THE EXPLORATION OF THE OSAGE VALLEY BY ZEBULON MONTGOMERY PIKE IN THE YEAR 1806

 

In July, 1806, Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike, U.S. Army, left St. Louis with a party of 20 soldiers and 3 civilians to explore the southwest boundary of the Louisiana Territory. Fifty-one Indians--mostly Osages--went with the party as far as the Osage villages in present-day Barton, County, Missouri.

The expedition then traveled northwestward through today's Kansas, into extreme south-central Nebraska, then went southwestward to the front range of the Rocky Mountains. There Pike would "discover" a great mountain, which he called Grand Peak. (In one of history's great ironies, Pike never lived to hear it called Pike's Peak, nor did he even attempt to climb the mountain.)

The winter of 1806-1807 brought extreme hardships for Pike and his men. The expedition was lost, the men were nearly starved, and several of them were painfully frostbitten. Forced to leave behind some of the incapacitated men, Pike wandered into northeast New Mexico, where he was intercepted by a detachment of Spanish dragoons. After arranging a rescue mission for his impaired and wounded, Pike and the rest of his explorers were escorted to Santa Fe as prisoners and later taken to Chihuahua. The party was returned to United States territory in July, 1807.

The following excerpts detail the progress of the expedition as it passed through the future basin of Lake of the Ozarks.

These excerpts come from several documents, including daily journal entries, survey notes, meteoroligical tables, and the published expedition report--all written by Pike--and the published expedition report of Lieutanant James B. Wilkinson, Pike's second-in-command.

 

For the sake of clarity, I have added editorial comments in green. These include modern-day locations and reference points.

 

Excerpts from Pike's meteorological tables appear in turquoise.

 

We begin with Lieutenant Pike's summary of the expedition: "The great objects in view by this expedition…were to attach the Indians to our government, and to acquire such geographical knowledge of the southwestern boundary of Louisiana as to enable our government to enter into a definitive arrangement for a line of demarcation between that territory and North Mexico.

"In this expedition I had the assistance of Lieutenant James Wilkinson, and also of Dr. John H. Robinson, a young gentleman of science and enterprise, who volunteered his services. I also was fitted out with a complete set of astronomical and mathematical instruments, which enabled me to ascertain the geographical situation of various places to a degree of exactitude that would have been extremely gratifying to all lovers of science, had I not been so unfortunate as to lose the greater part of my papers by the seizure of the Spanish government."

 

Though well-treated by the Spanish during the period of his arrest, most of Pike's documents were confiscated and not returned to him. One hundred years after the expedition, his original papers were found in a Mexico City archives and sent to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

 

And now for the journey itself. We pick up the expedition on Monday, August 4, 1806. They are on the Osage River, approximately 8 miles below present-day Bagnell Dam, rowing two large boats upstream. This is from Pike's journal:

"We embarked early and continued on for some time, not being able to find a suitable place to dry our things, but at length stopped on the east shore." [Throughout his journey up the Osage, Pike will always refer to the left-hand shore as east and the right-hand shore as west--regardless of their actual compass bearing.] "Here we had to ferry the Indians over a small channel which we did not before observe; all of them, however, not arriving, we put off and continued our route. Finding our progress much impeded by our mast I unshipped it and stripped it of its iron, and, after Lieutenant Wilkinson had carved our names on it, set it adrift, followed by the yards. This mast had been cut and made at Pine creek, Upper Mississippi. After proceeding some miles, we found the Indians on the west shore, they having rafted the river. We stopped for them to cook, after which we proceeded on. The navigation had become very difficult from the rapidity of the current, occasioned by the rise of the water, which rose one foot in an hour. Killed two deer. Distance 10 [11] miles." [Pike's estimates of distance are nearly always incorrect. He computed distance by time rather than measurement.]

Temperature at noon, 75 degrees; rainy.

 

At mile marker 3, Tuesday, August 5, 1806: "We lay by this day, in order to give the Indians an opportunity to dry their baggage. Dr. Robinson and myself, accompanied by Mr. Henry, went out to hunt; we lost the latter about two miles from camp. After hunting some time on the west shore, we concluded to raft the river, which we effected with difficulty and danger, and hunted for some time, but without success. We then returned to the party and found Mr. Henry, who had been lost, had arrived one hour before us; he had met one of the soldiers, who brought him in. Today in our tour I passed over a remarkably large rattlesnake, as he lay curled up, and trod so near him as to touch him with my foot, he drawing up to make room for my heel.

"Dr. Robinson, who followed me, was on the point of treading on him, but by a spring avoided it. I then turned round and touched him with my ramrod, but he showed no disposition to bite, and appeared quite peaceable. The gratitude which I felt towards him for not having bit me induced me to save his life. Killed four deer. River rises thirteen inches. Rain continues."

