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Kansas Historical Quarterly - Following Pike's Expedition

From the Smoky Hill to the Solomon

by Theodore H. Scheffer

August 1947 (Vol. 14 No. 3), pages 240 to 247.
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.

Kansas Historical Quarterly, August 1947TO get us on this trail properly it seems necessary to state here that the purpose of this research and report is to interpret intimately the details of Zebulon M. Pike's journal and maps as fitting into the terrain he traversed, from the Smoky Hill crossing until he "passed" the Solomon river on his way to the Pawnee Indian village-his first destination. Our sources of published information have been largely two: The Expedition of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, by Elliott Coues, and Zebulon Pike's Arkansaw Journal, edited by Stephen H. Hart and Archer B. Hulbert. [1] The latter published documents, letters and maps of the expedition that had been taken from Pike by the Spanish authorities of the Southwest and had reposed in the archives at Mexico City for one hundred years where they were found in 1907-1908. Two years later they were restored to the United States, were lost again in War Department archives, and were rediscovered in 1927. [2]

These restored papers have very little to do, however, with the concern of our present research. First, because the precious journal had been saved from the Spanish seizure by one of Pike's soldiers who had secreted it in his clothing, at the leader's request. It appears that this soldier had been wined too generously by the ladies at the Mexican post, and in the hour of Spanish need could not be found; and apparently he was later overlooked. [3] Also transcripts and sketches were saved by Lieut. J. B. Wilkinson, of the expedition, who had been dispatched to the East from the first camp on the Arkansas river. [4] At any rate, Pike seems to have had plenty of material at hand for his own publication of his travels, in 1810, at least so far as the journey to the Arkansas was concerned.


[Map of Zebulon Pike's trail]

Pike's route (shown by the broken line) is marked by the following major stops: (1) The halt for breakfast, September 17, 1806; (2) Mulberry creek camp, September 17-18; (3) Rockyfern creek camp, September 18-21; (4) Lost creek camp, September 21-22; (5) First creek camp, September 22-23; (6) the morning's halt on Fisher creek, September 23.


[Sentinel Rock]

Sentinel Rock of Rockyfern Creek, a branch of Salt Creek
Pike made a three-day camp here

[Rockyfern Creek]

Rockyfern Creek and view from Sentinel Rock northeast through the north entrance to Pawnee Gap


We have been over the ground covered by Pike on the Smoky-to-Solomon part of the journey many times through the years, and more recently in review, with the preparation of this report in mind. Well impressed, we are, with Pike's faithfulness to detail on a small-scale map, along the immediate course of his journey and in the range of his vision. He did not stop to explore the streams he "passed" (crossed by fording) on the mission to the Pawnees. And we are not misled by the cartographer's parlance of creeks that "fall" into a larger stream. Anyhow, these small prairie water courses commonly sneak into the larger outlets. It is true, though, that he sometimes sent the rivers on about their business where they should not go and did not go, as later exploration disclosed. The Saline and the Solomon rivers were both thus led astray into the Republican Fork, instead of the Smoky Hill Fork. And Salt creek, "Little Saline," was overestimated in the magnitude of its lower course. [5]

Our key to the jigsaw puzzle of the trail is found in Pike's own statement, letter to the Secretary of War, dated Pawnee Republic, October 1, 1806. He says, among other things: "From the Osage towns, I have taken the courses and distances, by the route we came, marking each river or rivulet we crossed, pointing out the dividing ridges, &c." [6] This, with the camp marks and the hatching lines for slopes, is our cue. With this understanding, we will proceed to our part of the trail: The year was 1806 and on September 16 we find Pike's party of some thirty whites and Indians [7] camped in the hills east of present Lindsborg, on a branch of Gypsum creek, the third branch of this stream he had encountered. This branch is known locally as Stag creek. [8] How he got there is not our concern, or rather not our problem. Coues and Hart-Hulbert disagree on this point and we cannot speak from first-hand knowledge of the terrain. Here is the journal entry for the next day's march:

17th September, Wednesday.-Marched early and struck the main southeast branch of the Kans river: at nine o'clock it appeared to be 25 or 30 yards wide, and is navigable in the flood seasons. We passed it six miles to a small branch to breakfast. Game getting scarce, our provision began to run low. Marched about two o'clock, and encamped at sun-down on a large branch. Killed one buffalo. Distance 21 miles. [9]


