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Thursday December 17, 1987

Pix #1 - This land-mark, Chimney Rock, near North Platte, Nebraska could be seen long distances before the growth of timber in North Platte Valley. Ezra Meeker and his trail wagon can be seen in the center of the photo.

Pix #2 - In the two photos above, Meeker can be seen in the top photo as he located the old trail on his second trip in 1906. And in the lower photo where he is planting a marker of the old trail for future visitors to locate it.

Author's Note: Today's article is the third in the series about the establishment of the Oregon Trail and the opening of the western lands, which today are part of our great America. It is regrettable the last portion of the past week's articles were transposed in the course of mechanically assembling it. Also, I wish to inform readers that the author has been informed by a Potluck reader that her family is related to Ezra Meeker. Consequently much about the life of Meeker has been made available and will be included in a future article.

When spring came in 1842, a total of 112 persons left that town, headed for The Oregon Trail. They left the square in that town on May 14 with 18 wagons, plus horses, mules and cattle.

In 1843 the emigration was up to 1,000 people principally Jesse Applegates party consisting of 120 wagons and several thousand loose cattle and horses.

It was a wet year in 1844 and emigration was down, but in 1845 it reached 3,000. In 1846 emigration was 2,000 to 2,500. By 1948 there were more than 12,000 people settled in Oregon.

By the turn of the century at least 300,000 had moved along the trail, but 10 percent of them never made it, having died.


It was in 1852 that the urge to go west hit Meeker, even though he was only a teenager. He left Eddyville, Iowa with one wagon, two yoke of cows and an extra cow. In his party was another man, his wife and child.

Although young, Meeker must have accumulated knowledge about the requirements of food supplies, etc. He advised to pack the butter in the center of the flour in double sacks, to pack the eggs in corn meal or flour, and to carry plenty of dried fruit, dried pumpkins, jerked beef and a demyjohn of brandy. He took a tin reflector for bread baking, since there was no place for a cast iron stove.

It was generally advised that for each adult there should be 200lbs of flour, 300 lbs of pilot bread, 75 lbs of bacon, 10 lbs of rice, 5 lbs of coffee, 2 lbs of tea, 25 lbs of sugar, half bushel of corn meal, half bushel of parched corn parched and ground, and a small keg of vinegar.

The time for maing the trip from Missouri to Oregon City was about 5 months.


All the way from Independence to Ft. Laramie the thunderstorms of the spring would deafen the emigrants and stampede their stock.

One such storm caught Francis Parkman leading a pair of mules to the Westport Landing: "Such sharp and incessant flashes of lightning, continuous thunder I had never known before: the diagonal sheets of rain fell with a heavy roar, and rose in spray from the ground, and the streams swelled so rapidly that we could hardly ford them, according to Parkman.


There were lots of dangers for those who traveled on the Rail, but the one most dreaded, and for which there was no cure was cholera. It was a plague worldwide, spreading from India and Europe, Canada and reaching St. Louis in 1832. It went a hundred miles past Ft. Laramie before it was killed by the altitude.

The disease usually incubated in fulthy surroundings, and there were many along the trail. The travelers weren't careful with their garbage or their excrement.


It was totally impossible for the emigrants moving west to realize the happenings as they experienced them day-by-day traveling westward to their new homeland.

Reading about it now will probably provide new and strange realities of how our country's west developed against tremendous odds.

Those emigrants had never seen a western sunset. Never before had they experienced a western thunderstorm. Never had they seen a mountain, a desert, or an Indian in his native habitat. None had travelled four or five months with respite.

None had faced death on a day-by-day basis. The Buffalo, American Bison, was a most startling phenomenon of all, especially as seen by John Bidwell in 1841. I have seen the plain black with them for several days journey, as far as the eye could see. They seemed to be coming northward continually from the distant plains to the Platte, to get water, and would plunge in and swim across by thousands.

So numerous were they that they changed not only the color of the water but its taste until it was unfit to drink, but we had to use it.

The buffalo, however, was of value to the emigrants. It was used as meat, and said to be more tasty than beef. The hides served as warm robes and bedding. Dried buffalo chips (droppings) were used as fuel to cook or fires to keep warm.


With some exceptions, the five month excursiion was the time of their lives, and there is probably no experience today which could in any way provide comparable thrills.

Hugh Cosgrove, who moved his family west in 1847, recalled it as the most pleasant instances in his life. It was one long picnic; the changing scenes of the journey, the animals of the prairie, the Indians, the mountain men, the seasonal changes. There was alwys danger of course, but rarely did danger materialize into catastrophe. There was sickness too, but there was more cholera in the big cities then there was on the Trail.

Ezra Meeker and his packet of postcards which is credited for doing this series of articles made two trips on the Oregon Trail, the first in 1882, the last in 1906, at which time he relocated the original trail.

The photos with today's article were taken on the last trip. On his first trip, as a teenager, he left Iowa with just one wagon, two yoke of four-year old steers, and three cows. In that party was another man, his wife and child. On that trip he was promoting monuments as markers of the trail all the way.

There will be one more article about the Trail itself, but later this column will carry an article about Meeker, the man, his profession, his home, and activities in later life.

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