Check it out: ‘Mitten’ strikes Meeker gold

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Review

“Slick as a Mitten: Ezra Meeker’s Klondike Enterprise”

By Dennis M. Larsen; Washington State University Press,

128 pages

Back in September, I featured a book about Pearson Air Field. In that column I mentioned that, at 93 years old, Oregon Trail pioneer Ezra Meeker rode in an open-cockpit airplane from Pearson to Dayton, Ohio, retracing the Oregon Trail by air. That piece of information piqued my interest in Meeker, so I made a mental note to do a little more reading about this important Northwest figure.

Well, I have finally had time to satisfy some of my curiosity by reading Dennis Larsen’s “Slick as a Mitten.” I have to admit that the title of this book is the main reason I selected it as my introduction to the famous Northwest citizen, and I’m happy to say I wasn’t a bit disappointed with what I found inside.

The author, a retired history teacher and Meeker devotee, has produced three years of letters written by Ezra to his wife, Eliza Jane, and others between 1898 and 1901. Most of his missives are addressed to Eliza Jane, and they were written when 68 year-old Ezra undertook a new venture -- supplying dried foods and canned goods to gold miners in the Klondike. Not one to stand by and let others do the work, he made the trek north from Puyallup not once but four times! Sometimes family members went with him, but he hiked, hauled and hoisted with men half his age, even outliving many of the younger gold rush adventurers, including his son, Fred Meeker.

For a very personal look into a fascinating period in Ezra Meeker’s life, I recommend giving this week’s book a try.

Not only do the letters provide a better understanding of the Klondike gold-rush days, they open a window into Ezra’s loving relationship with Eliza Jane. Shortly before his 70th birthday, Ezra wrote from the Klondike: “Be happy in the thought that we can soon be together again and thankful that we can enjoy many many blessings even if we don’t have exactly all we want and so by now dear wife I will write you that I love you lots and lots and lots.” Pure gold, Ezra, pure gold.

Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at readingforfun@fvrl.org. She blogs at youbetterreadnow.blogspot.com.