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It would take another fifty years after Lewis and Clark to complete the cartographic image of the West we know today. Other explorers and map makers followed, each revealing new geographic and scientific details about specific parts of the western landscape. But this revealing process was not a simple one. New knowledge did not automatically replace old ideas; some old notions—especially about river passages across the West—persisted well into the century. In the decades after Lewis and Clark the company of western explorers expanded to include fur traders, missionaries, and government topographers, culminating in the 1850s with the Army"s Corps of Topographical Engineers surveying the southwestern and northwestern boundaries of the United States as well the potential routes for a transcontinental railroad. By the time of the Civil War, an ocean-to-ocean American empire with borders clearly defined was a fact of continental life.


The Journeys of Zebulon Montgomery Pike

In mid-July 1806 Lewis and Clark were on their way back from the Pacific. At the same time young army Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike left St. Louis with twenty-three men to reconnoiter the Spanish borderlands. Unlike the other expeditions commissioned by Jefferson, Pike did not travel by the command of the president. Instead, he took his orders from General James Wilkinson, governor of the Louisiana Territory and sometime secret agent for the Spanish. Pike carried out two expeditions for Wilkinson. The first (August 1805–April 1806) took him up the Mississippi River into present-day Minnesota. The second expedition began in July 1806 and drew to a close in late June 1807. As drafted by Wilkinson, Pike"s instructions took the explorer into lands that were part of the Spanish empire. And in February 1807, near present-day Alamosa, Colorado, Spanish forces took Pike and his men into custody. Pike was a spy but just who he was spying for remains an open question. Pike"s account of his southwestern adventures, published in 1810, drew additional attention to the region and its possible future as part of an expanding American empire.


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Anthony Nau, compiler. “A Sketch of the Mississippi from the Town of St. Louis to its source in Upper Red Cedar Lake. . . Taken from the notes of Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike . . . 1805 and 1806.” St. Louis: ca. 1806. Page 2. Manuscript map. Courtesy of National Archives, Washington, D.C. (102)


In the summer of 1805, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike extended his orders to include a search for the source of the Mississippi River. After spending the winter in present-day Minnesota, Pike and his party returned to St. Louis in April 1806, just months before his more momentous venture up the Arkansas River.Pike"s journal is open to September 23,1805, when Pike reached the Rock River in northwestern Illinois and encountered the Sauk tribe and their chief Black Hawk.


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Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779–1813). “An Account of a voyage up Mississippi River from St. Louis to its Source . . . August 9, 1805–April 30, 1806” . Page 2. Manuscript journal, September 23, 1805. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (99)


This small notebook, which was among the papers confiscated from Zebulon Pike during his captivity in Mexico in 1807 and returned to the State Department in 1910, includes sketch maps and field observations from 1805–1807. It includes data from his expeditions along the upper Mississippi and into the Spanish borderlands. On the pages displayed above, dated September 8 through September 25, 1805, Pike recorded distances and observations as his party traveled along the Mississippi River. The entries conclude when the expedition reached the Falls of St. Anthony in present-day Minneapolis.


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Zebulon Pike. . Field notebook, September 8-September 25, 1805. Courtesy of the National Archives, Washington, D.C. (104)


Suspected of spying, Pike and his party were intercepted and detained by Spanish authorities in Colorado. In this letter to Secretary of State James Madison, President Jefferson urges him to deny that Pike had any role as a spy and explain that he was under orders to explore the watersheds of the Arkansas and Red Rivers. The president suggested that the Spanish forces who escorted him through Texas to Natchitoches, Louisiana, be reimbursed from the War Department funds.


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Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) to James Madison (1751–1836), August 30, 1807. Manuscript letter. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (107)


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Zebulon Pike. , St. Louis: ca. 1806. Manuscript map. Courtesy of National Archives, Washington, D.C. (103)


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Nicholas King (1771–1812). “Map of the Red River in Louisiana from the Spanish Camp where the exploring party of the U.S. was met by the Spanish troops to where it enters the Mississippi . . .” Washington, D.C.: 1806. Manuscript map. Courtesy of the National Archives, Washington, D.C. (100) “Map of the Red River in Louisiana from the Spanish Camp where the exploring party of the U.S. was met by the Spanish troops to where it enters the Mississippi . . .” Philadelphia.: 1806. Engrav"d by F. Shallus. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress


After exploring the region adjacent to the peak that bears his name in Colorado, Pike traced the north fork of the Arkansas and searched for the Red River"s source. Ill-prepared for harsh winter weather, Pike and his men built a small stockade on the upper Rio Grande. Here they were captured by the Spanish in February 1807 and taken to Santa Fe and on to Chihuahua, Mexico. Pike was eventually released, but his notes and documents were confiscated. His 1810 published Account was largely created from memory. Although the text is poorly written and disorganized, it gave the public its first detailed knowledge of settlements and southwestern lands beyond the Spanish border.


