American Solar Challenge: Burns, Oregon

Solar car teams spend their final stage stop in Burns, Oregon on July 21. Check the American Solar Challenge 2018 page for event details. Follow the race and related events on Facebook with: American Solar Challenge and Oregon National Historic Trail.

Burns, Oregon: Tragedy on the Meek Cutoff

In 1845 Stephen Meek, a veteran of the western fur trade and a wagon guide on the Oregon trails, proposed to lead emigrants along a new shortcut across eastern Oregon to The Dalles on the Columbia River. It would be faster and easier than the old Oregon Trail, he promised. Some 1,000 to 1,500 emigrants decided to follow Meek but soon lost confidence in him and insisted on finding their own way. Much of the trail today is hard to reach or on private property.

  • Meek Cutoff (US-20/Central Oregon Hwy east of Burns, OR) US-20/Central Oregon Hwy leads 93 miles from Vale toward Burns, Ore. Just beyond the tiny community of Buchanan, the highway turns due west and intersects the Meek Cutoff route as the trail emerges from rugged country to the north. The highway crosses one of the company’s campsites and overlays the old trail for about three miles. Along this stretch you’ll view the same scenery, largely unaltered, that members of the Meek wagon train experienced. At this point some of the emigrants thought Meek was lost and they knew better which way to go.

From here the trail swings southwesterly toward Harney and Malheur lakes, then continues northwesterly to cross the highway ahead.

  • Glass Butte and Little Glass Buttes (US-20/Central Oregon Hwy west of Burns, OR) Glass and Little Glass Buttes (named for the obsidian found there) are a prominent landmark south of the highway, located about 27.5 miles west of the US-395 intersection at Riley. The trail emerges from a pass between the two prominences and crosses the highway as it continues north. Company cohesion was disintegrating at this point and, although Meek had lost control, he continued trying to shepherd them toward The Dalles.

Six weeks after setting out from present-day Vale, and after 24 deaths, the starving survivors stumbled in to The Dalles.

Last updated: July 2, 2018

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