This is the history of Midland, Washington.  It’s evidence is given to us through historical maps, photographs, and documents that are factual and truthful in content, gathered from reliable sources such as the Library of Congress, Washington State Archives, Bureau of Land Management, and Pierce County Auditor, to name a few.

Bound For Oregon Territory

During the winter of 1851 in Indianapolis, twenty-four year old Oliver Perry Meeker and a group of friends and neighbors were making preparations for a journey next spring that would take them across the plains of the Midwest all the way to Oregon Territory.  They were John and Jacob Davenport, David Wesley Ballard and his wife Jane, and David’s younger brother nineteen year old Martin D. Ballard.

While on his way to Oregon the first week of April 1852, Oliver made a stop near Eddyville, Iowa to visit his younger brother Ezra Meeker and wife Eliza Jane.  The couple were living three miles outside of Eddyville on a forty acre farm they began renting in January from John B. Gray.  It was during this visit that Oliver persuaded Ezra and Eliza Jane to go to Oregon with him, and by the end of April the Meekers were on there way. [1]

Publicly, Ezra Meeker would take full credit for the idea of going to Oregon in the books he wrote in his later years. Privately, however, from letters he wrote to his daughter Caddie, there would be a more accurate version of what happened.  [2]

But Oliver came along on the way to Oregon and so we very suddenly concluded to go too, and a partnership was formed with William Buck (Oliver had already made his arrangements with others before leaving home) and in two weeks time we were on the road.

Ezra Meeker in a letter to Caddie Osborne

After six months travelling across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains, the Meekers finally reached The Dalles, Oregon.   They then sold their wagons and oxen and bought passage on a barge down the Columbia River to Portland where they arrived in October 1852.

From Portland, Oregon they headed north, making stops along the way in Kalama and St. Helens where they would find work and also run a boarding house.  The Meekers would reach Puget Sound in April 1853 and McNeil Island where they would settle and build a cabin.

There are two different accounts of what happened next.  Ezra Meeker would write that they received a letter that was four months old from their father, Jacob Meeker, stating “Boys, if Oliver will come back to cross with us, we will go to Oregon next year“. [3]  Problem with this account is that nobody has ever seen the letter, except of course for Ezra Meeker.

The other account of what happened next is also from a letter.  But this letter does exist.  In a letter written by Oliver’s grandson, Oliver Wells Meeker, to his wife Verna, we are told what happened after the Meekers reach McNeil Island.

The boys were so favorably impressed with Puget Sound country that they decided that Oliver should return to the old homestead or farm. Oliver took the steamer down the coast to Panama, walked across the Isthmus of Panama & from the Atlantic side took a steamer to New York, thence by train west to where the old folks lived. Oliver persuaded the whole family to sell out and come west by ox team.

Oliver Wells Meeker Excerpt from a letter written by Oliver’s grandson, Oliver Wells Meeker to his wife Verna

In the spring of 1854 Oliver Meeker returned to Eddyville, Iowa to bring the rest of his family back to Oregon with him.  While he was in Eddyville, on April 23, 1854, Oliver married Amanda Clement.

Returning with Oliver on his second trip across the Great Plains were his wife Amanda Clement Meeker, his father Jacob Meeker, his mother Phoebe Meeker, his younger brother Clark Meeker, and his sister Hannah Jane and her husband Jesse Dunlap.

Sadly, tragedy would come to the Meeker’s not once, but twice during their journey.  Oliver’s younger brother Clark drowned while trying to cross the Sweetwater River, and his mother Phoebe Meeker died from cholera.  On October 24, 1854, the Meekers arrived on McNeil Island.

Donation Land Claims

It wasn’t long after arriving at McNeil Island that Jacob Meeker informed his sons they would all be moving off the island to the mainland where more opportunities were available.  In the town of Steilacoom they started a business called J. R. Meeker & Sons, selling goods and supplies to settlers in the area. While in Steilacoom, Jacob met the widow Nancy Burr and on March 2, 1855 the two were united in marriage.

On September 10, 1855, Jacob and Nancy Meeker filed a donation land claim for 320 acres near the area of Fern Hill in parts of present day South Tacoma and Lakewood, and was called Swamp Place. [4]  The three Meeker men moved their families to the claim and it is there that Ezra would build a cabin, plant a garden, and start an orchard. [5][6]

A couple miles to the east of Jacob and Nancy Meeker’s land claim, on October 20, 1855, Jesse Dunlap and his wife Hannah Jane Meeker Dunlap filed a donation land claim for 320 acres located in present day Midland.  The Dunlap’s would be the first to file a donation land claim for land in present day Midland. [7]

About two o’clock in the morning on October 29, 1855, a loud knock at the door awakened the three families, father and two sons, followed with the information that the Indians had broken out, had murdered all the settlers on White River. This would be the start of the Puget Sound Indian War.  Ezra Meeker gave us the exact location where they were living when they were awakened with the news, on Jacob and Nancy Meeker’s donation land claim.[8]

Jacob R. Meeker. Oliver P. Meeker, and the author, then living just beyond the confines of South Tacoma, south and five miles east of Fort Steilacoom

Ezra Meeker Pioneer Reminiscences; footnote; page 304

Donation Land Claim Location Jacob Meeker

Ezra Meeker would further answer any question of whether or not Oliver or himself had built cabins on Jacob and Nancy Meeker’s donation land claim with the following excerpt. [9]

While in our case we were but five miles from what was called Fort Steilacoom (which was not a fort, but simply an encampment in log cabin and light board houses), yet we would be no safer there than in our own log cabins with our trusted rifles in our own hands, and in fact not so safe.

