Stephen Meek

Stephen Meek

Stephen Meek was born in Virginia on 4th July, 1805. He moved to St. Louis in 1828 and found employment with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Two years later he became a mountain men in the Rocky Mountains.

In 1834 Meek and his brother Joe Meek, joined Joseph Walker on his California expedition of 1833-34. The following year he joined the Hudson's Bay Company.

Meek continued to trap beavers until he became a wagonmaster in Chihuahua. Later he worked as a guide to wagon trains to Oregon and California. In 1845 he took 500 wagons to Fort Hall and settled with his family in Oregon City. He stayed there until joining the Californian Gold Rush.

His memoirs, The Autobiography of Stephen Hall Meek were written just before his death on 11th January, 1889.

Primary Sources

(1) Stephen Meek, The Autobiography of Stephen Hall Meek (c. 1885)

When scarcely twenty years of age I became imbued with that restless spirit of adventure that has since been a marked characteristic of my life, and left my home for the then comparatively unknown West. St. Louis was at that time the center of the fur trade of the United States, and when I reached that city I engaged with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, to work in their warehouses. I was placed in the cellar by the celebrated William Sublette with several other green hands to "rum the beaver," which operation consisted of spreading the skins out upon the cellar floor and sprinkling them with rum for preservation. Sublette left us with the remark "Don't you boys get tight now," at which idea we all laughed. Soon the fumes of the rum began to affect us and it was not long before we were reeling around the room apparently helplessly drunk. Sublette then put in an appearance, and pretended to be angry with us "Can't I leave you here alone for a few minutes, without your getting drunk? Do you think that this is the kind of men I want around me? Here!" said he "drink this?" and he drew a cup from the barrel. This had the effect of making us sober again and Sublette again left us with the remark "The next time you rum the beaver, just rum yourselves first."

(2) Stephen Meek, The Autobiography of Stephen Hall Meek (c. 1885)

I joined the brigade of Milton Sublette, and went to the Lewis fork of the Columbia River and wintered at Blackfoot Lake. In the fall of 1831 I was again with Milton Sublette and trapped in the Black Hills, near where Fort Larimie was afterwards built, on the head waters of the Platte. The winter was spent on Powder river, and in the spring we went to Wind river and trapped on that stream, the Yellowstone, Mussel Shell river, and back through Jackson's Hole to Wind river, the rendezvous being at the mouth of Tar, or Popyoisa, river, a tributary of that stream. In the fall of 1832 I went to the Blackfoot country with Bridger's brigade; crossed to Powder and Yellowstone, and then to the Missouri; went up that stream to Three Forks, and up the left-hand fork to the head of Big Gray Bull river, a tributary of the Yellowstone; then to Green River, and finally wintered on Snake River, where Fort Hall was afterwards built. In the spring we trapped Salmon, Snake and Point Neuf, and then went to Green River rendezvous. There I hired to Capt. B. L. E. Bonneville to accompany an expedition of 34 men, under Joseph Walker, to explore the Great Salt Lake. We got too far West, and finally started down the Mary's, or Humboldt, river for California, over a country entirely unknown to trappers.

We discovered Truckee, Carson and Walker rivers, Donner lake and Walker's pass, through which we went and pitched our camp for the winter on the shore of Tulare Lake, in December, 1833. Walker, with a party of ten men, went to Monterey and returned in March, when they broke camp and retraced their steps to Humboldt river, thence south to the Colorado, thence up that stream, thence north again, passing West of Great Salt Lake to Bear river, where we met Bonneville. In the fall of 1834 I went with Bonneville and 22 men and trapped Snake river and all its tributaries to Walla Walla; then up John Day river, over to Lake Harney; then to Malheur, Owyhee and Powder rivers, and wintered on Snake river.