Iowa History Project





Soon after Louisiana Territory was purchased from France by the United States, the new owners took steps to investigate the nature of this mysterious region.  Really, the government was not quite clear as to what it had bought.  In fact, nobody knew.  In the Upper Mississippi Valley, along the Mississippi there were St. Louis and Prairie du Chien, as settlements, and these were about all.  Consequently there was much awaiting exploration.

The result of the plans of the government were two expeditions, one sent up the Missouri in 1804, and the other dispatched up the Mississippi in 1805.  The Missouri River party was in charge of Captain Meriwether Lewis, of the First Infantry, and formerly private secretary to President Jefferson, and Second Lieutenant William Clarke of the artillery.  Clarke had been captain in the militia, so the title of captain usually is accorded him.  The expedition is known as "The Lewis and Clarke Expedition."  It was one that had been favored by Jefferson for over ten years.

The Mississippi River trip was taken by a command led by Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike.  He was first lieutenant in the First Infantry, and in 1805 was a very young man.  As an explorer and a soldier he gained great fame.  Before he had passed middle age he was killed in a battle of the War of 1812, dying most bravely.

Pike was sent out by the army; Lewis and Clarke by the president.  Both parties were authorized to confer with the  Indians, and make notes regarding the regions traversed.  In addition Pike was told to select points at which forts might be advantageously established, and to try to end the hostilities between the Sioux and the Ojibwas.  British traders persisted in occupying territory that no longer belonged to England, but to the United States, and Pike was instructed to look into this trespassing.  These traders, acting as British agents, were too fond of stirring up the Indians against the Americans.

So, under orders from General James Wilkinson, on August 9, 1805, Lieutenant Pike set out from St. Louis to explore the Mississippi to its source.  He had under him a sergeant, two corporals and seventeen privates.  All were in a keel boat seventy feet long, and provisioned for four months.  Progress was made by rowing and sailing, and was slow.

It was August 20 when they arrived at the line, and on the left hand changed Missouri for Iowa.  Here the party encountered the Des Moines Rapids.  Pike terms them "Des Moyen" Rapids.  He was met by William Ewing, an agent appointed by the government to teach the Sacs agriculture.  With Ewing was Louis Tesson, or Honori, a son of the Louis Tesson (Fresson) Honori who settled on the site of Montrose in 1799.  Four chiefs and fifteen Sacs in canoes, flying the American flag, accompanied the two whites.  With the aid of these men Pike's boat was enabled to ascend the rapids.

The soldiers stopped at Ewing's post, where Nauvoo, Illinois, is, and in a big Sac village across the river (Montrose) Pike addressed the Indians.  He told them of his mission, and promised them that if they behaved themselves the great father at Washington would treat them well.  He distributed presents, and the Indians replied with pleasant words.

Continuing his journey, on August 23 Pike noted what he thought was a fine place for a fort.  This was where Burlington now is.  Four Indian men and two women approached him in their canoes.  He gave them some whisky mixed with water, and some biscuit.  He asked them for meat, but they pretended not to understand him.  After he left them they held two hams above their heads, and laughed at him.

The next day, with a companion, he went ashore below Muscatine to look around and hunt.  The two became entangled in the sloughs, and lost the way.  The grass was so high, and the sun so hot that their valuable dogs were exhausted, lagged behind, and could not be found.  Two men started to search for them, and although Pike waited quite a while at the river neither men nor dogs appeared.  He camped that night in Iowa, opposite Keithsburg, Illinois.  The next day he proceeded with the boat nearly to Muscatine, passing the mouth of the Iowa River, and August 26 he was where Montpelier now stands.  The next stretch took him to the center of the tract where is to-day the city of Davenport.

All this time Indians were being met, day after day.  Some of them called "How do you do," which was all the English they knew.  They beckoned to the Americans to stop on shore, but the soldiers were not anxious to do this.

