Ventures and adventures of Ezra Meeker; or, Sixty years of frontier life; fifty-six years of pioneer life in the old Oregon country; an account of the author's trip across the plains with an ox team i online

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Ventures and Adven



Seattle, Wash,, 1909

at lo:


San .

Ventures and Adventures




Sixty Years of Frontier Life

Fifty-Six Years of Pioneer Life in the Old Oregon

Country; an Account of the Author's Trip Across

the Plains with an Ox Team in 1852, and his

Return Trip in 1906 ; His Cruise on Puget

Sound in 1853, and His Trip Through the

Natchess Pass in 1854; Over the

Chilcoot Pass and Flat-Boating

on the Yukon in 1898.




Author of Pioneer ' 'Reminiscences of Puget Sound.

"The Tragedy of Leschi,"— "Hop Culture in the

United States. "—"Washington Territory

West of the Cascade Mountains." -

"Familiar Talks."— "A Three

Years' Serial."— "The Ox


Rainier Printing Co., Printers and Publishers, Seattle, Wash.

Copyright, 1908


Published January. 1909


Birth and Parentage — Boyhood Days — Aversion to School —
Early Ambitions — Farm Training — Life in a Printing Of-
fice — At Tippecanoe as a Songster 19


Early Days in Indiana.

I'm Going' to Be a Farmer — Off for Iowa — An Iowa Winter 35


Off for Oregon.

Preparation — Getting a Partner — First Day Out 41

The Ferry at Omaha 46

Out on the Plains.
■j3 Indian Country — The Cholera — Extent of Emigration — -The

Casualties 49


Out on the Plains,
cc The Law of Self-Preservation — Crossing the Snake River —
Wagon Beds as Boats — Down Snake River in Wagon Boxes —
— On to Portland 60


3 Floating Down the River 75



The Arrival.

At Work — Moving to St. Helens — Building- a Home 83


The First Cabin.

Home Life — A Trip to Puget Sound 91


Cruise on Puget Sound.

Building a Boat — Afloat on Puget Sound — A Visit to the Indians 99


Cruise on Puget Sound.

At Steilacoom 110



cruise on Puget Sound.

At Tacoma- On Puyallup Bay 119


cruise on Puget Sound.
At Aiki Poinl A Fish Story l ^7


cruise (in Puget Sound.

Port Townsend — Building the City Colonel Ebey 134


From Columbia River to Puget Sound.

Arrival Home — Preparations to Move -The Trip 140


The Second Cabin.

The New Home — Brother Oliver Returns to the States 148


Trip Through Natchess Pass.

Cross the Streams 156

Trip Through Natchess Pass — Cont.
Many Obstacles — Killing of Steers to Make Rope — A Brave

Boy 1 fi 4


Trip Through Natchess Pass — Cont.

Fun with the Pony — Immigrants 174


Trip Through Natchess Pass — Cont.

Desert Lands — Lost — Crossing the River — Reunion 182


Trip Through Natchess Pass — Cont.

Nearly Home — Trouble Over Titles — Parting 189


Trip Through Natchess Pass — Cont.

Home Again — Visitors — Jay Cooke and My Pamphlet 197


First Immigrants Through Natchess Pass.

Hard Trip— Letter from Geo. H. Himes 206


Building of the Natchess Pass Road.
Many Obstacles — Lines from Winthrop — Receipts 216



Building of the Natchess Pass Road — Cont.

Letter from A. J. Burge - Lawlessness 229


About Indians.

Massacre — Flight of Settlers 237

Fraser River Stampede.
Excitement High — Off for Whatcom — The Arrival — Where's

De Lacy? 237 #


An Old Settlers' Meeting.

Review of the Past — Lady Sheriff — Personal Anecdotes 249


A Chapter on Names.

Seattle — Puyallup and Amusing Incidents ' 257


Pioneer Religious Experiences and Incidents.

Aunt Ann — Mr. and Mrs. Wickser — John McLeod 263


Wild Animals.
Carrie Sees a Cougar — An Unfriendly Meeting 269


The Morning School.
The First Log School House — Going to Market — Fifty Years

Ago 27fi


The Hop Business.
My Hop Venture — The Curse on Hops 283

The Beet Sugar Venture 291



Bank President — The Run on the Bank 294


The Klondike Venture.

