In photographs of celebrations that include and lionize Ezra Meeker, another distinguished-looking gentleman often appears, lurking in the background.
His presence is so ubiquitous that he is sometimes irreverently called “the photo bomber” of his age. This man is Charles Ross, who was almost as long-lived as Meeker, but 20 years younger, of the generation of Marion Meeker, Ezra’s eldest son. Marion was born in Eddyville, Iowa, mere weeks before his parents started their trek across the Oregon Trail. Ross was a child of the Trail, born in 1851 in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon. Thereafter he took great pleasure in having delayed his parents’ trip for half a day.
Ross and his parents moved to the valley when he was about 14. They settled far away from the center of town, out by the present-day WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center. In fact, Ross and his father donated land for that purpose.
Like Ezra, Ross recorded his reminiscences. A recently rediscovered volume of his memoirs was found in the archives of the Washington State Historical Society. Many of his stories mirror those of Ezra, but not exactly. For historical purposes they provide a second source of data, or the only source for some information. As an example, in 1904, he and his wife, Emma, had Jack DeCoursey build the gray and red house on what is now WSU property on the north side of Pioneer. In 1918, WSU bought the home and later moved it across the road.
Ross was a pal of Marion, and as young men they were sent to find a community Christmas tree for the occasion mentioned in “Uncle Ezra’s Short Stories for Children.” Ross remembered his teacher, Emma Carson, for her amazing recall of Bible verses and her red hair, which would catch in the blockhouse ceiling of Fort Maloney. He also remembered Mrs. Meeker slipping into his classroom in the afternoon to go through her lessons with the teacher.
Ross was a useful citizen. Among his achievements were careers as a farmer and hop rancher, realtor, insurance salesman, and he even served a stint as a deputy sheriff.
After Ezra Meeker left the community, Ross was called upon to speak at important events. At the dedication of the first Meridian Bridge in 1925, Ross recalled earlier attempts to cross the river by ferry and bridge, as well as the contract to straighten the big bend which caused such flooding every year.
The above photo of Ross — honored in the 1940s as the oldest living Pierce County pioneer — reflects his pride in all he and his family did for our community. Ross died in 1948. Visit the Puyallup Public Library’s historical display to learn more about this Oregon Trail pioneer.
Andy Anderson is the historian of the Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through the Meeker Mansion at 253-848-1770.