Exploration: Sailing with Paula and Zebulon Pike.

by admin

Sailing away on the Cimarron River uplands...

From where did the sailboat begin it’s journey today?

My daughter posted on this picture and I noticed that the photograph I’d scanned from my album still had clear corners at the right.  I use the old school corners and Webway albums and layer my pictures for space and artistic effect, photos only, no stickers, it’s a once a year event. I organize for a day, then do Jack’s, Lacy’s, Family. Then I store any good extras in labeled manila envelopes. It’s all a mess since I’ve ripped into them with this website and blog.

But, I saw this sailboat in the picture that I have now outlined with a pen. And I realized that there are all kinds of explorers of the High Plains so I set off to sail…

But from these immense prairies may arise one great advantage to the United States, the restriction of our population to some certain limits, and thereby a continuation of the union. Our citizens being so prone to rambling, and extending themselves on the frontiers, will, through necessity, be constrained to limit their extent on the west to the borders of the Missouri and the Mississippi, while they leave the prairies, incapable of cultivation, to the wandering and uncivilized Aborigines of the country.

-Zebulon Pike, 1811.

And, it is the 200 year anniversary from when Zeb Pike made this statement.

Zeb Pike, a pretty good-looking guy.

Well, Zeb’s prediction that we would only settle east of the Missouri didn’t really pan out. Zebulon Pike did exploratory travels through the western territories of North America. These travels included a voyage from St. Louis on the Mississippi to it’s source, a journey through the interior of Louisiana, and the north-eastern provinces of New Spain. This was in 1805, 1806, and 1807 by order of the Government of the United States.

Expeditions of New Spain by Zebulon Montgomery Pike.

Pike vis-a-vis Lewis and Clark.

Being from Kansas City, Lewis and Clark always came to mind and their lookout point around 12th St. downtown. And, Pike was overshadowed by Lewis and Clark. But, their journals are of no value to any study of the Great Plains.  Jefferson had appointed Lewis, a military man and Jefferson’s private secretary, who was also a fellow Virginian. Lewis wisely chose Clark, another military man who was the people guy, able to communicate and rally all kinds, from all backgrounds, and of all levels of education. And, he was a brilliant cartographer. But they went by water and were of eastern orientation, so they saw little of the Plains. This is not to diminish that Kansas City is the real Gateway to the West and it just now growing into its history as a food capital of the world, for it all works together.

Who had more work and fun?

After living on the Missouri River, on the High Plains, and having climbed a few mountains, Pike’s journey is the one I would have chosen. He had the more physically challenging and foreign work. The Great American Desert and the Mountains were absolutely that to Americans who migrated from Europe and settled in the East. And, as it is for all of us who look west, this journey is very exhilarating because it is rugged, dramatic, and difficult.

Pike’s Plains Expedition

Pike’s Plains expedition began July 15,1806 in St. Louis with 23 white men and 51 Indians. By Aug. 26, he abandoned his boat on the Kansas River and went onward with horses purchased from the Indians. And he was captured and conducted to Santa Fe March 3, 1807.

This was the conversation:

Governor:  Do you speak French?

Pike:  Yes, sir.

Governor:  You come to reconnoiter our country, do you?

Pike:  I marched to reconnoiter our own.

Governor:  In what character are you?

Pike:  In my proper character, an officer of the United States Army.

So what’s the point about Pike?

My point is that we did it.  We took the United States. This is not a value judgment on who and why and from whom and strategy of what is good or what is bad or what is sustainable and for how long. It is on a country that studies a bit, makes a plan, does it. Be it good or be it bad, in the U.S. we got $h!t done and stepped up to the plate on how fast the world was moving and took action.

And, if we hadn’t done it, or done it this way, there would have been someone else who would have. First in line, first in time in America was the open-minded people who really saw it and accepted it for what it was.

This included all kinds:  colonists sick of the King, indentured servants, starving immigrants, entrepreneurs with European capital from home, businessmen, and those wanting religious freedom. Good people.

That is us and I’m glad we did it, imperfect as it was and is. Because the world doesn’t stop and sometimes to you have to act, to get the reins, to plow forward and do and make it better later. And that, is what I believe, is the spirit of America.

And I share a few things with Zebulon Pike. I am also an explorer of the High Plains. But that is tomorrow.

What I share with Zeb Pike.

I do have a few things in common with Zebulon Pike.

I climb the mountains to my West.

I speak French which I use in the West.

And, I beat the trail to Santa Fe where I am captured, as he was. But by the art and culture I need to nourish me on the Plains and so as to be refreshed again with its beauty when I return.

And I understand now this shadow in the picture  from the corner holding another picture, that my exploring is by sea.

Sometimes when I am at sea, I am beaten by winds. Then, I know exactly what to do to get back home safely.

When I did sail, about all I could do well was to trim the jib. And that’s maybe all I will ever know about really making money off land in the High Plains, to be the crewsman, cook the meals, drive. To suit up and be there.

But in that private life and world of the XIT Ranch, where I lived on the High Plains, I shared in my own way what I could not just of the ranch but of other ranches, through drawings and photographs and writing about ranching in Kansas.  And I shared by doing things like working on designs to preserve a Depot from where they used to ship cattle, or writing a grant to fund the work, or raising the money to help pay for it. And by inviting the Frenchman in Kansas or the paleontologists from Kentucky down for dinner. I did the work on the boat that I knew how to do, that I did well, where I think gave back.

Sometimes when I would return to the dock, I would do something stupid like let go of the main halyard. This only needs to be learned once. And sometimes I needed to find a different dock. 

But mostly what I enjoy on the High Plains, is sailing and seeing at sea.

Some of it was on foot while running.

A bit of it was in the pastures when I would fish for lost cattle. And I didn’t always know where to look and it seemed like I never found them. But I could feel something, maybe someone saying follow me…and I will make you fishers of men…

For a lot of my time I had on the High Plains, I had the blessing and curse of taking my pony on my boat. I was probably not as useful as I could have been on the ranch, but there were so, so many people on that land, and it just seemed so crowded.

In my books, my degrees, my work in design or preservation, in my car driving miles, in my art, I could get lost on the ocean, but I would always be guided safely home, wherever that was for the night…Lawrence, Kansas City, Wichita, the XIT Headquarters, Santa Fe, or a hotel when doing history work in Kansas. 


a note: I like this song, but I don’t think Tonto would call the Lone Ranger “Kemo Sabe” and not want him on his boat. They worked the High Plains together with the same values.

So today, when I started with Zeb, I went on a journey of maps and google and Walter Webb’s Great Plains and my Master’s Thesis to try to take what I’d read and done before and make it into something short, edited and tangible. But, instead I took my pony on my boat and we just enjoyed the day.

It took me through geological and rock formations, surface etching of the High Plains with rivers, glaciers, erosion. I did a timeline of government policies and actions within the 200 year span from Pike’s quote and today that were specific to the Great Plains. I even added in a tangential timeline of modes of production (technologies) and modes of transportation in relation to phases of Farming in America, but again, focused on my region, The Great American Desert. And I recorded my journey, over some familiar waters at sea, with my pony on my boat. 

I still do this almost every day and accept that this was the way I was made. And just sometimes it works. I zigzag back and forth at sea and occasionally hit my mark, reach the point. At other times I don’t really know where I went or where I was headed, but I did have kind of a plan, just like we did with America. And I always enjoy the journey, and record it in my memory or in some other way to preserve. I take that with me, and I leave some behind for the next guy to do as he pleases with it. 

This is Paula the Explorer.





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