IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
UP THE MISSISSIPPI WITH PIKE
You have already learned how Iowa became a part of the United States, and how President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark up the missouri River to explore the western part of the new purchase. The government also wanted to learn more about the region of the upper Mississippi Valley.
Accordingly early in the summer of 1805 General James Wilkinson at St. Louis ordered Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike to make a trip to the source of the Mississippi River. This Lieutenant Pike is the same man who later discovered and gave his name to Pike's Peak in Colorado, At this time he was only twenty-six years old.
He was told to find out all he could about the region, and to warn British traders on American soil that they must pay duties on goods brought into the United States and must stop flying the British flag over their trading posts. He was also told to select places along the river for forts.
On August 9, 1805, Pike set out from St. Louis with a sergeant, two corporals, and seventeen privates. They embarked in a keel boat seventy feet long, taking with them supplies for four months. On August 20 the party arrived at the present site of Keokuk, where at that time the Des Moines Rapids in the Mississippi made it difficult to ascend the river. Now the dam at Keokuk raises the water of the Mississippi so high that it covers the dangerous rocks by several feet.
Although no one on board the keel boat had ever gone through the rapids Pike beganto ascend them at once. As the boat was large and rather heavily loaded, the men fought the task difficult. At this point they were met by William Ewing who had been sent by the government to teach agriculture to the Sauk Indians. Ewing had with him Louis Tesson, a son of Louis Honore Tesson, about whom you read in an earlier story. Four Sauk chiefs and fifteen braves, all in canoes, came with him to see what was the trouble.
The visitors set to work to help Pike over the rapids. They took out thirteen of the heaviest barrels and put two of their men in the boat to pilot it over the shoals. Near dusk the party arrived at Ewing's encampment on the Illinois shore at the present site at Nauvoo.
On the next day Pike went across the river to a Sauk village located where Montrose now is. He told the Indians that their Great Father at Washington had sent him to take them by the hand. Then he gave them presents of tobacco, knives, and a little whisky. The Indians thanked him for the presents and said many friendly things.
After writing a letter to General Wilkinson about this meeting, Pike set sail again in the keel boat. That night the party encamped on a sand bar near the present site of Fort Madison. Another day of rowing against head winds, dodging sand bars, and twisting around islands brought the party to the present site of Burlington. Pike thought the high bluff where Crapo Park is now located would be a fine place for a fort.
He noticed many signs of Indians, and before he left four Indian men and two women approached in canoes. Pike gave them a quart of weak whisky, a few biscuits, and some salt. Then he asked them for meat. They pretended not to understand; but then Pike left, they held up two hams of venison and laughed to think how they had fooled him.
On the morning of August 24, Pike and one of his men went ashore on the Iowa side to hunt. Two of the Lieutenant's favorite dogs became tired and lagged behind because of the heat, high grass, and want of water. Thinking the dogs would follow, the two men went back to the boat. When the dogs did not come, two of the soldiers agreed to go back for them. Pike and the rest of the party preceeded slowly up the river. That night they camped on the Iowa shore and fired a blunderbuss (an old-fashioned gun) every hour to let the missing soldiers know where they were.
Morning came and neither the dogs nor the soldiers appeared. Unwilling to wait any longer, Pike set sail without them. On they went up the Mississippi, past the site of Muscatine and on to the present site of Davenport and Rock Island, where the Upper Rapids in the Mississippi begin.
Black Hawk tells in his Autobiography how the young white chief paid him a visit. "He made us a speech," said Black Hawk, "and gave us some presents." Then he added, "He gave us good advice and said our American father would treat us well. He presented us an American flag, which was hoisted." But when Pike wanted Black Hawk to haul down the British flag, the chief refused, as he wanted to have two fathers.
Without a pilot Pike and his men took the keel boat through the rapids and stopped at a village of Fox Indians on the Iowa side. He hoped to find the missing soldiers there, but they had not yet arrived. The Fox chief told Pike by signs that he would give them moccasins when they came and send them on up the river.
On Sunday, September 1, Pike arrived at Julien Dubuque's settlement. Dubuque saluted him with a field piece and showed the young officer every courtesy. But when Pike wanted to visit the lead mines, Dubuque said that there were no horses at hand to take them. He didn't seem to want to answer Pike's questions about the mines. Perhaps he thought the new government might take them from him.
Pike had almost given up hope of seeing his two men again when a pirogue arrived with the missing soldiers and Maurice Blondeau, a fur trader and interpreter. The men had gone for six days without any food except mussels until they reached the camp of James Aird, a trader. he had given them food. They met Blondeau at the Fox village, and the Fox chief supplied them with corn and moccasins. Then he sent them on to catch up with the keel boar.
From Dubuque's settlement the party proceeded up the river to Prairie du Chien, taking Blondeau along as an interpreter. Pike spent several days at this place in preparing for the rest of the journey, in holding councils with the Indians, and in looking for a suitable place for a fort. The best location, he thought, was a high bluff on the Iowa side near the present site of McGregor. Perhaps you have been on top of this bluff, which to this day is known as Pike's Peak or Pike's Hill.
At Prairie du Chien, Pike exchanged his keel boar for two flat bottomed boats, and hiring another interpreter went on up the river.
Several miles above Prairie du Chien the party reached the village of Wabasha, chief of the four lower bands of Sioux. The Indians had been having a drinking party in honor of the visit of the white chief. Some of the young braves in firing a salute tried to see how close to the boats they could strike without hitting anyone.
Pike held a council with the Indians. He and Wabasha both made speeches, and smoked the pipe of peace. Then the Indians, both men and women, performed a medicine dance for the visitors. Pike gave the chief some tobacco, knives, vermilion (a bright-red paint) and eight gallons of diluted whisky.
On the next morning the Americans departed and a few miles farther on passed what is now the northern boundary of Iowa. Seven months later, after many adventures in Minnesota, Pike and his men returned on their way back to St. Louis.
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