Historic Postcard Extra: Oregon Trail History in KC

On October 5, 1910, 110 years ago today, Oregon Trail pioneer Ezra Meeker was in Kansas City with his team and led the Industrial Club Parade. The description on the back of the card reads: “Leading Industrial Parade, Kansas City, Mo, October 5th, 1910, preceded by thirty policemen and band, followed by drum corps. Parade 4 miles long, Ezra Meeker in wagon, Mardon with oxen.” 

Born of humble beginnings on December 29, 1830 in Butler County, Ohio, Ezra Manning Meeker would find great wealth and know great hardship, all within a span of 97 years. It is through his efforts that a great part of the old Oregon Trail is recognized as a Historic Landmark. 

Meeker grew up in Indiana and in 1851 married Eliza Sumner. One year later they set off for Oregon Territory where land could be claimed and settled on. The six-month trip on the trail was fraught with hardships but his small band of emigrants survived and settled near present day Portland. Shortly thereafter they migrated north where in 1862 they settled permanently in what was to become Puyallup, Washington. 

By 1887, Meeker’s hop growing business had made him a wealthy man and he built a mansion for his family that still stands today. In 1891, however, an infestation of aphids claimed much of his crop. 

In 1906 Meeker was convinced that the old Oregon Trail was being forgotten. By this time he was in his seventies. Nonetheless, he decided to retrace his steps along the trail by wagon through the Monument Expedition. Along the way Meeker sought to build monuments in communities along the trail, showing the location and any remaining wagon ruts, or swails, still visible at the time. 

During the final two decades of his life he traveled the trail many times but mostly by ox cart, financing his trip through the sale of penny postcards such as these shown. 

In 1928 on one of his excursions on the trail, this time by rail, Meeker fell ill and was tended to by none other than Henry Ford. He returned to Washington state and became sickly again, ultimately passing away days short of his 98th birthday on December 3, 1928. He is the founder of the Oregon-California Trails Association, was the first Mayor of Puyallup, Washington and has authored a number of books about the old Oregon Trail. 

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