Ezra Meeker was one of
the young emigrants who came to the Pacific Northwest in search of a prosperous
farm life for his family. He found that, but he also, late in his life,
found another cause: recognition for the travails and accomplishments
of the emigrants. Ezra Meeker became the embodiment of their life stories.
His whiskery visage, the postcard views of his covered wagon and his two
oxen, Dandy and Dave, his string of memorials along the route of the Oregon
Trail, all still say "frontier" to us.
Meeker was born in Ohio in 1830, lived in Indiana as a child, and in 1851
married a young woman who shared his interest in farming. The went west,
to Iowa, but the cold winter inspired them to look even farther west,
and so they started for Oregon in the spring of 1852, taking their newborn
son with them. By 1853, the Meekers had reached the Puget Sound country,
and settled permanently in Puyallup in 1862. Here Meeker developed an
extensive and profitable hop-raising business. Parasites destroyed the
industry in the region in the late 1880s. Starting in 1898, the undaunted
Meeker made four trips to the Klondike in search of gold, but success
He found another kind of success when he began his efforts to mark the
route of the Oregon Trail that he and Eliza Jane had taken west in 1852.
Now in his 70's but still hale and hearty, Meeker crossed the continent
with his replica covered wagon, raising funds to erect memorials along
the route and eventually meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt in
Washington, D. C. Meeker became a splendid publicist, issuing booklets
and postcards, inspiring newspaper and magazine articles about his efforts.
Before his death in 1928, just a few days shy of his 98th birthday, Ezra
Meeker had not only walked the Oregon Trail several times, he'd ridden
along it in an automobile and aboard a train, and flown over it in an
airplane: he'd come a long way, and for many his story symbolized the
opportunities that had been available on the frontier.