From the Past-
It could be that Colonel Joseph Lafayette Meek is reaching out to me from beyond the veil. For years I have been fascinated by this legendary trapper, mountain man, and early Oregon Settler. All of us “Locals” back in the 1960’s and 70’s were taken from West Union Elementary School out to the Old Scotch Church to see his grave and the grave of other Pioneers. I wanted to be a mountain man as a child spending any dry night that I could outside on our farm in Orenco.
Along with my running mates Steve Close and Jeff Pitman I was an up and coming Mountain Man. By age 10 the trio of us had an actual trap line along Rock Creek here in Orenco and we were skinning and selling furs during our off times; mostly muskrat and coon. The Region here was undeveloped and we had the run of the creek beds. Now that only lasted a couple of years and we never made any money but it was those early stories of Joe Meek and what we read that had us spellbound. The man ran with the great Kit Carson and was rumored to have known or associated with Davy Crockett himself. We wanted to do anything we could do to be self-sufficient and like him.
In 1976 I discovered girls and sports and the dreams became altered but none of us ever forgot Colonel Joe Meek and he has remained a part of our lives through reminders in the news once and a while and with occasional trips down Meek Road North of Hillsboro; the road that runs through his land claim which still has reminders of he and his family.
It was not until the last decade or so that I circled back to the great man. With my kids grown (nearly), I began to become more involved in the History of Washington County. As a real estate broker, I have sold some very historic sites and have worked for many early pioneer families as they determine what to do with the remains of the land their ancestors broke. It has been during these times that the backstory of many of Oregon’s Pioneers and the Native people have become the focus of some of my free time. It is true that I am working at becoming a good historian and a better writer. A storyteller I have always been.
During this work I circled back to Colonel Joe; a great part of my past has become present again. Now I am aware of his wonderful wife Virginia and the many struggles and triumphs she had as a frontier woman of great ability and character. Virginia, the rumored daughter of a Nez Perce Chief, and her Sister (Kitty) were married off through an agreement in 1834 (Kitty) & 1838 (Virginia) to Colonel Meek and his mountain man friend Robert “Doc” Newell. Together the Meeks and Newells would travel from Fort Davy Crockett in Utah and make plans with others to move West to Oregon as Fur and options for a good life ran out. Virginia had their first child, Courtney Walker Meek in 1938 and the young baby would make the trip through the Rockies from Fort Hall and then to the Whitman Mission in 1840 where Virginia stayed for a while so that Joe could take care of some business. With them was Helen Mar Meek, a 2-year-old child from Joe’s previous wife. The Mission in Walla Walla, Washington was, of course, the location of the horrendous Whitman Massacre in 1847; an event that would change the American West forever.
The meeks left Walla Walla in 1840, well before that Massacre, and would cross the Columbia River several times with Wagons and Animals in order to reach Washington County and their new home. They and the Newells would become the first Wagons to every make it to Oregon- their route would set up the final pieces of the Oregon Trail itself.
Virginia and Joseph Meek continued on to the Willamette Valley by wagon, arriving at the Tualatin Plains with the Newell family party on December 15, 1840 after swimming their animals several times across the Columbia and Willamette rivers and surviving for weeks on dried salmon. Their wagons were the first to reach the Columbia River by overland route, and they opened the final leg of what became known as the Oregon Trail to wagon traffic. They took up subsistence farming on their donation land claim less than a mile from here. Virginia bore at least 11 additional children. They were: Hiram Craig (died age 17); Olive Louise Meek, Josephine Meek (died age 15); Atchinson Dallas Meek (died age 10); Mary Lane (Meek) Shinn, Jennie Jane (Meek) Newell, Joseph Lane Meek, Stephen Arnold Douglas Meek, William Henry Harrison Meek (died in infancy), Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Wilkins Meek (died age 14) and an infant (name not known). Her husband Joe preceded her in death in June 1875 at the age of 65 at their farm. Virginia survived her husband by almost 25 years, passing away on March 3, 1900 in the home of her son, Stephen Arnold Douglas Meek. She was survived by her children Olive (Meek) Riley, Stephen, Joseph Meek and Jennie (Meek) Newhard. Her husband was originally interred on their donation land claim, but was later moved to the Old Scotch Church Cemetery after the church and cemetery were built. Virginia is interred next to her husband, as are some of their children. A cenotaph here gives the names of four children who died before this church and cemetery were constructed. Daughter Jennie Meek Newhard and son Joseph Lane Meek had moved to land on or near the Nez Perce Indian Reservation near Lewiston, Idaho where they settled. Virginia’s sister, “Kitty” Newell preceded her in death at Champoeg, Oregon. See Link Here
Now the Meek Legacy is long and what happened when they got to Oregon and settled just North of Hillsboro is a matter of record. Colonel Joe farmed and trapped and did what Pioneers do- he persevered. He was at the 1843 meeting a Champoeg Park and called for the question – would Oregon be a State or a Territory. He was a man of action (think John Wayne) so he cut to the chase and called each member of that meeting to make a stand; shortly after he did so the State of Oregon was a reality. Joe would be appointed by President James Polk to be the Marshal of the Oregon Territory from 1848 to 1853 – and he would do so much more in his life. Read all about Colonel Joseph Lafayette Meek right here.