My brother, O. P. Meeker, and myself stoutly contended we had best barricade the cabins and stay where we were, but the father and women of the household said “no” with such emphasis that the conclusion was soon reached that we must fly.

Ezra Meeker Pioneer Reminiscences; footnote; page 304-305

Meeker’s Evacuate to Fort Steilacoom

With the news of the murders on the White River, the Meeker family, along with the settlers living in the area, all evacuated to the safety of Fort Steilacoom.  Unhappy with the conditions at the fort, the Meeker’s would build their own blockhouse on Commercial Street.  They would add onto it and would become the building used for the family business, J. R. Meeker and Sons.

It is while they were living in Steilacoom that Oliver and Ezra Meeker would file their individual donation land claims.  On November 5, 1855, Oliver and Amanda Meeker filed a donation land claim for 335 acres [10], and Ezra and Eliza Jane Meeker filed a donation land claim for 320 acres [11].  Both land claims are in present day Midland, Washington.

Undoubtedly, both Oliver and Ezra Meeker had every intention of settling on their individual land claims after the Indian War had ended in 1856.  There is no evidence, however, physical or otherwise, that puts them on either donation land claim.

While living in Steilacoom, Oliver Meeker would become very successful in politics.  In 1856, Oliver was elected to serve as a Member of the House during the Fourth Session of the Washington Territorial Assembly in Olympia.  He was reelected in 1857 and served as a Member of the House during the Fifth Session of the Washington Territorial Assembly in Olympia. [12]  Records show that Oliver was a member of the Methodist Church while he was living in Steilacoom, and also a member of the Sons of Temperance which held weekly meetings in the town of Steilacoom at the Methodist Church. [13]

Ezra Meeker was a member of the jury during Chief Leschi’s first murder trial held in Steilacoom, which resulted in a hung jury. On March 21, 1858, the schooner Wild Pigeon came to Steilacoom with word of gold being found on the Frazer River.  Ezra would travel to Whatcom were he bought property and opened an outlet for the family store J. R. Meeker and Sons.  He also gave the location of where he and his family were living when they recieved the news there was gold on the Frazer River. [13][14]

My family was still in the block house we had built during the war in the town of Steilacoom. Our cattle were peacefully grazing on the plains a few miles distant, but there remained a spirit of unrest that one could not fail to observe.

Ezra Meeker Pioneer Reminiscences; pages 162-163

The “unrest” Ezra wrote of was aftereffects of the Indian War which had recently ended.

On January 5, 1860, Oliver Meeker was returning from San Francisco on board the ship Northerner with goods and supplies for the family store, J. R. Meeker and Sons.  The ship struck a rock off the coast of Cape Mendocino and sank.  Tragically, Oliver Perry Meeker drowned while trying to make it to shore.  The Puget Sound Herald of January 20, 1860 lists Oliver Meeker of Steilacoom, Pierce County, as one of the passengers lost.

There have been numerous books and essays written over the years that have given the incorrect date Oliver drowned as January 5, 1861.  It is because Ezra Meeker wrote in his books that Oliver drowned on January 5, 1861.

The 1860 Census shows Ezra Meeker, his wife Eliza Jane Meeker, Oliver’s widow Amanda Clement Meeker, and her son Frank Meeker were living next to attorney Frank Clark in the town of Steilacoom. The 1860 Census also shows Jesse Dunlap and his wife Hannah Jane Meeker Dunlap were living on their donation land claim in present day Midland. [16]

In 1862 Ezra Meeker would move his family to Puyallup.

 


Sources

  1. Dennis Larsen; Ezra Meeker on the Oregon Trail in 1852: the Real Story; August 12, 2012
  2. Letter from Ezra Meeker to Caddie Osborne, 14 May 1908, Meeker Papers, Box 7, Folder 8C
  3. Ezra Meeker; Pioneer Reminiscences; page 86
  4. Paula Becker; Ezra Meeker HistoryLink.org Essay 7737; May 2, 2006
  5. Washington State Archives, Meeker, Jacob; Washington Territory Donation Land Claim Patents, 1851-1903; January 11, 2020
  6. Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly; Volume XXVIII, Number 2; Summer, 1999
  7. Washington State Archives, Dunlap, Jesse; Washington Territory Donation Land Claim Patents, 1851-1903; January 11, 2020
  8. Ezra Meeker; Pioneer Reminiscences; page 304
  9. Ezra Meeker; Pioneer Reminiscences; page 305
  10. Washington State Archives; Meeker, Oliver; Washington Territory Donation Land Claim Patents, 1851-1903; January 11, 2020
  11. Washington State Archives; Meeker, Ezra; Washington Territory Donation Land Claim Patents, 1851-1903; January 11, 2020
  12. Washington State Archives; Territorial Assembly; House Members 1856 -1860
  13. Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly; Volume XXVIII, Number 2; Summer, 1999
  14. Ezra Meeker; Pioneer Reminiscences; pages 162, 163
  15. Puget Sound Herald; January 20, 1860; page 1
  16. 1860 Census; Washington Territory; Pierce County