Through White Horse Rapids — On the Yukon 297



The Ox.

Ready for the Trip — Getting Notoriety 301


The Start.
Making- Tamps — Out on the Trail — Centralia, Wash. — Chehalis,

Wash. — Jackson's — Toledo, Wash. — Portland, Oregon 305

The Dalles, Oregon.
Quotations from Journal — Shoeing the Oxen — Out from The
Dalles — Pendleton, Oregon — The Blue Mountains — Meacham,
Oregon — La Grande, Oregon — Ladd's Canyon — Camp No.
34 Baker'City, Oregon — Old Mt. Pleasant, Oregon — Durkee,
Oregon — Huntington — Vale, Oregon 312

Old Fort Boise — Parma, Idaho — Boise, Idaho — Twin Falls,

Idaho American Falls, Idaho — Pocatello, Idaho — Soda

Springs, Idaho — Montpelier, Idaho — The Mad Bull — The
Wounded Buffalo — Cokeville, Wyoming 321

The Rocky Mountains.
Pacific Springs— Sweetwater — Split Rock — The Devil's Gate... 325

Independence Rock.
Fish Creek — North Platte — Casper, Wyoming — Glen Rock —
Douglas, Wyoming — Puyallup, Tacoma, Seattle — New
Changes 334


Fort Laramie, Wyoming.
Scott's Bluff — The Lead of the Plains — Chimney Rock — North

Platte 344


Death of Twist.

Gothenberg-, Nebraska — Lexington 350


Kearney, Nebraska.

Grand Island 356

From Indianapolis to Washington —Events on the Way 360

Leaving Washington — Out West Again — From Portland to

Seattle 370

The End 380

Cloth $1.50 Postpaid

Address : Ezra Meeker, 1201 38th Ave. N.
Seattle, Wash.

To the Pioneers of the Old Oregon Country

For Illustrations See Appendix

The Dream of the Star

[A Song of the Oregon Trail. Dedicated to Ezra
Meeker, Pioneer.]


A song for the men who blazed the way!

With hearts that would not quail
They made brave quest of the wild Northwest,

They cut the Oregon trail.

Back of them beckoned their kith and kin
And all that they held their own;

Front of them spread the wilderness dread,
And ever the vast unknown.

But ever they kept their forward course,
And never they thought to lag,

For over them flew the Red, White and Blue
And the dream of a star for the flag!


A cheer for the men who cut the trail!

With souls as firm as steel
And fiery as wrath they hewed the jath

For the coming Commonweal.

And close on the heels of the pioneers

The eager throng closed in
And followed the road to a far abode,

An Empire new to win.

And so they wrought at the end of the trail,

As ever must brave men do,
Till out of the dark there gleamed a spark,

And the dream of the star came true!


A toast to the men who made the road!

And a health to the men who dwell
In the great new land by the heroes planned,

Who have builded it wide and well!

The temple stands where the pine tree stood,

And dim is the ancient trail,
But many and wide are the roads that guide

And staunch are the ships that sail!

For the land is a grand and goodly land,
And its fruitful fields are tilled

By the sons who see on the flag of the free
The dream of the star fulfilled!


Ventures and Adventures


Ezra Meeker


Just why I should write a preface I know not. except
that it is fashionable to do so. and yet in the present case
there would seem a little explanation due the reader, who
may cast his eye on the first chapter of this work.

Indeed, that chapter, "Early Days in Indiana." may
properly be termed an introduction, though quite inti-
mately connected with the narrative that follows, yet not
necessary to make a completed story of the trip to Oregon
in the early fifties.

The enlarged scope of this work, narrating incidents
not connected with the Oregon Trail or the Ox Team
expedition, may call for this explanation, that the au-
thor's thought has been to portray frontier life in the Old
Oregon Country, as well as pioneer life on the plains; to
live his experiences of sixty years over again, and tell
them in plain, homely language, to the end the later
generation may know how the "fathers" lived, what they
did, and what they thought in the long ago.

An attempt has been made to teach the young a
lesson of industry, frugality, upright and altruistic living
as exemplified in the lives of the pioneers.

While acknowledging the imperfections of the work,
yet to parents I can sincerely say they may safely place
this volume in the home without fear that the adventures
recited will arouse a morbid craving in the minds of their
children. The adventures are of real life, and incident to
a serious purpose in life, and not stories of fancy to make
exciting reading, although some of them may seem as

"Truth is stranger than fiction," and the pioneers
have no need to borrow from their imagination.



