Joe and Virginia Meek And Families Lead The Oregon Territory Settlement

Post by Ginny Mapes- March 2018

Mountain men, missionaries, and sailors from ships at sea, their lives all connect. . . . here's part of the story starting in 1840.

Joesph L. Meek, Robert Newell, Caleb Wilkins, George Ebbert, William Craig, and William Doty were friends, having trapped together over the years. They were well-known fur traders, trailblazers, and explorers. They had all indigenous women for wives. The men trapped while the women tended camp, cooked, cared for the children, and helped with the pelts.

In the summer of 1840, when they met at the Summer Rendezvous in Green River, Wyoming, Joe Meek and his trapper friends were planning on leaving the fur trade business behind and becoming farmers in Oregon Country. Three independent missionary couples hired the trappers to pilot them on their way west. Harvey Clarke, Philo Littlejohn, Alvin T. Smith, were headed west with their wives to the Whitman Mission. They needed the trappers to lead the way.

Joe Meek and Robert Newell wondered if it was possible to open a wagon road from the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River? They decided to try. From Fort Hall, they packed up the wagons filled with their worldly goods, topped with their wives and children, and started for Walla Walla. It was late, the 27th of September, 1840. With their young families en-tow, pioneers Meek, Newell, and the others, including the missionaries, headed west.

The journey was difficult extending over vast lava beds, round impassable canyons, and over rapid unbridged rivers. This was the most difficult part of the journey.

“In a few days we began to realize the difficult task before us, and found that the continual crashing of the sage under our wagons which in many places was higher the mules backs was no joke and seeing our animals began to fail we began to lighten up finally threw away our Wagon beds and were quite sorry we had undertaken the job. . .” Robert Newell

The going was very rough with weather cold and disagreeable, but they finally made it. Joe Meek and Robert Newell were some of the first families to pave the way for the original Oregon Trail route to the Willamette Valley along the Columbia. At Waiilatpu, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman gave them a warm welcome. Meek and Newell decided to press on. They arrived at old Fort Nez Perce [Walla Walla] in November 1840. Chief Trader, Pierre Pambrun noted “Newell and Meek visited the Fort on the way west. They left their wagons and took to the river.” They transferred their goods to pack horses. Source: Sixty Years on the Frontier of the Pacific Northwest by Pambrun.

Finally arriving weary, dirty, and hungry, in December 1840, they camped overlooking “The Falls” (Hyas Tyee Tumchuck, Indian name)now Willamette Falls. Here they were joined by Doty, Ebbert, and Wilkins. "They resolved to push out into the Plains to the west of them, and see what could be done in the matter of selecting homes."

“Accordingly camp was raised, and the party proceeded to the Plains, where they arrived on Christmas and went into camp again. The hardships of mountain life were light compared to the hardships of this winter. For in the mountains, when the individual's resources were exhausted, there was always the Company to go to, which was practically inexhaustible. Should it be necessary, the Company was always willing to become the creditor of a good mountain-man. And the debtor gave himself no uneasiness because he knew that if he lived he could discharge his indebtedness. But everything was different now. There was no way of paying debts, even if there had been a company willing to give them credit, which there was not, at least among Americans. Hard times they had seen in the mountains; harder times they were likely to see in the valley; indeed were already experiencing.” River of the West by Frances Fuller Victor

[ From Virginia Meek 1820-1900] On Courtney’s Birthday, December 25th, they camped on a creek near where Glencoe was founded, about one-half mile northeast of North Plains. “Oh, but it was cold and lonesome. Mr. Meek hurried and built a bark house and had a nice fire and made it nice and warm, but I couldn’t help it, I was lonesome for my people.”


Joe Meke Plaque at teh Old Scotch Church



Saying Goodbye To A Hillsboro and Orenco Giant, Bonnie Kooken Remembered

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On February 2nd, 2018  Bonnie Kooken of Orenco, Oregon suddenly passed away.  She was a wonderful Mother and Wife and yet there was so much more about her that we all loved. She was our friend, a historian, and a fierce defendant of the old town of Orenco, a historic district in Hillsboro, Oregon.  She was the head of the Orenco Neighborhood Organization and the Hillsboro Landmarks Advisory Committee.

