Victor Trevitt

Victor Trevitt
Victor Trevitt 1827 – 1883

Victor Trevitt was born in May of 1827. A native of New Hampshire, Trevitt moved in early childhood to Ohio. His mother died during his childhood, and following his second marriage, his father David Trevitt moved to Ohio, where his father and stepmother were neighbors and friends of Horace Greely. Victor attended the public schools and afterward learned the printer’s trade.

He had a close relationship with an uncle in Ohio, who became a surgeon of the Mexican war and took Victor, then a youth of but eighteen years, with him to the front. The latter was appointed a sergeant and on one occasion was ordered to arrest a soldier who, resisting arrest, ran his bayonet into Victor Trevitt’s eye, destroying the sight. [1]

Trevitt was a man of many talents and trades, a legislator and a town promoter. His friends called him Colonel, and was known to have had the “gift of gab.” Trevitt was blonde, with a long full beard. A saber cut over the left eye left him blind in that eye and made him squint. Trevitt was a fashionable dandy, considered the Beau Brummel of the town at the time; he wore a Prince Albert coat, plug hat, boiled shirt and fancy jewelry. [2]

Military Service

Interested in military life, Trevitt served in the Mexican War 1847. He did not leave the service with the close of the Mexican war but came to Oregon in 1849-50 with the American Rifle Regiment. He rode with the Oregon Mounted Volunteers, serving with Nathan Olney in the brief Cayuse Indian War of 1848 that followed the Whitman Incident of 1847.

Trevitt moved to Oregon City, where he followed the printer’s trade in connection with Asahel Bush, of Salem. In 1847 he was a “printer’s Devil” on the Oregon Statesman at Oregon City. From Oregon City Mr. Trevitt moved to The Dalles, being one of the first white settlers there. He opened Trevitt’s addition to The Dalles and did much toward the development of the city at the nead of navigation of the Columbia. [1]

Unconfirmed stories say that Trevitt married an Indian woman in 1850, but they later separated. His first wife was said to be “the daughter of an Indian chief”; she was said to be buried on Memaloose Island (see below).

Trevitt’s Addition

Trevitt moved to Dalles City in 1853. In 1854 he filed on a 33-38 acre Donation Land Claim that became known as Trevitt’s Addition in The Dalles. The land was bordered by Mill Creek, Union Street and West 6th Street. About the same time he filed on a larger Donation Land claim out on 3 mile creek which included the Reason place.

Trevitt Street in The Dalles was named after Victor Trevitt.

Trevitt built his home at 315 West 3rd Street in 1868. In 1861, Trevitt donated several of his “Trevitt’s Addition” lots to the Catholic Church. These lots, located at 3rd and Lincoln Streets in The Dalles, became a central point for the Catholic Church for over 100 years. A wooden church, built on this property in 1861, was eventually replaced by a new church in 1896, now known as St. Peter’s Landmark. [6]

Mt. Hood Saloon

Trevitt bought property from William Gibson and turned it into the Mt. Hood Saloon. Trevitt operated this prominent saloon and gambling hall, located on the southeast corner of 1st and Court streets, where the parking lot behind the Recreation now stands. This block later became China town when the merchants moved to 2nd street. The saloon was considered an “island in a sea of sin” and a “Gentleman’s Palace” because men weren’t allowed to gamble, cuss, or get drunk.

The Dalles in those days was a wide-open town. During the gold rush days, there were over 30 saloons in The Dalles. The population of the town boomed from 2500 residents to a “floating tent” population of 10,000, many of whom were spending money to outfit themselves as they headed to the gold fields of central Oregon. George Clayton ran the biggest gambling house in eastern Oregon. You could get plenty of action on your gold dust in his place with poker, faro, 3-card monte or you could bet your money on the small horses. The silver quarter was the smallest coin used. Cigars were 50¢ each and drinks ranged from two bits to four bits each.

Victor Trevitt’s Mt. Hood saloon,was really a sort of a gentlemen’s club. He wouldn’t allow a drunk in the place nor would he allow gambling. He wouldn’t stand for a rough house nor rough talk. [2]

Trevitt was an entrepreneur, and developed commercial property with Orlando Humason, the first judge who served in the Original Wasco County Courthouse. He was also a volunteer in his community, and a member of Masons with the Wasco Lodge. He worked with Rev. Thomas Condon in Sunday School.

