KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS

William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


EARLY EXPLORATIONS AND
EXPEDITIONS, Part 5

[TOC] [part 6] [part 4] [Cutler's History]

PIKE'S EXPEDITION -- 1806-07, PART 2.

After the grand council, the Americans withdrew to their camp, where they remained the next day. The indians still appearing disposed to throw obstacles in the way of future progress, Pike determined to come to an understanding at once, and accordingly visited the town October 1, and had a very long conversation with the chief, who strongly urged him to turn back with his party, and finally told him that the Spaniards wished to go farther, but he had induced them to give up the idea; that they had listened to him, and that he wished the Americans to do the same; that he had promised the Spaniards to act as he now did, and that they must proceed no farther, or he must stop them at the force of arms. Capt. Pike goes on to say: "My reply was, that I had been sent out by our Great Father to explore the western country, to visit all his red children, to make peace between them, and to turn them from shedding blood; that he had now seen how I had caused the Osage and the Kanses to meet to smoke the pipe of peace together, and to take each other by the hand like brothers; that as yet my road had been smooth with a blue sky over our heads. I had not seen any blood in our paths. But he must know that the young warriors of his Great American Father were not women to be turned back by words; that I should therefore proceed, and that if he thought it proper to stop me, that he might attempt it, but we were men, well armed, and would sell our lives at a dear rate to his nation; that we knew our Great Father would send other young warriors there to gather our bones, and revenge our death on his people, when our spirits would rejoice in hearing our exploits sung in the war songs of our chiefs."

The bold front put on by Capt. Pike and his men resulted in a few days in bringing about a renewal of trade, although the intercourse was suspiciously reserved and uncordial. By October 7, a sufficient number of horses had been procured for a renewal of their march. They accordingly struck their tents and marched at 2:00 P. M. on that day. Their course lay south 10 degree west, by a route farther west that by which they had come into the Pawnee country. They pursued their journey in constant apprehension of treachery from the Indians or capture by the Spaniards, of whose exact whereabouts they were ignorant, but whose trail the frequently crossed, and were frequently separated into detachments hunting for lost members of the party. After a toilsome and anxious march of eleven days, the whole party encamped on the banks of the Arkansas River. They remained in the vicinity for ten days, during which time canoes were built for a detachment under Lieut. Wilkinson, which was separate at this point from the main party, and go down the Arkansaw River to post on that river, and thence to Fort Adams as ordered in the letter of instructions.

Capt. Pike describes the country on his march from the Republican Fork to the Arkansas River as follows: "From the Pawnee town on the Kanses river to the Arkansas, the country may almost be termed mountainous, but a want of timber gives the hills less claim to the appellation of mountains; they were watered and created, as it were, by the various branches of the Kansas River, One of those branches, a stream of considerable magnitude, say twenty yards, which I have designated on the chart by the name of Saline, was so salt at the place where we crossed it on our route to Arkansas, that it salted sufficiently the soup of the meat which my men boiled it. We were at this place very eligibly situated; had a fresh spring issuing from a bank near us; plenty of the necessities of life al around, viz., buffalo, a beautiful little sugar-loaf hill for a lookout post, fine grass for the horses, and a saline in front of us. As you approach the Arkansaw, on this route, within fifteen or twenty miles, the country appears to be low and swampy, or the land is covered with ponds extending out of the river from some distance. The river at the place where we struck it is nearly 500 yards wide, from bank to bank -- those banks not more than four feet high, thinly covered with cottonwood. The north side is a swampy low prairie, and the south a sandy sterile desert." The distance traveled by Capt. Pike as 150 miles, though he adds that he make it again by a more direct course in 120 miles.

The party, to descend the Arkansas, embarked in two canoes, and started their journey October 28. The members were: Lieut. James B Wilkinson, Sergt. Joseph Ballenger, Privates John Boley, Samuel Bradley, Solomon Huddleston, John Wilson and two Osage Indians. Capt. Pike describes the departure as follows: I suffered my party to march, and remained myself to see Lieut. Wilkinson sail, which he did at 10 o'clock, having one skin canoe, made of four buffalo skins and two elk skins, which held three men besides himself, and one Osage; and a wooden canoe, in which were one soldier, one Osage and their baggage; one other soldier marched on shore. We parted with `God bless you!' from both parties; they appeared to sail very well.' Appearances as to the sailing qualities of the boats were quite deceptive, as it appears that the boats were abandoned a few miles down the river, the party pursuing their journey on foot. As the explorations of the Kansas country made by this party were unimportant, it is unnecessary to trace their progress down the river to the post, which they reached, after a tedious journey of more than two months, January, 8, 1807.

