PUBLISHED NEWS ABOUT THE MEEKERS
THEN AND NOW
The Missing Chapters
The Untold Story of Ezra Meeker’s Old Oregon Trail Monument Expedition
The Ezra Meeker Historical Society 2006
by Dennis M. Larsen
A RED LETTER DAY
April 18, 2022
Visitors to the state capitol in Olympia usually take a moment to admire the large stone blocks that form its foundation layer. Several other government buildings on the capitol campus are similarly constructed. The stone blocks are called Tenino Sandstone and they come from a quarry in the city of that name. Sussex Avenue, Tenino’s main street, is lined with buildings made of these blocks, giving the downtown core a rather stately appearance. On the corner of Sussex Ave E. and Sheridan St. N. in Tenino is a monument carved from that same quarry stone. It reads “Old Oregon Trail 1845-53.” The stone for this marker was donated by the Tenino Quarry Company. It was dedicated by Ezra Meeker on February 21, 1906.
This marker, I believe, is the oldest stone marker along the entire length of the Oregon Trail. There were wood markers along the Trail prior to 1906, but no stone markers. A notable wood sign stood at the junction of the Santa Fe and Oregon Trail near the town of Gardner, Kansas for years. But of the stone genre, Tenino’s was the first. The “End of the Trail” marker in The Dalles, Oregon is that state’s first stone marker, erected and dedicated by Meeker a week or so after the Tenino dedication. Wyoming’s first stone marker was placed at South Pass by Meeker in June 1906. Nebraska’s was placed at Kearney in 1910 by the D.A.R.
Technically Tenino is on what historians call the Cowlitz Trail, which is a spur or branch of the Oregon Trail. Meeker considered it “on the Oregon Trail,” regarding it as a continuation of that grand old trail that brought settlers west and into Puget Sound country. His plan was to put stone markers up in Tumwater, Bush Prairie, Tenino, Grand Mound, Centralia, Claquato, Chehalis, Jackson Prairie and Toledo. Though all these towns along the Cowlitz Trail now have other markers today, only Tenino fulfilled Ezra’s hopes for marking the Trail in his home state in 1906.
On February 20, 1906 Meeker left his ox team and wagon in Olympia and took the train to Tenino where he met with David Copping, a Tenino merchant, and the owners of the quarry, making arrangements for the monument. He hired a horse team to bring the wagon the sixteen miles from Olympia, as he did not trust the unbroken ox Dave to behave. The wagon arrived in the afternoon and Meeker set up his tent and wagon nearby the monument site. In the morning Meeker “drove over to the stone quarry and hauled monument over to site where workman followed and put same in place.” At 2 p.m. the stores closed and the school children came in a body to witness the dedication, along with most of the population of the town. Meeker called it “A red letter day.”
One mystery never solved in over twenty years of Meeker research was how he chose the dates inscribed onto his stone monuments. They are all quite uniform, all reading Old Oregon Trail 1843-57. Except Tenino. The dates inscribed here are unique: 1845-1853.
Though there were a couple of earlier, smaller wagon trains, 1843 was the first major wagon train to the northwest on the Oregon Trail. It consisted of over 1,000 men, women, and children in over 100 wagons, trailing 5,000 head of stock animals. That date makes sense. 1845, on the other hand, commemorates the arrival of the Simmons-Bush wagon train, the first American settlers in Puget Sound. Nether Tenino’s 1853 nor Meeker’s 1857 makes sense as an end date. Use of the trail continued even after the Civil War and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. Occasional wagons came over the trail even early into the 20th century.
Meeker and the Tenino town fathers chose their unique end dates for reasons unknowable to us today. At the same time, Meeker felt no conflict calling Tenino the Oregon Trail, and then a week later dedicating a marker at The Dalles, Oregon, that the town fathers chose to engrave the "End of the Oregon Trail." Bottom line, Meeker wanted those markers up and the trail memorialized.
Hop King Ezra Meeker’s Boom Years
WSU Press 2016
By Dennis M. Larsen
EZRA MEEKER SURVEYS PIERCE COUNTY
April 16, 2022
Most people associate the name Ezra Meeker with the Oregon Trail or with hops. Few are aware that he had another career---surveyor. Ezra learned the trade as a young man during the winter of 1851 in Iowa. He writes of how he worked as a cook in a surveyor’s camp a little north of Council Bluffs and how he quickly received a promotion to flagman. He further writes of how the trip home from that job, just before Christmas in the bitter cold, helped cement the idea of moving to Oregon in his mind.
