Zebulon Pike, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
In life and in death, fame and glory eluded Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779–1813). The ambitious young military officer and explorer, best known for a mountain peak that he neither scaled nor named, was destined to live in the shadows of more famous contemporaries—explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. This collection of thought-provoking essays rescues Pike from his undeserved obscurity. It does so by providing a nuanced assessment of Pike and his actions within the larger context of American imperial ambition in the time of Jefferson.
Pike’s accomplishments as an explorer and mapmaker and as a soldier during the War of 1812 has been tainted by his alleged connection to Aaron Burr’s conspiracy to separate the trans-Appalachian region from the United States. For two hundred years historians have debated whether Pike was an explorer or a spy, whether he knew about the Burr Conspiracy or was just a loyal foot soldier. This book moves beyond that controversy to offer new scholarly perspectives on Pike’s career.
The essayists—all prominent historians of the American West—examine Pike’s expeditions and writings, which provided an image of the Southwest that would shape American culture for decades. John Logan Allen explores Pike’s contributions to science and cartography; James P. Ronda and Leo E. Oliva address his relationships with Native peoples and Spanish officials; Jay H. Buckley chronicles Pike’s life and compares Pike to other Jeffersonian explorers; Jared Orsi discusses the impact of his expeditions on the environment; and William E. Foley examines his role in Burr’s conspiracy. Together the essays assess Pike’s accomplishments and shortcomings as an explorer, soldier, empire builder, and family man.
Pike’s 1810 journals and maps gave Americans an important glimpse of the headwaters of the Mississippi and the southwestern borderlands, and his account of the opportunities for trade between the Mississippi Valley and New Mexico offered a blueprint for the Santa Fe Trail. This volume is the first in more than a generation to offer new scholarly perspectives on the career of an overlooked figure in the opening of the American West.
“Stymied by his mountain, confused by western geography, captured by the Spaniards, Zebulon Pike has been the odd man out in Jeffersonian exploration history for two centuries now. This fine anthology of new essays about Pike and his circle should go far toward correcting our historical memory about that clarion moment when the Southwest first beckoned and Zebulon Pike became America’s eyes.”—Dan Flores, editor of Southern Counterpart to Lewis and Clark: The Freeman and Custis Expedition of 1806
“Zebulon Pike, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the West brings the most recent scholarship to the questions that have long surrounded Pike’s foray into the Southwest, and helps to place the explorer firmly within the context of his more famous peers Lewis and Clark, Dunbar and Hunter, and Freeman and Custis.”—Ron Tyler, author of Alfred Jacob Miller: Artist as Explorer
“Editors Harris and Buckley are to be commended for a work that is both an important assemblage of useful scholarship and a thoroughly enjoyable read.”—Oregon Historical Quarterly
“An impressive reconceptualization of Pike against the backdrop of nineteenth-century political intrigue and burgeoning imperialistic ambitions.”—Chronicles of Oklahoma