When Traveling the Oregon Trail Once (or Twice) is Not Enough


Ezra Meeker Never Got To Use His Ford Model A Covered Wagon to Once Again Travel the Oregon Trail

John Jacob Astor

John Jacob Astor

On This Date in History: I’m sure many people have heard of the Oregon Trail but probably aren’t familiar with where it is except Oregon. In the early 19th Century, Lewis and Clark gained the blessings and financial support (Probably Not Constitutional) of President Jefferson. That paved the way for commerce with John Jacob Astor leading the way in the American fur trade. Again, it was Thomas Jefferson who encouraged Astor, who formed the Pacific Fur Company. Astor sent a man named Wilson Price Hunt to establish a base of operations and in 1811, Hunt followed the trail of Lewis and Clark to the Dakotas and then cut over land through Jackson Hole and eventually to the mouth of the Columbia River. They called the place Fort Astor or Fort Astoria.

The War of 1812 broke out and the Crown sent a warship to seize the fort. The guys in the fort figured out that they were in trouble so, being good businessmen, they sold the town to their British competitors. The North West Company purchased the fort, renamed it Fort George and the British gained control without firing a shot and presumably John Jacob Astor got some money for his trouble.

Did Ogden Have a Neck?

Just before the Brits took over the fort, a group of men led by Robert Stuart left Fort Astor for St. Louis. That party in 1812 was the first follow the Oregon Trail, though they did it in reverse. About 10 years later, the Northwest Fur Company merged with the Hudson Bay Company and a hellion with the Company named Peter Skene Ogden was used as a inspector of operations in the far west. He got the position probably to keep him out of the offices because in the past, he had tried to incinerate a campanion for fun, nearly beat a company officer to death and led an entire outpost in a mutiny. Ogden ended up knowing more about the west than anyone except for mountain man Jedediah Smith. Ogden’s explorations made its way to cartographers who made maps that paved the way for settlers to emigrate west over the Oregon Trail. I suppose that Ogden Utah got its name from this rough and nasty man of the west.

Ezra Meeker 1906

So, a bunch of people went west following the Oregon Trail. One was Ezra Meeker who took his family along the trail in 1852 and moved into the Washington Territory. What makes Meeker stand out was in an attempt to keep the history of the trail alive, honor the men who blazed it and work toward improving roads out west.   Ezra Meeker got an ox and wagon and took the trail again, stopping often to give speeches and promote its importance in history. Meeker at the time was 75 years old. It was a tough trip and the ox died, but not Meeker. So enthused with his efforts, he did it again in 1910.

Ezra Meeker and Friend 1910

In 1915 he traveled the route by automobile. And on this date in 1924, Ezra Meeker once again followed the trail that he first set out on 72 years earlier. This time he was 93 years old and this time he made the 1300 mile journey like a bird. He traveled by airplane. At age 98, he attempted to travel the trail by car again with the support of Henry Ford, but he died on December 3, 1928.

Recognize This View From Kindergarten Cop?

Fort Astor is today known as Astoria, Oregon and was the setting for the movie Kindergarten Cop. Meeker had his last oxen team slaughtered and mounted by a taxidermist and can be found today on display, still hooked to the wagon, at the Washington State Historical Society Museum in Tacoma. A commemorative coin was struck in the 1920’s and 30’s to commemorate Meeker and the trail. In the 1980’s, a computer game company put out “The Oregon Trail” game and had a default feature that listed Ezra Meeker in 5th place on the all-time scorer list with a score of 2052. Why they picked that score is a mystery to me.

I’ll tell you what…in the dictionary under “obsession” should be a picture of Ezra Meeker.

Weather Bottom Line:  Our conditions are similar to what you might find in the desert.  The air is so dry that when you add in somes sunshine, even at the lower angle of fall, it heats up rapidly and when you take away the heat source (the sun going down) it cools off pretty rapidly.  So, Saturday and Sunday we will be in the upper 80’s to near 90 in the afternoons but cool off to the low to mid 50’s.  Really, the warm afternoons won’t be that uncomfortable and its likely that you can just keep the windows open and air conditioners off each day.  The same will hold true for Monday though it may be a little more humid as a cold front advances and we get a slight return flow of some moisture.  But, it won’t be sufficient to bring any rain to speak of with the frontal passage on Monday night.  Temperatures will back off though closer to seasonal levels, though maybe still a bit warmer than average, for the balance of the week.  I’ll be on Fox 41 on Sunday night.

6 Responses

  1. Great stuff. You might find my new book of interest — FUR, FORTUNE, AND EMPIRE: THE EPIC HISTORY OF THE FUR TRADE IN AMERICA (W.W. NORTON, JULY 2010). There is a great book trailer on my website — http://www.ericjaydolin.com. All the best!

  2. What an absolutely wonderful tale. Apparently the corollary to “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is “Anything you do successfully is worth doing again, and again, and…”

    I vaguely remember now that there are places where the trail still can be seen, and one of my favorite photographers lives in Blue Rapids, Kansas, near one of the fords. I think it’s time to pull out Blue Highways again and see what Least Heat-Moon has to say about all this.

    This is such a great, evocative post – thanks!

  3. I’m wondering why he flew before he drove. I liked the car Henry Ford had made for him. I wonder if it is still in existance?

  4. Wow. Coming from a published author, it was quite kind of you to comment. As I queried in the response to the other poster (Shoreacres) I wonder if the car Ford gave him still exists?

  5. I thought you should know about a new children’s e-book about the Oregon Trail entitled West to Oregon with Ollie Ox! 

    It’s a great book for kids to read before experiencing the trail so they understand what they are seeing. My kids loved it and it really pulled them into the whole trail experience.

    You can check it out at: http://www.WestToOregon.com.

    Mike

  6. Hey Mike, I really do appreciate your interest and your contribution to the site. I really love the story of Ezra but somehow have missed the Oregon Trail. Snow White and I made it to Mt. St. Helens for our honeymoon and Glacier National Park and Seattle and Canada but ran out of money before we could get to Oregon..let along trace the trail. I think that it would be fun to try and trace it like Ezra. But, for now I’ll have to read about it. Stop by any time.

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