Overview

Background

1806 was a time of rapid growth for the United States.An entire three years prior to that, in 1803, Britain had acquired the Louisiana Purchase from France, one of the greatest land deals in western history.Jefferson sent Lewis (1774-1809) and Clark (1770-1838) the same year to survey the newly acquired land.It was previously owned by Spain for most of what is now the western United States.As soon as Spain ceded large tracts of land to Napoleon, the French leader raised money and sold the land to the United States to finance his campaigns in Europe.

The rest of what is now the southwestern United States remains in Spanish hands.In addition to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and California, this region is currently occupied by the United States.

While Pike was the commander of the 1806-1807 expedition, General Wilkinson was the brains behind it.A complex figure at best, he was a traitor at worst.Since many years, Wilkinson has been in the pay of the Spanish government; he was known as Number 13 in Spanish diplomatic correspondence, not for ideological reasons, but primarily as a means to supplement his lifestyle.When he supplied fake invasion plans of the southwest to the Spanish, he received $12,000.The expedition of Pike was also probably a key element in one of Wilkinson's biggest plots.

In Wilkinson's scheme, Burr was an ally. Burr and Wilkinson hoped, using Pike, to start a war with Spain. Wilkinson and Burr then led their respective armies against the Spanish, claiming a piece of the area for private interests.

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Pike nevertheless admitted to Wilkinson that he had a plan for exploring Spanish territory and reaching Sante Fe.

Neither Pikes' experience nor his qualifications for the job had been considered.

Pike and his men also suffered from an ill-advised and badly planned winter crossing of the Rocky Mountains.In addition, they frequently got lost.It became apparent to Pike that they had been in a circle for over a month.Pike and his party entered Spanish territory and were captured, just as he had "planned" at the trip's beginning. The Spanish confiscated nearly all of Pike's journals and notes written until then, and the only reports Pike was able to bring out afterwards had to be smuggled.Following a trip to visit Spanish officials in Sante Fe, and ultimately to present-day Mexico, Pike returned to a nationwide scandal nine months after he left, supposed to be a four-month journey.

After the scandal broke of Burr and Wilkinson, the Pike adventure was severely tainted.Wilkinson, however, had no authority to order such a mission, and Burr was brought to trial for the plot.He was later acquitted.In Pike's case, Wilkinson was able to save his own career by attempting to pin everything on Burr and in the end it was Pike, and what accomplishments his expedition made, that suffered most as a result of Wilkinson's machinations.

The Battle of York, (now Toronto) Canada, during the War of 1812 took place when Pike was killed.

Impact

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As a result of this annexation of lands explored by Pike, the United States was ultimately driven from any European influences on its territory.The balance of power in the western hemisphere might have evolved very differently if Spain and/or Mexico had retained possession of the region.

Although Pike's trip to the Southwest would have likely taken place even if he had never stepped foot in the area, his travels also helped to publicize this part of the country.

.Nearly all of the 1800s were characterized by this idea of the Great Plains as desert.As a result, early westerners concentrated on gaining access to California and the Northwest through the Rocky Mountains, leaving most of this area relatively uninhabited until the end of the homesteading movement.

As a trade center, Pike saw Sante Fe as crucial to the region, and that it had great potential.Described by him, the city was marginally defended, and those who read his descriptions might seek their fortune in the region by trading.As a result of Becknell's exploration, the famous Sante Fe Trail was created later from Pike's starting point in Saint Louis.

Later, Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton suggested that a federal road be constructed along this route.Sante Fe Road was completed in 1827.From 1831 to 1845, over 130 wagon trains a year traveled between St. Louis and Sante Fe.The Manifest Destiny movement was one of the main attractions for Benton by the 1840s.The Homestead Act, which was passed in 1863, culminated this movement.It didn't take long for settlements in the West to thrive with free land in the West.

Zebulon Pike's expedition did not have all positive results, and the reasons behind his expedition are contested, yet its impact on the history and development of the southwestern and western United States cannot be ignored.

The Rev. John B. Seals

Further Reading

ABSETHY, Thomas.A Theory of the Burr Conspiracy.NY: Oxford U. Press, 1954.

François, Ian.Big Sky.New York: Penguin Books, 1989.

Eugene Hollon.ZEBULON MONTGOMERY Pike: The Lost Pathfinder.1969. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Don Jackson.Zebulon Montgomery Pike's Journals.OKLAHOMA CITY: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966.