Citizen Explorer: The Life of Zebulon Pike

Home » Pike: On This Day » 5. May 1807 » May 28, 1807 Deserter

May 28, 1807 Deserter

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28th May, Thursday. Marched early and arrived at Encina Haciend[a] at ten o’clock….

I found a youth of 18 sitting in the house quite genteely dressed whom I immediately recognized from his physiognomy to be an American…and we had a great deal of conversation…He was a deserter from our army, on which I questioned him, and he replied, that his name was Griffith, he had enlisted in Philadelphia; arrived at New Orleans and deserted as soon as possible; that the Spaniards had treated him much better than his own countrymen, and that he should never return. I was extremely astonished at his insolence, and mortified that I should have been betrayed into any polite conduct towards the scoundrel. I told him “that it was astonishing he should have had the impertinence to address himself to me knowing that I was an American officer.” He muttered something about being in a country where he was protected, &c. on which I told him “if he again opened his mouth to me, I would instantly chastize him, notwithstanding his supposed protection.” He was silent, and I called up one of my soldiers and told him in his hearing, that if he attempted to mix with them to turn him out of company, which they executed by leading him to the door….

When dinner was nearly ready, I sent a message to the proprietor, that “we assumed no right to say whom he should introduce to his table, but, that we should think it a great indignity offered to a Spanish officer to attempt to set him down at the same board with a deserter from their army; and that, if the man who was at the table in the morning, was to make his appearance again, we should decline eating at it.”

He replied,”that it was accident which produced the event of the morning; that he was sorry our feelings had been injured, and that he would take care he did not appear again whilst we were there.”

Although inclined to criticize Spanish colonial society and trumpet the virtues of American life, Pike met people of maddeningly perplexing nationality in New Spain. Today’s passage is an example. After meeting Spaniards like Melgares and his Chihuahua friends–whose intellectual curiosity and appreciation for republican institutions challenged Pike’s dim view of Spaniards–today Pike encounters one of several Americans he meets on the voyage who have abandoned the United States in preference for New Spain. Pike clearly loathes the fellow. Admirable Spaniards and American deserters force Pike into rethinking the strict dichotomy of virtue and debauchery with which he had previously described the two nations. At the end of his voyage he will denigrate the Spanish colonial system but take note of the many exceptional individuals within it.

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