The Meek Cutoff
Tracing the Oregon Trail's Lost Wagon Train of 1845
- PUBLISHED: June 2013
- SUBJECT LISTING: History / Western History, Art
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 176 Pages, 11 x 9 in, 177 illus., 167 in color
- ISBN: 9780295993096
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
In 1845, an estimated 2,500 emigrants left Independence and St. Joseph, Missouri, for the Willamette Valley in what was soon to become the Oregon Territory. It was general knowledge that the route of the Oregon Trail through the Blue Mountains and down the Columbia River to The Dalles was grueling and dangerous. About 1,200 men, women, and children in over two hundred wagons accepted fur trapper and guide Stephen Meek's offer to lead them on a shortcut across the trackless high desert of eastern Oregon.
Those who followed Meek experienced a terrible ordeal when his memory of the terrain apparently failed. Lost for weeks with little or no water and a shortage of food, the Overlanders encountered deep dust, alkali lakes, and steep, rocky terrain. Many became ill and some died in the forty days it took to travel from the Snake River in present-day Idaho to the Deschutes River near Bend, Oregon. Stories persist that children in the group found gold nuggets in a small, dry creek bed along the way.
From 2006 to 2011, Brooks Ragan and a team of specialists in history, geology, global positioning, metal detecting, and aerial photography spent weeks every spring and summer tracing the Meek Cutoff. They located wagon ruts, gravesites, and other physical evidence from the most difficult part of the trail, from Vale, Oregon, to the upper reaches of the Crooked River and to a location near Redmond where a section of the train reached the Deschutes.
The Meek Cutoff moves readers back and forth in time, using surviving journals from members of the 1845 party, detailed day-to-day maps, aerial photographs, and descriptions of the modern-day exploration to document an extraordinary story of the Oregon Trail.
Authors & Contributors
Brooks Geer Ragen is chairman of the board of directors of Manzanita Capital. He lives in Seattle.
List of Maps
The Lost Wagon Train of 1845
The Diaries, Diarists, and Reminiscences
The Meek Research Expedition
Meek Research Expedition Members
The Journey, Day to Day
Some Final Thoughts
Note on Sources
“Beautifully illustrated with color images and detailed maps, this work makes a fine contribution to trail studies. The Meek Cutoff is a handsome addition to the library of Oregon Trail Studies and should grace the shelves of all students of the subject.- Robert Clark, Overland Journal
“The book effectively conveys the impact of this catastrophe by providing a day-to-day chronicle of the ordeal— sharing excerpts from the daily entries of various emigrants, and including maps that depict the slow and tortuous progress of the different offshoots of the group.- Barbara Lloyd McMichael, Bellingham Herald
“Local historians and Oregon Trail aficionados will find The Meek Cutoff both fascinating and informative. The spirit and endurance of the Oregon pioneers shine through in every chapter.- Renee Struthers, Eastern Oregonian
The Meek Cutoff is the first book to identify and retrace the emigrants’ exact course. Author Brooks Greer Ragen accomplished this feat in 2006, walking the trail he had identified by using diaries and other first-hand accounts written by the emigrants, accompanied by a team of experts. One of this book’s great strengths lies in its use of beautiful color photographs that illustrate each area the text described. Highly recommended for all ages.- Paula Becker, HistoryLink
Beautifully illustrated with color images and detailed maps, this work makes a fine contribution to trail studies….The Meek Cutoff is a handsome addition to the library of Oregon Trail studies, and should grace the shelves of all students of the subject.- Overland Journal