Albert Pike was born in Boston, Massachusetts, December 29, 1809. He was a many-sided character who is best remembered for his accomplishments as a brilliant teacher, poet, author, lawyer, editor, and exponent of Freemasonry, rather than as a brigadier general of the Confederacy, which he only incidentally became.
He received his early education at Newburyport and Framingham, and in 1825 entered Harvard College, supporting himself at the same time by teaching. He only went as far as the junior class in college, when his finances compelled him to continue his education alone, teaching, meanwhile, at Fairhaven and Newburyport, where he was principal of the grammar school, and afterward had a private school of his own. In later years he had attained such distinction in literature that the degree of master of arts was bestowed upon him by the Harvard faculty.
In 1831 he went west with a trading party to Santa Fe. The next year, with a trapping party, he went down the Pecos River and into the Staked Plains, whence with four others he traveled mostly on foot until he reached Fort Smith, Arkansas. His adventures and exploits are related in a volume of prose and verse, published in 1834. While teaching in 1833 below Van Buren and on Little Piney River, he contributed articles to the Little Rock Advocate, and attracted the attention of Robert Crittenden, through whom he was made assistant editor of that paper, of which he was afterward for two years the proprietor.
He was admitted to the bar in 1835 and studied and practiced law until the Mexican War, when he recruited a company of cavalry and was present at the battle of Buena Vista under the command of the famous Colonel Charles May. In 1848 he fought a duel with Gen. John S. Roane on account of something said by him in his story of that battle, which the governor considered as reflecting unjustly on the Arkansas regiment.
In 1849 he was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States at the same time with Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin. In 1853 he moved to New Orleans, having prepared himself for practice in the courts of Louisiana by reading the "Pandects," of which he translated the first volume into English. He also made translations of many French authorities. He wrote, besides, an unpublished work of three volumes upon "The Maxims of the Roman and French Law."
In 1857 he resumed practice in Arkansas. He acted for many years as attorney for the Choctaw Indians, and in 1859, assisted by three others, he secured for them an award by the United States Senate of $2,981,247. He was the first proposer of a Pacific railroad onvention, and at one time obtained from the legislature of Louisiana a charter for a road with termini at San Francisco and Guazamas.
An avowed Whig and anti-secessionist, he was a prominent lawyer and large land owner in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1861, and cast his lot with the South rather than desert his friends and his property. He was appointed as the Confederate Commissioner to the tribes of Indian Territory. As such he brought the Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws, Chickasaws and part of the Cherokees into alliance with the Confederate States.
On August 15, 1861, he was commissioned Brigadier General in the army of the Confederate States, and at the battle of Pea Ridge he commanded a brigade of Indians. Pike's Civil War career was unfortunate, to say the least, and ultimately resulted in his arrest by General Hindman and the remark by General Douglas Cooper that he was "either insane or untrue to the South."
With the Indian troops Pike fought at Elkhorn Tavern, and their dubious conduct reflected, perhaps unjustly, on Pike. He later alleged they had been recruited only for service in defense of their own territory. In his defense, it must also be noted that Pike had little opportunity to work with or drill his Indian troops. When the deaths of Generals McCulloch and McIntosh left him as the senior surviving Confederate officer at Leetown, Pike was ineffective in rallying or reorganizing his troops. After much acrimony Pike resigned his Confederate commission on July 12, 1862; and his resignation was accepted on November 5, 1862.
Pike lived in semi-retirement during the balance of the war, and after it ended, he was regarded with suspicion by both parties to the conflict. He was indicted for treason by the United States authorities, but was subsequently restored to his civil rights. After the war he resided in Memphis, Tennessee, and edited the Memphis Appeal in 1867. The next year he moved to Washington, D. C., and practiced in the courts until 1880. During the remainder of his life he devoted his attention to writing legal treatises and expounding the morals and dogma of the Masonic Order.
He was the highest Masonic dignitary in the United States, and was author of several valuable Masonic works. He died in the house of the Scottish Rite Temple, Washington, DC on April 2, 1891, and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery there.