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Paper trail

By DAVE PHILIPPS - THE GAZETTE Updated: April 8, 2006 at 12:00 am
FROM PIKE’S JOURNAL Jan. 2, 1807 (Royal Gorge) — Labored all day, but made only one mile, many of our horses much wounded in falling on the rocks.
Provisions growing short, left Stoute and Miller with two loads, to come on with a sled on the ice, which was on the water in some of the coves. Finding it almost impossible to proceed any further with the horses by the bed of the river, ascended the mountain and immediately after were again obliged to descend an almost perpendicular side of the mountain; in effecting which, one horse fell down the precipice, and bruised himself so miserably, that I conceived it mercy to cause the poor animal to be shot. Many others were nearly killed with falls received. The Spanish captured Zebulon Pike and his men on the Rio Grande and took them to Santa Fe in 1807. On the evening Pike appeared before the governor to answer charges that he was a spy, one of his men was either passed out on wine or in the arms of a young señorita — or both. It was one of the rare bits of luck Pike had on his expedition to the Southwest and likely the only reason people can read Pike’s journals today. “If that man had been there, we probably would know almost nothing about Pike’s journey,” said Mark Gardner, a historian in Cascade who has just published what is perhaps the most readerfriendly version of the journals, “The Southwestern Journals of Zebulon Pike, 1806-1807.” Here’s how the explorer, the señorita, the governor and the journals are connected: When Pike was detained near what is now the Colorado-New Mexico border, he knew the governor would demand to see the letters, journals and maps he kept in a small, locked trunk. For safety, Pike slipped the most valuable documents to his men to hide in their clothing. As predicted, the governor called Pike in and demanded to see his papers. Pike explained he was merely an explorer who had accidently strayed into New Spain, and gladly unlocked the trunk. After glancing over the papers, the governor seemed satisfied, gave back the trunk and said Pike could retire to his quarters. That night, the people of Santa Fe treated Pike’s men to a fiesta with music, wine and young women dancing the fandango. Pike started to worry that his drunken soldiers might boast about the hidden contraband and blow his cover, so he tracked down all the men — except one, who was nowhere to be seen — and took back his papers. In the morning, a knock came on Pike’s door. Pike immediately realized he’d been snookered. A Spanish officer and two soldiers entered and took Pike and his trunk back to the governor. The governor said he would confiscate the trunk in the name of the Spanish majesty, and Pike never saw most of the papers again. This story survives only because Pike’s AWOL soldier showed up a few hours later with the journals (and, presumably, a headache.) OVERLOOKED EXPLORER Almost 200 years later, the journals were almost lost again — not through treachery, but through lack of interest. Pike published his journals in 1810. Three major versions came out in later years with extensive footnotes, including most of the papers from the confiscated trunk, which were found 100 years later in Mexico. But these editions, like most things related to Pike, languished in the shadow of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and soon went out of print. The Pikes Peak Library District has a few copies, some of which can be checked out. Local bookstores don’t carry the journals. And although copies can be found through rare book dealers, they often cost $150 to $400. A first edition of Pike’s 1810 “An Account of Expeditions to the Sources of the Mississippi and through the Western Parts of Louisiana to the Sources of the Arkansaw” went for more than $30,000 this winter. “There was nothing accessible to the average reader. Pike’s journals had been overlooked, just as he had,” said Gardner. Gardner has been a historian of the Southwest for decades. He started as a seasonal ranger at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site near La Junta and worked his way up to directing the Colorado Historical Society’s Baca and Bloom Houses along the Santa Fe Trail in Trinidad. For the past 16 years, he has lived in the Pikes Peak region and worked as a freelance historian, editor and author of three books on the Santa Fe Trail and the Mexican-American War. Gardner got interested in Pike’s journals because the young captain was the first to suggest the potential of a trade route between St. Louis and Santa Fe, noting that some goods, such as cloth, could bring almost 100 times as much in New Spain as they could in Missouri. “The significance of this information at the time is hard to over-emphasize,” said Gardner. “It led to the creation of the Santa Fe Trail, and ultimately led to the Southwest becoming part of the United States. This