After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific

By Robert M. Utley | Go to book overview

15

JOE MEEK AND DOC NEWELL:
TRAPPERS AS COLONISTS

STOUT, FUN-LOVING JOSEPH L. MEEK, nineteen years of age, came to the mountains with the Sublette caravan of 1829. His Missouri friends and neighbors, Robert "Doc" Newell and George Ebbert, went with the same train. Over the next decade all three developed into superb mountain men. They came to know the Rockies in intimate detail, took beaver and fought Blackfeet with the best, and won the respect of such giants as the Sublettes, Bridger, and Fitzpatrick. Meek enlarged his experience and geographic knowledge in 1833, when he enlisted in Joseph Walker's expedition to California. "Meek was a droll creature," remembered an acquaintance, "a tall man, of fine appearance—a most genial, kind, and brave spirit. He had in his composition no malice, no envy, and no hatred." All three friends left a mark on history, but Joe Meek found an amanuensis to portray his exploits, buffoonery, and genuine accomplishments in such graphic (and often embroidered) narrative as to convince posterity that the Old West boasted "no man like Joe."1

Doc Newell was no man like Joe. While matching Joe in mountain skills, Doc was less flamboyant, less given to hyperbole, and better educated. He claimed, besides, a steadier temperament and superior judgment. Newell, recalled an Oregon friend, "was of medium height, stout frame, and fine face. He was full of humanity, good-will, genial feeling, and frankness." Doc and Joe had married daughters of a Nez Perce chief. Doc it was who proposed, after the rendezvous of 1840, that the two pack their families down to the Willamette and take up farming; and Doc it was who organized the move.2

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