Pioneers' Progress Oregon/Washington BLM



Pioneers' Progress

Filmed around BLM-managed land in eastern Oregon, Meek's Cutoff delivers a realistic portrayal of the pioneer journey on the Oregon Trail.
Welcome to BLM on Film, the Sequel.

story by Jeff Clark
original photo by Oscilloscope Laboratories

Before moving to the Northwest, my knowledge of the Oregon Trail was mostly limited to dying of cyber-dysentery in the classic computer game of the same name while eating fruit roll-ups in my parents' basement. I knew those 16-bit graphics minimized the harsh conditions faced by pioneers trying to cross Oregon. But recently, a new film promises to bring those trials to the big screen in a realistic way.

The new film is called Meek's Cutoff, and it's inspired by the infamous true story of mountain man Stephen Meek who was hired in 1845 to lead a wagon train over the Cascade Mountains. Claiming to know a shortcut, Meek took the group on an unmarked path across eastern Oregon's high plains desert only to become tragically lost. Isolated and running out of supplies, the group faced hunger, thirst, and a growing lack of faith in each other and their guide.

Meek's Cutoff was primarily shot around Hines and Burns, Oregon, in Harney County which means BLM-managed lands feature prominently in a film described by the Village Voice as “visually stunning and extraordinarily textured.” Many reviews have specifically praised director Kelly Reichardt for her creative use of this austere landscape.

While Meek's Cutoff is in the middle of a limited release as of writing this article, it may not be in theaters by publication time. Fortunately, it should be available on DVD and Blu-ray soon. But you don't have to wait to see this land for yourself and learn more about the Oregon Trail. You can take your own journey out to the high desert in southeast Oregon. And you can learn more about the pioneers' travails by visiting the BLM's National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center near Baker City, Oregon. This BLM site offers living history demonstrations, interpretive programs, exhibits, multi-media presentations, and more than four miles of interpretive trails.

But if you're going to undertake such a journey, don't make the same mistakes as Meek's pioneers. Bring a map, stay on major roads, and make sure you bring enough supplies. I recommend fruit roll-ups.

Check out Part 1 of our BLM on Film series for an in-depth look at a classic western starring the Duke that was filmed on BLM-managed public land. And to learn more about the Oregon Trail, please visit the BLM's Oregon Trail homepage.