Some of the dead were buried in a wood canoe with their most prized effects of the deceased, and then inverting another canoe over it. Both the canoe and vault practices made the burial locations very easy to be discovered and easy to be robbed or vandalized.
"Although Memaloose Island had been a sacred "island of the dead" for Indians as far back as can remembered, it was the interment of a lone white man that gave the island landmark a claim to more than usual historic interest. For (a man named) Vic Trevitt and Memaloose are inextricably tied to each other, and to an era epic in the making of the Oregon Country, and both share a romantic mystique in that each represents stories yet untold - or forgotten."
At one time in the early 1880's there were about 30 grave vaults on the island. But, following the burial of a solitary white man on the island named, Victor Trevitt of The Dalles, in 1883, the Indians weren’t too pleased with all the attention that he drew to their sacred island.
So who was this Victor Trevitts? What importance did he bring to the history of The Dalles, the Columbia River Indians, and the state of Oregon? And, why was he, a white man, buried on an Island used as a sacred Indian burial ground?
Interested in military life, at age 18,Trevitt served in the Mexican War of 1847. He came to Oregon in 1849-50 with the American Rifle Regiment. He rode with the Oregon Mounted Volunteers, serving in the brief Cayuse Indian War of 1848. Trevitt moved to Oregon City, where he followed the printer's trade and in 1853 he moved to The Dalles, being one of the first white settlers there. He purchased a substantial amount of land in The Dalles area that would later become most of The Dalles we know today. Trevitt also bought property and turned it into the Mt. Hood Saloon. He operated this prominent "gentleman's palace" saloon and gambling hall in The Dalles. Cigars were 50¢ each and drinks ranged from two bits to four bits each.
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.
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.
Trevitt was a democrat and served as state representative in 1858. He was elected to the Oregon Senate in 1866, serving four different 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. He used this position and repudiated, or refuse to accept or be associated with the ratification of the bill to recognize "negro's". Trevitt was anti-"negro" and wanted nothing to do with black people. Most likely due to his racist point of view, Trevitt was not re-elected to the Senate.
At the request from his will, his body was returned to Oregon, but due to heavy snows and minus temperatures, the funeral and burial were delayed. To wait out the weather, his body was placed in a snow bank, until the river ice melted and steamboat traffic resumed. His funeral was finally held on March 10, 1883.
That opinion was heresy or a belief in opposition to the orthodox belief of the Christian church, and any white man who dared to express such an opinion in 1882 was ostracized from Christian society with his friends and neighbors.
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;" and 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 The 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. The Indians not wanting their dead disturbed any more than do the whites, refused to use the island for burial purposes any more.
I believe the friendship Trivett thought he had with the Indians was actually one sided, with Trevitt being in denial of the friendship. It is unlikely the Indians really welcomed him knowing that he served in wars against their people, supposedly divorced an Indian woman, and that the Indians would accept his racist views against black people. Then for Trevitt to request to be buried on a sacred Indian island and erect a monument, which drew the attention for looting and vandalism...I can't imagine his friendship with the Indians was mutual.
In my opinion, if Trevitt wanted to "take his chances with the Indians to get into heaven", then he should have been buried in the tradition of the Indian ways, placed in a wood vault or canoe, and not have created the over-the-top narcissistic monument that loudly speaks to everyone saying..."Look at me!"