Simultaneous with the departure down the Arkansas of Wilkinson's party, Capt. Pike took up his line of march with the men remaining. He intending to complete the mission by following up the Arkansas to its sources in the mountains, or till he might find the Ietans, with whom he desired to treat; and from thence, bearing more to the south, striking the headwaters of the Red River, descending which he would reach Natchitoches, the proposed termination of his expedition. His journal of this part of his travels is filled with incidents from which a most interesting and thrilling narrative could be given. The limits of this work only allow allusion, to fix in the mind of the reader the route traveled by this first American explorer of the region. Three days after setting out - November 1- he saw the first herd of wild horses, and, November 4, the party came upon a drove, estimated as numbering three thousand, of buffalo cows and calves, on which Pike remarks: `It is worthy of remark that, in the extent of country yet crossed, we never saw one cow, and that now the face of the earth seemed covered with them.' November 9, they came upon the trail, and afterward a camp of the Spaniards, at which they counted ninety-six fires, and concluded therefrom that the Spanish force numbered between six and seven hundred men: November 11, they passed two old camps of the Ietans, or Camanches, of whom they were in search.* They also passed, the same day, a Spanish camp, where the party had remained some days. November 15, first saw the blue peaks of the mountains in the northwestern horizon, which, late in the day, were in full view, with their sides white as if covered with snow, or with a white stone." November 22, came upon a war party of Grand Pawnees, returning from an unsuccessful search for their enemies, the Ietans. November 23, eight days' march since it was first seen, the Earth had approached within a day's journey of the `high point of the Blue Mountain,' and Capt. Pike concluded to encamp his men on one of the small branches into which the Arkansas divides, and reach its summit, in order to lay down the various branches of the river, and the positions of the country. Having built a breastwork of logs, enclosed on three sides, and opening on the fourth upon the river, and there established his party till he should return, he set out for the mountain Noveuaber24, accompanied by Dr. Robinson and Privates Theodore Miller and John Brown. They reached the foot of the mountain on the evening of the second day, having made a distance of thirty-four miles. The account of his ascent and discovery of Pike's Peak is given in his own words:

Wednesday, 26 November -- Expecting to return to our camp that evening, we left all our blankets and provisions at the foot of the mountain; killed a deer of a new species and hung his skin on a tree with some meat. We commenced ascending; found the way very difficult, being obliged to climb up rocks sometimes almost perpendicular, and after marching all day, we camped in a cave without blankets, victuals, or water. We had a fine, clear sky, whilst it was snowing at the bottom. On the side of the mountain, we found only yellow and pitch pine; some distance up we saw buffalo; and higher still the new species of dear and pheasants.

Thursday, 27 November -- Arose hungry, thirsty and extremely sore, from the unevenness of the rocks on which we had lain all night; but were amply compensated for our toil by the sublimity of the prospects below. The unbounded prairie was overhung with clouds, which appeared like the ocean in a storm, wave piled on wave, and foaming, whilst the sky over our heads was perfectly clear. Commenced our march up the mountain and in about one hour arrived at the summit of the chain; we found the snow middle deep, and discovered no sign of beast or bird inhabiting this region. The thermometer, which stood at in degrees above zero at the foot of the mountain, here fell to four degrees below. The summit of the grand peak, which was entirely bare of vegetation, and covered with snow, now appeared at a distance of fifteen or sixteen miles from us, and as high again as that we had ascended. It would have taken a whole day's march to have arrived at its base, when I believe no human being could have ascended to its summit. This, with the condition of my soldiers, who had only light overalls and no stockings, and were every way ill provided to endure the inclemency of this region, the bad prospect of killing anything to subsist on, with the further detention of two or three days which it must occasion, determined us to return. The clouds from below now ascended the mountain, and entirely enveloped the summit, on which rest eternal snows. We descended by a long deep ravine, with much less difficulty than we had contemplated. Found all our baggage safe but the provisions all destroyed. It began to snow and we sought shelter under the side of a projecting rock, where we all four made a meal on one partridge and a pair of deer's ribs, which the ravens had left us, being the first food we had eaten for forty-eight hours.

This is the story of the discovery of Pike's Peak, as told by the discoverer himself. He saw it, but did not ascend it. Fourteen years later, its summit was reached by members of Long's party. Pike arrived at the camp on the evening of Saturday, November 29, where he found all well. From subsequent observations of the peak, taken by Pike at a distance, he computed its altitude at 10,581 feet above the prairie level, and 18581 feet above the level of the sea.

