Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 42/Scrapbook of a Historian - Frances Fuller Victor

Oregon Historical Quarterly, Volume 42
Scrapbook of a Historian - Frances Fuller Victor by Alfred Powers

SCRAPBOOK OF A HISTORIAN
FRANCES FULLER VICTOR

ALFRED POWERS

AMONG THE NUMEROUS scrapbooks in the collections of the Oregon Historical Society is one classified as No. 120. It is the scrapbook of Mrs. Frances Fuller Victor, one of the most important of Oregon historians, who died in a Yamhill Street boarding house in Portland in 1902.

She is best known for her work on the Bancroft histories, but was author in her own name of ten volumes: Poems, 1851; Florence Fane Sketches, 1863-65; The River of the West, 1870; All Over Oregon and Washington, 1872; The Woman's War Against Whisky; or, Crusading in Portland, 1874; Eleven Years in the Rocky Mountains, 1877; The New Penelope and Other Stories and Poems, 1877; Atlantis Arisen; or, Talks of a Tourist About Oregon and Washington, 1891; The Early Indian Wars of Oregon, 1894; Poems, 1900.

Her scrapbook consists of 146 pages of pasted clippings of her magazine and newspaper contributions, together with articles, editorials, and reviews about her and her books.

Beginning on page 34 is her first inclusion of an article on an Oregon subject. It is entitled "A Stage Ride in Oregon and California," and describes a trip from Portland to San Francisco in the fall of 1870. Only small parts of it are quoted:

On the afternoon of the 8th of October, I left Portland for San Francisco by the overland route . . . At the time I speak of, the Oregon Central Railroad was only completed to Salem ...

On the afternoon of the 10th, I took my seat in a coach of the California and Oregon Stage Company to commence my long ride to San Francisco . . .

The country from Salem to Albany, a distance of 25 miles, is more broken and picturesque than the 50 miles preceding it. The road was dotted along with fair-goers, who greeted us cheerfully; and our route led us often alongside the gangs of railroad-building Chinamen, and past the piers and trestlework of bridges to be completed for the iron track . ..

Albany is the third town in importance in Western Oregon, ... It looked very pleasant as we bowled rapidly out of it, . . . Corvallis, 15 miles further on, is a neat-looking town, beautifully located on the Wallamet, with a mountain of its own—Mary's Peak—to give character to the scenery. From Corvallis there is a good wagon-road over to the coast . . .

Not wishing to hurry through my journey, I stopped a day at the pretty little town of Eugene—to rest and enjoy the scenery, ... I found little enough of business life in this portion of the valley, where neither steamboat nor railroad whistle breaks the quiet monotony, at present; water enough to carry boats to Eugene only existing in the rainy season ...

On the morning following my arrival, I left Eugene—the only passenger, inside or outside the stage . . .

After a day spent at Mr. Applegate's [at Yoncalla] I proceeded on my way, not knowing where I should next seek a day's repose from the constant thumping and bumping of staging ...

At Oakland we supped and changed stages for the night ride . . . It seemed busy-much more so than Eugene ...

At the close of the second night's ride I found myself at Canyonville, a little place at the entrance to the famous Umpqua Canyon. Here we breakfasted and changed wagons again . . .

... between the Umpqua and Siskiyou mountains, we came up on the first evidences of mining operations in abandoned cabins, rockers, sluice-boxes, sieves, etc. The claims had been worked out long ago, and the former population gone, none knew whither. Only these abandoned mining implements, and the torn and disfigured surface of the ground, hinted at former life in these now quiet scenes ...

The Stage company's line brings us to Jacksonville about eight o'clock in the evening. After an hour's delay, we start with a full coach. It was slow climbing the Siskiyou mountain; six miles up, and six down again-a fearful grade, too . . .

Through several pages there is nothing more of Oregon interest except a clipping headed "The Romance and Poetry of Oregon"; "Remarks Upon Poetry and the Poets,'" a general treatment, "Written for and Read Before the Portland Literary Society, By Mrs. F. F. Victor, Jan. 25, 1876, and Published at the Request of the Society"; a short item on "The Oregon Mazamas"; and a long article from the Overland Monthly for August 1869 on "Manifest Destiny in the West."

