Zebulon Montgomery Pike Trail to Red River, Arkansas Journey 1806 — 1807

Map of Zebulon Montgomery Pike Trail to Red River, Arkansas Journey Map of Zebulon Montgomery Pike Trail to Red River, Arkansas Journey
Map of Zebulon Montgomery Pike Trail to Red River, Arkansas Journey

In 2004 I follow the trail of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, who received the order from president Jefferson to explore the Arkansas and Red River and to gather information about the Spanish territory. The whole trail is too much for one vacation trip, so I split it in two parts: The first part, which I am following right now, has its final destination in Colorado, where Pike established a small stockade and where he was captured by Spanish Dragoons. The second part follows his way together with the Spaniards deep into Mexico.

First I follow the Interstates from Pittsburgh to St. Louis. From there, Pike followed the Missouri to the mouth of the Osage River. Then he followed the Osage to meet the Osage Indians and explain to them, that Spain is no longer in charge of this country, but the USA. Then he went on northwest to the settlements of the Pawnee Indians, where he had to manage a couple of very critical situations. But due to his excellent diplomatic skills, he was able to survive. A couple of days before, a well armed troop from the Spanish came through this area. And now Pike with his small group of twenty soldiers orders the Indians to lower the Spanish flag and rise the American one. Fortunately an old Indian man was willing to do it. Then he went on to the southwest to nowadays Great Bend, where he reached the Arkansas River. He followed the river up to Colorado, where he saw for the first time the mountain, which should later bear his name: Pikes Peak!

Because Pike had no knowledge about mountains, he decided to leave his original course and went up north to climb this mountain. The reader should know, that Pikes Peak has an elevation of more than 14000ft and Pike tried to climb this mountain end of November! So he had no chance to reach the summit with his half starved and bad equipped men. In the area of Cheyenne Mountains he had to give up. Most people think he made it up to Mt. Rosa. At this time, he wrote in his diary, that no one would be able to climb this mountain. Nowadays a road leads to the summit. I take the opportunity and spend a couple of days in this area to also explore the Garden of the Gods and some other sites in this area.

In the area of Cañon City, Pike had to give up following the Arkansas, because the river runs into a steep and narrow canyon. As he was searching for the Red River, he went up north and crossed the mountains to the west. There he reached again the Arkansas, which he mistook as the Red River. First he followed up close to its sources and then downstream. Soon he had to discover, that this river turns to the east and was most likely not the Red River. As he reached again the big canyon, he knew he was on the Arkansas again.

In February 1807 he built a small stockade at the place, where nowadays Cañon City can be found. He left back the men, who were not able to walk anymore due to their frozen feet. Then he went on southwest and crossed the Wet Mountain Range. Again he reached another mountain range, the Sangre de Christo mountains. He and his soldiers crossed also this mountain range successfully, probably following nowadays Medano Pass. Today it is a 4WD Pass with magnificent views of the Great Sand Dunes. Also Pike was elated by the sand dunes in 1807.

He marched on to the southwest, until he reached the Rio Grande close to nowadays Alamosa. He again (officially) mistook this river as the Red River. But the historians assume, that Pike knew he had not reached the Red River and was on Spanish territory. 20 miles south of Alamosa he built a small stockade. There he was discovered by the Spaniards and they forced him to follow them deep into Mexico. Read more about this in the second part of my journey.

On my way back to Pittsburgh, I drive a little detour of 600 miles up to Sioux Falls, where friends of mine Christine Albert & Chris Gage together with the Red Willow Band give a concert. Then I drive back to Pittsburgh.