CAMDEN He was a Massachusetts man, but he fell in love with Arkansas. In the process, Albert Pike, the largely self-educated lawyer, writer, general, and adventurer became early Arkansas’ most outspoken and most famous promoter.
Pike was born in Boston in 1809 to a modest family. While very intelligent and very able, he could not afford college. Instead, he continued his education on his own after completing public school at age 15 and went to work as a teacher in small towns across Massachusetts. Anxious for adventure, in 1831, he headed west to St. Louis where he joined a hunting and trapping expedition. The expedition made it out to New Mexico, but Pike got separated from both his horse and his compatriots, and had to walk back to the nearest army outpost, Fort Smith, some 500 miles away.
Pike found work again as a teacher near Fort Smith and Russellville before settling down in Little Rock. He soon took up work as a writer with the Arkansas Advocate, buying the paper outright in 1835. His articles were lively, argumentative, and popular. He also wrote poetry, some of which was published in several literary magazines and republished years after his death by his daughter.
He also wrote numerous articles for eastern journals praising the potential of Arkansas and encouraging settlers to make the trek westward, claiming the rich soil could make any hard-working man a fortune. He wrote so many other articles gushing over the hunting available for sportsmen and trappers, including the numerous deer and bears in the deep forests, that by the 1840s, Arkansas was known as “the Bear State” because of Pike.
Along the way, he married, started a family, and began teaching himself law. In 1837, Pike was admitted to the bar, sold the paper, and became the official court reporter for the Arkansas Supreme Court. Still a new attorney himself, he set the course for how all legal action would be conducted in Arkansas in the future with his 1842 book, Arkansas Form Book, a guide for lawyers to navigate the court system, file motions and cases, and how to conduct themselves in Arkansas courts.
Still eager for adventure, he became an outspoken advocate for war with Mexico, which many expansionists favored by the late 1840s. When the Mexican War did come in 1846, Pike eagerly raised a company of volunteers he called the Little Rock Guards. Commissioned a captain, Pike incorporated his troops into Col. Archibald Yell’s First Volunteer Cavalry. Together with “Yell’s Mounted Devils,” they charged into Mexico and eventual victory.
When the Civil War erupted, Pike was named a general in the Confederate army and ordered to work with the Native American tribes in the Indian Territory, encouraging them to join the fight against the Union. While Pike raised several regiments in the Indian Territory and won promises of support from most of the tribes, Pike ran into numerous disputes with his superior officers, leading him to resign by 1862.
After the Civil War, however, he left Arkansas, drifting from place to place before settling in Washington, DC. Here, he returned to his roots as a lawyer and newspaper editor before his retirement in 1880. After his death in 1891, friends erected a statue to him in Washington to mark his years of dedicated work to the Freemasons. To this day, it is the only monument to a Confederate official in Washington, DC. Arkansas never forgot his contributions, with numerous cities naming streets and buildings after him, including, in 1928, the Albert Pike Highway near Hot Springs and Albert Pike Elementary School in Fort Smith in 1952.