On the next day after Pike's return -- November 30 -- the party broke camp and recommenced its march. For two months they wandered about the head-waters of the Arkansas, the Red, and Rio del Norte, among the mountains of Colorado and south into New Mexico. The weather was severe, even for the winter season, and many of the party became frozen and were left behind, those not disabled pushing forward till they might find a fit encampment on the head-waters of the Red River, intending afterward to return and bring the disabled soldiers through to the established quarters. January 30, 1807, the advance party reached the banks of the Rio del Norte, then supposing it to be the Red River, which at Natchitoches.There they proceeded to build a stockade, intending to remain at that point, before embarking on their homeward voyage, until the disabled members of the party could be brought in and thoroughly recuperated.

At this point, Capt. Pike records his impressions of the country he had traveled over as follows: "In this western traverse of Louisiana, the following general observations may made: From the Missouri to the head of the Osage river, a distance in a straight line probably of three hundred mile the country will admit of numerous, extensive and compact population; from thence, on the Rivers Kansas, La Platte, Arkansaw and their various branches it appears to me to be only possible to introduce a limited population. The inhabitants would find it most to their advantage to the rearing of cattle, horses, sheep and goats; all of which they can raise in abundance, the earth producing spontaneously sufficient for their support, both winter and summer, by which means their herds might become immensely numerous; but the wood now in the country would not be sufficient for a moderate population more than fifteen years, and then it would be out of the question to think of using any of it for manufactories, consequently, their houses would built entirely of mud bricks (like those in New Spain), or of the brick manufactured with fire; but possibly time may make the discovery of coal mines, which would render the country habitable. * * * * * * * *

"The borders of the Arkansaw may be termed the paradise terrestrial of our Territories for the wandering savages. Of all the countries ever visited by the footsteps of civilized man, there never was one, probably, that produced game in greater abundance, and we know that the manners and morals of the erratic nations are such (the reasons I leave to given by ontologists) as never to give them a numerous population, and I believe that there are buffalo, elk and deer sufficient on the borders of the Arkansaw alone, if used without waste, to feed all the savages of the United States territory for one century."

His speculations as to the-tract afterward known as the `Great American Desert' having much to do with the crude ideas which prevailed after his return, for many years, is of sufficient interest to be quoted. He says:

"Numerous have been the hypotheses formed by various naturalists to account for the vast tract of unlimbered country which lies between the waters of the Missouri, Mississippi and the Western Ocean, from the mouth of the Mississippi to the 480 north latitude. In the vast country of which we speak, we find the soil generally dry, sandy, with gravel; and discover that the moment we approach a stream, the land becomes more humid with small timber. I therefore conclude that this country never was wooded, as from the earliest age the aridity of the soil, having so few water-courses running through it, and they being principally dry in summer, has never afforded moisture sufficient to support the growth of timber. In all timbered land, the annual discharge of leaves with the continual decay of old trees and branches, creates a manure and moisture, which are preserved from the heat, the sun not being permitted to direct his rays perpendicularly, but only to shed them obliquely through the foliage. But here a barren soil, parched and dried up for eight months of the year, presents neither moisture nor nutriment sufficient for the growth of wood. These vast plains of the Western Hemisphere may become, in time, equally celebrated with the sandy deserts of Africa, for I saw in my route various places tracts of many leagues where the wind had thrown up the sand in all the fanciful forms of the ocean's rolling waves, and on which not a speck of vegetation existed. But from these immense prairies may arise one great advantage for the United States, viz., the restriction of our population to some certain limits, an thereby a continuation of the Union. Our citizens, being so prone to rambling and extending themselves on the frontiers, will, through necessity, limit their extent on the west to Missouri and Mississippi, while they leave the prairies, incapable of cultivation, wandering and uncivilized aborigines of the country."

In face of the fact that the population of the treeless prairies within the limits he describes now (1882) numbers nearly as many souls as the whole country at the time he wrote, his soundness as prognosticator of future events may be questioned, although it by no means detracts from the value of the actual and wonderfully accurate information he gave of what came under his observation; and, leaving out that wonderful agency in Western development, the railroad, and the great mining interests -both unknown to him- his conclusions, as deduced from his premises, were correctly drawn. It is still an open question whether the large, arid tract lying west of the present borders of the State of Kansas - and which is a part of the immense tract he describes- may not be, so he states, "incapable of cultivation." The borders of the "Great American Desert" have, however, become contracted since Pike wrote, to such insignificant limits as to leave no chance for its ever rivaling the great African desert either in extent or sterility.

