Christmas, 1806


Did you know that on Christmas Day, 1806, Zebulon Pike’s party camped near Salida?

In May of 1806, Zebulon Pike had been given orders for his second expedition to explore the westernmost borders of the Louisiana Purchase including the unknown upper reaches of the Arkansas River. From there he was to head to the Red River to determine the southwestern perimeter of Louisiana.

By December they had found a branch of the South Platte River in South Park. Turning southwest, they discovered a passage at Trout Creek pass and followed it down to the mouth of the canyon near today’s Johnson Village. Heading south, they set up camp at Squaw Creek, north of Poncha Springs. Exploring the extent of the Arkansas, scouting parties returned to the camp after battling snow, and facing scarce game and starvation. On Christmas Eve, the group managed to kill eight buffalo.

Pike wrote, “Dec. 25th. It being stormy weather and having meat to dry, I concluded to lie by this day. Here I must take the liberty of observing that, in this situation, the hardships and privations we underwent were on this day brought more fully to our mind, having been accustomed to some degree of relaxation, and extra enjoyments. But here, 800 miles from the frontiers of our country, in the most inclement season of the year – not one person clothed for the winter – many without blankets, having been obliged to cut them up for socks, etc., and now lying down at night on the snow or wet ground, one side burning whilst the other was pierced with the cold wind – such was in part the situation of the party, whilst some were endeavoring to make a miserable substitute of raw buffalo hide for shoes, etc. … We spent the day as agreeably as could be expected from men in our situation.”

On December 26, they broke camp and arrived at the junction of the Arkansas and South Arkansas Rivers near Salida. A modern day marker of the Christmas campsite can be found off Highway 285 just north of Poncha Springs.

Wishing you all a much more cozy Christmas, filled with warmth, good food, family and friends.


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