Zebulon Montgomery Pike Trail to Red River, Mexico Journey 1807

Map of Zebulon Montgomery Pike Trail to Red River, Mexico Journey Map of Zebulon Montgomery Pike Trail to Red River, Mexico Journey
Map of Zebulon Montgomery Pike Trail to Red River, Mexico Journey

In 2003 I follow the Trail of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, who received the order from president Jefferson, to explore the Arkansas and Red River and also to gather information about the Spanish territory. The whole trail is too long for one vacation trip, so I have to split it in two parts: The first part ends at the location in Colorado, where Pike established a small stockade and was captured by Spanish Dragoons. The second part of the journey, I am following right now, follows the path with the Spaniards. The original trail would take me too deep into Mexico, which I decided to be too risky for me alone with all my equipment. So I travel along the Rio Grande, until I reach Pikes path again, when he reenters nowadays USA.

First I follow the Interstates from Pittsburgh to Alamosa, Colorado. Just a couple of miles distance from this city is the place, where Pike has been captured on February 27th, 1807. The Spaniards took him to the south following approximately the course of the Rio Grande. The first destination was Santa Fé. There Pike was interrogated by the governor. Pike reaffirmed, that he didn’t knew he was on Spanish Territory. He had the order to explore the Red River and mistook the Rio Grande with the Red River.

Today, most historians believe, that Pike knew exactly where he was and that he had the secret order to explore the Spanish Territory. Needless to say he could not tell this the Spaniards and he also was not able to make records, because the Spaniards would check his luggage. In Albuquerque he ran into a former member of his party, Dr. Robinson, who had been sent back before he was captured by the Spaniards.

They should not know, that he was a member of the expedition, otherwise he would be in big trouble. Fortunately this did not raise suspicion within the Spaniards and they traveled on south, passing the Jornada Del Muerto. Due to lack of water, this was really a journey of death in the old times. Today you can get a glimpse when visiting the White Sands, located at the south end of this area.

The other area is military zone and you are not allowed to travel there. Also the Spaniards took the detour and followed the Rio Grande instead of going the direct way through this desert. Eventuelly they reached El Paso del Norte, which gave the name to the city of El Paso. There I leave Pikes Route and follow on the Rio Grande.

Pike was deported down to Chihuahua, where the last big interrogation happened. Because the Spaniards were not able to proof he was on a spy mission, they didn’t treated him like a prisoner. He was even able to go freely within some limits, just being controlled by the Spaniards.

Eventually they received the order to bring Pike back to the US border of that time. The official statement was “to bring him back home safely”. In fact they wanted to avoid, that Pike was able to explore their region. The journey was difficult and got the small group through deserts and regions well known for Indian ambushes.

But they reached the Rio Grande south of Eagle Pass safely. There I follow again Pikes path. The first bigger city was San Antonio. They spent a couple of days at Mission San José, which can be visited today together with a couple of other missions in this area. Then they went on via San Marcos and Nacogdoches to Sabine River, the border of the USA at that time. Today this river is the boundary between Texas and Louisiana. The end of the trail was on July 1st, 1807 in Natchitoches. From there I drive through Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee on through Kentucky and West Virginia back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.