I was born at Huntsville, Butler county, Ohio, about
ten miles east of Hamilton, Ohio. This, to me. important
event occurred on December 29, A. D. 1830, hence I am
many years past the usual limit of three score years
and ten.

My father's ancestors came from England in 1637
and in 1665 settled near Elizabeth City, New Jersey,
built a very substantial house which is still preserved,
furnished more than a score of hardy soldiers in the
War of Independence, and were noted for their stalwart
strength, steady habits, and patriotic ardor. My father
had lost nothing of the original sturdy instincts of the
stock nor of the stalwart strength incident to his an-
cestral breeding. I remember that for three years, at
Carlyle's flouring mill in the then western suburbs Of
Indianapolis, Ind., he worked 18 hours a day, as miller.
He had to be on duty by 7 o'clock a. m., and remained on
duty until 1 o'clock the next morning, and could not
leave the mill for dinner; — all this for $20 per month,
and bran for the cow, and yet his health was good and
strength seemed the same as when he began the ordeal.
My mother's maiden name was Phoeba Baker. A strong
English and "Welch strain of blood ran in her veins, but
I know nothing farther back than my grandfather Baker,
who settled in Butler county, Ohio, in the year 1804, or
thereabouts. My mother, like my father, could and did
endure continuous long hours of severe labor without


much discomfort, in her household duties. I have known
her frequently to patch and mend our clothing until 11
o'clock at niuhl and yet would invariably be up in the
morning by 4:00 and resume her labors.

Both my parents were sincere, though not austere
Christian people, my mother in particular inclining to a
liberal faith, but both were in early days members of the
"Disciples," or as sometimes known as "Newlites," after-
wards, I believe, merged with the "Christian" church,
popularly known as the "Campbellites," and were ardent
admirers of Love Jameson, who presided so long over the
Christian organization at Indianapolis, and whom I par-
ticularly remember as one of the sweetest singers that
I ever heard.

Small wonder that with such parents and with such
surroundings I am able to say that for fifty-eight years of
married life I have never been sick in bed a single day.
and that I can and have endured long hours of labor
during my whole life, and what is particularly gratifying
that I can truthfully say that I have always loved my
work and that I never watched for the sun to go down
to relieve me from the burden of labor.

"Burden of labor?" Why should any man call labor
a burden ? It's the sweetest pleasure of life, if we will
but look aright. Give me nothing of the 'man with the
hoe' sentiment, as depicted by Markham, but let me see
the man with a light heart; that labors; that fulfills a
destiny the good God has given him ; that fills an hon-
ored place in life even if in an humble station ; that looks
upon the bright side of life while striving as best he may
to do his duty. I am led into these thoughts by what I
see around about me, so changed from that of my bov-


hood days where labor was held to be honorable, even
though in humble stations.

But, to return to my story. My earliest recollection,
curiously enough, is of my schoolboy days, of which I
had so few. I was certainly not five years old when a
drunken, brutal school teacher undertook to spank me
while holding me on his knees because I did not speak
a word plainly. That is the first fight I have any recol-
lection of, and would hardly remember that but for the
witnesses, one of them my oldest brother, who saw the
struggle, where my teeth did such excellent work as to
draw blood quite freely. What a spectacle that, of a
half-drunken teacher maltreating his scholars ! But then
that was a time before a free school system, and when
the parson would not hesitate to take a "wee bit," and
when, if the decanter was not on the sideboard, the jug
and gourd served well in the field or house. To harvest
without whisky in the field was not to be thought of;
nobody ever heard of a log-rolling or barn-raising with-
out whisky. And so I will say to the zealous temperance
reformers, be of good cheer, for the world has moved in
these seventy-eight years. Be it said, though, to the ever-
lasting honor of my father, that he set his head firmly
against the practice, and said his grain should rot in the
field before he would supply whisky to his harvest hands,
and I have no recollections of ever but once tasting any
alcoholic liquors in my boyhood days.

I did, however, learn to smoke when very young. It
came about in this way : My mother always smoked, as
long as I can remember. Women those days smoked as
well as men, and nothing was thought of it.