The Yakima Indian War of 1856

Trevitt was one of The Dalles Company B Oregon Mounted Volunteers, who were called into the service when Governor Curry issued a Proclamation of the Governor of Oregon Oct. 11, 1855 and served from the 20th of Oct. 1855 to May 19, 1856. Trevitt was commissioned as commissary and quartermaster.[3]

The Yakima Indian War was fought in both the Yakima and Walla Walla country as well as Spokane. Those Indians were unwilling to give up their homes and property without making a fight for them. The overt-act was the killing of Indian Agent A.J. Bolan near Goldendale. Major Haller sent out with 150 men to conquer them but found himself outnumbered 10 to 1 by the Yakamas who chased him all the way back to The Dalles. He asked for reinforcements and the governors of Oregon and Washington asked for and received volunteers.-

The Dalles Co. B. First Regiment Oregon Mounted Volunteers included:

At The Dalles Captain Orlando Humason, father of Wasco County, organized Co. B. composed of John Jeffers first, lieutenant, James McAuliff 2nd Lt., J.E. Dennis. first Serg., 2nd Serg. Tom Martin, 3rd Serg. J.C. Smith, 4th Serg. James Gavin and corporals Oliver Jeffers, Henry Humphries, Amos Under-wood; and privates Monroe Adkisson, John Ashcraft, Chas. Archard, John Allen, J.R. Alphny, John Brook, J.R. Bates, Daniel Webster Butler of The Dalles, Dufur and Tygh, James P. Beebe, David Baglay, Wm. Barnett, John Crawford, John Cogwell, F. Cheat, Harding Chenowith, Archie Davidson, C.A. Darling, L. Dupias, Hesikah Davis, J. Estes, James Elgin, E. Edwards, John Foreman, J.W. Fulp, Robert Fleet, Wm. H. Gates, Joseph Gray, W.W. Gifford, F.T. Gliesen, E.J. Gliesen, Lott Hatlinger, Geo. Hedges, L.P. Henderson, Robert Hamilton, H.C. Hold, Wm. Hammock, Wm. Johnson, J.P. Jones, Warren Keith, Arnold King, L.J. Kimbidian, Edw. Litheral, A.J. Lockwood, S. Loomis, Cornelius McFarland of the steamer Wasco, A.S. Martinson, Richard J. Monroe, J.M. Martin, C.R. Muze, J. McDonald, Wm. McWillis, LeRoy McAnston, Wm. Niven, A.J. Price, G. Pell, J.A. Prindle, J.W. Phillips, Wm. Robinson, Geo. Rindle, Chas. Rowe, G.R. Roberts, J.R. Slaley, Chas. Suves, H.H. Stirr, Geo. W. Scott, Geo. W. Smith, Bruce W. Smith, Henry Steelman, James Sturdevent, Tom Trossell, Victor Trevitt, D. Stansbre, A. Woodard, F.D. Wolfe, Jont Indian, J. Amiden, Hugh Crowley, Robert Tompkins, Benj. Reynolds, Sam Morris. Gen. J.W. Nesmith was commander under proclamation of Oct. ll, l855 and served until May 19, 1856. A few other Dalles men joined other companies that came through The Dalles and needed more men. [2]

Oregon State Representative and Senator

Trevitt was a democrat and served as state representative in 1858, serving district 32. He was elected to the Oregon Senate in 1866, serving four years from 1866 to 1874.Trevitt was voted into the Oregon Senate at a time the Democrats took control of the senate for the first time in Oregon history. Trevitt was anti-negro. He repudiated radification of the bill to recognize negros (14th Amendment). Senate Journal 1868: Oregonian dislikes Trevitt & Bills. The Oregonian charges deratified makes Oregon withdraw from Union. 15th Amendment attacks this. He opposed the usery bill.

During his time in Salem, Trevitt operated a saloon.

“Vic’s” Saloon held forth at the Holman House [in Salem] in its early days to cater to the thirsts of travelers and Early Territorial Legislators. Run by one of the most colorful characters in early Oregon history, Victor Trevitt – – known for his very “original and spicy humor” – – the watering hole even had a “boll alley” for the diversion of its patrons. Since Trevitt also served as Clerk of the Territorial House from 1851-1855, he was intimately acquainted with most members of the Legislative Assembly, and he may have been one of the “association of gentlemen” who published the first newssheet ever issued at Salem – – the Vox Populi – – which dealt exclusively with Legislative matters in a most irreverent manner; it was published at the Holman House, and the material contained in the early newspaper probably originated over drinks and cigars at Vic’s. James W. Nesmith took over the saloon and bowling alley when Trevitt left for Eastern Oregon. [4] 

