On this day in 1813, Zebulon Pike a brigadier general in the United States army, lead a successful attack on a British garrison at York (Toronto). However, as the battle drew to a close Zebulon was hit and killed by a rock, sent flying by an exploding ammunition store.
But who was Zubulon Pike?
Pike, Zebulon, and Stephen Long, American explorers of the West. The American exploration of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains began with the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. The northern part of this new territory was first explored by the Corps of Discovery led by captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1804–1806. Farther to the south it was initially explored primarily by the expeditions led by Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779–1813) in 1806–1807 and Major Stephen Harriman Long (1784–1864) in 1819–1820.
Pike was born in Somerset County, New Jersey, near Trenton and was the son of a veteran of the American Revolution and the grandson of a veteran of the French and Indian War. Largely self-educated, he enlisted in the army at fifteen, was commissioned a lieutenant in 1799, and after his return from the Greater Southwest in 1807 he was promoted to captain. Pike died a brigadier general at the Battle of York (Toronto) during the War of 1812.
In 1805–1806, Pike led an important scouting expedition from Saint Louis to the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota. Less than three months after his return, he was sent into the southern reaches of the Louisiana Purchase. He mapped the valleys of the Arkansas and Red rivers that formed the vague boundary between New Spain and present-day Louisiana, eventually reaching the site of present-day Pueblo, Colorado. He explored the environs of what later became Pike’s Peak—it was identified on his published map of 1810 only as “Highest Peak”—and crossed the headwaters of the Rio Grande. Thereafter, Pike and his men were captured by the Spanish, accused of spying, and conveyed via Santa Fe to Chihuahua. His captors confiscated all of Pike’s maps and notes, but he secretly reconstructed and smuggled out some of them in the barrels of his guns. Pike’s party was eventually released and was escorted across Texas through San Antonio to Natchitoches, Louisiana.
Pike added substantially to the geographic knowledge of the American West, above all Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. His cartography helped to fill in the uncharted space on the map of the expanding American frontier, and successive explorers, including Stephen H. Long, followed Pike’s trails and maps for more than a quarter of a century.
Long was born in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1809. He became an army engineer and a member of the U.S. Topographical Bureau, formed in 1813, and he investigated the upper Mississippi to the Fox-Wisconsin River portage in 1817 before going to the Rockies. In 1819–1820, he explored the Platte and Arkansas valleys and climbed and mapped Pike’s Peak and a number of other mountains. His surveys and notes were the primary sources for a large-scale map of the American West that he produced in 1820. The map was published in ten sheets in 1823, and served as a “master map” for commercial map publishers such as Henry S. Tanner of Philadelphia for more than two decades. On his map, Long first applied the deceptive label of “Great American Desert” to the West.
Upon his return from the Rockies, Long went on to explore and map the source of the Minnesota River and the U.S.–Canada boundary west of the Great Lakes in 1823, and to survey the route for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Throughout his career, Long’s work was highly regarded and served as a manual for the future exploration and recording of the American West.