Well, that was before the time of matches, or least-


wise, it was a time when it was thought necessary to
economize in their use, and mother, who was a corpulent
won in ii, would send me to put a coal in her pipe, and
so I Mould take a whiff or two, just to get it started, you
know, which, however, soon developed into the habit of
lingering to keep it going. But let me be just to myself, —
for more than twenty years ago I threAv away my pipe
and have never smoked since, and never will, and now
to those smokers who say they "can't quit" I want to call
their attention to one case of a man who did.

.My next recollection of school-days was after father
had moved to Lockland, Ohio, then ten miles north of
Cincinnati, now, I presume, a suburb of that great city.
I played "hookey" instead of going to school, but one day
while under the canal bridge the noise of passing teams
so frightened me that I ran home and betrayed myself.
Did my mother whip me? Why, God bless her dear old
soul, no. Whipping of children, though, both at home and
in the school-room, was then about as common as eating
one's breakfast; but my parents did not think it was
necessary to rule by the rod, though then their family
government was exceptional. And so we see now a differ-
ent rule prevailing, and see that the world does move and
is getting better.

After my father's removal to Indiana times were
"hard," as the common expression goes, and all members
of the household for a season were called upon to con-
tribute their mite. I drove four yoke of oxen for twenty-
five cents a day, and a part of that time boarded at home
at that. This was on the Wabash where oak grubs grew,
as father often said, "as thick as hair on a dog's back,"
but not so thick as that. But we used to force the big


plow through and cut grubs with the plow shear, as
big as my wrist ; and when we saw a patch of them ahead,
then was when I learned how to halloo and rave at the poor
oxen and inconsiderately whip them, but father wouldn't
let me swear at them. Let me say parenthetically that I
have long since discontinued such a foolish practice, and
that I now talk to my oxen in a conversational tone of
voice and use the whip sparingly. When father moved
to Indianapolis, I think in 1842, "times" seemed harder
than ever, and I was put to work wherever an opportunity
for employment offered, and encouraged by my mother
to seek odd jobs and keep the money myself, she, however,
becoming my banker ; arid in three years I had actually
accumulated $37.00. My! but what a treasure that was
to me, and what a bond of confidence between my mother
and myself, for no one else, as I thought, knew about my
treasure. I found out afterwards, though, that father
knew about it all the time.

My ambition was to get some land. I had heard
there was a forty-acre tract in Hendrix county (Indiana)
yet to be entered at $1.25 per acre, and as soon as I could
get $50.00 together I meant to hunt up that land and
secure it. I used to dream about that land day times
as well as at night. I sawed wood and cut each stick
twice for twenty-five cents a cord, and enjoyed the ex-
perience, for at night I could add to my treasure. It was
because my mind did not run on school work and because
of my restless disposition that my mother allowed me
to do this instead of compelling me to attend school, and
which cut down my real schoolboy days to less than six
months. It was, to say the least, a dangerous experiment
and one which only a mother (who knows her child


better than all others) dare take, and I will not by any
means advise other mothers to adopt such a course.

Then when did you get your education? the casual
reader may ask. I will tell you a story. When in 1870
I wrote my first book (long since out of print), "Wash-
ington Territory West of the Cascade Mountains," and
submitted the work to the Eastern public, a copy fell
into the hands of Jay Cook, who then had six power
presses running advertising the Northern Pacific railroad,
and he at once took up my whole edition. Mr. Cook,
whom T met, closely questioned me as to where I was
educated. After having answered his many queries about
my life on the frontier he would not listen to my dis-
claimer that I was not an educated man, referring to the
work in his hand. The fact then dawned on me that it
was the reading of the then current literature of the day
that had taught me. I answered that the New York
Tribune had educated me, as I had then been a close reader
of that paper for eighteen years, and it was there I got
my pure English diction, if I possessed it. We received
mails only twice a month for a long time, and sometimes
only once a month, and it is needless to say that all the
matter in the paper was read and much of it re-read and
studied in the cabin and practiced in the field. However,
I do not set my face against school training, but can
better express my meaning by the quaint saying that "'too
much of a good thing is more than enough," a phrase in
a way senseless, which yet conveys a deeper meaning than
the literal words express. The context will show the lack
of a common school education, after all, was not entirely
for want of an opportunity, but from my aversion to con-
finement and preference for work to study.