 It was 1969 or 1970 that I may have come into first contact with Bonnie.  As the mother of some great kids in our little corner of the world, she was notable for raising her tribe and making a home in the suburbs for her family. She was by all accounts a hard-working homemaker.

Later in my life with kids of my own, we met again.  This time as community activists and leaders. Bonnie having raised her kids was flourishing at her home on Fir Street and very active as a preservationist and history defender.    We reunited and with our neighbors became partners in a number of battles in which we fought to maintain the way of life all of us have come to enjoy here in Orenco. 

For these sort of battles, Bonnie and the locals had created the Orenco Neighborhood Organization which is known as ONO. Also known as OH - NO!  Anyone that ever had to face ONO in a hearing or land use matter got to know Bonnie really well.  The historic township of Orenco was her most favorite thing (outside her family) and she was like a mother to the town, or what is left of it.  She fought it out to the end for anything that threatened the livability and safety of our place.

In 2015 we united again as the Orenco Woods Golf Course was being turned into 350 homes.  For 3 plus years our group battled Oregon's largest land developer and home builder with no money but lots of belief and energy.  ONO was recognized for the land use appeal and the fact is that the group lost the appeal but won the war.  In that battle, the historic Malcolm McDonald Estate was being taken from a 90-acre Estate of historic relevance to a 350 home subdivision which would create 3,500 car trips a day through our historic area of Orenco.  ONO dug in, raised funds, and hired a lawyer.  Using the laws and legitimate concerns ONO launched a historic assault on the developers and each time the group was turned back the group fought on.  Bonnie was always leading us forward to never give up!

ONO was willing to go all the way and with the help of a small group of people and resident member Dr. Jim Lubischer the battle was extended into the bad recession of 2007-2012.  The builder gave the land back to the bank but we were not satisfied to sit and see what happened.  After some luck and a lot of work, we landed the Trust For Public land as a buyer.  Six months into 2013 the land was secured and in the hands of Metro and the City of Hillsboro thanks to ONO and the Trust!

At the end of all of this Bonnie and the ONO group celebrated with the Mayor and many others as the Grand Opening of the Orenco Woods Nature Park was held in 2017.    After hundreds of hours of public service, this was a day to reflect on all the good work that had been done.  Not just on this project but on many others too.

As the Park was opened in 2017 Bonnie Kooken was there.   After all the hoorah was done she and I talked and took a walk down to the new arch bridge over Rock Creek.  We passed by a bench that was dedicated to local historian Joan Krahmer (RIP) who like Bonnie was historically attached to the area and a terrific Historian and activist too.

"Sit down and let me get your picture with our friend," I said as she passed by.  We both knew and loved Joan.
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"Well maybe they will name a bench after me someday, " said Bonnie.
I replied, "I guarantee it."

Lucky for me I had my camera and insisted she sit for a picture.  It was a good day... no, a great day. 

Bonnie died suddenly yesterday and we did not get to say goodbye.  We did have an energized meeting this week about the battle of the year, which is an ongoing land use mess in which one of the local builders is trying to build on a parcel of "park-land".  We will win and make her proud.

Bonnie was a treasured neighbor by all that knew her.  Her even temper, intelligence, and toughness were but a few of her notable features.  I aspire to be like her and others do too. 

We already have a goal to erect a bench in the Orenco Woods Nature Park in her honor and will pursue that diligently until it is accomplished.  If you can volunteer, fight, teach, care, or look after others like Bonnie did in your life please do.

We will never forget you Bonnie.  The good Fight continues!

UPDATE:   We have a GoFundMe Page set up for Bonnie -   A Bench For Bonnie - Donate if you can and Thank you!

Bonnie Kooken is remembered at our History Hall of fame and has her own page her on the site - See More here.