winter, through University of New Mexico Press, Gardner republished a 1933 version of “The Southwestern Journals of Zebulon Pike, 1806-1807” ($27.95). “I wanted people to have something affordable and accessible that puts them in his shoes,” he said. “So many pundits and critics knock Pike or misquote him. I think when you read his journals, you can’t come away not being impressed with what he’s done.” Gardner started with a version of the journals originally published by Colorado College history professor Archer Hulbert and Stephen Hart, founding partner of prominent Colorado law firm Holland & Hart and former president of the Colorado Historical Society. He streamlined two volumes of journals, essays and photos down to one volume without losing any of Pike’s words. “The original had footnotes on footnotes,” Gardner said. “It was very hard to read.” The latest edition presents Pike’s world in a clean, orderly fashion that can be read straight through like a travelogue, or, since it has a good index, it can be used as a quick reference tool. “Mark did such a fine job bringing everything together into one volume,” said the late Stephen Hart’s son, Jim Hart, who lives in Colorado Springs. “They added maps that weren’t in the first edition, and made it easier to read.” The new edition includes a spirited defense of Pike’s intentions (the old “was he a spy or wasn’t he?” argument) by Hulbert that suggests Pike wasn’t on an espionage mission, but managed to bring home reams of valuable intelligence anyway. On the trail, most of Pike’s entries were short and matterof-fact. After all, he had to navigate, hunt and march, leaving little time for writing. But there are glimmers in his terse sentences, Gardner said, that show the man and what he was up against. One of Gardner’s favorites occurs on Nov. 27, 1806, when Pike spent the night in a cave high in the foothills near the grand peak that would later bear his name. “Arose hungry, dry, and extremely sore, from the inequality of the rocks, on which we had lain all night,” Pike wrote. “But were amply compensated for toil by the sublimity of the prospects below. The unbounded prairie was overhung with clouds, which appeared like the ocean in a storm; wave piled on wave and foaming, whilst the sky was perfectly clear where we were. Commenced our march up the mountain, and in about one hour arrived at the summit of this chain; here we found the snow middle deep; no sign of beast or bird inhabiting this region. The thermometer which stood at (52 degrees) at the foot of the mountain, here fell to (23 degrees). The summit of the Grand peak, which was entirely bare of vegetation and covered with snow, now appeared at the distance of 15 or 16 miles from us, and as high again as what we had ascended, and would have taken a whole day’s march to have arrived at its base, when I be- lieve no human being could have ascended to its pinical. This with the condition of my soldiers, who had only light overalls on, and no stockings, and every way ill provided to endure the inclemency of the region . . . determined us to return. The clouds from below had now ascended the mountain and entirely enveloped the summit on which rests eternal snows.” A true historian likes to go straight to the source, Gardner said. “That’s what is so important about having these journals available. “There is almost nothing left from Pike’s journey. Only a few papers. But all this time after, we still have his daily journal entries. It’s as if we can still hear his voice.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0223 or dave.philipps@gazette.com MORE JOURNAL ENTRIES Nov. 6, 1806 (southwest of Garden City, Kan.) — Marched early, but was detained two or three hours by the cow (buffaloes) which we killed. The cow buffalo was equal to any meat I ever saw, and we feasted sumptuously on the choice morsels. I will not attempt to describe the droves of animals we now saw on our route; suffice it to say, that the face of the prairie was covered with them, on each side of the river; their numbers exceeded imagination. March 2, 1807 (near Santa Fe, N.M.) — We marched late, and passed several little mud walled villages and settlements, all of which had round mud towers of the ancient shape and construction, to defend the inhabitants from the intrusions of the savages. . . . We were frequently stopped by the women, who invited us into their houses to eat; and in every place where we halted a moment, there was a contest who should be our hosts. My poor lads who had been frozen, were conducted home by old men, who would cause their daughters to dress their feet; provide their victuals and drink, and at night, gave them the best bed in the house. In short, all their conduct brought to my recollection the hospitality of the ancient patriarchs, and caused me to sigh with regret at the corruption of that noble principle, by the polish of the modern ages.”
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