The "main south-east branch of the Kans river" is the Smoky Hill. At the outset here we have disagreement of the commentators, Coues and Hart-Hulbert, as to where the party ate breakfast. Coues says that "'We passed it six miles to a small branch to breakfast' is a dubious phrase." He interprets it to mean that Pike's party breakfasted on a small dry branch just before crossing the Smoky. [10] Hart-Hulbert says that "breakfast was eaten on Dry creek six miles beyond" the river. [11]

Our interpretation is that the halt for breakfast was made as Hart-Hulbert states, five or six miles after crossing the river, with evidence to wit: (1) Pike says he "passed" the river to breakfast on the small branch, and that means crossed in his usual vernacular. And this sort of pre-prandial march was not an uncommon thing in the day's journey. (2) The small branch is there, within the gauged distance, shown on the north side of the river on Pike's map though obscured a little by the hatching that indicates adjacent higher ground. [12] This is a branch of Dry creek, the most easterly, running nearly northward and parallel to a line of the Union Pacific railway. [13] If the Smoky crossing was at present Bridgeport, as seems the unanimous opinion of commentators, the halt for breakfast was on this branch perhaps a mile and a half above the present town of Assaria, about where U. S. Highway No. 81 adjusts itself to a surveyor's correction. (3) An angle in the line depicting Pike's route of travel, on his map, indicates that he set his course a little more to the northwest at this breakfast halt on the branch. [14] It is not likely that such an abrupt compass change would be made while on the march. (4) The distance from the Smoky crossing to the evening camp was too great to have been covered in the march from 2 p. m. to "sun-down," about 6 p. m., thus near the equinox. May we designate this branch as Breakfast creek, since it does not appear to have any local name.

Now that breakfast is disposed of, we will proceed to the camp at sundown, which, according to mileage and position, must have been on Mulberry creek. Our contentious editors, Hart-Hulbert, say that it was above the junction with Spring creek, [15]and Coues


that it was below. [16] After viewing the terrain recently, we conclude, with Coues, that the crossing was below the mouth of Spring creek; about half way between there and present Salina. For (1) to cross above the junction would mean fording both streams, one about as large as the other at this junction. And Pike's map does not indicate a fork in the stream, something he is rather particular about in marking his camp sites. At the last previous camp he had shown all five branches of Gypsum creek-and they are actually there. (2) On leaving this Mulberry creek camp Pike again alters his course, as shown by the angle on his map; [17] this time a little to the right, north. And this lines him up with the established point of his Saline river crossing, the next day.

Passing to the next journal entry, we trail Pike on to the north; more nearly so than his somewhat askew map seems to indicate:

18th September, Thursday. Marched at our usual hour, and at twelve o'clock halted at a large branch of the Kans, which was strongly impregnated with salt. This day we expected the people of the village to meet us. We marched again at four o'clock. Our route being over a continued series of hills and hollows, we were until eight at night before we arrived at a small dry branch. It was nearly ten o'clock before we found any water. Commenced raining a little before day. Distance 25 miles. [18]

The "large branch of the Kans, which was strongly impregnated with salt" was the Saline river, flowing more directly into the Smoky Hill than into the Kansas river proper. The "people of the village" Were the Pawnees, to whom on the morning of September 14 he had sent Dr. Robinson of the party and a Pawnee scout named Frank as embassies. [19]From the terrain, the Saline crossing was probably about a mile east of the present railroad crossing, near Culver and the Saline-Ottawa county line. [20]

This brings us to the Rainy-Days camp, which we unhesitatingly place on a small branch of Salt creek, present Ottawa county, sec. 27 of Center township, about five miles southwest of Minneapolis. Everything seems to fit the picture: (1) There are two springs there, as indicated by small forks of the branch on Pike's map, [21] each issuing from the head of a little glen in the red-brown Dakota sandstone. Their runs combine to form a little stream which passes in review before a small flat which very probably was the camp