Marriage to Mary Wortley (Hunt) Miller

Late in life, Trevitt married Mrs. Mary Wortley (Hunt) Miller, the wedding being celebrated in Vancouver, Washington, Sept. 22, 1882. Her parents were Benjamin Terry and Katherine Ann (Davies) Hunt, the latter a descendant of the family of Martha Washington, the great-grandmother of Mrs. Trevitt having been a cousin of Mrs. Washington. Mary’s first husband was Judge Richard Thomas Miller, who had beeen a neighbor and friend of Abraham Lincoln. and their two children were Francis Wenlock Miller and R.B. Miller, who worked as a traffic manager for the Harriman lines. Source: Portland Oregon, Its History and Builders, Vol III, by Joseph Gaston

Mary had been Trevitt’s sweetheart before she married Judge Miller.

Death of a pioneer

After a long illness here in The Dalles, Victor sold his Mt. Hood “gentlemen’s saloon” at 215 Union.and he and Mary moved to San Francisco, where they hoped to recover his health. He had spent what money he had and continued to get worse. Victor and Mary were only married for 4 months when he died of consumption (now known as tuberculosis) in San Francisco on January 23, 1883 (McNeal lists the date as Jan. 27, 1883).

Mary Trevitt was sick in San Francisco. His estate had been settled and all his things disappeared. She was the proprietor of “Arlington”, 2nd and Morrison.

His body was shipped to Portland on the steamer State of California and consigned to Col. John McCrakin, also a Mexican War veteran. It was taken to the Clarenden hotel where Capt. Thomas Mountain took the casket. The Masonic Relief Board of San Francisco paid for his last care, coffin and boat transportation to Portland and the bringing of the body to Memaloose Island all amount to $192.5 paid for by Wasco Masonic Lodge. His remains were sent to The Dalles to be disposed of on Memaloose Island as he had desired. .[5]

His funeral was delayed due to temperatures of -20 degrees. The island was closed at the time with ice, and heavy snow had fallen; and the body was placed in a snow bank, until the river should open and steamboat traffic be resumed. His funeral was finally held on March 10, 1883. He had a Masonic funeral.

Trevitt’s burial on Memaloose Island

trevitt_monumentlgTrevitt was buried on Lower Memaloose Island located in the Columbia River, just downriver from Lyle, Washington. He left a request in his will to be buried “with his friends the Indians” on Memaloose Island. Trevitt was the only white man to be buried there.

He told his friends: “I have but one desire after I die, to be laid away on Memaloose Island with the Indians. They are more honest than whites and live up to the light they have. In the resurrection I will take my chances with the Indians.” —Source: History of Oregon Literature, by Alfred Powers

That opinion was heresy or a belief in opposition to the orthodox belief of the Christian church and any man who dared to express such an opinion in 1882 was ostracized from Christian society with his friends and neighbors and it took a lot of courage to make that statement in 1882.

Trevitt’s friends carried out his last wish. An article on the internet purporting to be from the Oregonian for September 19, 1926 (section 5, page 11) and entitled “City of Dead” Located on Columbia Below Lyle Island Where Indians Buried Dead Described by Mrs. Lulu Crandall of The Dalles has an interesting description of Trevitt’s burial. It also gives some examples of the disrespect shown by whites for the native burials — a disrespect still seen all over the Americas today when it comes to grave looting and artifact plundering. [7]

Trevitt was a member of the Masonic fraternity, and there were 90 Masons on the steamer “Hassalo” who attended Trevitt’s funeral. Lulu Crandall (Wasco Co. Historian) was also present on the boat, and wrote:

It was not until late in February that his friend, Frank T. Dodge, who was at that time agent for the Oregon Steam Navigation company, could secure a boat for the purpose of carrying out Trevitt’s request. The passenger steamer, “Hassalo” was offered by the company for this purpose, and one Sunday morning the boat was loaded with friends of Trevitt and the local Masons, of which organization he had long been a member, and steamed down the river to the “Island of the Dead,” 13 miles down the river. Here the burial services of Masonry were read by the Master, W.S. Myers. The casket was placed in a vault of laid stone eight feet square, upon which a chaste granite monument 13 feet high, set in steps of three, resting on the rock house or vault. The granite was brought from Granite Point on the Snake river, and was the gift of his friends to honor his memory.
Source: The Oregonian, Portland, OR., September 19, 1926, section 5, page 11, “CITY OF DEAD” LOCATED ON COLUMBIA BELOW LYLE, Island Where Indians Buried Dead Described by Mrs. Lulu Crandall of The Dalles

Trevitt’s tomb is 8 feet square, the monument is 13 feet high, and still stands on Memaloose island in the Columbia River. It can be seen from Memaloose State Park, Oregon’s westbound Interstate-84 at the Memaloose rest stop approx. 5 miles west of The Dalles. The Indian remains were removed from the island decades ago.