Virginia gave birth to 11 children and the impact she made in her life was simply amazing. It is the story of her and Joe and the children that have drawn me in so far.
Back to the Future-
Now with that context let me State for the Record that I believe Joe and Virginia Meek to be not only important Pioneers but perhaps the most important Pioneers in Oregon History. How they blended their lives and cultures, while not totally unique, is when weighed in the scales of history, incredible. Their lives and the children they raised would impact the USA and the West forever.
Why does this matter so much? Why do I care and why should you?
Because we are close to/ about to Bury their Children under a Parking Lot or Factory- and we are not doing much of anything about it.
Somewhere under this land or just North of this Land are the remains of 4 of the Children or Joseph and Virginia Meek and perhaps others.
Now prior to me hitting “Post” on this story I have been a member of the Hillsboro Historic Landmarks Advisory Committee. My work in this topic will put an end to that but I am very proud of the work I have done there and the work that great group of people does. It is as important of a task as any other in our City and County.
As a part of our Task, the HLAC committee is charged with providing commentary and guidance to the City planning staff, the Hillsboro Planning Department, and the City Council. Every property, building, and landmark that has been deemed historically important is to be brought before HLAC for review when changes and development occur. This is to ensure that very careful thought is given to demolition, alteration, or disturbance of these sites.
Each site HLAC review has been previously identified by our City and County through mandatory requirements set by the State of Oregon as a part originally of Goal 5 of the LCDC land use rules and regulations set up by Oregonians back in 1974. The reason Oregon is so beautiful and so hard to destroy and alter is that these rules make it very illegal to do so.
Washington County identified hundreds of historic sites back in the 1970’s and 1980’s and adopted them through Ordinance thereby protecting these sites. Each protected site was documented on the Counties maps and if anyone approached the planning or building department on one of these precious sites they were directed through a process to address Goal 5 and the fact the sites were protected – a process has to be followed.
As I drove along Evergreen Road North of the Intel Ronler Acres site two weeks back I witnessed massive machines tearing down trees and digging huge ditches on the Genentech Site. This is all a part of the $125,000,000 expansion the Drug Giant announced in 2015 which the Oregonian covered and our former Mayor Jerry Willey so gleefully bragged about.
As a HLAC Member, I knew that one of our sites we would be discussing would be what is known as the Methodist Meeting House site. This is where the Meek Children are buried and the Constable’s allowed the early Methodists to set up a church and stockade forming our first government sites and safe haven.
The MMH as it is known is reputedly along 253rd Avenue, now called NW Starr Street and it is the front door to the new Hillsboro Industrial expansion which was created through the “Grand Bargain” a few years back. Folks this is big money- BILLIONS – in State Tax revenue and private profit we are talking about. The State of Oregon acknowledges that Hillsboro and our High Tech Giants are in fact the economic engines driving the State. So expect the fact that many people were stepped on during this process to expand the land base to be a very real one.
When I saw the grading I read up on the MMH; at least as much as one can. I went to the site and I met with Mr. Ray Haag at his home West of where the site of the MMH is supposed to be. Ray has written as historically accurate of a book as exists on the topic and really made this one of his life’s Mission in many ways. He and his family have carefully provided stewardship of the Shute Home which is a very historic place in and of itself. Read about Ray and this story here.
After reviewing Haag’s work and reading all I could I met with ancestors of the Meeks. I read more and pulled out maps from the 1850’s, 1860’s, and every map and aerial photo since than. After exhausting all research I could and gathering information on the site from the City of Hillsboro staff I decided to Washington County. I was after the Black Binder I have used many times over the years in which the County had kept all of the Goal 5 Historic Resources- the Washington County.
The County Staff have mostly retired since those days but after a bit, they retrieved the original book- still carefully bound and intact albeit covered in dust. This Book contains many sites that many of you would recognize and each of them was verified and bonified as Historic Sites. The Informational sheet on the Methodist Meeting House is in this book because the land it sits upon was not in the City of Hillsboro until 2004-2006 when several hundred acres were annexed as a part of the Shute Road Industrial land Expansion which was authored by Governor Ted Kulongoski and his staff in 2003. The Genentech Site and the Beger Property to the North were given a huge uptick in value and clearly were designed to make Pad ready sites for big economic players like Genentech.
After a little time, my hunt through the binder paid off and delivered me a crisp and clean copy of the Methodist Meeting House informational sheet. The data looked accurate but I wanted to confirm that the site was on the Carl Berger property which has been the topic of much debate and news stories in 2013 as the City began to move through the area with road and sewer construction.
This is where the story gets interesting and alarming.
On the attached sheet below from the original book at Washington County, you will clearly see the location of the MMH is stated to be in Section 1 North, Range 2 West, Section 21, Tax Lot 2800.
This concerned me because I knew that Leo J Dunn, the owner of the MMH site as proven above, had sold his land to Genentech for $6,600,000 dollars in 2006. That would mean that the Children or Joe and Virginia Meek are under the grading and the buildings or were about to be.
