foul and unclean in life and thought; disdaining work, but capable at times of undergoing unheard-of toil and hardship, and of braving every danger; doomed to live with ever before their eyes death in the form of famine or frost, battle or torture, and schooled to meet it, in whatever shape it came, with fierce and mutterless fortitude. [Footnote: Fortunately these horse-Indians, and the game they chiefly hunted, have found a fit historian. In his books, especially upon the Pawnees and Blackfeet, Mr. George Bird Grinnell has portrayed them with a master hand; it is hard to see how his work can be bettered.]

    Wilkinson Descends the Arkansas. When the party reached the Arkansas late in October Wilkinson and three or four men journied down it and returned to the settled country. Wilkinson left on record his delight when he at last escaped from the bleak windswept plains and again reached the land where deer supplanted the buffalo and antelope and where the cottonwood was no longer the only tree.

Pike Reaches Pike's Peak

The others struck westward into the mountains, and late in November reached the neighborhood of the bold peak which was later named after Pike himself. Winter set in with severity soon after they penetrated the mountains. They were poorly clad to resist the bitter weather, and they endured frightful hardships while endeavoring to thread the tangle of high cliffs and sheer canyons. Moreover, as winter set in, the blacktail deer, upon which the party had begun to rely for meat, migrated to the wintering grounds, and the explorers suffered even more from hunger than from cold. They had nothing to eat but the game, not even salt.

Sufferings from Cold and Hunger

The travelling through the deep snow, whether exploring or hunting, was heart-breaking work. The horses suffered most; the extreme toil, and scant pasturage weakened them so that some died from exhaustion; others fell over precipices and the magpies proved evil foes, picking the sore backs of the wincing, saddle-galled beasts. In striving to find some pass for the horses the whole party was more than once strung out in detachments miles apart, through the mountains. Early in January, near the site of the present Canyon City, Pike found a valley where deer were plentiful. Here he built a fort of logs, and left the saddle-band and pack-animals in charge of two of the members of the expedition; intending to send back for them when he had discovered some practicable route.

He Strikes Across the Mountains on Foot

He himself, with a dozen of the hardiest soldiers, struck through the mountains towards the Rio Grande. Their sufferings were terrible. They were almost starved, and so cold was the weather that at one time no less than nine of the men froze their feet. Pike and Robinson proved on the whole the hardiest, being kept up by their indomitable will, though Pike mentions with gratification that but once, in all their trials, did a single member of the party so much as grumble.

The Party almost Perishes from Starvation

Pike and Robinson were also the best hunters; and it was their skill and stout-heartedness, shown in the time of direst need, that saved the whole party from death. In the Wet Mountain valley, which they reached mid-January, 1807, at the time that nine of the men froze their feet, starvation stared them in the face. There had been a heavy snowstorm; no game was to be seen; and they had been two days without food. The men with frozen feet, exhausted by hunger, could no longer travel. Two of the soldiers went out to hunt, but got nothing. At the same time, Pike and Robinson started, determined not to return at all unless they could bring back meat. Pike wrote that they had resolved to stay out and die by themselves, rather than to go back to camp "and behold the misery of our poor lads." All day they tramped wearily through the heavy snow. Towards evening they came on a buffalo, and wounded it; but faint and weak from hunger, they shot badly, and the buffalo escaped; a disappointment literally as bitter as death. That night they sat up among some rocks, all night long, unable to sleep because of the intense cold, shivering in their thin rags; they had not eaten for three days. But they were men of indomitable spirit, and next day trudging painfully on, they at last succeeded, after another heart-breaking failure, in killing a buffalo. At midnight they staggered into camp with the meat, and all the party broke their four days' fast. Two men lost their feet through frost-bite, and had to be left in this camp, with all the food. Only the fact that a small band of buffalo was wintering in the valley had saved the whole expedition from death by starvation.

Pike Reaches the Rio Grande

After leaving this valley Pike and the remaining men of the expedition finally reached the Rio Grande, where the weather was milder and deer abounded. Here they built a little fort over which they flew the United States flag, though Pike well knew that he was in Spanish territory. When the Spanish commander at Santa Fé learned of their presence he promptly sent out a detachment of troops to bring them in, though showing great courtesy, and elaborately pretending to believe that Pike had merely lost his way.

