The Blue Arrowhead

As a history buff who recreates in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I have had an interest with the story of the Donner Party, one of the most famous and tragic events of the American west. One would think that their determination and despair would be perfect for a movie storyline, yet there is no such feature length epic-style movie. I can only guess why:

1) the subject of cannibalism

2) it’s a film making logistical nightmare

3) it’s a complex and lengthy story   

With skillful approach to the storytelling paired with some of the latest technology – camera drones and CGI – I believe a movie dedicated to this group of intrepid pioneers may be possible – a movie that is long overdue.

 

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Title: The Blue Arrowhead: Based on the Events of the Ill-fated Donner Party

By: Snowslayer

Logline: During the American westward migration of the 1800’s, the will and determination of a young lady with insecurities is put to the test when she is forced to go on a suicide mission to get help for her starving and snowbound family in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

 

FADE IN:

EXT. BEAR RIVER, SIERRA FOOTHILLS – DUSK

Six BODIES lie motionless about a muddy patch of forested land along a RIVER. They are scattered here and there and look dead but in fact they’re alive, though barely. Some have their limbs outstretched as if trying to reach for something; others are in the fetal position. Their extremely tattered clothes reveal their severely emaciated bodies, covered with dried mud and filth, and their feet, swollen and bloody. We then focus on a young woman, MARY ANN GRAVES, 20, her eyes half open.

MARY ANN (V.O.)
I don’t know how long I’ve been
lying here in this miserable muddy
wilderness. With food running low
we left the others at the camp and
climbed the mountain pass in hopes
of getting help.
We left with six day’s provisions
and now it’s been how long who
knows but I think it’s at least
over 30 days out. We traveled so
far and it seems we’ve come so
close but now we can go no
further. (beat) Then I heard the
footsteps, and the voices of
disbelief…

CUT TO:

EXT. RUSTIC CABIN – NIGHT
A bright porch LAMP in the distance appears, gradually approaching, which we soon see is hanging from the exterior of a small CABIN.

MARY ANN (V.O.)
And then I remember the warm yellow
glow, getting closer and closer. It
was like a welcoming beacon against
the black backdrop of a dark night.
It was then that I realized that I
would survive this ordeal and my
brothers and sisters had a chance
of being rescued from starvation
and deprivation.

EXT. BUSY STREET 1840’S TOWN – DAY
A bird’s eye view of the town, as people are going about their business.

MARY ANN (V.O.)
Then word about our rescue and
survival spread among the land
and soon everyone was talking
about the Donner Party tragedy
or the tragedy of the Sierras.
Gossip turned into exaggerated
and sensationalistic stories of
cannibalism, and people called
us names. But we were no
different than any other wagon
company.

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. GRAVES’ FAMILY HOMESTEAD – DAY
Rows of Spring crops and groves of trees surround a small
rustic STRUCTURE. A handful of people are working among the
rows of CROPS.

MARY ANN (V.O.)
We started from Marshall County,
Illinois. That’s where I grew up.
Father had built a one-room
cabin for my five sisters, three
brothers and ma and me and a farm
where he grew corn, wheat and
pumpkins. But now he wasn’t getting
good prices for his crops, and he
grew tired of the constant threat
from the Illinois Shakes.
MANIFEST DESTINY was sweeping the
country, and he was itching for an
adventure. So when the EMMIGRANT’S
GUIDE TO CALIFORNIA AND OREGON was
published, describing a lush,
vibrant land of bounty and ample
opportunity, a frontiers man like
my father was enticed.

INSERT

A MONTAGE of wagon trains assembling, en route on the open
plains, views of the California Trail, valleys, snow-covered
MOUNTAINS.

