Where to find out more about Pike

Sidebar by Ed Quillen

Pike expedition – March 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

Any study of the Pike Expedition should start with Pike’s journals. The most accessible edition is an unabridged Dover reprint of The Expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, edited by Elliott Coues, and originally issued in 1895.

It comes in 955 pages — two volumes with six maps. Volume I (ISBN 0-486-25254-X) covers the Mississippi expedition and provides a brief biography in the preface. Volume II (ISBN 0-486-25255-8) has the maps and concerns Pike’s adventures in our part of the world, and it’s the one to get if you’re buying only one.

Both are priced reasonably — $12.95 apiece — and they’re worth reading. After all, they’re the first American account of this part of America.

The only Pike biography I’ve read is Zebulon Pike: The Lost Pathfinder, by W. Eugene Hollon, and published in 1949 by the University of Oklahoma Press. The Salida Regional Library has it (it’s frequently checked out, though), and it appears to be out of print. I look for it every time I’m in a used-book store, but haven’t seen it yet.

There is a book about Pike’s precise route in Colorado, but I wasn’t able to find it, and besides, this piece would have been even longer if it had delved into campsites and trails. So I just stuck to his general route and the political implications of the expedition.

I have yet to find a good account of the Wilkinson-Burr conspiracy. Gore Vidal’s novel, Burr, is good reading, and in the afterword, Vidal mentions his sources and explains his interpretations. Perhaps novelists can get closer to this story than historians can.