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Pike's Expedition

The following is a chapter from "The History of Jefferson County, Iowa", Pages 151-152, published by the Western Historical Company of Chicago in 1879.



Very soon after the acquisition of Louisiana, the United States Government adopted measures for the exploration of the new territory, having in view the conciliation of the numerous tribes of Indians by whom it was possessed, and, also, the selection of proper sites for the establishment of military posts and trading stations. The Army of the West, Gen. James Wilkinson commanding, had its headquarters at St. Louis. From this post, Captains Lewis and Clark, with a sufficient force, were detailed to explore the unknown sources of the Missouri, and Lieut. Zebulon Pike, with one Sergeant, two Corporals and seventeen privates, left the military camp, near St. Louis, in a keel-boat, with four months' rations. on the 9th day of August, 1805 (sic). On the 20th of the same month, the expedition arrived within the present limits of Iowa, at the foot of the Des Moines rapids, where Pike met William Ewing, who had just been appointed Indian Agent at this point, a French interpreter and four chiefs and fifteen Sac and Fox warriors.

At the head of the Rapids, where Montrose is now situated, Pike held a council with the Indians, in which he addressed them substantially as follows: "Your great Father, the President of the United States, wished to be more intimately acquainted with the situation and wants of the different nations of red people in our newly acquired territory of Louisiana, and has ordered the General to send a number of his warriors in different directions to take them by the hand and make such inquiries as might afford the satisfaction required." At the close of the council he presented the red men with some knives, whisky and tobacco.

Pursuing his way up the river, he arrived, on the 23d of August, at what is supposed, from his description, to be the site of the present city of Burlington, which he selected as the location of a military post. He describes the place as being "on a hill, about forty miles above the River de Moyne Rapids, on the west side of the river, in latitude about 41 21' north. The channel of the river runs on that shore; the hill in front is about sixty feet perpendicular; nearly level on top; four hundred yards in the rear is a small prairie fit for gardening, and immediately under the hill is a limestone spring, sufficient for the consumption of a whole regiment." In addition to this description, which corresponds to Burlington, the spot is laid down on his map at a bend in the river, a short distance below the mouth of the Henderson, which pours its waters into the Mississippi from Illinois. The fort was built at Fort Madison, but from the distance, latitude, description and map furnished by Pike, it could not have been the place selected by him, while all the circumstances corroborate the opinion that the place he selected was the spot where Burlington is now located, called by the early voyagers on the Mississippi, "Flint Hills."

On the 24th, with one of his men, he went on shore on a hunting expedition, and following a stream which they supposed to be a part of the Mississippi, they were led away from their course. Owing to the intense heat and tall grass, his two favorite dogs, which he had taken with him, became exhausted and he left them on the prairie, supposing that they would follow him as soon as they should get rested, and went on to overtake his boat. Reaching the river, he waited some time for his canine friends, but they did not come, and as he deemed it inexpedient to detain the boat longer, two of his men volunteered to go in pursuit of them, and he continued on his way up the river, expecting that the two men would soon overtake him. They lost their way, however, and for six days were without food, except a few morsels gathered from the stream, and might have perished, had they not accidentally met a trader from St. Louis, who induced two Indians to take them up the river, and they overtook the boat at Dubuque.

At Dubuque, Pike was cordially received by Julien Dubuque, a Frenchman, who held a mining claim under a grant from Spain. Dubuque had an old field piece and fired a salute in honor of the advent of the first Americans who had visited that part of the Territory. Dubuque, however, was not disposed to publish the wealth of his mines, and the young and evidently inquisitive officer obtained but little information from him.

After leaving this place, Pike pursued his way up the river, but as he passed beyond the limits of the present State of Iowa, a detailed history of his explorations on the upper waters of the Mississippi more properly beongs to this history of another State.

It is sufficient to say that on the site of Fort Snelling, Minnesota, at the mouth of the Minnesota River, Pike held a council with the Sioux, September 23, and obtained from them a grant of one hundred thousand acres of land. On the 8th of January, 1806, Pike arrived at a trading post belonging to the Northwest Company, on Lake De Sable, in latitude 47. At this time the then powerful Northwest Company carried on their immense operations from Hudson's Bay to the St. Lawrence; up that river on both sides, along the great lakes to the head of Lake Superior, thence to the sources of the Red River of the north and west, to the Rocky Mountains, embracing within the scope of their operations the entire Territory of Iowa. After successfully accomplishing his mission, and performing a valuable service to Iowa and the whole Northwest, Pike returned to St. Louis, arriving there on the 30th of April, 1806.

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