Book Review: Zebulon Pike, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

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by Matthew L. Harris & Jay H. Buckley, editors

Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 242. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. . $24.95. ISBN: 080614243X

Jefferson’s Other Expeditions to Explore the Louisiana Purchase

While the adventures of Lewis and Clark are well known, their expedition was only the first of several conducted by U.S. Army officers at the behest of President Jefferson to explore America’s newly acquired western lands.

The editors, both established scholars of western expansion, using the adventures of Zebulon Pike (1779-1813) as a starting point.  Their introduction gives us a concise biography of the man after whom Pike’s Peak is named, who later died as a brigadier general in the War of 1812.   The essays that follow, by themselves and five other scholars, explore various aspects of the Jeffersonian exploration of America’s new lands in the west.  There is an interesting look at the lack of memory of Pike’s achievements and those of most of the other explorers, save for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  Another essay considers Pike’s curious peregrinations, which led him in Spanish territory, raising the question of the political implications of his mission.  There follows an essay on how Pike’s mission contributed to the development of American science and one the activities of some of the other explorers of the times.  The Burr conspiracy is touched upon, as is the role of the wonderfully pusillanimous James Wilkinson in western expansion.  Although the book ends before the War of 1812 begins (though Pike’s unfortunate encounter with a cannon ball in 1813 is mentioned), it very much deals with some of the causes of the conflict. 

Zebulon Pike, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West is useful read for anyone interested in the early Republic and its army, the opening of the West, Native Americans, U.S.-Spanish relations, and the War of 1812.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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