Z is for Zeb. Zeb was the son of a veteran of the American Revolution and born in New Jersey during that conflict in 1779. As a son of a heroic American patriot, Zeb felt compelled to make his own mark on history. He grew to manhood while living in various military outposts in the Old Northwest Territory of Ohio and Illinois. Determined to make a name for himself, he joined his father’s regiment at age 20. A bright but uneducated fellow, he was given duty assignments in logistics and payroll. Craving adventure, Zeb could not have been more disappointed with his lot.
Soon he would serve directly under then Commanding General of the US Army, James Wilkinson, who would give the ambitious young man his opportunity. He ordered young Zeb to traverse the Red and Arkansas River basins in search of the source of those rivers. Tensions were high with Spain in 1806. Secretly the general ordered Zeb to spy on the Spanish who at that time ruled Old Mexico. A less ambitious and more deliberate man might have hesitated to act as spy, but Zeb undertook the mission boldly.
From the outset in St Louis on July 15, 1806, Zeb’s command was shadowed by a force estimated at 300 Spaniards. It seems the commanding general of the US Army at the time was an agent of Spain. Wilkinson is believed by many to have been in league with Aaron Burr in the plot to cut a new country out of the newly acquired US territory, the Louisiana Purchase, and he was on the Spanish payroll. You’ve no doubt heard of Benedict Arnold, but I bet you never heard of the commanding general of the entire army who turned coat before. The 21 men under Zeb, the group he called a “damned set of rascals”, made their way toward the Arkansas River.
By the time he reached what is now Pueblo, Colorado in late November his command was down to 15 men. There Zeb and 3 others scaled Mount Rosa but failed in attempting another mountain climbing effort in the range. In the freezing winter conditions the party became lost and spent the next month traveling in a circle. They pressed on and the party dwindled to 10 as frostbite took a toll. They found a river they belived to be the Red, built a small stockade and hunkered down. It was not the Red; it was the Rio Grande – in Mexico. On February 23 a troop of Spaniards from Santa Fe either captured or rescued them, depending on your perspective. After a year’s confinement, Zeb and most of his men were released. By this time Burr and Wilkinson had been found out and Zeb was cast by public opinion as a co-conspirator.
Eventually the Secretary of War cleared him of complicity but Zeb and his men were never rewarded with land grants or money for their service like those in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Zeb was returned to service and rose to the rank of general during the War of 1812, but was killed during the fight to capture Toronto. If not for the westward migration of the pioneer wagon trains, Zeb would have been lost as an obscure footnote in history.
So what did those pioneers do that saved Zeb from obscurity? Well that second mountain Zeb’s men had failed to climb was a landmark on their way west, and they named it for the dead general. It rises blue above the surrounding range. The summit he could not climb still bears his name today, the name of Zebulon Pike. And his mountain, Pikes Peak, where the sun shines over 300 days a year, attracts thousands of visitors annually.