It has afterwards been said, countless times, “that since Victor Trevitt was buried on Memaloose Island the Indians wouldn’t bury their dead there anymore;” the implication being that the Indians had no more use for Victor Trevitt than the Christians had. But that is only half the story. The real story is that Trevitt’s burial called to the attention of Christians and other whites alike that there were many Indian skulls on the island and other burial trophies. White cemetery thieves, some of whom belonged to our Dalles Christian churches, made so many trips to Memaloose Island to steal Indian bones and relics (in violation of the Christian code in the Christian bible) that they (the whites) cleaned the island of everything. “Railroad contractor Haller’s men in 1882 and 1883 stripped the island of many bones” according to Lulu D. Crandall’s Chronicle clippings of 1926. The History of Central Oregon tells how “gunnysack-fulls of bones were shipped KLICKATATS KNOCKED DOWN by boat to The Dalles.” The Indians not wanting their dead disturbed any more than do the whites, refused to use the island for burial purposes any more. —Wm. Juker (son Jacob Juker of The Dalles) Fred Lockley’s column, Oregon Journal Sept. 12, 1930, on file at the Portland public library; contributor of most of the above data.– Source: “History of Wasco County,” Wm. H. McNeal [2]

Memaloose Island

The Chinook jargon word “Memaloose” means “dead, to die, expire, decay, become rotten, extinguish.”

Standing in the mid-channel of the Columbia River, a few miles below where the Klickitat pours in from the north is a bare, flat-topped mass of basalt and sand known as Memaloose Island. Fittingly chosen by the sages of the wild tribes that in ages past lived on the great plains of the upper Columbia basin, it was used as a burial place of the dead. This Isle of the Dead was a neutral burying ground used in common by all the tribes inhabiting either side of the river form the Cascades to and beyond the Blue mountains, among then being the Cascades, Klickitats, Snakes, Wascos, Bannocks and Umatillas. [10]

The historical marker at the Memaloose rest area off I-84 between The Dallles and Mosier says the following: “Memaloose Island, visible from this point was once an important Indian burial ground for Mid-Columbia tribes. The dead were wrapped in skins or blankets and often placed in a sitting position, sheltered by grave houses of poles, slabs and bark. Before water rising above Bonneville dam reduced the original four-acre island to about half an acre, Indian remains were removed for reburial elsewhere.

The Indians of the lower Columbia interred their dead on these burial vault islands, and the Lower Memaloose was used by the Indians of The Dalles. Small shelters made of wood were constructed, and the bodies of the dead were laid to rest on shelves and on the floor.

The term “Memaloose illahee” was Chinook for a grave or graveyard, a tomb. [11]

The Rev. Samuel Parker described the Columbia River vault burial sites:

“I came to several depositories of the dead. They were built of of planks split from cedar and balsam fir, about eight feet long, six wide, and five high, and well covered. At one end is what might be called a door, upon which were paintings of various devices, which did not apprea to be designed for any other purpose than ornamentation. Some had paintings on the sides as well as the doors.” [9] Source: Stone Age on the Columbia River, by Emory Strong, p. 81-82.

Lewis and Clark named Lower Memaloose “Sepulchre Island” when they stopped there April 13, 1806.

“We halted a fiew minits at the Sepulchar rock and examined the deposit of the dead at that place. Those were constructed, in the same manner of those already described below the rapids. Some of them were more than half filled with dead bodies, there were 13 sepulchers on this rock which stands near the center of the river and has a surface of about two acres above the water.”–Journal entry, Lewis & Clark

In an article entitled “Isle of Dead Lies in Columbia” Lida Wheeler MacGowan wrote:

The white man’s lack of regard or reverence for things which might be sacred to the Indians went as far as desecration of the dead and this Indian City of the dead was repeatedly pillaged for the curiosities it contained until now only bleaching bones remain.
When the white man had settled the country in considerable numbers and had begun to pillage Memaloose island it was soon discontinued as a burial place and many bodies and trinkets were removed and buried elsewhere.
Among the curiosities mentioned were tomahawks, knives, flint-lock guns, arrow-heads, beads of stone and glass of all sizes and colors, silver and copper coins and brass ornaments, coins used by the Hudson’s Bay company, coins with the log cabin stamped on one side and the beaver on the other, elk teeth, some of them colored permanently green by the long contact with corrosive metals and sometimes worn by white men as a charm.