Pike is Sent Home by the Spaniards

From Santa Fé Pike was sent home by a roundabout route through Chihuahua, and through Texas, where he noted the vast droves of wild horses, and the herds of peccaries. He was much impressed by the strange mixture of new world savagery and old world feudalism in the provinces through which he passed. A nobility and a priesthood which survived unchanged from the middle ages held sway over serfs and made war upon savages. The Apache and Comanche raided on the outlying settlements; the mixed bloods, and the "tame" Indians on the great ranches and in the hamlets were in a state of peonage; in the little walled towns, the Spanish commanders lived in half civilized, half barbaric luxury, and shared with the priests absolute rule over the people roundabout. The American lieutenant, used to the simplicity of his own service, was struck by the extravagance and luxury of the Spanish officers, who always travelled with sumpter mules laden with delicacies; and he was no less struck with the laxity of discipline in all ranks. The Spanish cavalry were armed with lances and shields; the militia carried not only old fashioned carbines but lassos and bows and arrows. There was small wonder that the Spanish authorities, civil, military, and ecclesiastical alike, should wish to keep intruders out of the land, and should jealously guard the secret of their own weakness.

His Subsequent Career

When Pike reached home he found himself in disfavor, as was everyone who was suspected of having any intimate relations with Wilkinson. However, he soon cleared himself, and continued to serve in the army. He rose to be a brigadier-general and died gloriously in the hour of triumph, when in command of the American force which defeated the British and captured York.

Lewis, Clark, and Pike had been the pioneers in the exploration of the far West. The wandering trappers and traders were quick to follow in their tracks, and to roam hither and thither exploring on their own accord. In 1807 one of these restless adventurers reached Yellowstone Lake, and another Lake Itasca; and their little trading stations were built far up the Missouri and the Platte.

The West Gradually Fills with Population

While these first rough explorations of the far West were taking place, the old West was steadily filling with population and becoming more and more a coherent portion of the Union. In the treaties made from time to time with the Northwestern Indians, they ceded so much land that at last the entire northern bank of the Ohio was in the hands of the settlers. But the Indians still held Northwestern Ohio and the northern portions of what are now Indiana and Illinois, so that the settlement at Detroit was quite isolated; as were the few little stockades, or groups of fur-traders' huts, in what are now northern Illinois and Wisconsin. The Southern Indians also surrendered much territory, in various treaties. Georgia got control of much of the Indian land within her State limits. All the country between Knoxville and Nashville became part of Tennessee, so that the eastern and middle portions of the State were no longer sundered by a jutting fragment of wilderness, infested by Indian war parties whenever there were hostilities with the savages. The only Indian lands in Tennessee or Kentucky were those held by the Chickasaws, between the Tennessee and the Mississippi; and the Chickasaws were friendly to the Americans.

Power of the West

Year by year the West grew better able to defend itself if attacked, and more formidable in the event of its being necessary to undertake offensive warfare. Kentucky and Tennessee had become populous States, no longer fearing Indian inroads; but able on the contrary to equip powerful armies for the aid of the settlers in the more scantily peopled regions north and south of them. Ohio was also growing steadily; and in the territory of Indiana, including what is now Illinois, and the territory of Mississippi, including what is now northern Alabama, there were already many settlers.

Dangers Threatening the West

Nevertheless the shadow of desperate war hung over the West. Neither the northern nor the southern Indians were yet subdued; sullen and angry they watched the growth of the whites, alert to seize a favorable moment to make one last appeal to arms before surrendering their hunting grounds. Moreover in New Orleans and Detroit the Westerners possessed two outposts which it would be difficult to retain in the event of war with England, the only European nation that had power seriously to injure them. These two outposts were sundered from the rest of the settled Western territory by vast regions tenanted only by warlike Indian tribes. Detroit was most in danger from the Indians, the British being powerless against it unless in alliance with the formidable tribes that had so long battled against American supremacy. Their superb navy gave the British the power to attack New Orleans at will. The Westerners could rally to the aid of New Orleans much more easily than to the aid of Detroit; for the Mississippi offered a sure channel of communication, and New Orleans, unlike Detroit, possessed some capacity for self-defence; whereas the difficulties of transit through the Indian-haunted wilderness south of the Great Lakes were certain to cause endless dangers and delays if it became necessary for the Westerners either to reinforce or to recapture the little city which commanded the straits between Huron and Erie.

During the dozen years which opened with Wayne's campaigns, saw the treaties of Jay and Pinckney, and closed with the explorations of Lewis, Clarke, and Pike, the West had grown with the growth of a giant, and for the first time had achieved peace; but it was not yet safe from danger of outside attack. The territories which had been won by war from the Indians and by treaty from Spain, France, and England, and which had been partially explored, were not yet entirely our own. Much had been accomplished by the deeds of the Indian-fighters, treaty-makers, and wilderness-wanderers; far more had been accomplished by the steady push of the settler folk themselves, as they thrust ever westward, and carved states out of the forest and the prairie; but much yet remained to be done before the West would reach its natural limits, would free itself forever from the pressure of outside foes, and would fill from frontier to frontier with populous commonwealths of its own citizens.