It took soldiers, pioneers and Indian people, to turn the American West into the place many people now call home. The Fort Walla Walla Museum Living History Company, dedicated to sharing stories of many of those hardy folks, turns to a particularly rugged specimen whose courage and innovative spirit are emblematic of regional life in the 19th century.
Mountain men were among of the earliest Euro-Americans to make their way through the Northwest. Following in the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark expedition, these men explored and mapped new territory. Trapping beaver and trading with Indian people in a pristine wilderness, they opened the West for many more to follow, thereby stepping forever into American folklore.
Among those who strode through the mid-Columbia region was Joseph Meek. Portrayed by Walla Walla County Court Services Director Mike Bates, Meek will appear today at 2 p.m. in Fort Walla Walla Museum's pioneer village (in the Museum's Grand Hall of the new Entry Building & Exhibit Galleries should the weather be inclement).
Meek first entered the Oregon Country in 1829 as a 19-year-old fleeing a bad-tempered stepmother, in the company of William Craig and Robert Newell. The three likely accompanied Bill Sublette to the now famous Pierre's Hole Rendezvous of 1832, on the west side of the Grand Teton Mountains in today's Idaho.
Meek met Marcus and Narcissa Whitman at the 1836 Horse Creek rendezvous on the Green River in what would become Wyoming as the Whitmans made their way to Walla Walla and "took a fancy" to Narcissa.
In 1840, as fur trapping waned, Meek, Newell, and Craig brought the Whitman's wagons they had left at Fort Hall near present day 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 in the Walla Walla Valley. When he returned to Whitman Mission after the tragedy of 1847, he found his daughter had died of illness while a captive of the Cayuse in the aftermath of the incident.
Meek then made his famous winter ride to Washington, D.C., to plead with President James K. Polk for U.S. troops and a federal presence in Oregon. As a result, he was appointed U.S. Marshal for the new Oregon Territory that included all of what are now Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, as well as parts of Montana and Wyoming.
Today also marks the beginning of the museum's "Tales o' the Trail" children's reading circle. On the second and fourth Sundays of each month through October, volunteers will read aloud age-appropriate books of regional historical interest to kids ages 4-9.
Volunteer Barbara Daniel, a retired Green Park School teacher, will read aloud from "The White Stallion: the elegant white stallion of the Walla Walla Tribe, a Lewis and Clark adventure in Washington State" by Sandra Stredwick.
A craft activity will help occupy small hands during this half-hour session designed for kids ages 4 - 9. The reading begins at 1 p.m.