Ezra Meeker lived ninety-eight highly productive years. At times endearing and captivating, he could also be exasperating and irrational. Once he committed to a cause, he was an unabashed promoter. Meeker devoted his final three decades to commemorating the Oregon Trail. A part of his story no one has previously told, this volume begins in 1901 and completes an epic biography.
One of Washington Territory’s earliest pioneers, Meeker first came west on the overland trail in 1852. He became a Puyallup community builder, agricultural tycoon, and world traveler before hop lice and the Panic of 1893 devoured his fortune. He dallied in mining and joined the Klondike gold rush, spending four years as a Yukon store proprietor.
At age 75 he trekked east over the Oregon Trail with oxen and a covered wagon, setting markers along the way, and became a national celebrity. He visited New York, Washington, D.C., and the White House, and managed to convince regular citizens, the rich and famous, governors, legislators, and even three U.S. Presidents to support his trail preservation schemes.
Never one to shy away from adventure, his other exploits included publishing books, lecture tours, additional Oregon Trail expeditions (one in a bi-plane), attending the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, experimenting with motion pictures, founding societies, cruising in what may have been the first motorized RV, performing in a Wild West show, and roaming the country selling commemorative coins. In the end, Meeker’s extraordinary efforts were crucial to saving the trail.
“Ezra Meeker was inspirational, charismatic, and beloved but also arrogant, aggravating, cantankerous, and obnoxious. Dennis Larsen’s biography sings his praises, exposes his flaws, and shows why without Meeker, America might have forgotten the Oregon Trail’s epic story.”—Will Bagley, Independent Historian
Listen to the Columbia Conversations interview with Dennis Larsen.
Illustrations / maps / notes / bibliography / index / 278 pages (2020)