An Indian came to us, pointed out the course to [The Dalles] to which he said it was 5 days journey, and so far from refusing to follow the advise of the Indian, at my request he was employed by Mr. Meek to pilot us to Crooked River, which he did for a blanket. Solomon Tetherow, 1845 pioneer
Kelly Reichardt, Jon Raymond and Neil Kopp tell the story of a wagon train which misplaced itself in Harney County. Paul Dano and Michelle Williams star.
Willamette Week let the cat out of the bag last year:
Meek’s Cutoff … is based on the true story of an ill-fated wagon train that attempted a shortcut on the Oregon Trail……the tale includes starvation, a legendary lost gold mine and a Native American scout who might or might not be inclined to save the day. Neil Kopp confirmed that the screenplay, written by Portland’s Jon Raymond, is “loosely based on Stephen Meek…who basically becomes lost.”
Adam Yauch, head of Oscilloscope, the distributor of Meek’s Cutoff has an interesting theory.
“As a side note,” Yauch continued. “‘Meek’s Cutoff’ is so real feeling and looking that I suspect Kelly may have completed work on a time-machine…. and ….‘Meek’s’ is actually a documentary that she went back and shot in 1845. If anyone has any evidence to that effect, please contact me directly ASAP.”
Faithful readers of Oregon Movies, A to Z recognize that the wagon train genre has intersected with the documentary genre at least once before. James Cruze’s The Covered Wagon had meticulous art direction, far beyond the call of narrative duty, faithfully recreating the living conditions aboard the Oregon Trail prairie schooners. Cruze did this because it was 1923, and some of his audience had actually been in covered wagons, as children, themselves.
Kelly Reichardt was under no such pressure. Yet attention to historic accuracy seems to have been a source of artistic inspiration for herself and for Jonathan Raymond, the screenwriter.
Shot in Oregon, based on real life Oregonians, written by an Oregonian, produced by an Oregonian – not hard to preemptively declare Meek’s Cutoff as an Oregon film.