Mungo Park and the Exploration of the Niger River – Part 1

mungo-parkIn 1795, Mungo Park, a young Scottish doctor, set out for West Africa under the sponsorship of the African Association.

Park’s goals were to find the elusive Niger River – which no European had ever set their eyes on – as well as locate the legendary city of Timbuktu.

It would be an epic journey filled with hardship, lose and triumph.


Mungo Park’s journeys (in green).

All images courtesy of Wikipedia.

John Cabot and the Exploration of North America

john_cabotJohn Cabot, aka Giovanni Caboto, strikes out into the North Atlantic to become the first European to land in North America since the Vikings.

On his next voyage, Cabot would lead of fleet of ships west – only to have them disappear forever.


Bristol University’s Cabot Project is the most comprehensive site for all things Cabot. There are links to various research papers, analysis and much more.

The John Day letter is a rare original source item. It is pretty much contains the only mention of Cabot’s first voyage.

As always, Wikipedia provides a great amount of information about Cabot.


Replica of Cabot’s ship Matthew.

All images from Wikipedia.

Erik the Red and Leif Erikson

The father and son team of Erik the Red and Leif Erikson represent the most famous Viking explorers. Erik would found the Greenland colony in the 980s, while Leif would become the first European to set foot on the North American continent – as well as establish a settlement.


This map gives an idea of the locations of various places in the Viking world – and the routes taken by Erik the Red and Leif Erikson. Map source: Wikipedia.


I used many sources, but some of the more recent books included Neil Oliver’s The Vikings: A New History as well as Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, edited by William F. Fitzhugh and Elisabeth Ward.

For the Icelandic Sagas, the Icelandic Saga Database was awesome. It’s all free – so enjoy the fun.

Wikipedia has a lot of great information about our podcast:


The knarr was a cargo vessel used by the Vikings during this era. The ship was deeper and wider than the traditional Norse longship, and more suited to longer sea voyages.

This model can be found in the Hedeby Viking Museum in Germany.


Leif Erikson statue at the Minnesota State Capital in St. Paul. Source: Wikipedia.

Zebulon Pike – Part 2

In the conclusion of our series, Zebulon Pike sets off into the Louisiana Territory amid rumors of war with Spain. It will be a perilous journey that will almost cost lives of his entire party (although a few will lose some toes in the process).

Maps of Pike’s Journey West (source)

Pike’s route throughout the west. pikemap1

Pike’s route through the Rocky Mountains


I recommend going to to see all their detailed maps following Pike throughout his journey. The maps are fantastic.

Recommended Sources

Jared Orsi’s Citizen Explorer: The Life of Zebulon Pike was a comprehensive look at Pike, his world and his journeys. It was my favorite book on Pike – and highly recommend it if you want to know more about the man and his world.

Zebulon Pike, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the West is a nice collection of essays about – you guessed it – Pike, Jefferson and the opening of the American west. It doesn’t provide the detail regarding Pike as Orsi’s book, but it delves more into the other players and the American mindset.

The Expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike (Vol. 1-3) are Pike’s own journals. In the late 1800, Elliott Coues provided a heavily annotated version of the journals – they are what I was able to read. As they are public domain documents, you can read them for free online. is a website set up detailing Pike’s western journey. It has a ton of information – including maps – a couple of which I have placed on this page.

Wikipedia has a good Pike page if you just want to read an overview of his life.

Vasco Núñez de Balboa – Part 2

balboa-pacificBalboa has established the colony of Santa Maria on the eastern shore in the province of Darien. But when the local natives tell him about the ‘other sea’ over the mountains – not to mention the kingdom where men drink from golden goblets and eat off plates of gold – the conquistador is ensnared.

Part 2 is the conclusion of our series on Balboa.

Reading Materials

Sadly, I could find no really comprehensive contemporary biographies about Balboa. Some earlier works from the 1800s and early 1900s are very romanticized – and very much a blend of fact and fiction.

When I found more contemporary looks at Balboa, the details were short and not that in-depth – often a part of a larger theme. But taking it all as a whole, it added up to some good reading – even if contradictions and inaccuracies are more the norm than the exception.

Still, here’s a list of some of the more interesting items I found:

Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire from Columbus to Magellan was a good read about the early colonial era, and contained a couple of chapters on Balboa (especially his rivalry with Pedrarias).

Frederick Ober’s Vasco Nunez de Balboa, written in 1906, is an entertaining biography of Balboa – even if it is quite hokey and romanticized. You can read it free.

The Lives of Vasco Nunez de Balboa and Francisco Pizarro is one of the earliest biographies of Balboa. The book is written by Manuel Jose Quintana in 1832 and is translated into English. You can read it for free.

Historic Panama Web Page by Bruce Ruiz – This website was created by a gentleman in the early 2000s named Bruce Ruiz. The man passed away in 2003, but his son keeps the page online. It has a ton of information on colonial Panama, although there is a lot of inaccurate information. It’s very entertaining.

Wikipedia has a good Balboa page. From there you can link to many of the other people in our tale.

Image of Balboa claiming the Pacific Ocean is from Wikipedia.

Vasco Núñez de Balboa – Part 1

balboaSpanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa is famous for being the first European to see the Pacific Ocean.

In Part 1 of our podcast on Balboa, he begins his journey as a stowaway on a ship to the province of Tierre Firme.

In short order, he will establish the first permanent European colony in the Americas and kick start the seemingly insatiable Spanish quest for gold in the new lands.


Balboa’s journeys were centered primarily in the region of what is modern-day Columbia and Panama. Below is a map showing off several key locations, such as the colony of Santa Maria, and the route Balboa would take to the Pacific Ocean.

Note: the Gulf of Uraba is located just east of Santa Maria on the map (it is not marked).