It's 1845 and a small band of travelers headed along the Oregon Trail are led by a Steven Meeks and they are lost. Meeks pretends he knows where he is going, but all he really knows ids that they are heading West. The movie beautifully depicts the hardships that the pioneers went through. Lack of water and food, broken axles on the wagons, the heat, the dust ... it wasn't much fun.
But the greatest thing to fear was the Indians. There were many tribes wandering across the land, and Meeks warns against all of them. The would take off all your skin, while you were still alive. They would cut off your eye lids and tie you down facing the sun. When the travelers come across a lone wandering Cayuse Indian, they capture him. Solomon thinks he can lead them to water, but Meeks wants to kill him right away. The group is unable to communicate with the Indian, who chants in an unintelligible language.
Meeks is a loud mouth and a racist. He boasts of the time he trapped an unarmed group of Blackfeet in the Missouri river. His group spent the day shooting them as they came up for air. "A good ol' time." Meeks says of the Indian: "It's the Cayuse we're talking about. 'The people of the Stones.' Even Indians despise these Indians. They're slave traders. They're welchers. It's even worse." Emily (Michelle Williams) is not impressed and sees through the man for what he is. She tells him that he can go his own way any time.
Most of the small party are afraid of the Indian because he is different. They don't know what to make of him. But Solomon is confident that he can lead them to water. Emily had tried to establish trust by fixing his moccasins and had also given him a blanket. The Indian, played by Rod Rondeaux, goes in to long dialogues where he seems to be speaking to the elements. We don't know what he is saying, but it seems as if he is talking to his gods. The group has no idea what to make of him, but Emily thinks he is saying that they are almost there. The water is right over the hill.
Emily is a very strong woman. She knows what Meek is, and has no respect for him. She really doesn't know what the Indian is thinking, but would rather trust him then someone she has no respect for.
Is he leading them to their salvation or to their doom? "Water or blood?" We don't know and we don't find out. But, why would he help them? He has been captured and abused like an animal. It is his land, not theirs, but he is the one treated like the outsider. After a wagon crashes, and they lose what is left of their water, Meek is ready to shoot the Indian but Emily aims a rifle at him to stop him.
It's more of a Western than an American Indian movie, but it does show how the pioneers viewed the Indians. They couldn't communicate with them and really had no idea what to make of them. Rod Rondeaux does a great job as the mysterious stranger. Even though he is in his own land, he is the one who is foreign, because the whites can't understand him. Every member of the group has a different view of who the Indian really is.
A slow moving film without much of a story, but I thought it was wonderful to watch. Definitely not for all tastes. Many people will find it slow and boring. But for people who would like to see what travelling across the prairies must have been like in 1845, this beautifully filmed movie will be fascinating viewing. The movie is a great allegory for what Americans do think about Indians. What do most of us know of their history? Do we really know what they were like before the Europeans got here? Everyone has a different view, but we should all know, even if the Indian was leading them to their doom, that Meek's view was the wrong one.