Ezra Meeker And The Oregon Trail
As so often happens when doing research for this blog, I begin with one idea in mind and in the course of researching what I think will be the blog for the day, I find something even more fascinating.
This week marks the anniversary of the first mass emigration of Americans along the Oregon Trail. On May 22, 1843, 1,000 hardy souls, along with 1,000 head of cattle, left Independence, Missouri in search of a better life in Oregon and California.
A few smaller, more modest, parties had begun to carve the route in earlier years, but this wagon train launched the huge tidal wave of people making their way west from the crowded eastern shores of America. The trail was 2,000 miles long and ran through the states of what are now Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon.
If the group was lucky, the journey could be completed in five months. Most used wagons pulled by oxen, and traveled an average of fifteen miles per day. The wagons carried personal possessions, 1,000 pounds of food, spare wagon parts and a toolbox. More than 400,000 men, women and children used the Trail during its peak years and were plagued by weather delays, faulty equipment and disease. Travel along this trail by wagon continued until the late 1860s, when railroads finally spanned across the entire continent.
One of the persons to trek across the country by wagon was Ezra Meeker,
an Ohio native, who made the journey with his wife in 1852, when he was 22 years of age. It took nearly six months for Ezra, his wife, Eliza Jane, their infant son, and Ezra’s brother, to make the journey, but they settled in what is now Puyallup, WA where Ezra became a wealthy man, growing hops for beer and served as the town’s first mayor. He and Eliza Jane built a huge mansion in Puyallup, which still exists today.
Ezra became obsessed with the idea the Oregon Trail was becoming forgotten, so he took it upon himself to travel the trail again while in his 70s, to convince people in the towns along the way to erect monuments relating to the Trail, making several trips back and forth.
He became an outspoken advocate of the preservation of the Trail and its legacy and even met with President Theodore Roosevelt in his effort to campaign to preserve this colorful part of America’s past.
He traveled the Trail again, by oxcart, a decade later, and then followed the course by airplane in 1924, when he was 94. He died at age 97. Possibly, he was the only person to complete the journey by wagon, railroad train, automobile and airplane. Due to his efforts, the Oregon Trail, the ruts of which can still be seen today in each state, will remain firmly entrenched as a part of America’s history.