MARY ANN (V.O.)
It would be a perilous journey.
We’d be leaving the Unites States
and entering Indian territory.
Settlements for provisions are
separated by hundreds of miles. The
last one hundred miles of the trip
is the most dangerous part, and
only the healthiest and strongest
should go.
Timing was crucial to ensure safe
passage to the California
territory. We could not leave until
after the Spring rains subside, but
yet we had to make it to the Sierra
Nevada pass by early fall, an
advice that father seemed most
concerned with.
END INSERT
EXT. GRAVES’ FAMILY HOMESTEAD – DAY
MARY ANN, 19, is standing among a patch of tall wild grass.
The Graves’ HOME and a ROAD is seen in the BG. A beautiful
girl resembling actress Daisy Ridley, she has a slender build,
expressive dark eyes and long dark wavy hair like that of
Kristen Stewart’s from Twilight. She has her index FINGER
pointed upwards, and a LADYBUG beetle is walking towards her
fingertip.
MARY ANN
Fly home, little guy.
When it reaches her fingertip, it extends its wings and flies
off into the afternoon breeze.
BILLY (O.S.)
Hey Mary Ann! Emma’s lookin’
for you!
Mary Ann turns around and heads for the road.
CUT TO:
EXT. WATER WELL – DAY
Mary Ann is pumping water into a BUCKET. Standing beside her
is her best friend EMMA, 17, a bright and cheery young girl,
similar in personality to “Amanda” from the movie Taken.
EMMA
These fields have been our
play area for so many years
now. I will hate to see you
leave.
MARY ANN
Remember those mudcakes we
made when we were little? Made
your ma so mad.
EMMA
Remember hiding among the corn
stalks where no one could ever
find us!
MARY ANN
(smiling)
I’m so nervous and excited for
this journey. I don’t see what
got papa goin’ about
California. Travelin’ overland
through Indian lands to a place
not even owned by the U.S.?
They begin walking as Mary Ann carries the filled bucket,
passing under a large SHADY TREE.
EMMA
So Sara finally decided to get
married to Jay?
MARY ANN
Yeah, It was a last minute
thing. Jay’s pa needed him to
stay to tend the orchards and
didn’t want his son going off
to some far off place. Sara
was torn between going with
us and her Jay. When my pa
went to the courthouse to
sign the papers for the land,
Sara and Jay went along and
the JUSTICE OF THE PEACE
married them. They’ve decided
to come with us.
EMMA
I’m so happy for them. And
for you, too.
MARY ANN
My sister so lucky.
EMMA
What do you mean?
MARY ANN
At least she’s got a man. I wish I
had a man too. Do you think I’ll
meet a husband on the trail?
EMMA
Oh I think so. There’ll be
plenty of young hopefuls out
there.
MARY ANN
I wonder what the men are like
in California. Will I find one
who will like me? What if
they’re all taken?
EMMA
You oughtta stop doubting
yourself. Look at you! You’re a
pretty girl! There’ll be plenty of
men out there who’d kill to be with
a pretty girl. You are for sure to
met someone. Just remember keep
your spirits up!
They embrace each other.
MARY ANN
I really hope so.
EMMA
I’ll miss ya.
MARY ANN
I’ll miss ya too.
EXT. GRAVES’ FAMILY HOMESTEAD – DAY
Three covered WAGONS are parked in front of the Graves home.
The Graves family is busy loading household items and
personal belongings into the wagons. FRANKLIN GRAVES, 57,
Mary Ann’s father, a tall lanky hospitable and congenial man
with medium length hair who resembles a Liam Neeson with
messy hair, is securing the oxen to their yokes. JOHN SNYDER,
23, a young man with strikingly handsome good looks who
resembles a rebel James Dean type, is helping him.
Mary Ann and one of her younger brothers, JONATHAN, 7, are
carrying items out of the house and leaving them at the
tailgate of one of the wagons. ELIZABETH GRAVES, 45, Mary
Ann’s mother, also of tall and thin build, is walking in and
out of the house. Emma walks up to them and catches Mary
Ann’s attention.
EMMA
I wanted to come by and say
goodbye.
Emma and Mary Ann walk off to the side.
ELIZABETH
Oh hey Emma!
EMMA
Hello Mrs. Graves!
MARY ANN
We’re finally off into the unknown.

EMMA

I have something for you, it’s sort
of a goodbye present.
Emma reaches into a pocket a takes out something in her hand, which she keeps from Mary Ann’s view, and extends her closed hand to Mary Ann, palm facing down.
MARY ANN
How nice, what is it?
EMMA
It’s something I wanted you to
have so you can remember our
friendship.
Emma drops the object onto Mary Ann’s palm. Emma retracts her
hand, revealing a small gold-plated LOCKET, attached to a
simple NECKLACE.

