Joseph Lafayette Meek

February 7, 1810 - June 20, 1875

Meek, Joseph Lafayette, mountain man, pioneer (Feb. 7, 1810-June 20, 1875). Born in Virginia, he went to Lexington, Missouri, and left for the Rocky Mountains with William Sublette March 17, 1829. He spent 11 years in the mountains, becoming an outstanding trapper and rover, taking part in countless adventures with a rollicking good humor that built a lasting reputation. He took part in the celebrated battle of Pierre's Hole in July 1832, and the next year became a free trapper. Meek accompanied Joe Walker on his California expedition of 1833-1834, in the summer of 1834 returning to take part in the final Green River's Ham Fork rendezvous of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. After countless adventures during the waning days of the trapping industry, Meek and his third Indian wife reached the Willamette Valley, Oregon, on December 15, 1840. Despite the astonishing originality of his spelling, Meek was not an unintelligent man and was widely read among the classics of the day; his sense of humor and braggadocio made him outstanding and, being empty of vanity, endeared him to many, missionaries as well as less-refined characters. He worked for various farms in the Oregon country, then became sheriff, a popular choice. by 1845 he was a prosperous farmer himself, won a seat in the Legislature and, having been converted at a Methodist meeting in 1847 emerged as a strong temperance man. When he learned of the massacre of his friends, the Whitmans, he and others took news of the disaster to the states, reaching St. Joseph May 11, 1848, and Washington May 28 where Meek greeted his cousin, Mrs. James Polk and the President. Oregon was quickly made a Territory, and Meek its marshal; he picked up the new governor, Joseph Lane, in Indiana, and accompanied him back to Oregon City which they reached March 2, 1849. Meek became deeply involved in political affairs in the Territory, complicated by anti-Indian hysteria and complex cross-currents which he had neither the training nor the sophistication to handle, and with a change of administration was swept from office. He served in the Yakima Indian war in the Oregon Volunteers, emerging as major. A democrat from Virginia by tradition, he still was strongly pro-Union and helped found the Oregon republican Party. Meek's children, of mixed ancestry, came afoul of the unreasonable anti-Indian emotionalism of the time and place, but Joe weathered it all, remaining himself to the end, a man of great potential and unusual accomplishment, and withal one of integrity, judgment, courage and great magnetism, a born leader.


Francis Fuller Victor, River of the West. Hartford, Conn., Columbian Book Co., 1870; Stanley Vestal, Joe Meek: The Merry Mountain Man. Caldwell, Ida., Caxton Printers, 1952.