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November 12, 2012

Cantonment commander died in U.S. service

Most locals here are interested in history here are aware of Zebulon Pike because of his involvement in the Battle of Plattsburgh. Right? Wrong.

In the summer of 2001, I was in St. Louis, Mo., doing research for a book on members of my extended family when I came across information that a Lt. Zebulon Pike had met Joseph Robidoux at Portage des Sioux and took the occasion to give Robidoux a letter to bring back to St. Louis. 

Robidoux’s grandfather had migrated from Montreal to St. Louis, Louisiana Territory, in the mid 1700s.

MISSISSIPPI EXPEDITION

Pike was familiar to me because of Pike’s Cantonment here in Plattsburgh, so I had to know more.

Born in Lamberton, N.J., on Jan. 5, 1779, he was named for his father, who was an officer in the Continental Army under Gen. George Washington.

The younger Pike entered the Army as a cadet. 

In 1799, he became an ensign and then a first lieutenant. By 1805, he was serving in St. Louis under the command of Gen. James Wilkerson. 

Per Wilkerson’s orders, Pike left St. Louis on August 20, 1805, with 20 men to explore the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Pike’s party traveled more than 2,000 miles by boat and by foot to Leech Lake, Minn., which Pike thought was the source of the river. Unknown to him, he was within 60 miles of the actual source, Lake Itasca. En route, he purchased land from the Sioux for the site of Fort Snelling, which became Minneapolis.

PLATTSBURGH CAMP

After Pike’s return to St. Louis, Wilkinson tasked him to explore the southern border of the Louisiana Purchase and the Arkansas and Red rivers. Pike left on April 20, 1806, with a party of 22 men. They tried to climb a mountain peak in Colorado but were not successful. All the same, it became known as Pike’s Peak. Pike and his men then traveled to the Rio Grande, where they were taken captive by the Mexicans and held for almost a year before being released in 1807. 

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