Under the orders of the War Department, Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike, with a force consisting of two lieutenants, a surgeon, a sergeant, two corporals, 16 privates and an interpreter, set out in two boats from Belle Fountaine, near St. Louis, Missouri, on July 15, 1806 for the purpose of “exploring the internal parts of Louisiana.”
Accompanying him were chiefs and headmen of the Osage and Pawnee Indians, through which nations it was intended the expedition should pass. He also took a number of women and children who were returning to their nations from captivity among the Pottawatomie, having been freed by the United States government. La Charette was reached on the July 21st, where Pike found waiting for him Lieutenant James B. Wilkinson, Dr. John H. Robinson, and another interpreter, all of whom had gone on before.
On September 6th the company arrived in the vicinity of the present town of Harding, Kansas, and passed over the divide separating the Osage from the Neosho Valley. On the 10th he reached the divide between the Neosho and Verdigris Rivers and on the 11th, camped on the latter stream, not far from what is now the town of Bazaar, in Chase County, Kansas.
The beautiful prairies, covered with wildflowers and abounding with game, kindled the warmest praises of Pike. On September 12th he wrote that from the top of a hill he saw at one view on the flowered plain below, buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, and panther. This was the hunting ground of the Kanza or Kaw Indians, and the animals began to appear almost without numbers. On the 14th, all day long the expedition journeyed through an unending herd of buffalo, which merely opened ranks to let the intruders pass and then closed again as if nothing had happened. On the 15th a large unoccupied encampment of the Kanza Indians was passed, and Pike observed in the distance the buffalos running, which indicated the presence either of Indians or white men. On this day he camped near what is now Tampa in Marion County. Two days later he reached the Smoky Hill River, and after this, the game began to grow scarcer. He continued his journey to the mouth of the Saline River, which was reached on September 18th, and from that point turned almost directly north, and on the 25th, reached the Pawnee village, near where the town of Scandia now stands, in Republic County. Pike was now on the Republican branch of the Kansas River, having crossed the Great Saline, the Little Saline, and Solomon’s Fork.
Sometime before Pike left St. Louis, Missouri news of his projected expedition was carried to the governor of New Spain (Mexico), and a party of over 300 Spanish troops, under Lieutenant Malgares, was sent out to intercept him. Between the mouth of the Saline and the Republican Rivers, Pike crossed the trail of this party but was fortunate in not coming in contact with the Spaniards at that time. Malgares had been to the Pawnee village before Pike arrived there, and had endeavored to poison the minds of the Indians against the Americans. He had partially succeeded, too, for when Pike held a grand council with the tribe on September 29, he noticed that the Pawnee chiefs showed a tendency to look with disdain upon his little force of 20 white soldiers, which certainly made a much less imposing appearance than the large Spanish force of Malgares. Of this council Pike, gives the following explicit account in his journal of the expedition:
“The notes I took at the grand council held with the Pawnee Nation were seized by the Spanish government, together with all my speeches to the different nations. But it may be interesting to observe here, in case they should never be returned, that the Spaniards had left several of their flags in this village, one of which was unfurled at the chief’s door the day of the grand council; and among various demands and charges I gave them was, that the said flag should be delivered to me, and one of the United States’ flags be received and hoisted in its place. This probably was carrying the pride of nations a little too far, as there had so lately been a large force of Spanish Cavalry at the village, which had made a great impression on the minds of the young men, as to their power, consequence, etc., which my appearance with 20 infantry was by no means calculated to remove. After the chiefs had replied to various parts of my discourse but were silent as to the flag, I again reiterated the demand for the flag, adding that it was impossible for the nation to have two fathers; that they must either be children of the Spaniards or acknowledge their American father.’
After a silence of some time an old man rose, went to the door, took down the Spanish flag, brought it and laid it at my feet, and then received the American flag, and elevated it on the staff which had lately borne the standard of his Catholic Majesty. This gave great satisfaction to the Osage and Kaw, both of whom decidedly avow themselves to be under American protection. Perceiving that every face in the council was clouded with sorrow, as if some great national calamity was about to befall them, I took up the contested colors and told them ‘that as they had now shown themselves dutiful children in acknowledging their great American father, I did not wish to embarrass them with the Spaniards, for it was the wish of the Americans that their red brethren should remain peaceably round their own fires, and not embroil themselves in any dispute between the white people; and that for fear the Spaniards might return there in force again, I returned them their flag, but with the injunction that it should never be hoisted again during our stay.’ At this, there was a general shout of applause, and the charge was particularly attended to.”
Thus, was the United States flag raised for the first time in what is now the State of Kansas on September 29, 1806.
Having obtained horses from the Indians, Pike left the Pawnee village on October 7, taking a course a little west of south. On the 8th he came again upon the Spanish trail, and at one of the camps counted 59 fires, which, at six men to a fire, signified a force of 354 troopers. Solomon’s Fork was again crossed on the 9th, much farther to the west, and here, another Spanish camp was found. The party reached the Smoky Hill Fork on the 13th, not far from the boundary line of the counties of Russell and Ellsworth, and the following day arrived at the divide between the Arkansas and the Kansas Rivers. Here, Pike and a small party became lost on the prairie and did not turn up for several days, the expedition meantime continuing to the Arkansas River, where the lost party under Pike overtook it. The river was crossed on the 19th.