Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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November 15th
Zebulon Pike Spots Pikes Peak
“At two o’cloc k in the afternoon I thought I could distinguish a mountain to our right, which appeared like a small blue cloud,” wrote Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, who on November 15, 1806, was leading an expedition toward the headwaters of the Arkansas River. A look through a spyglass seemed to confirm his conjecture, and as he rode forward the distant “cloud” turned into a majestic peak. His men gave three cheers when a “grand western chain of mountains” with snow-covered flanks appeared in full view. They had just become the first U.S. expedition to reach the Rocky Mountains in what is now Colorado.

Lieutenant Pike’s journey was part exploration and part spy mission. His orders were to look over the southern portion of the Louisiana Purchase and find out what the Spanish were doing in the Mexican borderlands. His men were poorly trained and equipped, but Pike was determined to push as far as he could.

Several days later, he and three others set out to ascend the high peak he had spotted. They spent a day climbing rocks, “sometimes almost perpendicular,” and shivered through a night in a cave. The next morning they climbed higher. Far below, clouds swept across the prairie “like the ocean in a storm, wave piled on wave.” They hiked through waist-high snow to a summit, where Pike realized that the massive peak he’d seen still lay 15 miles away. Convinced that “no human being could have ascended to its pinnacle,” the freezing men returned to their camp, and then continued their journey west.

In 1820 botanist Edwin James became the first man to conquer Pikes Peak. Today you can reach the top by highway, cog railway, or the old-fashioned way. Both authors have hiked to the summit for one of the most glorious views in America.

American History Parade
1777
The Continental Congress adopts the Articles of Confederation, the basic charter of government that preceded the U.S. Constitution.

1805
The Lewis and Clark expedition reaches the mouth of the Columbia River.

1806
Zebulon Pike spots the mountain now known as Pikes Peak.

1896
Streetlights in Buffalo, New York, switch on using power generated 25 miles away at Niagara Falls, the first such long-distance transmission of hydroelectricity.

1939
President Franklin D. Roosevelt lays the cornerstone of the Jefferson Memorial.

1969
A quarter million anti-Vietnam War protestors march in Washington, D.C.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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