Once upon a time, there were two Ezra’s. One played a role in the transformation of Route 66, the other ensured the Oregon Trail did not fade into obscurity.
The first, Ezra Blaine Meeker, built a Cajon Pass empire with a series of businesses that began with a partnership in a cafe and service station near Camp Cajon in 1919. His properties were like the mythical Phoenix in that they rose from the ashes of destruction.
His first enterprise, a complex up the hill from Camp Cajon, vanished in the massive flood of 1938. The next complex, bigger and better than the first, prospered until a run away truck decimated the complex in 196. The next enterprise was erased with the construction of the four lane alignment of Route 66 and then came the popular Double D Ranch Cafe and station, a complex that included a home built from two of the cabins from the previous endeavor.
The first Ezra Meeker was the grandfather of Ezra Blaine Meeker, a tenacious man whose life bridged the world of John Adams and the world of Henry Ford. Often, I have mentioned my fascination with the period between 1885 and 1930 resultant of the people that lived in the world of the frontier and the modern era. Meeker exemplifies this.
Born in December of 1830, Ezra Meeker migrated to Oregon with his wife Eliza, and newborn son, Marian, over the Oregon Trail in 1852. They traveled by wagon and a two ox team. a mode of transport that would figure prominently in his latter life.
In Puyallup, Oregon Ezra turned to the growing of hops and made himself a small fortune, much of which was lost when hops aphids devastated his crops in 1888. Undaunted, the 58 year old Meeker turned his attentions to other ventures – developing waxed paper cartons for milk, an advanced means for dehydrating fruits and vegetables, among others.
The gold rush in the Klondike grabbed his attention. So, he decided to try his hand as a prospector making several trips tot he Yukon and Arctic in search of elusive riches. Then, in 1906, at age 76, he discovered his calling.
With the advent of the automobile and the sweeping changes being wrought by technology, the nation turned its eyes to the future. Meeker worried that they would forget the past, their all important roots and so he decided to shine the light on the Oregon Trail and its importance to the nation.
With a covered wagon garishly painted and adorned with advertisement, and a team of oxen, he headed east over the old trail. Along the way he stopped and spoke at conventions, local events, schools, and any venue that presented itself. The media focus on his endeavor increased with each passing mile.
After reaching the eastern terminus of the Oregon Trail, he decided to take his message to Washington D.C. But times had changed and in New York City, Meeker crashed into the modern era and its tangle of red tape and regulation, a plague that would became the modern equal of the Hydra in the 21st century.
Still, Meeker persevered and on November 28, 1907 Meeker arrived in Washington for his meeting with President Roosevelt. Congress considered, and rejected, Meeker’s request for $50,000 to mark the historic trail.
Meeker continued in his quest to bring remembrance of the Oregon Trail to the American people. In 1910, now 80 years of age, he repeated his cross country venture with wagon and team of oxen.
In 1916, he adopted modern technologies to his endeavor. For this cross country adventure, he drove an automobile.
The year previous, he had the oxen, Dave and Dandy, mounted by a taxidermist, attached to the wagon and sent around the country by rail. It was displayed in Washington D.C. and at the San Francisco Panama Pacific Exhibition and is currently on exhibit at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, Washington.
In 1924, Meeker, now 94 flew across the nation in an open cockpit biplane. This trip was at the bequest of Orville Wright, who he rode in a parade with the next day before continuing his journey east to meet with President Coolidge.
In 1926, Meeker’s quest bore fruit. The Congress authorized the minting of a special Oregon Trail Memorial half dollar.
Meeker died on December 3, 1928, but not before meeting with Henry Ford to discuss a way to promote the new Model A through the promotion of the Oregon Trail. Meeker was truly a man who knew how to get the most from life!

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