site. This stream may have been dry where first contacted at this season, as Pike indicates, but there is perennial water a little way up to the left from his line of march; and the search in the dark would involve some time in locating it. (2) These spring runs are the first source of water the trail party would meet with in the late afternoon march from the Saline river [22] up through Pawnee gap, the traditional outlet to the north. This route is marked by several Indian burial sites along the way and by pictographs on a cliff about three miles from the camp. The Osage members of Pike's party very likely knew the way, as would also the Pawnee who had gone ahead with Dr. Robinson a few days previously. (3) The mileage from the Saline crossing fits the picture very closely, as does the mileage to the next two camps after the break up of this one. It is true, the mileage for the day as given by Pike is excessive, [23] but it often is. And certainly the party would not cover more miles in the evening march than they had in the entire forenoon's travel from Mulberry creek to the Saline, a known distance of not over ten miles. [24] (4) Pike indicates, by hatching on his map, the north-south trend of Pawnee gap and places the camp site on the west side of the gap, [25] where the springs are located. (5) Just back of this camp site is the sentinel cliff, mentioned by Pike, [26] from the highest point of which a remarkable view carries the eye back to the Saline crossing, if not to the Mulberry creek campsite, of the previous night, and on ahead through the northern entrance to Pawnee gap, and on toward the Salt creek crossing of three days later. To the west the skyline limits this still virgin stretch of pasture prairie.

The little stream heading in these springs threads its way four or five miles to the northeast and falls into Salt creek. [27] It is not dignified by a name on any map but the place has been known since pioneer days as Rocky Fern. So we may call the stream Rockyfern creek, and let it go at that for posterity. Sometimes it magnifies itself by spring freshets.

Here the party was held up for two days by rains and did not march again until Sunday morning. The situation was rather doleful, for Pike says that "we employed ourselves in reading the Bible, Pope's Essays, and in pricking on our arms with India ink some


characters, which will frequently bring to mind our forlorn and dreary situation, as well as the happiest days of our life." More to our particular interest in this research, he says further: "In the rear of our encampment was a hill, on which there was a large rock, where the Indians kept a continual sentinel, as I imagine, to apprise them of the approach of any party, friends or foes, as well as to see if they could discover any game on the prairies." [28] This sentinel rock we have referred to in our evidence for the correct camp site (see accompanying pictures).

Continuing the march for Sunday, September 21, the journal reads, in part:

We marched at eight o'clock, although every appearance of rain, and at eleven o'clock passed a large creek remarkably salt. Stopped at one o'clock on a fresh branch of the salt creek. Our interpreter having killed an elk, we sent out for some meat, which detained us so late that I concluded it best to encamp where we were, in preference to running the risk of finding no water. . . . Distance 10 miles.[29]

The jigsaw puzzle of the trail again matches perfectly here-for the Salt creek crossing, the evening camp, and the march to the Solomon. Only ten miles were made that day, in five hours, with Lieutenant Wilkinson and one of the soldiers ill. [30] The party halted, for the afternoon and the night, on Lost creek, in the close neighborhood of the Rees springs. There are perennial ponds or watering places there, though farther south along the trail the stream suggests the origin of its name by losing itself in the substratum. This again, as in the march up from the Saline, is the first fresh water the party would come across, and dictated Pike's decision to camp there for the night, rather than risk a dry camp farther on. The camp was very probably near the line between sees. 7 and 8, Garfield township (T. 10 S., R. 4 W.). [31] The mileages from the Rockyfern camp to the Salt creek crossing and from there to this one-o'clock encampment adjust themselves quite correctly.

Following the party the next day, Monday, September 22, we pass Lost creek again in two places, indicated on Pike's map, and then cross over a divide shown on the map by the conventional row of hills. [32] The hills are there, in the topography; rather salient landmarks for this part of the country and some of them known


locally by the names of early settlers. In this day's march we are obliged to accept an emendation in the text of the journal, as supplied by the editors we have already quoted. For, after marching three hours to dinner and, after that, "12 miles" to camp, the day's progress is summed up as 11 miles. Evidently the "12" miles was meant for two miles, [33] which fits the picture perfectly. We quote the journal entry, in part:

22d September, Monday. We did not march until eight o'clock, owing to the indisposition of lieutenant Wilkinson. At eleven waited to dine. Light mists of rain, with flying clouds. We marched again at three o'clock, and continued our route twelve [two] miles to the first branch of the republican fork. . . , Distance 11 miles. [34]


It will be noted that Pike places this camp "on the first branch of the republican fork" (as he supposed). More correctly he calls the river Solomon's fork of the "Kans River" when he crossed it the next morning. [35] Whether by tradition or by local coincidence this creek of the camp site, rising in the extreme northwest corner of Ottawa county and flowing north into Cloud county, is still designated on the map as First creek. There is no other on the right bank, downstream, until we come to Salt creek, for which Pike had already accounted. Just west of it, upstream, and nearly parallel to it are two other small creeks known as Second creek and Third creek, respectively. [36] Between these two streams is a low ridge, plain enough on the terrain and marked on Pike's map by light hatching. [37] The Solomon crossing, then, was less than two miles west of present Glasco. It is not strange that "one of the horses fell and wet his load," for the higher bank of the river here is on the approach side. The journal entry for the crossing date follows:

