Citizen Explorer: The Life of Zebulon Pike

Home » Pike: On This Day » 3. March 1807 » March 2, 1807. The Best Bed in the House

March 2, 1807. The Best Bed in the House

Pike writes a four-page entry today about his eventful day, so I’ll have to excerpt liberally. The caravan comes to San Juan Pueblo, a substantial town of perhaps 1000 people. There he meets none other than Baptiste Lalande, the debtor whom Robinson had sought after leaving the stockade. We will discuss Lalande on subsequent days. For now, we’ll focus on his encounter with the local priest.

2d March, Monday. We marched late, and passed several little mud walled villages…all of which had round mud towers of the ancient shape and construction, to defend the inhabitants from the intrusions of the savages. I was this day shewn the ruins of several old villages, which had been taken and destroyed by the Tetaus [Comanches].

After just two days in New Mexico, a picture is emerging of a frontier hunkered down in terror of the leading military and political power in region, the Comanches. With the scenes and memories of violence Pike describes here and elsewhere in his journals, no wonder the historian Pekka Hämäläinen calls the Comanches, an “empire.” They had effectively reduced the settlements of New Spain to colonial status.

We were frequently stopped by the women, who invited us into their houses to eat; and in every place where we halted a moment, there was a contest who should be our hosts. My poor lads who had been frozen, were conducted home by old men, who would cause their daughters to dress their feet; provide their victuals and drink, and at night, gave them the best bed in the house.

Thus went their comfortable captivity.

The house tops of the village of St. John’s [San Juan], were crowded as well as the streets, when we entered.…We were met by the president priest….My men were conducted into the quarters, and I went to the house of the priest, where we were treated with politeness; he offered us coffee, chocolate, or whatever we thought proper…Having had at this place the first good meal, wine, &c. with the heat of the house, and perhaps rather an immoderate use of the refreshments allowed me, produced an attack of something like the cholera morbus, which alarmed me considerably, and made me determined to be more abstemious in future. This father was a great naturalist, or rather florist: he had large collections of flowers, plants, &c….As I had neither a natural turn for botany…and did not understand the Castilian, I enjoyed but little of his lectures, which he continued to give me nearly for two hours….But by the exercise of a small degree of patience, I entirely acquired the esteem of this worthy father, he calling me his son, and lamenting extremely that my fate had not made me one of the holy catholic church…The father being informed that I had some astronomical instruments with me, expressed a desire to see them….On examining the sextant and shewing him the effect of it in the reflection of the sun—he appeared more surprised, as well as hundreds who surrounded us.

Here we see several of the themes that will repeat throughout Pike’s description of his sojourn in New Mexico. Pike’s men go into the homes and public places frequented by the commoners, while Pike meets with the dignitaries to discuss science, religion, and politics. He is eager to learn about them and they about him. It makes for lively conversation. Pike, however, is self-conscious about the luxuries he enjoys and is frequently at pains to reassure his readers of his good Protestant Yankee values.


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