Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 9/Notes and News (Number 2)

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Issue No. 2



Mr. Meeker is fully entitled to the recognition of being the Ulysses among the Oregon pioneers. Admirably and heroically did he execute his trip back along the Oregon Trail and to New York City and Washington in the interest of the national recognition of the historic importance of the migration of the Oregon pioneers. To have simply retraced the two-thousand-mile stretch of those westward marches across the plains with his ox-team and old-time "prairie schooner," or Conestoga Wagon, would alone have sufficed to arouse the deep interest of those susceptible to historical suggestion. But Mr. Meeker's purpose and plans contemplated a far more strenuous undertaking. Nor did he desist until at every population center on the route a durable monument was set up or a movement for one fully organized. Memorial exercises were held at the unveilings. The curiosity of thousands of school children was aroused in this as yet not fairly appreciated epoch of our national history and their active participation in commemorating its importance was elicited. The sublime and patriotic audacity with which Mr. Meeker's achievement was conceived was only equalled by the grim and heroic determination with which it was carried out to complete consummation.

Think of the quaint but most impressive procession made by this patriarchal figure and equipage down Broadway, of his review of the tens of thousands before the Sub-Treasury building in the heart of America's metropolis, and of his reception by the President in Washington at the steps pf the White House— all for the noblest purpose of securing a due recognition of the services of those who won for this nation dimensions four-square to the world. He was but exhibiting— uncouth as the outfit might have seemed to the over-fastidious —the ark in which was borne the scions for a nation of largest destiny.

Nothing could have been more fitting and fortunate than this transcontinental memorial trip by a veteran of the culminating migration, still possessed of the vigor of his prime and an adept in handling the truly symbolic ox- team and prairie schooner. So, single-handed and alone, Ezra Meeker appealed to the historic sense of the American people, to their sense of obligation to the memory of the intrepid Oregon pioneers, as could have been done in no other way.

It is but fair that Mr. Meeker should express in his own words his conception of the mission he undertook and triumphantly carried out. I quote chapter six of his account:


"The ox is passing; in fact we may almost say has passed. Like the old-time spinning-wheel and the hand loom, that are only to be seen as mementos of the past; or the quaint old cobbler's bench with its hand-made lasts and shoe pegs; or the heavy iron bubbling mush pot on the crane in the chimney corner; like the fast vanishing of the old-time men and women of fifty years or more ago— all are passing to be laid aside for the new w^ays and the new actors on the scenes of life. While these ways and these scenes and these actors have had their day, yet their experiences and lessons taught are not lost to the world although at times almost forgotten.

"The differences between a civilized and an uncivilized people lies in the application of these experiences; while the one builds upon the foundations of the past, which engenders hope and ambition for the future, the other has no past nor aspirations for the future. As reverence for the past dies out in the breasts of a generation, so likewise patriotism wanes. In the measure that the love of the history of the past dies, so likewise do the higher aspirations for the future. To keep the flame of patriotism alive we have only to keep the memory of the past vividly in mind.


"Bearing these thoughts in mind, this expedition to perpetuate the memory of the old Oregon Trail was undertaken. And there was this further thought, that here was this class of heroic men and women who fought a veritable battle—a battle of peace to be sure, yet as brave a battle as any by those that faced the cannon 's mouth; a battle that was fraught with as momentous results as any of the great battles of grim war; a battle that wrested half a continent from the native race and from a mighty nation contending for mastery in the unknown regions of the West, whose fame [that of the Oregon Trail] was scantily acknowledged and whose name was already almost forgotten, and whose track, the battle ground of peace, was on the verge of impending oblivion. Shall this become an accomplished fact? The answer to this is this expedition, to perpetuate the memory of the old Oregon Trail, and to honor the intrepid pioneers who made it and saved this great region, the old Oregon Country, for American rule.

"The ox team did it. Had it not been for the patient ox with the wagon train, the preponderance of an American settlement in the old Oregon Country over that of the British could not have so certainly prevailed; and in fact uncertainty hovered over the land with the results hanging in the balance until the first wagon train reached the region of contending forces.

Mr. Meeker in this achievement was doing a service not merely to the memory of the Oregon pioneer but also to the American people at large. For this historic highway is an exponent of the pre-emption of a continent by Anglo-Saxon energy. The migrations over it represent the highest daring of Anglo-Saxon restlessness. It was the scene of the greatest single achievement to which the race was impelled through its superlative measure of self-reliance and faith in the unknown. It was the great arch that had to be projected to the Pacific Coast that the territory of this people might lie foursquare to the rest of the world and that it might have the choicest arena for the exhibition of its race genius. When finally the East and the West have assumed their normal relative proportions and the factors determining our national destiny have been clearly recognized, the meed of honor due to those who set forth on the Oregon migrations will be fully awarded. Mr. Meeker through his great patriotic achievement and his worthy record of incidents connected with it is grandly hastening the day of full appreciation.

Kate C. McBeth. The Nez Perces Indians Since Lewis and Clark. Pp. 272. Price, $1.50. Fleming H. Revell Company, 1908.

Six churches among the Nez Perces, two among the Spokanes, one among the Umatillas, one among the Shoshones of Southern Idaho, and one among the Shivits of Utah represent the direct present outcome of the missionary labors among the Indians led by Dr. Marcus Whitman and Rev. H. H. Spalding. However, Mrs. Eliza Spalding and the two McBeth sisters, Miss Sue L. and Miss Kate C, are to be credited with a large share of the permanent results. It is exceedingly fortunate that we have this familiar and first-hand record of this most notable Protestant missionary work among Western Indians. Miss McBeth's account furnishes a faithful picture of the difficulties, trials and victories experienced by the devoted missionaries in their efforts to christianize the Nez Perces. As the record is compiled by a more recent missionary the later phases are depicted with more detail and reliability than those the reports of which were handed down largely in the form of tradition. Miss McBeth's sketch, however, is throughout absolutely candid. It portrays in detail the real life conditions of this noble representative of the native races. Their struggle to adapt themselves in the trying transition from barbarism to civilization appeals to our sympathies. The abiding faith of the missionaries in the all-sufficing efficacy of the gospel coupled with a broad-minded wisdom elicits our admiration. The book is a genuiae record of devoted missionary effort that rang true at every stage and which was crowned with a large measure of the rewards sought. An appendix gives the most important Nez Perces myths.

It is to be noted that the elder Miss McBeth compiled a dictionary of the Nez Perces language during the years of her life among them. This was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution.

  1. Ezra Meeker. The Ox Team or the Old Oregon Trail, 1852-1906. (Fourth Edition. ) New York: Published by the Author.