Fur trapper, mountain man, U.S. Marshal, politician, and storyteller known for his wit, Joseph L. Meek was a pivotal player in establishing Oregon as a United States territory.
Meek was born in 1810 in rural West Virginia. In 1828, he left for Missouri and signed on as a fur trader with Jedediah Smith, David Jackson, and William Sublette. In 1830, he joined the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, trapping throughout the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, and California. These were the peak fur trading years, and Meek became close friends with luminaries like Kit Carson and Thomas Fitzpatrick. It was common among mountain men to marry native women. His third wife, Virginia, a Nez Perce woman, lived with him until he died. As the fur business waned, Meek and Virginia settled in Oregon to farm. But Meek had another purpose: obtaining Oregon as a United States Territory. “I want to live long enough to see Oregon securely American…,” he said, so he could die in the United States. In February 1848, he met with President Polk, and in August, his efforts paid off. Oregon became a Territory. Joe Meek died in Oregon in June 1875—on U.S. soil.