When Zebulon Pike was captured in New Mexico
Three Frenchmen had reached New Mexico as early as 1693, being deserters from the expedition of La Salle, and in 1739 nine French Canadians entered New Mexico, two of whom remained till Oct. 19th, 1743, when one of them was shot at Santa Fe, for fomenting; a rebellion against the Pueblos against the Spanish power.
The French traded with the Comanches north of Mora in 1748, but though New Mexico was nearly defenseless for fifty years after this date, no one sought to wrest this territory from the Spaniards.
The first approach of Americans to New Mexico, across the plains, was made as early as 1805.
James Pursley, wandering near the Rocky mountains, was guided by some Indians from the Platte river to Santa Fe, where he remained several years.
A French Creole had previously, in the same way, entered Santa Fe, on a trading expedition, which he made profitable to himself, but never reported to his employer, an American named Morrison, of Kaskaskia.
The Louisiana purchase aroused the interest of the United States in these vast regions, and Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike was sent on an exploring expedition, in 1806, up the Arkansas and Red rivers. He was instructed to establish friendly relations with the Comanche and other Indians of the plains and to avoid all offense or alarm to the settlements of New Mexico.
The headwaters of the Canadien river were mistaken for those of the Red River, and Lieutenant Pike, with his party, were lost in the valley of the Arkansas river to which the stream had led them again, in the middle of winter after wandering for two months in search of the sources of the Red River.
The party became separated in their search, having crossed the mountains on foot with incredible perils and sufferings. They finally encamped on the banks of a stream, supposed to be the Red River, and built a fort, as they believed, within the United States territory. Here the men of the expedition were gradually gathered but in the midst of their operations in strengthening their fort, they were surprised by the presence of a body of Mexican troops, despatched by Governor Alencaster from Santa Fe, with one hundred horses and mules, to bring the company to Santa Fe.
Astonished at finding themselves on Spanish soil, Lieutenant Pike struck his flag and yielded to the polite demands of the Mexican officer.
Lieutenant Pike had established his fort on the Conejos river, five miles from its junction with the Rio Grande, and from a hill south of his camp, had a view of the magnificent San Luis Park, a luxuriant vale, surrounded with great and lofty mountains, which excited in his men intense enthusiasm.
Their march to Santa Fe took them first to Ojo Caliente, one hundred miles from the fort. Thence to the Cliama river and the pueblo of San Juan, where the people most hospitably received them.
Santa Cruz, and San Ildefonso and Tesuque were visited on the way to Santa Fe, where they arrived March 3, 1807, in the most astonishing plight for an expedition of United States soldiers.
The capital city presented an equally strange appearance to the eyes of the Americans. It was about a mile in length, situated on the banks of the creek and three streets in width. It resembled a fleet of flat-boats on the Ohio river, as seen by Pike from a distance.
He discovered the north side to have a public square occupied by the government building, the soldiers’ houses and guard’s quarters on the north and the opposite side given up to the dwellings of the clergy, the churches and the public offices.
The houses, with their portals, made very narrow streets not more than twenty-five feet wide. The population of the town was about 4,500.
Governor Alencaster received Lieutenant Pike in the palace, the floors of which were covered with buffalo and bear skins. After an examination of his papers and commission, and a short colloquy in the French language. Lieutenant Pike was treated with the courtesy which his character as a gentleman and a man of honor demanded, and the next day was hospitably entertained at a dinner in the palace.
He was, however, informed that he must go to Chihuahua with his men, not as prisoners of war, but with an escort of dragoons, and a certificate from Governor Alencaster that he was obliged to march thither.
They set out with the Governor, who accompanied them for three miles and cordially parted with his recent guest.
On the route, Lieutenant Pike describes the pueblo of Santo Domingo as containing 1000 people. At San Felipe, they crossed over a bridge made of eight arches. Near Albuquerque, the men were put in charge of Don Facundo Melgazes, who treated them with great gallantry and honor, and delivered them on April 2, to the general commanding, Salcedo, of Chihuahua, who despatched them to Texas. They were very hospitably treated by the Spanish Governors of Coahuila and New Leon, and on the 1st of July, 1807, entered Nachitoches, grateful and happy to stand once more on the soil of their own country.
From the observations of Pike, it appears that the industries of the people of New Mexico at this period were confined principally to stock-raising and agriculture.