Mike O'Donnell | Nov. 17, 2017

Lieutenant Zebulon Pike was meandering across the continent and noticed, off in the distance, a huge mountain peak near the Colorado foothills, which eventually was called Pikes Peak (and not Pike’s Peak because obviously Zebulon didn’t own it).

The Pike Expedition, as it was called, was a military expedition contemporaneous (big word of the month for my two readers) with the Lewis and Clark expedition, albeit much further south and only involving one leader and not two. And there weren’t any Far Side cartoons about Zebulon Pike’s expedition.

Anyway, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the team to explore the western Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, which was the southern and western bits of the Louisiana Purchase – I suppose he just wanted to make sure he got value for his money.

It was the first official effort to explore the area now known as Colorado and while the expedition wended it’s way westward, they stopped at every Native American settlement they found to inform the residents that they were now citizens of the United States and subject to the Declaration of Independence. One wonders at how many blank looks they gathered en route? But I digress.

Anyway, once they got to that big mountain near Colorado Springs, Pike split his expeditionary force into two, with the smaller contingent heading back to base in St. Louis, MO, where they arrived before winter set in. Pike (who was promoted during the expedition to Captain by this stage, but one wonders how that happened if he was the highest ranking officer there) led the larger component of his force to see if he could find the headwaters of the Red River because early explorers always get extra history bonus points for finding headwaters.

He ended up making a few cartographical errors as part of this second part of his first expedition and inadvertently wandered into the areas now known as southern Colorado, which was a Spanish possession at the time. As winter approached, the soldiers built a fort to wait out the weather. When the Spanish found them on the wrong side of the border, they captured them (another story left untold) and in February they were transported to Mexico. Their travels through present day New Mexico and Texas provided Pike with lots of intelligence about the strength of the Spanish military and how that area was settled which came in handy, nudge nudge, wink wink, later on.

Because America and Spain weren’t currently at war, however, Pike and most of his men were released shortly thereafter and repatriated back across the border. But some of the soldiers continued to be held in captivity in Mexico for many many years, for no explicable reason, despite multiple US protests and objections, and the story of those hapless soldiers is really the story that needs to be told.

Irrespective, around 1810, Pike published a book outlining all his adventures which was so popular (it was an early pre-New York Times best seller) that it ended up being translated into French, German and Dutch, which was a rare feat back in those days.

Pike was eventually promoted to the rank of brigadier general and served during the war of 1812 in the American Army, losing his life to the historical equivalent of an IED during the Battle of York in April 1813 fighting outside the British colonial capital of Upper Canada (later renamed Ontario).

And although this has nothing, as usual, to do with the mission of Colorado Lending Source, at least the two of you who have read this far now you know a little more about the man behind the name of Pikes Peak.

But as Zebulon Pike himself once said: “If success attends my steps, honor and glory await my name – if defeat, still shall it be said we died like brave men, and conferred honor, even in death, on the American Name.”

And aren’t those words that all of us can live by?

I know I do.