Temperature at noon, 77 degrees; wind gentle from the southwest.

 

Beginning at mile marker 3, Wednesday, August 6, 1806: "We embarked at half past eight o'clock, it having cleared off and had the appearance of a fine day. Passed Gravel River on the west." This is, of course, the mouth of the Gravois Arm. In his survey notes Pike adds: "Point of island opposite lower Gravel River which comes in on the west about 50 yards wide and bears North 30 degrees West." Continuing from the journal: "About three miles above this river the Indians left us and informed me, by keeping a little to the south and west, they would make in 15 miles what would be at least 35 miles for us. Dr. Robinson, Mr. Henry, and Sergeant Ballenger accompanied them. Killed two deer. Distance 13 [10] miles." Allowing for Pike's usual error in measuring distance and relying more on his compass bearings, it appears that the Indians left Pike at Galena Point or Twin Islands, mile marker 8, and traveled up today's Cape Hollow Cove. They then headed west along the Morgan/Camden County line until reaching the vicinity of Cartwright Springs Bay at mile marker 45, making their actual overland distance approximately eight miles. Pike's journey between the same two points by river would be 37 miles. Pike set up camp for the night on the south bank of the river, directly opposite Lodge of the Four Seasons, mile marker 13.

Temperature at noon, 88 degrees; clear. Wind gentle from the west.

This is Pike's hand drawn map of the Osage River through what is now Lake of the Ozarks. Horseshoe Bend and Shawnee Bend are clearly delineated, though somewhat skewered. The Niangua River can be seen coming in from the south.

 

Departing from mile marker 13, Thursday, August 7, 1808: "Not being detained by the Indians, we are for once enabled to embark at a quarter past five o'clock. The river having fell, since yesterday morning, about four feet, we wish to improve every moment of time previous to its entire fall. We proceeded extremely well, passed the Saline River [i.e., mouth of the Grand Glaize] on the east and encamped opposite La Belle Roche on the west shore. This day we passed many beautiful cliffs on both sides of the river, saw a bear and wolf swimming the river. I employed myself part of the day in translating into French a talk of General Wilkinson to the Cheveux Blanche. Distance 21 [14] miles." Apparently Pike had been told to expect a river coming in on his left, which he calls the Saline River--today's Grand Glaize. He was so anxious to find this stream that he initially marked the mouth of Pogue Hollow in his notes as the Saline River, then crossed it out when he discovered his mistake. Of the Grand Glaize, he wrote: "Saline River, 50 yards wide, a jutting rock just below, east side." The jutting rock is now below the waters of the lake, but it is clearly visible in an aerial photo taken in 1930, as the lake bed was being cleared. It is just north of Lake Road 54-30.

 

This photo, looking toward the northeast, shows the Grand Glaize bridge under construction in 1930--before the valley was filled by the lake waters. The blue arrow points to the jutting rock noted by Pike. The Osage River can be seen rounding Shawnee Bend to the left of the rock. The Grand Glaize River is the small stream seen in the lower right of the photo.

 

Pike's La Belle Roche is described in his survey notes as "The Beautiful Rock and Hill." It is the line of bluffs known today as the Palisades, on the east side of Linn Creek Bend, between mile markers 27 - 28. And finally, Cheveux Blanche, who is to receive a translated greeting from General Wilkinson, is White Hair, principal chief of the Big Osage.

Temperature at noon, 88 degrees; clear sky, gentle wind from the east.

The north end of the bluff line that Pike called La Belle Roche, "The Beautiful Rock." The bluff extends southward for nearly a mile between mile markers 27 and 28. Also called Lyons Bluff, it is better known as The Palisades. In Pike's day the river level was 70 feet below the present-day lake level.

 

Leaving camp at mile marker 27, on the morning of Friday, August 8, 1806: "We embarked 20 minutes past five o'clock. Found the river had fallen about two feet during the night. At the confluence of the Youngar [Niangua Arm] with the Osage River we breakfasted. Encamped at night on a bar. Distance 21 [17] miles." In varioius documents, Pike refers to the Niangua River as the Youngar River or the Ne-hem-gar. Both "Niangua" and "Ne-hem-gar" are rooted in the Osage language, the first term referring to the many springs that feed the river, the second term meaning "bear." Youngar is probably a corruption or misunderstanding of the latter. In any case, Pike marked his survey notes thus: "Yungar River bears South 30 degrees West. It is nearly as large as the Osage. Navigable 100 miles by canoe." Near mile marker 38, the party found an unusual sight: a very large pond, "on a rising piece of ground, considerably above the level of the river, which keeps one continued height, is perfectly pure and transparent, and has no outlet by which to discharge." This may have been Porter Mill Spring, which is now under the lake waters. The expedition stopped for the night at the mouth of Bollinger Creek Cove, mile marker 44.

