“Nothing that Zebulon Montgomery Pike ever tried to do was easy, and most of his luck was
bad.” Thus Donald Jackson began his forward to the annotated edition of Pike’s journals and letters in 1966. A pathfinder who got lost, Pike could have been as revered as Lewis and Clark, but instead remains an indistinct historical figure.
Born in New Jersey in 1779, Pike joined the U.S. Army at the age of 20, following in the footsteps of his father, also named Zebulon, who was a veteran of the American Revolution. Lt. Pike’s early duties along the Ohio frontier consisted of service as a regimental paymaster. Pike lamented his lack of formal education, carrying books into the wilderness and reading voluminously. A slim, blue-eyed, pompous young man with an
odd habit of tilting his head to one side, Pike was highly ambitious and efficient.