The legendary pioneer Ezra Meeker devoted much of his life to preserving the Oregon Trail and keeping memories of it alive.
Meeker’s efforts included three stops in Union County in 1906 to dedicate Oregon Trail markers. The steps Meeker took in Union County on behalf of the Oregon Trail are not being forgotten. Ronnie Allen of La Grande is making sure of it.
Allen, with major help from people like La Grande’s Dale Counsell, has created the Lower Ladd Canyon Oregon Trail Site along Hot Lake Lane, which salutes Meeker. The site features a replica of an Oregon Trail marker Meeker dedicated there in 1906, a covered wagon wheel that rolled across the Oregon Trail in the 1800s, a wooden horse-drawn wagon used for farm work more than a century ago and a 26-by-34-inch sign with text providing details about the Oregon Trail in Union County and Meeker’s markers in this area.
Allen has determined that the site is exactly where Meeker dedicated his Lower Ladd Canyon marker on April 11, 1906. The marker replica is five feet west of where the original marker was, said Allen, who has analyzed photographs of the 1906 dedication.
Meeker had plenty of company at the site during the dedication.
“There were 25 schoolchildren, two oxen, a wagon and a collie named Jim,” Allen said.
Meeker owned the collie, which sadly was lost later in the Midwest during Meeker’s cross-country trip.
“He paid $5 for it and offered a $15 reward for it,” Allen said of Meeker’s pet.
The 25 schoolchildren at the 1906 dedication were from the old Ladd Canyon School, which was located about four miles away.
Today the marker’s site is part of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area. Allen was granted permission to set up the Lower Ladd Canyon Oregon Trail Site at the area by its manager, Kyle Martin.
Cathy Nowak, an ODFW biologist at Ladd Marsh, said she is delighted to have Oregon Trail site there.
“It has always been a point of pride that the Oregon Trail goes through there. This means that a very small part of the Oregon Trail is protected there,” Nowak said. “It looks very nice.”
The wagon wheel at the site that went across the Oregon Trail was donated by Willie Myers of
La Grande. Allen said the help Myers provided for the project was critical to its success.
The wheel she donated was from a collection belonging to her late husband, John. He assembled his wagon wheel collection while living in Fossil.
The farm wagon was donated by Counsell and his family’s nearby Century Farm. Counsell played a big role in helping to set up the Lower Ladd Canyon Oregon Trail Site, Allen said.
Anyone wishing to visit the new display need only look for a nine-foot posted brown, white and black “Oregon Trail” sign, below which is a smaller “Trail Site” placard. The signs are from an Oregon Department of Transportation sign collection in Island City. Allen said he is grateful for the efforts of Sharon Magnuson, an Observer employee, who helped him obtain the signs.
The 1906 Meeker marker had been missing for about 100 years when Allen found it in 2017 in the driveway of a Union County home after an extensive search. He later purchased the 150-pound marker from the property owner and next showed it to officials from the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City who confirmed that it was the one that had been missing for nearly a century. Allen then donated it to the interpretive center in Baker City, where it is now showcased in an Ezra Meeker exhibit. Allen said so many people were touching the marker at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center that it is now displayed under glass.
Allen is delighted that it is proving to be so popular.
“I’m proud to be able to share history with the other people of the state of Oregon,” Allen said.
The replica Meeker marker at the new site was made from a rock that resembles the original marker.
“It was a twin,” said Allen, who sent it to a monument company in Idaho to be engraved.
The original marker was one of 15 that Meeker dedicated while traveling across much of the United States in an ox-drawn wagon along the Oregon Trail from 1906 to 1908.
The Oregon Trail was close to Meeker’s heart because he had come west on it in 1852 from Iowa as a young man. He later settled in what is now Puyallup, Washington, and was the town’s first mayor.
In Union County, Meeker also dedicated a marker in Southwest La Grande and in Ladd Canyon. The marker in Ladd Canyon has never been found but Allen believes it may still be there.
“I am often up there looking for it,” Allen said.