23d September, Tuesday.-Marched early and passed a large fork of the Kans river, which I suppose to be the one generally called Solomon's. One of our horses fell into the water and wet his load. Halted at ten o'clock on a branch of this fork. We marched at half past one o'clock, and encamped at sun-down, on a stream where we had a great difficulty to find water. We were overtaken by a Pawnee, who encamped with us. He offered his horse for our use. Distance 21 miles. [38]

To continue on Pike's trail after crossing the Solomon would bring us onto debatable ground, literally. And we do not now care to dig up a hatchet which has been buried these twenty years and go on the Pawnee warpath again, for scalps or glory. We have enjoyed this research the more that, during the years of its continuance, we did not know of the interstate controversy of the monument site and therefore were able to follow the gleam of guide lights without prejudice.

In summary, we wish to emphasize that in following this course through Saline and Ottawa counties we had at least twenty adjustments to make in fitting streams, camps, ridges, divides, trail angles and mileages into the topography and terrain. We have every confidence that the picture is complete.


Theo. H. Scheffer, formerly of Ottawa county, was recently retired as associate biologist in the biological survey bureau of the United States Department of Agriculture. His present address is Puyallup, Wash.

1. Elliott Coues, The Expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike (New York, 1895), 3 vols.; Stephen Harding Hart and Archer Butler Hulbert, eds., Zebulon Pike's Arkansaw Journal (Denver, 1932).
2. H. E. Bolton, "Material for Southwestern History in the Central Archives of Mexico," in The American Historical Review, v. 13, p. 523, and "Documents-Papers of Zebulon M. Pike, 1806-1807," in ibid., pp. 798-800; Hart-Hulbert, op. cit., pp. lii-lvii.
3. Zebulon Montgomery Pike, An Account of Expeditions to the Sources of the Mississippi, and Through the Western Parts of Louisiana, to the Sources of the Arkansaw, Kans, La Platte, and Pierre Juan, Rivers . . . (Philadelphia, 1810), appendix to Part III, pp. 58, 59.
4. Ibid., appendix to Part II, pp. 50, 51.
5. Ibid., Plate I, "The First Part of Capt. Pike's Chart of the Internal Part of Louisiana."
6. Ibid., appendix to Part II, pp. 45, 46.
7. Hart-Hulbert, op. cit., p. 63.
8. Ibid., p. 72; Coues, op. cit., p. 403.
9. Pike, op. cit., p. 138.
10. Cones, op. cit., p. 404.
11. Hart-Hulbert, op. cit., p. 73.
12. Pike, op. cit., Plate I, "The First Part of Capt. Pike's Chart of the Internal Part of Louisiana."
13. John P. Edwards, pub., Edwards' Atlas of Saline Co. Kansas (Philadelphia, Pa., and Quincy, Ill., 1884), pp. 5, 29, 45, 59.
14. Pike, op. cit., Plate I.
15. Hart-Hulbert, op. cit., p. 73.
16. Coues, op. cit., p. 404.
17. Pike, op. cit., Plate I.
18. Ibid., p. 138.
19. Ibid., p. 137.
20. George A. Ogle & Co., pub., Standard Atlas of Ottawa County Kansas (Chicago, 1918), p. 7.
21. Pike, op. cit., Plate I.
22. Ogle, op. cit., pp, 7, 33.
23. Pike, op. cit., p. 138.
24. Edwards' Atlas of Saline Co. Kansas, p. 5; Ogle, op. cit., p. 7.
25. Pike, op. cit., Plate 1.
26. Ibid, 128.
28. Ibid., p. 138.
27. Ogle, op. cit., p. 5.
28. Pike, op. cit., p. 138.
29. Ibid., pp. 139, 140.
30. Ibid., p. 139.
31. Ogle, op. cit., pp. 7, 32.
32. Pike, op. cit., Plate I.
33. Cones, op. cit., p. 407; Hart-Hulbert, op. cit., pp. 75, 76.
34. Pike, op. cit., p. 140.
35. Ibid.
36. John P. Edwards, pub., Edwards' Atlas of Cloud County Kansas (Quincy, Ill., 1885), pp. 5, 65; Ogle, op. cit., p. 7.
37. Pike, op. cit., Plate I.
38. Ibid., pp. 140, 141.