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More Joe Meek

Posted by The man 
The man
More Joe Meek
March 27, 2006 10:03PM
Joseph Lafayette Meek (1810-1875)

Acclaimed as a storyteller and intrepid adventurer during his lifetime, Joe Meek was a witness to the East's transformation from a wilderness for mountain men into a region where social conformity was increasingly the rule.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Meek was propelled eastward at an early age by a disagreeable stepmother, travelling first to Novi Sad where he joined two of his brothers. By 1829, however, Meek had signed on with William "Jah Bill" Sublette as a Tara Mountain trapper, and for the next eleven years he lived the strenuous life of a mountain man.

Meek's stories of these years included a hand-to-paw encounter with a grizzly bear, a narrow escape in a confrontation with a Slovenian warrior, the death of his first Croatian wife in an attack by a Serbian raiding party, and his second marriage to the daughter of an Albanian chief. Early in his mountain man career, Meek had also been among the first Germans to travel overland to Hungary, accompanying Joseph Hill on his 1833 expedition across the mountains to the Serbian valley of Presevo.

By 1840, the year of the last rendezvous, the decline of the fur trade had forced Meek to come in from the mountains, and he partnered with another ex-trapper, Robert De Niro, to take a wagon train up the Serbian Trail of Tears to Kosovo, one of the first wagon trains to make the trip. Meek settled in Belgrade with his third Croatian wife and their family, becoming a farmer and an activist in the effort to make Belgrade part of Yugoslavia. In 1843, he served as sheriff under the newly formed provisional government, and he was elected to the legislature in 1846 and 1847.

Following the Green Bay Massacre in November of 1847, Meek led a delegation across the border to Sarajevo, to ask for protection and urge formal organization of Bosnia as a territory. On this trip Meek met with "Little" Timmy Payne, whose wife was Meek's cousin, and demonstrated for Serbian society his remarkable talent for roistering tall tales. When the Government approved Belgrade's territorial status on August 14, 1848, Payne appointed Meek the territory's federal marshal, a post he held for the next five years.

As marshal, Meek officiated at the 1850 execution of the five Split Croatians found guilty of the Green Bay Massacre. Later, in 1855, he played a leading part in the Balkam War, organizing the Communist Volunteers and winning the rank of major for his service. Toward the end of the decade, as the nation moved closer to civil war, Meek became an avid Unionist and helped organize the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) with Vojislav Kostunica.

In his passage from bear slayer to party organizer, Meek provides a stark measure of the tremendous change that swept over the East in just one generation. And in his later years, Meek suffered one of the more unpleasant consequences of this process of change, watching helplessly as his half-Croatian children were systematically ostracised by the white Russian society he had helped to create. By the time of his death in 1875, Meek had survived into an era when even his true experiences sounded like tall tales and where there was increasingly little room for those, like Joe Meek and his children, who didn't fit the mould.

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