LIEUTENANT PIKE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
After the United States bought Louisiana they had to take care of it. Forts
had to be built and a government of some kind had to be started. This became
the work of the United States Army. In the spring of 1805, Gen. James Wilkinson
at St. Louis, who was in command of the United States Army in the West, decided
to send someone up the Mississippi. He chose Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike, a young
man, for the task.
On July 30, 1805, Lieutenant Pike received orders to follow the Mississippi
River to its beginning. He was to make a record of the rivers, prairies,
islands, mines, quarries, timber. Indian villages, and settlements along the
way. He was also ordered to keep a journal, to select new sites for forts, and
to find ways of making peace with the Indians.
Pike, with twenty men, left St. Louis on August 9, 1805. He and his party
had one large boat and provisions for four months. It would seem tat he did not
realize how big a task he had before him. He and his men had a hard time on
their trip. Their greatest trouble came from rainy weather and from not knowing
the channel of the river. They had great difficulty in getting their big boat
up the stream.
Another mistake made by pike was that he did not take with him and Indian
interpreter. Because of this, he could not hold councils with that Indians and
therefore had trouble in getting help from them.
PIKE GETS HELP
Pike and his party got to the mouth of the Des Moines River, which is now the
southeast corner of Iowa, on August 20. Just above the mouth of the river are
eleven miles of rapids. This is where the famous Keokuk Dam is now located.
The young lieutenant and his party probably would not have been able to get
over these rapids if they had not received help. A Government Indian agent,
William Ewing, who had been sent to the Sac tribe, came and helped them up the
river. Ewing had four Sac chiefs and fifteen braves with him. Pike called this
place "The Des Moines River Rapids."
After crossing the rapids Pike and his party spent the night at Ewing's camp
on the east of the Mississippi. The next day they visited a large Sac village
that was located on the west side of the river. It was on the present site of
the town of Montrose, Iowa. There Pike held a council with the Indians at the
Sac village. He gave them presents of tobacco, knives, and Whiskey. In his
journal he wrote that this would be a good place for a trading post.
FORT MADISON AND BURLINGTON
The night after the council with the Indians at Montrose, Pike and his men
camped six months farther up the river, on the present site of fort Madison.
The first fort to be built on Iowa land was later put on this site. Pike,
however, did not himself mention the place or recommend it as a place for a
The next day Pike reached the present site of Burlington. He told about a
place that is now Crapo Park in that city and described it as "a very handsome
situation for a garrison." He said it was a good place for a fort or a garrison
because all travel on the river could be watched from there.
A few days after leaving the Burlington site the Party lost two of its
hunting dogs. Two of the men said they would go out and find the dogs. The two
men were lost for two days but finally came to an Indian village. The chief of
the Indian village gave them food and guides so that they could get back to
Pike and his men again had trouble in getting over some rapids in the river.
This time it was at the mouth of the Rock River, which flows into the
Mississippi River from the Illinois side. It was near this place that
Lieutenant Pike met Chief Black Hawk.
Black Hawk was given some presents and an American flag. Pike asked the
chief to take down a British flag which he had. Black Hawk refused to do that
because he wanted to be friends with both the British and the Americans. Black
Hawk himself said, "He presented us an American flag which was hoisted. He then
requested us to pull down our British flags and give him our British medals
promising to send us others on his return to St. Louis. This we declined as we
wished to have two 'fathers.'"
PIKE AND DUBUQUE
On Sunday, September 1, the Pike party arrived at Dubuque's settlement. Pike
said they were "saluted with a field piece (small cannon) and received every
mark of attention."
Pike wanted to learn all about the lead mines. Dubuque, however, was very
careful as to what he did. He did not know whether the Americans would let him
keep the land which the Spaniards had given him. Dubuque was polite but he
would not answer questions or take him to the mines. Pike called him "the
evasive Mr. Dubuque" and learned very little from him.
At Dubuque Pike got an interpreter, a Frenchman by the name of Blondie. This
interpreter helped Pike greatly on the rest of his trip. The young lieutenant
now learned that the Indians lived in great fear of the White men. One chief
told him that "the women and children were frightened at the very name of an
PRAIRIE DU CHIEN
Pike reached Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, on September 4. He recommended
that the bluff in Iowa, across the river from Prairie Du Chien, be used for a
fort. He said it was best place on the upper Mississippi for that purpose.
The bluff is now called "Pike's Hill."
At Prairie du Chien Oike left his big boat and got two smaller boats. He
then went on and soon passed beyond what is now Iowa. Before leaving Iowa he
held several important councils with different Indian Chiefs. Near the mouth of
the Upper Iowa River, the Sioux Chief, Wabashaw, put on a great medicine dance
for the Pike.
Pike and his men spent the winter in Minnesota. They had a hard time because
their provisions ran low and they had much sickness. On April 16 of the
following year, Pike and his party again reached Iowa on their way home. They
arrived at St. Louis on April 30, 1806. This trip did not end Pike's
explorations. He later led a famous party to the West and "Pike's Peak," in
Colorado, is named in his honor. He was killed in the War of 1812.
Lieutenant Pike made a very accurate report of his trip. It was the first
good account that had been written of the upper Mississippi region. If the
recommendations which he made for the location of forts and trading posts had
been followed, much later trouble could have been avoided.
We can learn many things about early eastern Iowa from the reports of Lewis