At the Rock River, Black Hawk, the Sac, with the people of the large village here, saw Pike and talked with him.  Black Hawk, in telling about this meeting, said that the young white chief made a good impression, and seemed to be a very sensible youth.  He wanted the Sacs to pull down a  British flag which was flying and put up the American emblem, and to discard their British medals.  But they did not do this.  Black Hawk said they did not object to two masters.  Probably they thought they could get more favors that way.  Black Hawk also adds that they learned that those Indians who surrendered their medals received nothing in return.  To tell the truth the Indians were sorry to have the Spanish and French give place to the Americans.  The Americans were not popular.

So Lieutenant Pike did not accomplish much at this place.  Leaving Davenport he camped the next night at Le Claire, having ascended the rapids.  He took breakfast with Foxes in a village about where Princeton, Iowa, now is, and then camped on the lower end of Beaver Island, five miles below Clinton.

August 30 he was at Apple River, seven miles above Sabula.  He admired the prominence of Leopold Hill, near Bellevue, and proceeded until he came to Fever River in Illinois, not far from Galena.  This was a bad spot for a camp, but he did not know it.

Sunday, September 1, he reached Dubuque's establishment.  Dubuque received him with a great demonstration.

The principal Fox chief present then was named The Raven.  After the noisy welcome had subsided Dubuque entertained Pike and did his best to be courteous to the official representing the new government.  But Dubuque would not give the lieutenant clear information regarding the mines.  Pike, in his journal of the trip, comments on the extreme politeness of "Monsieur Dubuque," and also on the manner with which the Frenchman evaded the questions put to him.  When Pike left the village the field piece was discharged again, and Dubuque insisted on escorting the expedition a few miles on its course.

Not until this point was reached did the two soldiers lost below Muscatine arrive.  They had fallen in with one Blondeau-probably the Maurice Blondeau who, with Lemoiliese, lived near Montrose-and he and some Indians guided them in canoes up to Dubuque's quarters.

Blondeau was given passage by Pike to Prairie du Chien.  He proved a valuable companion, because he spoke the Indian language.

September 2 the Pike expedition camped opposite the mouth of the Turkey River, and the Fox village on the banks.

Pike looked about for a site for a fort, and decided that the top of a lofty hill on the Iowa shore, opposite Prairie du Chien, was suitable.  This hiss once was termed Pike's Mountain.  It is between McGregor and North McGregor.  By it flows a creek called Bloody Run, formerly Gaillard, or Gayard Creek, named in memory of Gaillard, Dubuque's contemporary.  Pike believed a fort here would command the Mississippi.

He stayed a short time at Prairie du Chien, and obtained guides.  Above Prairie du Chien, in the West, the American flag never had floated.

The officer and his followers set forth again into this wholly unknown country.  They passed Painted Rock, and September 8, camped in Iowa, opposite Lynxville, Wisconsin.  They were about to meet the Sioux Indians, in whose territory they now were.

On September 10 a Sioux chief bearing a French name meaning The Leaf, sent six braves to Pike to say that he had waited for the Americans three days, and that at last his men had begun to drink, so that he could not receive the expedition until the next day, when all would be sober.  Pike answered that he was in a hurry, and could not delay.  The chief then sent him a pipe, as a sign of peace to all the Indians to the north, and soon the lieutenant went out to meet the Sioux at their village at the mouth of the Upper Iowa River, directly opposite the Bad Axe River of Wisconsin.  The Bad Axe is where Black Hawk's forces suffered their last defeat, in 1832.

The soldiers were hospitably received by the chief.  The Sioux warriors were drawn up along the river, and fired a salute of three rounds.  Their guns were loaded with bullets, and the half drunk men and boys tried to see how close they could come to the boar without hurting anybody.  Pike thought this rather dangerous.

But he ordered his party to return the salute with the blunderbuss carried in those days by the infantry.

A conference followed, the lieutenant, in behalf of the government, promising the Indians good treatment, and urging them to cease their war with the Ojibwas.  The Sioux responded with pledges of friendship, and soldiers and Red Men shook hands before parting.

The expedition went on its way into Minnesota.


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