Temperature at noon, 77 degrees. Clear, with a fresh wind blowing in from the northwest.

 

Leaving mile marker 44, Saturday, August 9, 1806: "We embarked at five o'clock, and at half past six o'clock met the Indians and our gentlemen [i.e., those who left at Galena Point to travel overland. This meeting point was at mile marker 45]. They had met with nothing extraordinary. They had killed in their excursion seven deer and three bear. We proceeded to an old wintering ground [between mile markers 62 - 63], where there were eight houses, which were occupied last winter by -------[?], who had not been able to proceed any higher for want of water. Passed the Old Man's Rapids [in Coffman Bend at mile marker 54], below which, on the west shore are some beautiful cliffs. Dined with the Indians, after which we passed Upper Gravel River on the west, Pottoe River on the east. Sparks went out to hunt, and did not arrive at our encampment [at mile marker 62.5], nor did the Indians. Distance 25 [18] miles." By now Pike has become thoroughly confused. And who can blame him after traversing the double reverse curves of Wilson Bend, Coffman Bend, Ivy Bend, and Brown Bend? His Upper Gravel River is Proctor Creek, mile marker 55, and his Pottoe River is Rainy Creek Cove, mile marker 60. Lieutenant Wilkinson described Old Man's Rapids as "a fall of about six feet in two-thirds of a mile."

Temperature at noon, 75 degrees. Wind gentle, north by east.

 

Departing mile marker 62.5 on Sunday, August 10, 1806: "Embarked a quarter past five o'clock, when the sun shone out very clearly; but in fifteen minutes it began to rain, and continued to rain very hard until one o'clock. Passed the Indians, who were encamped on the west shore, about half a mile, and halted for them. They all forded the river but Sans Oreille, who brought his wife up to the boats, and informed me that Sparks had encamped with them but left them early to return in search of us. We proceeded after breakfast. Sparks arrived just at the moment we were embarking. The Indians traversing the country on the east had sent Sparks with Sans Oreille. About two o'clock p.m. split a plank in the bottom of the batteaux. Unloaded and turned her up, repaired the breach, and continued on the route; by four o'clock found the Indians behind a large island; we made no stop, and they followed us. We camped together on a bar [at mile marker 77], where we proposed halting to dry our corn, etc., on Monday. Killed four deer. Distance 18-1/2 [14-1/2] miles."

Temperature at noon, 75 degrees. Rain, east wind.

 

Still at mile marker 77, Monday, August 11, 1806: "We continued here to dry our corn and baggage. This morning we had a match at shooting; the prize offered to the successful person was a jacket and a twist of tobacco, which I myself was so fortunate to win; I made the articles, however, a present tothe young fellow who waited on me [Pike's personal servant, Private Thomas Daugherty]. After this, taking Huddleson with me, I went out to hunt; after traveling about twelve miles we arrived at the river, almost exhausted with thirst. I here indulged myself by drinking plentifully of the water, and was rendered so extremely unwell by it, that I was scarce capable of pusuing my route to the camp. On arriving opposite it, I swam the river, from which I experienced considerable relief. The party informed me they had found the heat very oppresive, and the mercury, at sundown, was at 25 degrees Reaumer [88 degrees Fahrenheit]. This day for the first time, I saw trout [?] west of the Allegheny Mountains. Reloaded our boats, and finished two new oars, which were requisite."

Temperature at noon, 95 degrees. Fresh wind from the east.

 

Now leaving their two night campsite at mile marker 77, on the morning of Tuesday, August 12, 1806: "Previously to our embarkation, which took place at half past five o'clock, I was obliged to convince my red brethren that, if I protected them, I would not suffer them to plunder my men with impunity, for the chief had got one of my lad's tin cups attached to his baggage, and notwithstanding it was marked with the initials of the soldier's name, he refused to give it up. On which I requested the interpreter to tell him, 'that I had no idea that he had purloined the cup, but supposed some other person had attached it to his baggage; but that, knowing it to be my soldier's, I requested him to deliver it up, or I should be obliged to take other measures to obtain it.' This had the desired effect; for I certainly should have put my threats into execution from this principle, formed from my experience during my intercourse with Indians, that if you have justice on your side, and do not enforce it, they universally despise you. When we stopped for dinner, one of my men took his gun and went out; not having returned when we were ready to re-embark, I left him. Passed the Indians twice when they were crossing the river. Passed some very beautiful cliffs on the west shore...."

Temperature at noon, 95 degrees; fresh wind from the southwest.

 

The Pike expedition had by now passed into the basin of the future Truman Reservoir and would camp that night near the Highway 7 bridge over Truman Lake.

© 2004 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.

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