More than a century and a half ago, in
1845, a group of hardy pioneers were traveling by wagon train from
By the time they reached the Malheur River about a mile below the
present site of Vale, they had already traveled some 1,500 miles. Tired and ready to reach their destination, they encamped at a spring
Some were in despair as they had lost several oxen that had apparently
died from poison. When one of the members examined a carcass, his hand
was infected and he too, died. Tempers were pitched and dissention
began to rise within the group of travelers.
One member of the train,
by the name of Stephen Meek, who had joined the party somewhere in present
claimed that he had been to
and knew a short cut. Along the trail, many of the men had began to
distrust Meek and when the party set out westward from the springs, they
split in two groups – one following the known route, and the other, Meek’s
promised short cut.
The Meek party swung to
the south toward the Steen Mountain country. But, Meek didn’t really
know where he was going and with the anger of the group he fled the wagon
train in fear of his life, after only one week. Dissention within
the group caused them to split once again at the headwaters of Willow
Creek. Part of the group headed towards Huntington and down the Columbia
River, while the rest of the party continued to travel along the Malheur
Along the way, the party met with trouble
again as one member was stricken with fever and died, and just a few miles
later, several of the oxen were lost. On August 25, 1845, three of the
young men soon went out in search of the stock, walking all day and well
into the late afternoon before coming to a small stream. Quenching
their thirst, they picked up 15-20 pebbles in the creek that displayed an
unusual color. Finding their oxen, they then returned to the train.
Exhibiting their stones to the older men in the train, the "more seasoned"
travelers pronounced them to be "copper.” When someone asked, "Was there
much of it?", one of the boys replied, "We could have filled one of these
One of the train’s
members, Mrs. Fisher, kept a single nugget and the train continued its
journey, leaving behind the other stones. Of Stephen Meek, he did make it
to the The Dalles and returned to the train with a party of rescuers in
order to save them. The wagon train finally reached its destination at The
Dalles in October, 1845.
All was forgotten until three years later when
gold was discovered in
At that time, the incident was recalled by some of the party members and
Mrs. Fisher, who had kept one of the nuggets, soon discovered that it was
Thus began the search for the mythical
Blue Bucket Mine. Though the location of the gold continues to remain a
mystery today, it is believed to be at a tributary of the John Day River.
of America, updated April, 2017.