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A Prisoner Of Good Fortune
A Prisoner Of Good Fortune

Zebulon Pike used Spanish incarceration to the U.S. advantage.

Mark Boardman

Lieutenant Zebulon Pike had little time to rest. Around the first of June 1806, he and his expedition returned to St. Louis from a trip to map the headwaters of the Mississippi River. It was a natural follow-up to the Lewis and Clark voyage that was in the process of returning to civilization.

But Gen. James Wilkinson, the governor of the Louisiana Territory, saw a new opportunity—exploration of the southwest part of that region. And he wasn’t willing to wait, so Pike and his men (who he once called a “Dam’d set of Rascals”) headed back out on July 15.

Wilkinson’s instructions were explicit: make contact with various Indian tribes. Arrest any unlicensed traders. Map the areas and collect scientific and geologic information. And avoid the Spanish, whose territory bordered the new U.S. acquisition.

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February 2019