Oregon Trail Passes Through Washington

A caravan of horses, buffalo, elephants and longhorns passing through D.C.? What’s up with that? Take a closer look at the photo below, especially the super old dude driving the wagon. That’s Ezra Meeker, one of the early pioneers that headed west along the Oregon Trail. Late in his life, he worked tirelessly to memorialize the route and traveled the country promoting his plans.

May 11th, 1925. Washington, D.C. "Ezra Meeker with 101 Ranch." The Wild West show rolls into town at the Florida Avenue fairgrounds. Ezra Meeker, "hero of the Oregon Trail," was part of the parade. National Photo glass neg. (Shorpy)
May 11th, 1925. Washington, D.C. “Ezra Meeker with 101 Ranch.” The Wild West show rolls into town at the Florida Avenue fairgrounds. Ezra Meeker, “hero of the Oregon Trail,” was part of the parade. National Photo glass neg. (Shorpy)

In May 1925, Meeker and his traveling troupe arrived in D.C. to set up camp for their wild west show and circus. Below is the Washington Post’s account of the show’s arrival in our city.

Jumping 350 miles from New Castle, Pa., and stopping at Cumberland, Md., two hours, so that 600 horses, buffalo, elephants and longhorns, as well as 1,400 people, might have a delayed midday meal, the 101 Ranch Real Wild West and great Far East, traveling on two trains over the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, did not reach Washington and the unloading points near the show grounds at Fifth street and Florida avenue northeast until shortly after 10 o’clock last night. The show was due to arrive at 2 p. m., and little boys, looking for Indians, were forced to wait until today.

But the big troupe was making ready for today’s street parade and performance long before dawn, although the big top, seating nearly 14,000 people, was not scheduled to be hoisted until 4 a. m. Bosses handling the big top and side show canvas gave orders for a reveille at that hour, and the working forces of those departments slept sweetly on last night, as cowboys, hostlers, grooms and animal men worked with their charges. Only the necessary labor to make the stock with the show comfortable was done before sunrise.

The street parade will leave the grounds promptly at 10 a. m. with everything in gala attire, over the following route:

Florida avenue to New York avenue, west on New York avenue to Sevent street, to Mt. Vernon place, to Ninth street, to K street, to Washington circle, around Washington circle to Pennsylvania avenue, to Second street northwest to K Street, to Fifth street northeast, to Florida avenue northeast and to the grounds.

Take a look at the route below on Google Maps. This is an approximation because some of the streets have changed or are no longer there.

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The article continues.

There will be six bands, floats, tableaux wagons, clown cars, stage coaches and covered wagons, with nearly a mile of mounted people in addition. Two hundred of the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ponca Indians will ride their calico ponies in the “march.” Ezra Meeker, hero of the Oregon Trail, will be seen in a covered wagon. The parade will be headed by Col. Joe C. Miller, Zack T. Miller and Zack Mulhall.

Miller Brothers are the owners of the famous 101 ranch at Marland and Ponca City, Okla., and of the show. Col. Joe C. Miller is president of each, and he operates the show, while Zack is its arena director. Both are real cowboys, and were punching cows for their father long before the opening of the Cherokee Strip. In the performance. Ezra Meeker drives a six-span oxen team in the biggest frontier spectacles of the program. Although he is 95 years old, he is said to be the best “trouper” with the show.

The performances, beginning at 2:15 and 8:15 p. m., Monday and Tuesday, open with a huge spectacle, “Araby,” in which 1,200 people and animals take part. Far East numbers are then succeeded by real wild West displays on an impressive scale. Among the headliners are: Mamie Frances, crack shot and riderl Hand Darnell, Dick Shelton, California Frank, Buck Lucas, Buff Brady, Jack Brown, Clarence Brown, Renee Hafley, Frank Guskey and Joe Kline, all champion riders and ropers, bull-doggers and bucking horse stars. There are 200 cowboys and cowgirls off the ranges of the 101 ranch itself.

Russian contingents, including Cossacks, Arabs, Bengalese and Burmese horsemen, compose the Far East section, in which the elephant and the camels are used.

What a spectacle that must have been! And let’s not forget that this really close to Officer Sprinkle’s house on Florida Ave. I’m sure that he was in attendance, along with his family.

Below is the 1921 Baist real estate map of the area around 5th and Florida Ave. NE. It looks like the area between Florida and New York avenues, right next to Gallaudet University, is called Camp Meigs.

1921 Baist real estate map of 5th and Florida Ave. NE (Library of Congress)
1921 Baist real estate map of 5th and Florida Ave. NE (Library of Congress)

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • Gretchen Gusky

    Loved finding this article!!! My Grandpa is Frank Guskey…