The Second Oregon Trail
The Meek's Cutoff
There were sixteen official Oregon Trails, with the Columbia River route being the most famous. One of the more notorious trails came to be called the Meek's Cutoff and passed just east of present day Madras.
By 1845 there were rumors circulating among the emigrants that Indians might attack the settlers in the Blue Mountains. Stephen Meek, the older brother of Joe Meek offered to guide wagons through Central Oregon around the Blue Mountains and Ochocos.
Manifests show that between 825 and 1500 wagons left the trail at Vale, heading South around the Blues. It wasn't uncommon for trains to break into smaller groups in search of game and water, and there are differing journals because of the wandering of individual families.
Rounding the Ochocos, they traveled west to the south fork of the Crooked River where they split into two routes heading north. One route took them just east of present day Madras, joining the other train at Sagebrush Springs and heading north along what is now Highway 97.
This is where the story of the Lost Blue Bucket Mine began, rumored to be about two days travel east of Bend. There are many versions of the story, based on individual diaries, but records show that a Mrs. Fisher kept one nugget and when she reached what is now The Dalles in October of 1845 that single nugget was eventually recognized as gold.
An article on State Archives microfilm reads: "If the pioneers who found Blue Bucket had been prospectors instead of home-seekers looking for farms in the Willamette valley, there would have been a different story to tell."
The blazing of the Meek Cutoff resulted in 23 known deaths on the trail and another 20 deaths at The Dalles from malnutrition and exposure. Even though this first use of the Cutoff was viewed by many as a disaster, it became a popular route for traders, freighters, miners and settlers that followed.