In those days apprenticeship was quite common, and
it was not thought to be a disgrace for a child to be
"bound out" until he was twenty-one, the more especially
if this involved learning a trade. Father took a notion
he would "bind me out" to a Mr. Arthens, the mill owner
at Lockland, who was childless, and took me with him
one day to talk it over. Finally, when asked how I would
like the change, I promptly replied that it would be all
right if Mrs. Arthens would "do up my sore toes," where-
upon there was such an outburst of merriment that I
always remembered it. We must remember that boys in
those days did not wear shoes in summer and quite often
not in winter either. But mother put a quietus on the
whole business and said the family must not be divided,
and it was not, and in that she was right. Give me the
humble home for a child, that is a home in fact, rather
than the grandest palace where home life is but a sham.

I come now to an important event of my life, when
father moved from Lockland, Ohio, to near Covington,
Indiana. I was not yet seven years old, but walked
all the way behind the wagon and began building
"castles in the air," which is the first (but by no means
the last) that I remember. We were going out to Indiana
to be farmers, and it was here, near the banks of the
Wabash, that I learned the art of driving four yoke of
oxen to a breaking plow, without swearing.

That reminds me of an after-experience, the summer
I was nineteen. Uncle John Kinworthy (good old soul
he was), an ardent Quaker, who lived a mile or so out
from Bridgeport, Indiana, asked me one day while I was
passing his place with three yoke of oxen to haul a heavy
cider press beam in place. This led the oxen through the


front dooryard and in full sight and hearing of three bux-
om Quaker girls, who either stood in the door or poked
their heads out of the window, in company with their good
mother. Go through the front yard past those girls the cat-
tle would not, and kept doubling back, first on one side and
then on the other. Uncle Johnny, noticing I did not swear
at the cattle, and attributing the absence of oaths to the
presence of ladies, or maybe, like a good many others,
he thought oxen could not be driven without swearing at
them, sought an opportunity, when the mistress of the
house could not hear him, and said in a low tone, "If
thee can do any better, thee had better let out the word."
Poor, good old soul, he doubtless justified himself in his
own mind that it was no more sin to swear all the time
than part of the time ; and why is it ? I leave the answer
to that person, if he can be found, that never swears.

Yes, I say again, give me the humble home for a
child, that is a home in fact, rather than the grandest
palace where home life is but a sham. And right here is
where this generation has a grave problem to solve, if it's
not the gravest of the age, the severance of child life
from the real home and the real home influences, by the
factory child labor, the boarding schools, the rush for
city life, and so many others of like influences at work,
that one can only take time to mention examples.

And now the reader will ask, What do you mean by
the home life, and to answer that I will relate some feat-
ures of my early home life, though by no means would
say that I would want to return to all the ways of "ye
olden times."

My mother always expected each child to have a duty
to perform, as well as time to play. Light labor, to be


sure, but labor; something of service. Our diet was so
simple, the mere mention of it may create a smile with
the casual reader. The mush pot was a great factor in
our home life; a great heavy iron pot that hung on the
crane in the chimney corner where the mush would slowly
bubble and splutter over or near a bed of oak coals for
half the afternoon. And such mush, always made from
yellow corn meal and cooked three hours or more. This,
eaten with plenty of fresh, rich milk, comprised the supper
for the children. Tea? Not to be thought of. Sugar?
It was too expensive — cost fifteen to eighteen cents a
pound, and at a time it took a week's labor to earn as
much as a day's labor now. Cheap molasses, sometimes,
but not often. Meat, not more than once a day, but eggs
in abundance. Everything father had to sell was low-
priced, while everything mother must buy at the store
was high. Only to think of it, you who complain of the
hard lot of the workers of this generation : wheat twenty-
five cents a bushel, corn fifteen cents, pork two and two
and a half cents a pound, with bacon sometimes used as
fuel by the reckless, racing steamboat captains of the
Ohio and Mississippi. But when we got onto the farm
with abundance of fruit and vegetables, with plenty of
pumpkin pies and apple dumplings, our cup of joy was

Online LibraryUnknownVentures and adventures of Ezra Meeker; or, Sixty years of frontier life; fifty-six years of pioneer life in the old Oregon country; an account of the author's trip across the plains with an ox team i → online text (page 1 of 25)