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Living History: Joseph Meek — Trapper, Law Official, and Politician

  • Fort Walla Walla Museum 755 Northeast Myra Road Walla Walla, WA, 99362 United States (map)

Mountain men were among of the earliest Euro-Americans to settle in the Northwest. Following in the footsteps of the Lewis & Clark expedition, these men were the toughest of the tough. Trapping beaver and trading with Indian people in a pristine wilderness, they opened the West for many more to follow.

Mountain man Joe Meek first entered the Oregon Country in 1829 along with William Craig and Robert Newell. He met Marcus and Narcissa Whitman at the 1836 fur trapper’s rendezvous on their way to Walla Walla, and was greatly attracted to Narcissa. As the fur trapping waned in the 1840s, Meek, Newell, and Craig transported wagons left behind by the Whitmans at Fort Hall (near what is now Pocatello, Idaho) to the mission at Waiilatpu, west of Walla Walla. These were the first wagons ever to cross the Blue Mountains.

Meek went on to settle in the Willamette Valley but left his daughter, Helen Mar, with the Whitmans. When he returned to the Whitman Mission after the incident of 1847, he found his daughter had died of illness while a captive among the Cayuse people. Meek then made his famous winter ride to Washington, D.C., to plead for U.S. troops and a government presence in Oregon. As a result, he was appointed U.S. Marshal for the new Oregon Territory, which included the current states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, as well as parts of Montana and Wyoming.

Joe Meek is portrayed by Harris Gwinn.

A Living History performance at Fort Walla Walla Museum brings history to life with reenactors portraying real people from the area's past. This year’s schedule continues the company’s tradition of 2 pm presentations every Sunday from April through October, and also on Saturdays from June through August.