This career was put on hold until September 22, 1866 when Ezra received Contract No. 89 from Selucius Garfield, the Washington Territorial Surveyor General, to do a number of surveys in October, November and December. Ezra went out with a crew consisting of C. C. Hanners, chainman, and Marion Meeker (age 14, son), Frank Meeker (age 12, nephew), Lynus Burr (age 16, step-brother) and Edward Ross as assistants. The Meeker gang did surveys that fall ranging from Tumwater to Auburn. When the autumn rains came Ezra lost a number of his helpers.
November 11, 1866 found his new crew huddled around a stove in leaky cabin after a rainy day of surveying the future city of Tacoma. Soaking wet and trying to warm up after a day in the field were Marion Meeker (who probably didn’t have much choice about being there), Ransom Bonney, Jacob Woolery and Edward Ross. For the work in the mud and rain they earned $7.50 per mile surveyed, the money to be split among them. Meeker continued to survey through 1867 and 1868, now operating under the title of Washington Territorial Deputy Surveyor.
The early pioneers used their land somewhat like an ATM. If they needed cash for seed or other necessities, they mortgaged their land until harvest provided them with funds to repay. Others subdivided their land and sold off parts of it, which required surveying. In 1868 Ezra surveyed the subdivision of his sister Hannah Dunlap and her husband Jesse’s Fern Hill Donation Land Claim. As a matter of fact, Ezra also surveyed his own Fern Hill DLC parcel.
In 1866, just eight years after the Puget Sound Indian Wars concluded, Meeker was assigned to subdivide the township bordering the Muckleshoot Reservation. The tribe was alarmed that the survey meant that this land too was about to be taken from them. They came to Meeker’s camp and asked him to stop the survey. When Ezra refused they resorted to non-violent interference—blocking the path of the workers, picking up and moving the survey chain, etc. That night the two groups camped a little ways apart. Meeker was determined to finish the survey and the Muckleshoots were determined to stop it. Three days of negotiations resolved the situation peacefully.
In 1871 John Valentine Meeker took over the title of Deputy Surveyor and continued the surveying of the Puyallup Valley and vicinity. Today, if a Pierce county landowner were to dig deeply enough into the history of their property, it is quite likely that they would find the name Meeker attached to it as the original surveyor.
Slick As a Mitten Ezra Meeker’s Klondike Enterprise
By Dennis M. Larsen
WSU Press 2008
THE FUN OF WRITING A BOOK
April 15, 2022
Researching and writing a book and getting it published are two completely different enterprises. The former is the fun of discovering unknown stories, the adventure of tracing leads that take you to surprising places, and the joy of creating. The latter is work—going over the draft time and time again, working the words so they actually say what you want them to say, finding the proper illustrations, building an index, and doing all the little things that go into creating an actual book.
The fun was following Meeker north. My wife and I prowled the streets of Skagway, climbed to the summit of Chilkoot Pass in a torrential rainstorm; searched out the Whitehorse Rapids and Miles Canyon; camped in Dawson City; prowled its cemeteries looking for the final resting place of Fred Meeker; tracked down the location of Meeker’s two Log Cabin Grocery stores and his Klondike mine claim; we enjoyed every minute of it.
The galley proofs were mailed to me care of General Delivery to a Post Office in a small town in Idaho as we were working our way east along the Oregon Trail. The corrections were sent back via e-mail each morning for a week from a bakery in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. The donuts were top quality. While waiting for the book to go to the printer we wandered off to Death Valley. The only internet connection for over one hundred miles was a dial up at the park visitor center. An incoming e-mail from Wes Perkinson, Meeker Society Treasurer, contained a picture he had located in the archives of the Eagle, Alaska, museum that he thought might be of interest. For those old enough to remember, a dial up photograph took forever to load. Slowly, a section at a time, a log cabin began to form on my laptop screen. At the halfway point I knew that Wes had found a photo of Meeker’s second Log Cabin Grocery. And I knew it belonged on the cover of the book that was on its way to the printer. But here we were in a rather remote section of the United States. I hogged that internet connection for a long while getting that photograph to WSU Press along with signed permission to publish forms from the Eagle museum. It was too late for the front cover but it made it to the back cover. Apparently, even the publishing part of the process can be an adventure in its own way.