On this day in 1813, renowned explorer, cartographer and soldier Zebulon Pike is killed in the Battle of York (Toronto), the British capital of Upper Canada (Ontario). As a US Army officer, Pike led two expeditions under authority of third President Thomas Jefferson through the new Louisiana Purchase territory.
Pike’s first mission in 1805-06 was to reconnoiter the upper northern reaches of the Mississippi River, and then in 1806-07 to explore the Southwest to the fringes of the northern Spanish-colonial settlements of New Mexico and Texas.
On this second trek, Pike and his men explored the headwaters of the Arkansas River, a route that took them into Colorado. There, Pike saw the towering peak that now bears his name, and made an ill-advised attempt to climb it. Grossly underestimating the height of the mountain and dressed only in thin cotton uniforms, Pike and his men struggled with deep snow and sub-zero temperatures before finally abandoning the ascent.
Also on this second mission, Pike became lost and wandered into the Viceroyalty of New Spain; a patrol arrested him and took him into custody. Although Pike had indisputably lost his way, Pike’s defenders see this as a brilliant mistake so that Pike could “explore” Spanish territory. Pike’s Detractors believe he was a directionally-challenged dandy who couldn’t find his own ass with a map.
In 1810, Pike published an account of his expeditions, a book so popular it was translated into Dutch, French, and German languages. Rising to the rank of Brigadier General, in 1813 Pike and several of his men, haplessly brave or bravely hapless, were killed by flying rocks and debris when the withdrawing British garrison blew up its ammunition magazine as Pike’s troops approached Fort York on this very day 208 years ago.