At the encampment on the Rio del Norte, Dr. Robinson determined to leave the party while they were recuperating, and visit Santa Fe. He had in his possession some claims against one Baptiste Lalinde, who, in 1804, as agent for William Morrison, an enterprising merchant of Kaskaskies, had taken a stock of goods through to Sante Fe, which he had appropriated to his own benefit, and settled permanently among the Spaniards. Making the collection of these claims as a pretext Dr. Robinson hoped to visit the country and return unmolested. He set out alone on his journey February 7, 1807.

Not long after he had left, a Spanish dragoon discovered the encampment, on Spanish territory, with the American flag unfurled. He made haste to Santa Fe with the news of his discovery. A company of fifty dragoons and fifty mounted militia returned, reaching Pike's camp February 25. The officer informed him that he had lost his way and was on the waters of the Rio del Norte, in Spanish territory, instead of the Red River as he had supposed. Pike immediately rolled up his flag, and made ample apologies for his unintentional invasion. He was obliged, however, to accompany the troops to Santa Fe, to explain to the Governor. Under the surveillance of Lieut. Malgares, who had but recently returned with his command from the Northern expedition whose path Pike had so frequently crossed, he was conducted across the country some six hundred miles to Chihuahua, to further explain to the Commandant General at that place. His enforced stay in the provinces of New Spain Continued for four months, when, his papers being retained, he was escorted through Texas to Natchitoches, which point he reached July 1, 1907. During his visit, he gained much valuable information concerning the Spanish possessions not hitherto known to Americans, as, under the exclusive policy of Spain, no commercial intercourse was allowed between their provinces and those of Louisiana, and what few American adventurers had entered the country had never returned, either remaining there voluntarily and becoming citizens, or being held under such surveillance as to be compelled to remain, if desirous of returning. While in Santa Fe, Pike met James Pursle, the first American hunter who ever visited the country over the plains of Louisiana territory. He had come in with a tribe of Paducas in June, 1805, and had since that time been working at his trade as a carpenter, at which he gained an excellent livelihood. From him Pike learned much of the habits of the people, their trade, and of their peculiar jealousy of the Americans. He himself, though nominally free, was an object requiring constant watchfulness. At one time, he came near being hanged for making a few pounds of powder, as he had been accustomed to do in Kentucky, he not knowing it would be a capital offense in New Spain. He was forbidden by the authorities to write, though assured he would be given a passport whenever he desired. He was, however, obliged to give security that he would not leave the country without the permission of the Government.

Here he also met Baptiste Lalande, the renegade agent of Morrison, the merchant, against whom Dr. Robinson had claims. Neither Pike nor Dr. Robinson, who again joined his companions in New Mexico, could collect anything from him, though he lived at his ease, and seemed to be sufficiently in the confidence of the Spanish officers to be set as a spy on the Americans. Pike, in his journal, gave him a decidedly bad name, which he doubtless deserved, though he must remain in history as the first American trader that ever carried goods over the plains to Santa Fe. He never returned to the States.

The expedition of Pike resulted in gaining more valuable information regarding the American territory he explored, which covered a large part of Kansas, Southeastern Colorado and New Mexico, than all heretofore known combined. He discovered the sources and courses of the principle rivers, and published, as the result of his forced visit to New Spain, account of the resources of those provinces, which awakened an interest, resulting, in later years, in the immense overland trade with Santa Fe.

The report of Pike's explorations, when published, created a widespread and intense interest in the minds of the Western people; more particularly concerning the regions of New Spain than the "American Desert" which lay between them and the sunny El Dorado described. The descriptions of the intervening country seemed tame in comparison, and only as a vast waste, across which was the path to untold wealth for the adventurous spirits who could successfully encounter and overcome the dangers and hardships that beset it. They overlooked the broad expanse of the valleys of the Osage, the Neosho, the Kansas, away across the sandhills of the Upper Arkansas, to trade with the Spanish provinces. The further knowledge of the Kansas, obtained during the suceeding twelve years came from the various adventurers, at different times and with varied success, journeyed across the country to Santa Fe, and made the early commercial ventures that later grew to be an immense overland commerce with that hitherto unknown land.

Subsequent explorations, made by parties sent out by the Government, resulted in a more general knowledge of the whole country, but in little addition to that gained by Pike further than to complete his work, and, in some instances, to correct slight errors in his geographical location of the sources and head- waters of the various rivers having their sources in or near the Rocky Mountains. Of these expeditions it is unnecessary to give detailed accounts, except so far as they may have some apparent bearing on the history of Kansas.

[TOC] [part 6] [part 4] [Cutler's History]