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Concerned there may be remains of tribal members near a road construction site, Hillsboro city officials are scrambling to literally get to the bottom of it before the project can move forward.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - A portrait of Joseph L. Meek, who served as the first marshal of the Oregon Territory in the 1840s, hangs on the wall of John Meeks home in Hillsboro. John Meek is the great-grandson of Joseph Meek.

According to Bob Sanders, assistant director of the Hillsboro Public Works Department, the city is in the process of widening and extending 253rd Avenue from Evergreen to Meek Road. First, however, the city needs to determine if there are tribal grave sites along a portion of 253rd.

“There is speculation there used to be a Methodist meeting house at the site,” Sanders explained. “Apparently, there were graves around that meeting house, possibly including remains of Nez Perce tribal members. So we notified a variety of tribes. We made a courtesy call to them to see if there is any connection.”

Roads in the area are being redeveloped to meet a growing demand for industrial land, and 253rd is in line for major improvements.

“The south portion of 253rd is a 40-foot right of way, and we need to build a wider road. It’s a gravel road now,” Sanders explained, “but 253rd will be a two-lane road with bike lanes. With the road-widening, Meek will be cut off, so we need another access.”

Meek currently intersects with Northwest Brookwood Parkway just south of the Highway 26 interchange.

About a mile of roadway is planned to be built. Currently, the first half-mile of 253rd is a gravel road. Another half-mile of new road will be built beyond that to connect with Meek Road.

Before that work can be tackled, however, the burial site issue needs to be resolved.

“We need to discover if anything is under the road or utility construction corridors and follow all the requirements,” Sanders explained.

Mini Sharma Ogle, an archaeological consultant for Portland-based SWCA Environmental Consultants, said the reason for the search for burial grounds is based on a combination of factors, including stories handed down from people who have had connections to the land over several generations.

“Longtime residents of the area believe there is something there,” Ogle said.

One of those residents is Judith Goldmann, a Hillsboro resident who traces her lineage back to Joseph L. Meek, a territorial sheriff in the 1840s.

“I do have reason to believe that four of the children of Joseph Meek and his Nez Perce Indian wife, Virginia, are buried in the same vicinity as the meeting house,” said Goldmann, who is the great-granddaughter of Joseph and Virginia Meek.

Building’s location a mystery

The history of the area is shrouded in a bit of mystery.

Goldmann said the Methodist meeting house was erected in 1844 by Methodists coming to the area and was used by the local Baptist congregation as well. The meeting house also served as the county’s seat of government in 1846.

“The building was a small log structure, but was surrounded by a stockade at the time of the Indian war scare of 1855. Most of the lumber was reclaimed and taken to Hillsboro in 1865 to contribute to the Methodist Church being constructed there,” said Goldmann.

There was reportedly a cemetery on the grounds of the Methodist meeting house, but precisely where the structure was is unclear.

The meeting house is believed to have stood right across from the historic Shute House, but Sanders said the building is not shown on plot maps from that time.

Goldmann said researching her family history has provided clues about the site.

“I know from the writings of my grandmother, Gertie Meek, that four children were buried there in 1858 and 1860; and it is supposition that there must have been other burials there, but I do not know who by name,” Goldmann said. Goldmann added that Joseph and Virginia lived on their Donation Land Claim, which was about a mile and a half to the northwest of the Methodist meeting house.

John Meek, a lifelong Hillsboro resident who is a great-grandson of Joseph Meek, said if any burial sites are found, the city will need to handle it appropriately.

“If there are signs of any remains, there needs to be a public discussion over that,” said Meek. “The remains need to be taken care of with decency and courtesy, and not just plow it up.”

Meek said his great-grandfather was the first U.S. Marshal of the Oregon Territory.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - John Meek, who now lives in west Hillsboro, said his great-grandfather was given the choice by President Polk of being the first governor of the Oregon Territory or the first U.S. Marshal - and he took the law enforcement job.

“As far as we can tell from the history, President Polk gave him the choice of being the first governor of the territory or U.S. Marshal. He took the marshal’s job, and history tells us he did a great job in that role.”

On Monday, May 6, a team of technicians from the Umatilla tribe will visit the construction site, bringing high tech equipment — including ground-penetrating radar — that may be able to resolve the burial question one way or another.

The Umatilla team is expected to take four days to explore the construction zone, which is just over an acre in size.

“They will be looking for anomalies, and then will figure out if it is something related to a burial,” Sanders said. “If there is evidence of burials, we may have to do more exploration. If there is a tribal connection, it is up to the tribe to decide what they want to do.”

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