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First Name: Zebulon

Last Name: Pike

Birthplace: Lamberton, NJ, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: Montgomery

Date of Birth: 05 January 1779

Date of Death: 27 April 1813

Rank: Brigadier General

Years Served:
Zebulon Montgomery Pike

•  War of 1812


Zebulon Montgomery Pike
Brigadier General, U.S. Army

Zebulon Montgomery Pike was born on 5 January 1779 in Lamberton, NJ, the second of eight children and the only one to grow to adulthood. At the time of his birth, his father, also named Zebulon Pike, was an officer in George Washington's Continental Army, which was then fighting the British in the American Revolution. At the end of the Revolutionary War, Zebulon Pike Sr. remained in the American Army, and young Zebulon grew up on frontier military posts.

Young Pike began his military career in 1794, at the age of 15, when he joined his father's regiment as a cadet, and he followed his father's regiment to the west, serving at Fort Massac in Illinois. In 1799, he was commissioned a Lieutenant in the First Infantry Regiment, then stationed in western Pennsylvania, where he earned a reputation as an officer who could carry out orders.

In 1803, when President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to explore the northwest U.S. after purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France, General James Wilkinson sent Pike to explore the Mississippi River to discover its headwaters. Pike's discoveries were important to the growing nation, although they were overshadowed by the excitement caused by the Lewis and Clark expedition. Two years later, he was sent to discover the headwaters of the Red River, which some people thought might provide an all-water route to the Pacific Ocean, and to determine the extent of Spanish fortifications along the Texas-New Mexico Spanish boundary with the U.S. Louisiana Purchase. This route took him across the Southwest into Spanish controlled territory.

Pike first sighted the peak that bears his name from 150 miles away, out on the Colorado plains. They attempted to climb it, but its height of 14,110 feet proved too high and, after one attempt, they gave up (some historians claim he climbed nearby Cheyenne Peak instead). While continuing his search for the Red River headwaters, he crossed over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains into New Mexico, where he discovered the headwaters of the Rio Grande River (he thought it was the headwaters of the Red River).

Shortly afterwards, Spanish troops arrested his expedition for trespassing on Spanish soil and escorted them to Santa Fe, the territory's capital. After several months of negotiation, Pike and his men were released and they returned to Washington, DC, bringing valuable information about the land and its resources. Later Pike was accused of involvement in a scheme involving Aaron Burr and James Wilkinson to establish an empire in the Southwest, but investigation would prove Pike's innocence.

During the War of 1812, he led a successful advance on York (now called Toronto), Canada, in which he was killed by a hidden mine that also killed 52 of his soldiers. In revenge for the death of their commander, American soldiers torched public buildings in York. 

Death and Burial

Brigadier General Zebulon Montgomery Pike was killed on 27 April 1813. He is buried at the Military Cemetery in Sackets Harbor, NY.

Honoree ID: 2962   Created by: MHOH




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