MARY ANN
It’s beautiful!
Mary Ann examines the gift. A RED GEM adorns the frontside.
Inside, a small strand of blonde-color HAIR is rolled into
one side, while a dried FLOWER is mounted on the other. She
closes the locket and unclasps the hook. Emma helps her
secure the necklace around her neck. The girls hug each
other.
FRANKLIN
Mary Ann! Go help your ma.
MARY ANN
Yes pa!
Mary Ann kisses Emma with a quick peck on the cheek. She
notices a young man adjusting the ox bow on one of the oxen.
She eyes him very carefully, suspiciously, scrutinizing his
muscular body as it bends and flexes. She’s not quite sure
what to make of him. She approaches the wagon. John notices
her stare.
JOHN
How do you do, ma’am. My
name is John Snyder.
MARY ANN
I’m Mary Ann.
JOHN
Pleasure, ma’am.
John touches his hat.
FRANKLIN
Mary Ann! Get going!
CUT TO:
EXT. GRAVES’ FAMILY HOMESTEAD – DAY
Mary Ann and one of her younger brothers, BILLY, 17, tall for
his age and slender, are loading the final items. Billy sees
a SPIDER on the ground trying to evade their footsteps. Billy
stomps his foot on it.
BILLY
Darn I can’t stand spiders.
MARY ANN
Hey you don’t have to kill it!
BILLY
I wish they’d all die. They’re the
most annoying thing to man.
MARY ANN
They have a right to live too!
BILLY
Nah they don’t!
SUPER: APRIL 14, 1846
The WHEELS of three fully loaded wagons begin rolling. The
Graves cabin disappears into the background as the newly assembled
family wagon TRAIN pulls ahead. The wagons are so
filled with belongings and supplies that almost everyone is
either walking on FOOT or on horseback.
Franklin and Elizabeth are driving the lead wagon, John is in
the second, and JAY FOSDICK, husband of Mary Ann’s older
sister SARA, is in the third.
EXT. PRAIRIE
MARY ANN (V.O.)
We left Stueben Township on April
14, 1846, along with my sister SARA
and her new husband, JAY FOSDICK,
and a teamster named JOHN SNYDER
who pa hired to drive the oxen, for
St. Joe to stock up on provisions
and hopefully met up with other
wagon trains.
EXT. PRAIRIE NORTHERN KANSAS – DUSK
ON SCREEN TEXT: MAY 27
Billy and WILLIAM RITCHIE, 19, are standing on a berm away
from the main campsite, throwing ROCKS at random targets.
BILLY
I think I’ll be an expedition guide
or a blacksmith when I get to
California.

WILLIAM RITCHIE
What makes you say that?
BILLY
I like making things with my hands.
What about you?
WILLIAM RITCHIE
I’m gonna find me a pretty belle.
Your sister Mary Ann ain’t bad
lookin’.
BILLY
I think she’s got a thing for our
teamster, John Snyder. (beat) You
know what I feel like now? I feel
like token some of that fine
nicotiana rustica right now.
WILLIAM RITCHIE
Hey look at what I got.
William Ritchie reaches into a pocket and takes out a little
POUCH.
BILLY
What is it?
WILLIAM RITCHIE
I happen to have some. It’s a
little tobacco I snagged back at St
Joe.
Billy takes out a small flask.
BILLY
Look, what I got. Some of pa’s
whiskey. I was saving it for the
fourth of July. Hey I bet your
tobac I can hit that tree.
WILLIAM RITCHIE
You’re on!
Billy picks up a rock and throws it at the tree. It falls
short.
WILLIAM RITCHIE (CONT’D)
I bet your whiskey I can hit it.
BILLY
Deal!
William Ritchie throws a rock at it which travels a little
further, but still misses the mark. Billy selects another
ROCK and makes another attempt. When it misses the tree, he
picks up one more rock. It is a BLUE AGATE rock. He examines
it for a moment, then decides to pocket it.
BILLY (CONT’D)
Lets forget it. Why don’t we just
share what we got. I think we got
an Indian peace pipe back at camp.
WILLIAM RITCHIE
Yea!
The boys sit down where they’re at and begin taking turns at
sipping from the flask.
TEENAGE GIRL (O.S.)
William Ritchie! You got first
watch tonight!
WILLIAM RITCHIE
Says who!
TEENAGE GIRL (O.S.)
Says pa and Mr. Graves!
WILLIAM RITCHIE
Pa would have to choose me. I’d
better head back to camp and get
the fire ready.
BILLY
I’ll start rounding up the cattle.
EXT. PRAIRIE NORTHERN KANSAS – NIGHT
Billy, standing guard at the perimeter of camp, notices a
grass fire about a half mile away. He did not believe it
would pose a threat. Another young man hastily approaches
Billy from the direction of the fire.
BILLY
Who comes there?
YOUNG MAN
Friend!
BILLY
Friend, advance and give the
countersign!

YOUNG MAN
It’s me, William, and don’t talk so
loud. Haven’t you seen them?
BILLY
Seen what?
WILLIAM RITCHIE
The Indians. They’re setting the
prairie on fire and are going to
surround us and kill us and take
our livestock.
BILLY
Where?
WILLIAM RITCHIE
Why, there, running along the fire.
There are hundreds of them.
Scared and trembling, Billy looks at the fire again and
studies it carefully. He realizes that the Indians are
actually tall weeds bobbing and wavering in the wind,
silhouetted against the flickering flames.
BILLY
Nah, those aren’t Indians. It’s
just the resin weeds in the wind.
WILLIAM RITCHIE
What? You mean it’s just the grass?
Promise not tell the others about
my mistake, will ya?
BILLY
I won’t.
The voices of several men at camp are heard. Two other guards who had seen the imaginary Indians return to camp, warning of the approaching threat. As the panicked men began shouting orders and rushing about, someone calmly says that it’s a false alarm.