"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

PIKE, Zebulon Montgomery

From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to: navigation, search
Zebulon Pike was an early explorer of the Mississippi and later the American West.
PIKE, Zebulon Montgomery. (Lamberton, NJ, Jan. 5, 1779-Toronto, Canada, 1813).

In 1805, Lewis and Clark were making history on the Missouri River while another explorer was heading up the Mississippi.

Sent by General James Wilkerson, Commander of the Western Army and a double agent for Spain, 26-year-old Lt. Zebulon Pike was assigned to find sites for forts, determine the source of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER, make peace between warring tribes and stop unlicensed British trade. Unlike Lewis and Clark, Pike was not on a voyage of discovery. The French and British had been trading on the Upper Mississippi for more than a century, and Pike had been preceded by Father Louis Hennepin and Jonathan Carver, both of whom wrote accounts of their travels that were widely read in America and Europe. (1)

On August 9, 1805, Pike started from St. Louis with a crew of twenty and a 70-foot keelboat. They headed upriver, dragging the heavy craft over sandbars. Pike waited for no one; near Muscatine, Iowa, he abandoned two soldiers who had volunteered to look for his lost dogs. It was only with the help of a Scottish trader and Fox chief that the men caught up to Pike eight days later at the site of modern Dubuque, Iowa. (2)

Pike visited Julien DUBUQUE at the MINES OF SPAIN. From his records:

         First September, Sunday — Embarked early; wind fair; arrived 
         at the lead mines at 12 o'clock. * * * We were saluted with a 
         field piece and received with every mark of attention by Monsieur 
         Dubuque, the proprietor. There were no horses at the house and it 
         was six miles to where the mines were worked; it was therefore 
         impossible to make a report by actual inspection. I therefore proposed 
         ten queries, on the answers to which my report was founded. Dined with 
         Mr. D., who informed me that the Sioux and Sauteurs (Chippewas) were 
         as warmly engaged in opposition as ever; that not long since the former 
         killed fifteen Sauteurs, also on the loth of August Sauteurs killed ten 
         Sioux at the entrance of the St. Peter's; and that a war party composed 
         of the Sacs, Reynards and Puants (Winnebagoes) of two hundred warriors, 
         had embarked on an expedition against the Sauteurs, but that 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. At this place I was 
         introduced to a chief called the 'Raven of the Reynards.' He made a very 
         flowery speech on the occasion, which I answered in a few words, accompanied 
         by a small present. 
         I had now given up all hopes of my two men (who had strayed away and become 
         lost), and was about to embark, when a perogue arrived, in which they were, 
         with a Mr. Blondeau and two Indians whom that gentleman had engaged above 
         the rapids of Stony (Rock) river. The two soldiers had been six days without 
         anything to eat except muscles (clams), when they met Mr. James Aird, by 
         whose humanity and attention their strength and spirits were in a measure 
         restored, and they were enabled to reach the Reynard village, where they met 
         with Mr. B. The Indian chief furnished them with corn and shoes and showed his
         friendship by every possible attention. I immediately discharged the hire of 
         the Indians and gave Mr. Blondeau a passage to the Prairie Des Chiens. Left 
         the lead mines at 4 o'clock." (3)

During Pike's visit, he questioned Dubuque about his MINING operation. From Pike's records:

        1. What is the date of your grant of the mines from the savages? 
        Answer: The copy of the grant is in Mr. Soulard's office at St. Louis. 
        2. What is the date of the confirmation by the Spaniards? 
        Answer : The same as to query first. 
        3. What is the extent of your grant? 
        Answer; The same as above. 
        4. What is the extent of the mines? 
        Answer ; Twenty-eight or twenty-seven leagues long 
        and from one to three broad. 
        5. Lead made per annum? Answer: From 20,000 to 40,000 pounds. 
        6. Quantity of lead per cent of mineral? 
        Answer: Seventy-five per cent. 
        7. Quantity of lead in pigs? 
        Answer: All he makes, as he neither manufactures bar, sheet-lead, nor shot. (4)

