Pike, James (unknown–1867)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: April 28, 2019

James Pike, Texas Ranger and United States soldier, was the son of an outspoken newspaper editor. As a youth he served as a printer's assistant in Ohio and Missouri before joining a party of horse drovers bound for Texas. He arrived in Austin in 1859 and attempted unsuccessfully to secure work as a printer, then joined John Henry Brown's company of Texas Rangers at Belton on July 1. For the next two years he took part in a series of campaigns against the Comanches, including John M. Smith's incursion into the Indian Territory and to the headwaters of the Red River in 1860. When Texas seceded from the Union, Corporal Pike left the rangers and went north, where he passed himself off as the nephew of Albert Pike. He joined the Fourth Ohio Cavalry on November 20, 1861, and saw considerable action as a scout, spy, and courier in Gen. William T. Sherman's army. Sherman, who took an avuncular interest in Pike, praised his "skill, courage and zeal" but warned the scout to "cool down." Pike failed to do so. He was captured in 1864 and imprisoned in Charleston, South Carolina, then escaped and returned to Hillsboro, Ohio, where he wrote his memoirs of ranger and army service.

In the reorganization of the army after the end of the Civil War, Pike was commissioned a second lieutenant in the First United States Cavalry and promoted to first lieutenant on September 27, 1867. He saw at least some duty in California. Although it is not verified in Robert Heitman's definitive list of officers killed and wounded in action, the popular account of Pike's death on October 14, 1867, is as colorful and as revealing of his character as any of his life. When Indians attacked Pike's unit at dinner, the lieutenant seized his rifle and rushed to the defense. The rifle jammed, however, and in his frustration he smashed the barrel on a nearby rock, whereupon the gun discharged and killed him. Pike's reminiscences were published in 1865 as The Scout and Ranger: Being the Personal Adventures of Corporal Pike, of the Fourth Ohio Cavalry. This account is highly readable and thought to be generally factual, although many of Pike's claims are demonstrably false. J. Frank Dobie considered this book "a bully story to be ranked along with the personal narratives of those other two vivid ranger chroniclers, James B. Gillett and N. A. Jennings," and John H. Jenkins III lists it among his basic Texas books.

Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). Frances Terry Ingmire, comp., Texas Ranger Service Records, 1847–1900 (St. Louis, 1982). John H. Jenkins, Basic Texas Books: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Works for a Research Library (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1983; rpt. 1988).

Time Periods:

  • Civil War

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Pike, James,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 18, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/pike-james.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
April 28, 2019

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