Citizen Explorer: The Life of Zebulon Pike

Home » Pike: On This Day » 4. April 1807 » April 02, 1807. Chihuahua

April 02, 1807. Chihuahua

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2d April, Thursday. When we arrived at Chihuahua, we pursued our course through the town to the house of the general. I was much astonished to see with what anxiety Malgares anticipated the meeting with his military chief; after having been on the most arduous and enterprizing expedition, ever undertaken by any of his majesty’s officers from these provinces and having executed it with equal spirit and judgment, yet was he fearful of his meeting him, with an eye of displeasure; and apparead to be much more agitated than ourselves….

Ciudad Chihuahua, ca. 1850.  Palace of the Governors Museum Photo Archives

Ciudad Chihuahua, ca. 1850. Palace of the Governors Museum Photo Archives

Facundo Melgares, a Spanish Lieutenant and Pike’s escort through the Internal Provinces of New Spain led an expedition from Santa Fe to the Central Plains the previous summer. Its purpose likely was to capture Lewis and Clark, an endeavor in which he was not successful. Now he is now returning to his home in Ciudada Chihuahua.

On our arrival at the general’s we were halted in the hall of the guard…I found the general sitting at his desk; he was a middle sized man, apparently about fity-five years of age, with a stern countenance, but he received me graciously and beckoned to a seat.

He then observed “you have given us and yourself a great deal of trouble.”

Captain Pike. “On my part entirely unsought, and on that of the Spanish government voluntary.”

Pike’s interrogator is Nemesio Salcedo, a long-time bureaucrat and officer in the service of the Spanish King. As commandant general of the Internal Provinces, Salcedo is the highest ranking Spanish official in northern Mexico, and a capable administrator, who’s job at the moment is to determine whether Pike is a spy and if so for whom–the United States? Aaron Burr and his would-be filibusterers? The double-dealing American General James Wilkinson? In any case, Pike has made it to the heart of Spain’s northern colonies and must not be allowed to gather too much information or to spread too many seditious ideas among the populace. Preventing him from doing so will prove difficult. To begin with, Salcedo asks Pike for his papers.

Malgares…was then ordered to have my small trunk brought in. General Salcedo then…requested me to explain the nature of each [document], and such as he conceived was relevant to the expedition, he caused to be laid on one side, and those which were not of a public nature on the other….A few letters from my lady, which on my taking up and saying they were letters from a lady, the general gave a proof, that if the ancient Spanish bravery had degenerated in the nation generally, their gallantry still existed, by bowing, and I put them in my pocket. He then informed me that he would examine the papers, but that in the mean while he wished me to make out and present to him a short sketch of my voyage….

…He then told me that I would take up my quarters with [Juan Pedro] Walker, in order (as he said) to be better accommodtated by having a person with me who spoke the English language; but the object as I suspected, was for him to be a spy on our actions, and on those who visited us….The general then invited me to return and dine with him, and we went to the quaters of Walker…We returned to dine at the palace.

Walker is New Orleans-born son of an English father and French mother. He speaks both languages, and Spanish too. A skilled cartographer, he is now a lieutenant in the Spanish army. Pike is supcicious of him, but he would treat Pike hospitably and later take umbrage and Pike’s doubts about his sincerity. It is important for us to note that Pike’s assessment of what’s going on around him in Chihuahua is not always completely accurate.

Robinson will stay with Pike at Walker’s. It is not clear where Pike’s men lived during the month the party spent in Chihuahua. Pike barely mentions them at all. If their visits to previous towns are any indication, they will be quartered separately from Pike, possibly with Spanish soldiers or private citizens and will have considerable freedom to move about the town and partake of drinking and other amusements.

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