At Prairie du Chien, he traded the keelboat for barges. He recommended a fort be built on bluffs across the river, at what is now Pikes Peak State Park near McGregor, Iowa, but the fort was built instead on the flats of Prairie du Chien, a fur-trade hub for more than 50 years. (5)

Two days after arriving at the present site of Fort Snelling State Park, Pike met with seven Dakota chiefs and convinced two of them to sign a treaty that gave him much of modern-day Minneapolis and St. Paul. Pike left the payment amount blank because he had no authority to spend government money; three years later, the government paid $2,000 — to traders who said the Dakota owed them money. (6)

The day after the treaty signing, Pike found his flag missing and had a tantrum, beating one of his soldiers in front of the Dakota. The following day, Little Crow came to tell Pike as they traveled to the Falls of St. Anthony that his flag had been found floating 15 miles downstream. (7)

It took three days to get the boats around the falls, and Pike drove his men so hard seven became ill and the rest dropped from exhaustion. On October 16th, with temperatures dropping and snow falling, Pike set the men to work building a stockade and making dugout canoes. (8)

Pike was a gifted hunter, often single-handedly supplying his men with meat, and he could cover many miles every day. After he left half his men in Little Falls and traveled north to Leech Lake, he was recklessly brave, often ignoring the warnings of his Indian interpreter. With the help of the British trader from Sandy Lake, he found Leech Lake and the North West Co. fur post there. (9)

After 10 days of enjoying the hospitality of its British proprietor, at one point borrowing his clothes because his own legs were so swollen, Pike repaid him by hoisting the U.S. flag and having his men shoot down the Union Jack. Nevertheless, the trader later accompanied him to another post and gave Pike a guide, snowshoes for all his men, a sleigh, and two sled dogs. (10)

The next year, Pike journeyed down the river and reached Dubuque on April 23rd. Julien Dubuque again served as a host and fed Pike's men who returned to their journey downstream the next day. (11)

Amazingly, Pike made it back to St. Louis with all his men. Soon, Gen. James Wilkinson ordered him on another expedition into the Southwest. Pike was captured by the Spanish, likely on purpose, and turned out to be an observant spy. (12) His career, however, was tainted when his mentor, Wilkinson — "one of history's worst scoundrels, according to the National Park Service — was tried for conspiracy with former Vice President Aaron Burr. (13) Pike's possible involvement in Burr's plan to establish an empire separate from the United States in the Southwest was never proven. (14)

Pike's career rebounded with the start of the War of 1812, for which he was made a brigadier general. In 1813, he died in an explosion set by the British in modern-day Toronto; the Americans then burned the town, for which the British retaliated in 1814 by burning the White House and U.S. Capitol. (15)

Pike became a hero, with various counties and towns around the nation named for him; in 1817, the first steamboat to arrive in St. Louis was the "Pike." (16)

In June, 2006 the Julien Dubuque Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution rededicated a limestone marker and plaque at the end of Julien Dubuque Drive commemorating the meeting of Julien Dubuque and Lt. Pike. The original monument, erected in 1923, was located along CATFISH CREEK and was not easily seen. Suggesting the new monument was historian and conservationist Howard HIGLEY. Financial help came through the Daughters of the American Revolution, Whitetails Unlimited, and private donations. Work was carried out through efforts of the Friends of the Mines of Spain and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. (17)



1. "For Better or Worse, America's First Emissary on the Upper Mississippi Set History into Motion." Midwest Weekends. Online: http://www.midwestweekends.com/plan_a_trip/history_heritage/frontier_history/pike.html

2. Ibid.

3. Oldt, Franklin T., History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911, p. 13

4. Ibid. p. 37

5. "For Better or Worse..."

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. "Julien D. Gives Young Lt. Pike 'Run Around," Telegraph-Herald, September 5, 1955, p. 30

12. Lt. Zebulon Pike's Diary: New Mexico, Chihuahua & Texas. Online: http://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/pikejour.htm

13. Stewart, David O. American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011

14. Pike, Zebulon Montgomery. Texas State Historical Association. Online: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpi19

16. "For Better or Worse..."

17. Reber, Craig, "Pike's Historic Meeting Monumental," Telegraph Herald, June 16, 2006, p. 1