The smaller burial islands were completely over flowed by the great flood of 1894, sweeping them clear of everything. At this time a large portion of Memaloose was flooded, the water taking everything in its path except that heavier materials. After the waters subsided bushels of relics were gathered by curiosity seekers and practically nothing was left but the decaying skeletons. [10]

The Indian remains were removed from Memaloose Island when Bonneville Dam was built, but Trevitt’s monument still remains.

Memaloose Island was subjected to the same floods that prompted the business district of The Dalles to relocate from Main (First) Street, back to Second and Third streets. During the flood of 1894, Indian remains still located on the island were silently swept into the chill waters of Ni-chi-wana, the Big River.

Trevitt House

The historic Victor Trevitt house (left) is located at 216 W. 4th St, next to the Ben Snipes home (right).

Victor Trevitt’s old house still stands, and plans to rennovate it are being made by owners Bev and Alan Eagy, who operate the ANZAC Tea Parlour, located on West Fourth Street in The Dalles, in the historic Ben Snipes Home.

An Ode to Victor Trevitt

John A. Mock wrote the following in The Theft of the First Great Seal of the Territory of Idaho—and the Rest of the Story:
“According to early settler Tom Beall, it was Vic Trevitt who suggested Lewiston as the name of the town, to honor Captain Meriwether Lewis, the explorer, who stopped here in 1805 with William Clark, Sacajawea and The Corps of Discovery.”

Bill Siverly writes about the moment in a poem:

Trevitt’s Estate

May of eighteen sixty-one, sternwheeler Colonel Wright
Landed its cargo of fortune-hunters alongside the confluence,
Eager mud bank squatters on the Nez Perce Reservation.
Victor Trevitt unpacked his consignment of miners’ supplies
And opened his canvas emporium for business.

A few days later five or six men were sitting on a log,
Shooting the breeze about what to name their outpost of progress.
John Silcott reckoned they should honor some Indian chief.
Just then Vic Trevitt stepped out of his tent and said,
“Gentlemen, how about Lewiston, after Lewis and Clark?”

Gentlemen agreed at once, and Vic Trevitt, who hailed from
New Hampshire, Ohio, and Oregon, by way of the Mexican War,
Decamped downriver to The Dalles, to run the Mt. Hood Saloon.
Citizen Trevitt served two terms in Oregon’s legislature,
Ten years later decamped to San Francisco, where he died.

In eighteen eighty-three under the terms of his will
Trevitt was buried beneath an obelisk on a Mid-Columbia island,
Memaloose, immemorial cemetery of Wasco and Wishram.
Trevitt allowed how sporting men might come up short at Resurrection,
So he would take his chances with the Indians.

Lewiston established tiny Trevitt Park on the brow of Normal Hill.
I remember running under elms and descending the steps to Idaho St.
My mother and I rested under the white gazebo overlooking town.
After she died, I sat in lawyer Cannon’s office in the old Pinch house,
Overlooking Victor Trevitt’s shady midsummer estate.

Source Bibliography

[1] Portland Oregon, Its History and Builders, Vol III, by Joseph Gaston, Google Books, NYPL Research Libraries, #3 3433 08182234 2.
[2] History of Wasco County, by Wm. H. McNeal
[3] History of Oregon, Vol. II, 1848-1888, by Hubert Howe Bancroft, Mrs. Frances Auretta Fuller Barrett Victor, published 1888, The History Company, San Francisco, Harvard University Library collection
[4] http://www.salemhistory.net/places/saloons.htm.
[5] Source: History of Wasco Lodge No. 15, Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons and Allied Orders, by Wm. H. McNeal, 1969
[6] A Field Guide to Historic The Dalles, by Keith F. May.
[7] The Oregonian, Portland, OR., September 19, 1926, section 5, page 11, “CITY OF DEAD” LOCATED ON COLUMBIA BELOW LYLE, Island Where Indians Buried Dead Described by Mrs. Lulu Crandall of The Dalles
[8] Portland Oregon, Its History and Builders, Vol III, by Joseph Gaston
[9] Stone Age on the Columbia River, by Emory Strong, p. 81-82.
[10] ISLE OF DEAD LIES IN COLUMBIA, By Lida Wheeler MacGowan, The Oregonian, Portland, OR., May 31, 1931, magazine section, page 3, Includes a photograph
[11] Chinook: A History and Dictionary by Edward Harper Thomas, 1935, Binsfords & Mort.