He was also one of the first to grow hops in the Puyallup Valley and soon earned the nickname “Hop King of the World.” He even wrote a book called Hop Culture in the United States. The “King” fell faster than he rose. At one point he was the wealthiest man in Washington Territory, but hop aphids and the panic of 1893 brought him down. He spent a few years selling dried vegetables in the Klondike, then returned to the town he platted from land he owned, Puyallup.
Meeker ran unsuccessfully for a couple of offices and started the Washington State Historical Society.
But this is a blog about Idaho, so you know there’s more to Meeker’s story.
Ezra Meeker had always been proud of his pioneer roots, especially the fact that he had come to Oregon Territory via the Oregon Trail in 1852. At age 71 (some sources say 75), he set out to do something he had long thought about. He wanted to travel the trail again, this time west to east. Again, he would travel in an ox-drawn wagon, not to venture to a new territory but to commemorate the trip thousands had made along the Oregon Trail. It was his intention to raise money and interest in placing monuments along the fast disappearing trail so that it would not be lost to history.
His slow journey east, in 1906, garnered more and more publicity as he plodded along. In Boise, Meeker told stories of the trail and convinced 1200 school children to donate their change to raise $100 for a granite monument with a brass plaque to be placed on the grounds of the capitol where it still stands today.
By the time Meeker and his schooner arrived in Montpelier, he had raised money along the way and erected 15 Oregon Trail monuments. The Montpelier Commercial Club began raising money to make it 16.
Eventually Meeker made it to his original jumping off point on the Oregon Trail, Eddyville, Iowa. He travelled on, selling postcards and other merchandise as he went to finance the journey, eventually ending up in New York City, where he took his ox team and wagon on a six-hour-drive the length of Manhattan. Later he would travel to Washington, DC, where he met with President Theodore Roosevelt. The president gave his support to the idea of establishing a cross-country highway, a dream of Meeker’s.
In 1910, Meeker took to the Oregon Trail again, this time not to raise money for monuments, but to locate and mark the fading trail. That trip ended in Denver when a flood damaged many of Meeker’s possessions.
In 1916 Meeker, now 85, headed out on the trail again, this time in a Pathfinder automobile. The company built a special body for the car, making it look a bit like an old covered wagon. Using the car gave him a chance to pitch the idea of a cross-country highway to more people, as well as telling the story of the Oregon Trail.
Meeker had one more trip in him. In 1924 he talked the Army into letting him fly across country with one of their pilots. He went again to Washington, DC to talk with the president about his favorite subjects. This time it was President Calvin Coolidge he met. That same year—Meeker was 95—he ran for the Washington House of Representatives, but was defeated in the Republican Primary by 35 votes.