Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Joe Meek:

Joe Meek was born in Virginia.  He left his home for Missouri at an early age to escape a disagreeable stepmother.  There, in 1829 at age 19, he joined William Sublette, and for the next eleven years lived the arduous life of a mountain man.  

While in the mountains, Joe Meek had many adventures including a hand-to-claw encounter with a grizzly bear, hand-to-hand combat with a Bannock warrior, the killing of his first wife by a raiding party, participation in the Battle at Pierre's Hole, July 17, 1832 and was a member of Joseph Walker's expedition to California in 1833-34.  

As the fur trade lost importance in the 1840s, Joe Meek and Doc Newell joined the immigrants to Oregon, and escorted one of the first wagon trains across the mountains.  Settling in Willamette Valley of Oregon, near what would become Hillsboro, he became a farmer, also serving as sheriff in 1843 and in the legislature in 1846 and 1847.  With the Whitman Massacre and outbreak of the Cayuse War in the Oregon Territory, Meek headed for Washington D.C. where he met with President Polk.  Joe Meek's case for making the Oregon Territory a federal territory came to fruition with the appointment of Joe Lane as Territorial Governor and Joe Meek as Territorial Federal Marshal.

A local resident described Joe Meek as “bold, adventurous, humorous, a first-class trapper, pioneer, peace officer, and frontier politician. More, he was the wittiest, saltiest, most shameless wag and jester that ever wore moccasins in the Rockies - a tall happy-go-lucky Virginian lover of practical jokes, tall tales, Jacksonian Democracy and Indian women."

To learn more about Joe Meek see the following references:

Joe Meek; The Merry Mountain Man; by Vestal, Stanley, published by Caxton Printers, 1952, 336 pages.

The River of the West: The Adventures of Joe Meek by Victor, Frances Fuller, published by Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1983, 2 volumes. Note-originally published by R.W. Bliss, 1870.

No Man Like Joe, the Life and Times of Joseph L. Meek, by Tobie, Harvey Elmer, published by the Oregon Historical Society 1949, 320 pages.

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