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Citizen Explorer: The Life of Zebulon Pikeby Jared Orsi
Synopses & Reviews
It was November 1806. The explorers had gone without food for one day, then two. Their leader, not yet thirty, drove on, determined to ascend the great mountain. Waist deep in snow, he reluctantly turned back. But Zebulon Pike had not been defeated. His name remained on the unclimbed peak-and new adventures lay ahead of him and his republic.
In Citizen Explorer, historian Jared Orsi provides the first modern biography of this soldier and explorer, who rivaled contemporaries Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Born in 1779, Pike joined the army and served in frontier posts in the Ohio River valley before embarking on a series of astonishing expeditions. He sought the headwaters of the Mississippi and later the sources of the Arkansas and Red Rivers, which led him to Pike's Peak and capture by Spanish forces. Along the way, he met Aaron Burr and General James Wilkinson; Auguste and Pierre Couteau, patriarchs of St. Louis's most powerful fur-trading family, who sought to make themselves indispensible to Jefferson's administration; as well as British fur-traders, Native Americans, and officers of the Spanish empire, all of whom resisted the expansion of the United States. Through Pike's life, Orsi examines how American nationalism thinned as it stretched west, from the Jeffersonian idealism on the Atlantic to a practical, materialist sensibility on the frontier. Surveying and gathering data, Pike sought to incorporate these distant territories into the republic, to overlay the west with the American map grid; yet he became increasingly dependent for survival on people who had no attachment to the nation he served. He eventually died in that service, in a victorious battle in the War of 1812.
Written from an environmental perspective, rich in cultural and political context, Citizen Explorer is a state-of-the-art biography of a remarkable man.
"Orsi, an assistant professor of history at Colorado State University and author of a book about urban ecology in Los Angeles (Hazardous Metropolis), turns his hand to a study of an explorer whose name is attached to a well-known peak in the Rockies but who is otherwise forgotten. Orsi paints Zeb Pike as an exemplary member of a family seeking independence, stretching from ancestor John Pike, who came to the New World in 1635, to James Shepherd Pike, who gained prominence as an author and journalist from the 1840s onward. Orsi focuses on Pike's journeys up the Mississippi River and west along the Arkansas River in the years 1805 — 1807, which resulted in his eventual captivity in New Spain. In Orsi's treatment, Pike comes across as a stalwart but somewhat inept figure, and his quick rise to brigadier general and heroic death in the war of 1812 figure prominently in the narrative. Strangely, Orsi (Hazardous Metropolis) introduces 'energetics' as an explanation of some of Pike's actions, going so far as to imply that this modern concept was a direct motivation for Pike — as when he writes that Pike visited native tribes 'to ensure that the nation's energy system would subsume the natives'.' Elsewhere, he repeatedly squashes rumors and accusations of Pike's collusion with or duping by either his superior, James Wilkinson, or Aaron Burr, in vague plots involving the Spanish colonies. Orsi ventures off the beaten track of Pike's life but this is a useful update of an underappreciated explorer." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Jared Orsi is Associate Professor of History at Colorado State University. He is the author of the prizing-winning Hazardous Metropolis: Flooding and Urban Ecology in Los Angeles.
Table of Contents
Prologue Coming of Age in the Revolution
Ch 1 "The Happiness of a Free and Independent People": A Family and a Nation Seek Liberty, 1635-1794
Ch 2 The Bargain of Independence, 1794-1805
Ch 3 "A Barrier to Their Trade": Establishing Americans in the Upper Mississippi Country, 1805-1806
Ch 4 "Young Warriors" of the "Great American Father": Crossing the Plains, July- November 1806
Ch 5 "Frozen Lads": Into The Rockies, November 1806-February 1807
Ch 6 A Comfortable Captivity: Traveling through New Spain, February-July 1807
Ch 7 Citizen Soldier: Pike's Final Search for Independence, 1807-1813
Epilogue From "Frozen Lads" to "Purple Mountain Majesties": Pike's West and American Nationalism, 1813-1893
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