The men of the
expedition were mostly mountain men, hunters and ne’er do wells like Peg Leg Smith
and Old Bill Williams. They followed
an old Comanchero trail through country so vast, dry and desolate that even the
Comanches and buffalo
mostly avoided it. They occasionally passed the bleaching skulls of Comancheros
who had passed this way before them but who would not be making a return trip.
No white man had ever trod this country, which must have appeared to the men as
vast and forbidding as outer space.
The trip started off poorly and deteriorated
from there. An expedition that included some of the best outdoorsmen and hunters
on the continent was forced, after just a few days, to kill and butcher an old
mare that used to be a beast of burden but was soon demoted to dinner. Pike declined
to partake of the equine banquet the first time it was offered.
they killed three buffalo
but found the meat hard to cook and tough to eat. Pike wrote that eating buffalo
“required the influence of that most stern dictator, hunger, to induce us to eat
it.” Meanwhile, Pike had developed a taste for horsemeat. Said it was even tastier
A few days later Pike, Old Bill Williams and a Frenchman were
sent ahead to scout for water and timber, two things they hadn’t seen for a long
time, when they spied what at first glance appeared as a small herd of buffalo.
The closer they got the more the buffalo looked like horses belonging to a group
of Comanches camped by the very water hole they had been seeking. The three returned
to the expedition with good news (water) and bad news (Comanches).
of the men wanted no part of the Comanches but Harris and Pike convinced them
to go into camp, nice and easy like, and ask for some water. They were in luck;
most of the warriors were away hunting buffalo. An old chief offered not only
water but he also fed them bowl after bowl of delicious meat from a fat buffalo
Pike noted in his diary that the people who probably saved their
lives, or at the very least spared them, were extremely ugly.
chief invited the expedition on a buffalo hunt the next day but the trip sounded
like a trap. Instead, the men followed an uncertain trail that led abruptly to
a break in the prairie where the Yellow House Canyon opened “like a well in the
The expedition followed the creek to its confluence with the
Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos in an area near present-day Post
and kept going, looking for beaver in a mostly arid and treeless land; they didn’t
find any. They found the Salt Water Fork of the Brazos, which they couldn’t drink.
For those men who considered hunger, thirst, fatigue and a constant debilitating
fear of attack to be bad things, these were the worst days of the expedition.
Pretty soon, the men went their separate ways, the hunt for beaver deemed a total
Pike wrote an account of his trip on the Llanos and an as-told-to
account from another adventurer, along with hundreds of poems and essays on a
wide range of topics. One of his poems was a version of “Dixie,” the Southern
anthem, but he is said to have been opposed to slavery. He served (not with distinction)
for the Confederacy and is the only former Confederate honored with a statue in
Texas is indebted to Albert
Pike for his account of the Harris Expedition. Serving at the time as a glimpse
into a mostly unknown world, today it provides a vivid picture of what life was
like for those who ventured into Comancheria in the early decades of the 19th
Century. Pike lived to be 82 years old, which points to perhaps the most remarkable
part of the story – that he and the rest of the Expedition lived to tell about
© Clay Coppedge
November 18, 2012
from Central Texas"
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