I gathered my emotions and went a step further asking Jacobe at the Washington County Planning counter to locate the old “Master Maps” as we call them. These maps, no longer in use, pre-date computers and are where the Washington County staff always referred us to when we were working on land and development in the 1980’s and through the 90’s.
The Map was produced and there on the Map of that parcel 2800 was in fact on the master map a notation about Cultural Resource 1″93/277 Site”- this matched the fact sheet above I had just retrieved as noted above. Here is a copy of the Map which I obtained a copy of on 9-13-17.
Despite all the history and work done on behalf of the City and landowners, this information has clearly been overlooked. The task force assembled by Washington County determined that based on their best information, and a physical site visit, the land in question relevant to the MMH was Tax Lot 2800- the Genentech Property.
The City and others have been focused on the obligation to explore for the Children of Joseph and Virginia Meek on tax Lot 2700, known as the “Berger Property”. While that may be needed and should continue to be a concern as that property develops there was an equal or greater obligation by our City to explore the Genentech Property.
Above in Blue are the Shute House (Haag) shown as TL 2200 and the “Berger Property” shown as TL 2700. In Red is a Star and some arrows that indicate where Washington Counties task force (1985) believed this incredibly important site to be. The Dunn property / Tax Lot 2800 was formerly known as the Reilly land as M. Reilly owned Lots 16 and 17 of the Five Oaks Plat for the better part of 70 years prior to Dunn. Reilly himself was said to have given testimony that the MMH remains were in the fields at the back North edge of his field.
These documents are further supported by the testimony of Elizabeth Constable who is the daughter of the Pioneer that owned the land – and she saw the Methodist Meeting House with her own eyes. She said this.
These words are not speculation or conjecture. This is first-hand testimony. I took her words to heart and made a map of the Constable Land and the Donation Land Claim it became and I calculated the ownership her Mother had – her ‘Mothers Half” as she called it and came up with this.
Adding to this and supporting the Washington County Document on the MMH is a map drawn by Mr. Ken Meierjurgen, from his book Life On The Plains, who lived in the Shute Home (Haags) for decades and who remembers seeing remnants of the MMH. He places the Buildings and relics across from and South of the Berger property – just as Elizabeth Constable had.
Now I have covered too much here- but this is important. Graves and artifacts are at risk and so is History- Why am I having to “out” this information and why is it that our founders and their memories being desecrated this way?
Questions on top of questions arise and in my mind, they are as follows:
Why was the Hillsboro Landmarks Advisory Committee not advised on the matter of the MMH while the Genentech development was occurring in 2006?
Again in 2017, when the grading permit to move tens of thousands of cubic square feet of land at Genentech on TL 2800 was issued – why was the HLAC not allowed to comment or advise?
The City of Hillsboro and it’s staff and or the State had 3 in-depth Archaeological Reports done in 2003, 2004, and 2006 – all by thebfirm AINW. I have asked for copies of these reports but am denied access – these reports I am certain probably disclosed this information. Who can look at the information?
There is a Second sheet on the MMH which appears to be altered by someone that changes the location and the address of the MMH to the Haag/Shute property which is historically impossible. Why was this information not looked at with a more critical eye?
The City Hall in Hillsboro is less than 100 feet from where I found the documents outlined above. Why did no one go and consult Washington County planning staff and these original documents?
Majestic Development Corp is under contract with the Berger Family on TL 2700 – the same developer just built Top Golf and all the Majestic Business Park to the East- will they be held to a standard of needing to use Ground Penetrating Radar and other methods to insure that the MMH site and associated graves are protected?
Will we have the ability to stop the excavation at Genentech before it is too late? Will we be able to address this as Genentech moves ahead with almost certain plans to expand onto the Western 1/3rd of Tax lot 2800?
Having said all of this I hope you see that Genetech, whose arrival in Oregon, was one of those Special Deals we hear about. They were given Tens of Millions of dollars of Tax breaks at a cost to the Citizens here. They applied in 2015 for more Tax Breaks. They got them. And yet the jobs do not seem to pay as much as promised and the number of jobs seems to be in question.
To me, this whole thing smacks of political deal-making and the fact that documents went un-reviewed by our City and the State is an affront to anyone who considers themselves a local or a caring person. How can there have been thousands and thousands spent on ground penetrating sonar and reports and yet this has all been missed? Or has it?
As a member of the HLAC committee, I am not allowed to comment or even visit sites like this let alone work on this issues.
Therefore I will resign effectively right now.
For any of you wanting to know more, there is more to know. A lot more.
The Meeks and their kids deserve a lot better and our City can do more and do better. For many of us that have seen the effects of “Foot on the Gas” development here in Hillsboro, this seems par for the course. Much of our History is gone and has been taken away- that happens with growth and development.
Joseph and Virginia Meek and their children who are buried at the Methodist Meeting House site demand us to do more. For me, I intend to do so. When development comes forward on these properties I will be there to ask for the maximum historical and archaeological work allowed by law. There may be additional action. I love my town, the place I have called home for 54 years- love it enough to stand up and try and reflect those great characteristics of one of my childhood idols- the Colonel himself.
I say we do something about this before it is too late. Who is with me?