Oliver P. Meeker

Midland, Washington

During the winter of 1851, Oliver P. Meeker, and a group of friends from around Indianapolis, Indiana, were making preparations for a journey to Oregon.

Members of a neighboring family called Ballard had also caught the Oregon fever. David Wesley Ballard and his wife Jane were outfitting for the journey. Nineteen-year old Martin D. Ballard, David’s younger brother, also signed up for the adventure.

According to a history written by Martin’s son in 1945, the impetus for Martin joining came from Oliver Meeker. Martin’s son wrote that Oliver, who lived on a neighboring farm, received a letter from Oliver’s younger brother Ezra, telling of the wonders of the Oregon Country and that Oliver, “invited Martin to come and spend the night with him and read the letter. This he did, and the boys were so fired with enthusiasm for the adventure that they laid awake and planned until five o’clock in the morning and then announced that they were leaving with the emigrant train then being made up.”

During his journey to Oregon in April 1852, Oliver stopped in Eddyville, Iowa where his younger brother Ezra and wife Eliza Jane Meeker had rented a 40-acre farm with a cabin earlier that winter from John B. Gray three miles southeast of town.

Ezra Meeker took full credit for the idea of going to Oregon in his later years, however, a 1908 letter to his daughter Carrie Osborne, Ezra suggests that the decision was made to go to Oregon when Oliver came to Eddyville bursting with Oregon fever and that Oliver was the impetus, not Ezra.

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 his daughter, Carrie Osborne in 1908

Twice Across the Oregon Trail

By the end of April 1852, Oliver, Ezra, and Eliza Jane were on their way to Oregon.  It took them six months to reach Portland Oregon, which they did on October 1, 1852.

Their travels finally brought them to Puget Sound in the spring of 1853 where the brothers built a cabin on McNeil Island.  Here they received a letter from their father, Jacob Meeker, stating, “Boys, if Oliver will come back to cross with us, we will go to Oregon next year.”

Oliver’s grandson, Oliver Wells Meeker, chronicles what happened next

Oliver took a steamer down the coast to Panama, walked across the Isthmus of Panama and from the Atlantic side took a steamer to New York, thence by train west to where the old folks lived. It was then that Oliver’s and Amanda’s romance took place.

On their way to the “jumping off spot” (on the Missouri River), where the wagons and ox teams were outfitted and the wagon trains organized for the trip, overnight stops were made at farm houses, and where there had been some prior acquaintance, this was utilized where possible. The Meekers stopped over night at the home of the Clements and Oliver and Amanda, the 15 year-old daughter of the Clements fell in love in the one evening they had.

In the morning Oliver went to the girl’s parents and proposed that they be married and he offered to leave her at the altar and make the trip west and when he had a suitable home established for her, he would then come back for her. The Parents asked Amanda if she was willing to be married and then wait for him and she said “yes”. Then the parents decided that the best thing would be for them to marry, but for Amanda to go west with Oliver and help with establishing that home.”

 

References

  1. The Ballard Family on the Oregon Trail in 1852 by Dennis Larsen
  2. Ezra Meeker on the Oregon Trail in 1852: the Real Story; by Dennis Larsen ; August 12, 2012
  3. Our Faces Are Westward The 1852 Oregon Trail Journey of Edward Jay Allen by Dennis Larsen and Karen L. Johnson