Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly 33:2 (Spring 2013)


© 2013 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska


During the 200th anniversary commemoration of the Louisiana Purchase, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their achievements in exploration and cartography of the northern reaches of the territory were much celebrated with books, articles, and conferences as well as coins, medals, and postage stamps. Zebulon Montgomery Pike’s similar investigation and mapping of the southern parts of the region were marked appreciably less. Why? Were his accomplishments any less than those of Lewis and Clark? Was it that he got “lost” and was captured by the Spanish, who had earlier failed to intercept Lewis and Clark? Or was it because he was sent to spy against the Spanish for the United States or associated with former Vice President Aaron Burr and Louisiana Governor General James Wilkinson, who hoped to carve out a country of their own in the American Southwest? After his death as a general during the War of 1812, Pike was equally esteemed with Lewis and Clark throughout the nineteenth century, but in the twentieth he drifted into more relative obscurity. And the reasons are yet unclear.