Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ezra Meeker, Chariton & the Oregon Trail, Part 1

Ezra Meeker passed through Chariton twice during the course of his remarkable 97 years.

The first time was in the spring of 1852, age 22, in an ox-drawn covered wagon, headed west for Oregon and accompanied by his wife, Eliza Jane; son, Marion; brother, Oliver; a man named William Buck; a second yoke of oxen, one yoke of cows and a spare cow --- just in case.

The second time was during the fall of 1906 in an ox-drawn covered wagon, headed east for Indianapolis via Eddyville and Burlington. He was now in his mid-70s, had made and lost fortunes and was beginning the work of locating, marking and commemorating the route of the Oregon Trail he had followed west in 1852. That work would occupy him fully until he died just short of is 98th birthday, declaring that he "couldn't go yet" because he still had work to do.

Had you been in Chariton on Wednesday evening, Nov. 7, 1906, you could have greeted Ezra as he drove his ox team onto the square, tethered them nearby and pitched his tent. The next morning, you might have gathered with the crowd on the west side of the square, where team and wagon were deployed in preparation for the next leg of the trek --- to Albia --- to hear him discuss his project. You might also have bought a copy of his brand new book, "Ox Team; or, The Old Oregon Trail," or one of his earlier publications, "Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound." 


Henry Gittinger, editor of The Chariton Leader, was fit to be tied. The Leader published on Thursday and had to be put to bed and printed Wednesday night. So the best he could do so far as coverage of Meeker's visit was concerned was to publish a notice of his arrival in town and lengthy excerpts from a long article that had appeared in "The Mills County Tribune" of Oct. 30 which had just arrived in the mail.

The editor of The Patriot was in a similar position, since that newspaper also was issued on Thursday, and he no doubt worked from exchange newspapers, too, when putting together the following report, published in his edition of Nov. 8:


Aged Pioneer and Ox Team Interest Many People

"Ezra Meeker, the aged pioneer, who with his famous ox team is making the trip from Puget Sound to Indianapolis, Indiana, over the old Oregon trail, was in Chariton Wednesday.

"The gray haired veteran of the plains and his unique means of transportation were of much interest to the people who saw him here, many of whom had the pleasure of talking to the old man. He had already completed over 2,000 miles of his trip and departed for Eddyville today.

"Mr. Meeker is now 76 years of age. Forty-four years ago, in 1852, he started from Eddyville, Iowa, with an ox team and prairie schooner, bound for Oregon. He went over the Oregon trail and arrived safely on the Pacific coast. His object in making his present trip was to relocated the old trail and to erect appropriate monuments along the trail route. He started nine months ago with an outfit as nearly as possible like the one with which he made the trip in 1852. He bought a pair of big strong steers and a 'Prairie schooner,' and with two young men and a dog he has made his trip.

"The expenses of his journey were all borne by Mr. Meeker, except some $300 which has been donated to him by towns along the route. Much interest in his trip has been aroused in towns along the old trail, and in twenty of these towns Mr. Meeker had the pleasure of dedicating monuments.

"He and his oxen cover about 15 miles a day. Mr. Meeker has walked much of the distance traveled the past summer. At night he sleeps in a tent. He has enjoyed good health and says he expects to travel all winter if the weather permits. From now on he will raise money by the sale of his books, one of which is a history of Puget Sound, and the other, an account of his present trip.

"He is to meet his wife in Indianapolis, where on the 13th of next May the aged couple will celebrate their fifty-sixth wedding anniversary.

"Mr. Meeker has a fine home in Puyallup, Washington, a city which he had the honor of founding. He was for forty years a farmer and fruit raiser. He is most pleasant to meet and very entertaining to talk with. His journney has received much notice in the newspapers throughout the country."

More about Ezra Meeker in a future post.

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