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Biography of Col. Joseph L. Meek

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Joe Meek

Joe Meek

COL. JOSEPH L. MEEK. – As one of the remarkable mountainmen of our early age, “Jo” Meek is deserving of special mention. Aside from the class of men of whom he was one of the best types, he possessed an unusual personality of his own. This led him to so conspicuous a place in our early annals that his frequent appearance in the body of the work makes an extended notice here unnecessary. We shall present only the salient features of his remarkable career.

Born in Washington county, Virginia, in 1810, he early developed a love of wandering which took him from home and deprived him of all opportunities of education. While still a boy he ran away from home and joined the trapping company of Sublette in the Rocky Mountains. In the wild life of the border, – its alternate starving and abundance, its fierce extremes of toil and inactivity, its desperate adventures and its wild revelings, – he spent over fifteen years.

In the year 1840, the dissolution of the American Fur Company having left them without occupation, a number of the trappers resolved to collect their worldly goods and seek new fortunes in the Willamette valley. Among the number was Jo Meek. That was the earliest settlement in that part of the valley, and next to the Chemeketa settlement of the Methodist missionaries, was the first American community anywhere in the valley. Meek’s place was near the present site of Hillsboro. The various fortunes of this tamed mountain hero-such as his winter journey to the East as the envoy of the Provisional government of Oregon, his part in the settlement of the question growing out of the Cayuse war, his performance of the duties of United States marshal, etc. – are a part of our general history, and need but be alluded to here.

The monotony of farm life was distasteful to a man who had undergone such a life; and Meek’s later years were shadowed with poverty and disappointment. He was out of his sphere in such a community as Oregon soon grew to be; yet almost to the end of his life he retained the gayety and reckless abandon, as well as the physical magnificence, which he had possessed to so superlative a degree in his youth. His wife was a Nez Perce Indian of great beauty. His children, of whom he had several, are well known in the state as possessing remarkable personal attractiveness and intelligence. The stormy life of “Old Jo” came to an end on the 20th of June, 1875.

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