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Maps of Long"s Explorations


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Basin of the Columbia and Snake Rivers






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Considered one of the great rarities of Western Americana, the narrative of Zenas Leonard vividly chronicles his 1831–1833 travels through the Rocky Mountains, trapping beaver with one of several rival fur companies, as well as his amazing adventures with Joseph R. Walker"s expedition to California. Leonard captures the Walker party"s struggle to survive on the crest of the Sierra during the brutal winter of 1833 and the thrill of finding Yosemite Valley and a southern pass through the Sierra Nevada. Leonard"s account was originally serialized in his hometown newspaper, the Clearfield Democratic Banner.


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American Claims to Oregon Territory



Narrative of the Wilkes Expedition



Sutter"s Fort




Plants Collected









“Map of an Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the year 1842 and to Oregon & North California in the Years 1843-44 . . .” from John C. Frémont (1813–1890). Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains. . . . Washington: 1845. Hand-colored engraved map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (126)



Heights of Mountains


Charles Preuss (1803–1854). Journal entry and sketch, “Hights <sic> of Mountains,” 1832. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (122)




Considered one of the most influential accounts of the American Far West, John C. Frémont"s Report of his expeditions was published in more than two-dozen editions in the first fifteen years. The popularity of his Report is due in large part to the literary skill of his wife Jesse (1824–1918), the daughter of expansionist Senator Thomas Hart Benton. This view of the dividing ridge of the Sierras, February 14, 1844, drawn shortly before Frémont"s descent into the Sacramento Valley, documents the party"s daring winter crossing guided by the mountaineer Kit Carson.






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Theodore Talbot (1825–1862). Journal entry, August 5, 1843. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (125B)


In 1856, capitalizing on his popularity, John C. Frémont (1813–1890) ran as the newly formed Republican party"s first presidential candidate. In this image, intended to adorn a campaign banner or poster, Frémont is shown on a mountain peak, planting the American flag. This scene was intended as a reminder to the public of Frémont"s famous exploring expeditions to the Rocky Mountains in 1842 and 1843. Frémont lost the election to James Buchanan (1791–1868) by a margin of 174 to 114 electoral votes.


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William H. Emory (1811–1887). Map No. 4, Boundary between the United States and Mexico, Agreed upon by the Joint Commission under the Treaties of Guadalupe Hidalgo and December 30th, 1853. . Lithograph map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (138)


The actual surveying of the southwestern boundary line and the preparation of the resulting reports and maps were assigned to members of the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, primarily under the direction of William H. Emory. The United States and Mexican Boundary Survey was completed in 1855, but the published reports were not issued until 1859. The three-volumes included numerous landscape and ethnographic illustrations, as well as accounts of the geology, botany, and zoology along the surveyed line.


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. Photo-lithograph maps. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (138D)

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Transcontinental Railroad Proposals







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G. K. Warren. Map of the Territory of the United States from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean, 1857 (or 8) . Engraved map . Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (143a,b)


In compiling his map, G.K.Warren carefully evaluated all the available data and incorporated the most reliable information, particularly that based on scientific instrumentation and careful analysis by past explorations, including those led by Lewis and Clark, Pike, Long, Wilkes, Frémont, and Emory. Warren provided a detailed record of his methodology in a lengthy “Memoir,” in which he listed, for example, the longitude of a variety of huckleberrypersimmon.comations (the accuracy of which had long been problematic) and identified the source for each determination.


J.M. Ives after Frances Flora Palmer. Across the Continent, “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way.” New York: Currier & Ives, ca. 1868. Lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (151)


Politics, Profits, and the Transcontinental Railroad





Union Pacific Railroad











Mapping the West





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