Then, under date of 1879, is a travel sketch on the Umpqua in which she refers to the Scottsburg that had been and even then was practically no more:

[Scottsburg] is named after Levi Scott, of pioneer memory, who settled here in 1850. For a period of about 11 years it was a thriving business place, being the rendezvous of packers who carried the supplies of all southern Oregon and northern California, then actually engaged in mining, over the mountains on mules. Thousands of mules were kept here for this service, the goods being brought by vessels from San Francisco into the Umpqua river, and hence taken to the interior. At that period there was an upper and a lower Scottsburg, about two miles apart ...

The scrapbook includes in the general miscellany she has pasted neatly on the pages the following additional articles on the Pacific Northwest: "Northern Seaside Resorts," 1894; "The Wild Game of the Pacific," 1897; "The Search for Fretum Anian," from the Overland Monthly for November 1869; "Boundary Dispute Over San Juan Island," from the San Francisco Chronicle for February 16, 1896; and "The Pioneers of Oregon," in two parts, from the Overland Monthly for July and August 1874.

In the clippings about her, and in some things she contributed herself through interviews or directly to the papers, there are several references to the shabby way she felt Hubert Howe Bancroft had treated her in turning her out to pasture after his 39 volumes were completed.

Under the heading "A Literary Pioneer," the Impress had this to say in 1895:

Eleven years of this valuable life was given to more elaborate literary labors on the Bancroft History: fully six volumes of that important work coming from her brain and pen. Only four of these can be segregated-Oregon, Vols I and II; Washington, Idaho and Montana; and Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming.

Another reference, with the caption "The Woman Historian," claims the same amount of Bancroft production for her, and says in addition:

Mrs. Victor's individual labors in the Bancroft library covered a period of eleven years, between 1878 and 1889 . . .

These years of unremitting toil, during which her identity was practically lost in the shadow of a publisher's name-years of bookworm seclusion and absorption in her tasks—left their inevitable impression upon body and brain.

A clipping from the San Francisco Call for February 14, 1898, marked in ink "Author not known," speaks of Bancroft's lack of integrity in the following blunt terms:

History is truth, not fiction, and Hubert Howe Bancroft's unquenchable desire not to have the truth told if his pocket would suffer thereby is known here, if not in New York. Some of the matter that appeared under his name was accurate, but the fiction is so much in evidence that the whole work has been rendered valueless. Much of the honest writing in these volumes was done by Mrs. Frances Fuller Victor, a gentlewoman who declined to lie for profit.

In one of her own statements in the scrapbook, Mrs. Victor does not go so far:

The second volume on Oregon was made up more from matter in the Bancroft library and newspaper files, and is not quite the perfect work I would have made it if I had prepared for it as I did for the first volume. Its errors, however, are not numerous or important. It happened that sometimes when Mr. Bancroft was reading manuscript he altered what I had said to make it suit some opinion of his own, or for some other reason.

This is confirmed in more detail in a letter she wrote to Judge Matthew P. Deady on November 3, 1886, one of a number of complaining references to her Bancroft employment to be found in the Deady correspondence in the manuscript collections of the Oregon Historical Society:

. . . I labored under the disadvantage of having my ms. [Bancroft's History of Oregon] reduced by another—Mr. B[ancroft] performing this editorial work. As he did not always take in the value of certain matter, and as my ms. overrun terribly, he slashed in the wrong places often, and I knew nothing of it until it came before me in the galleys and could be changed but slightly afterwards. But considering all things, I do believe the history is more nearly correct than any original history you can point to before the Bancroft series was begun ...

This scrapbook sketch cannot go fully into the Victor-Bancroft controversy, which would require, and might well have, a paper by itself. To the extent that her objections were to the editing, the modern reader cannot escape the significant evidence of his own judgment that no book published under Mrs. Victor's own name is so good as the two-volume history of Oregon in the Bancroft series. Lack of credit, small pay, all the research toil, eleven years of her gifted prime as a hired hand—these, without a high degree of actual Bancroft blame, would have been cause enough for the petulance of her sad, later years when she looked back to her long, profitless hitch in the San Francisco history factory.

In general, as a woman historian in a period when woman's sphere was decidedly the home, she had been shoved around a good deal by men historians. Smug masculine attitudes were not lacking in the case of W. L. Adams, Elwood Evans, H. S . Lyman, Judge Deady, and even Jesse Applegate. She had to fight for any chance at all to write history and so, of course, developed away from meekness and silence in the matter of her rights.

Of Jesse Applegate she did not fail to speak in complimentary terms in her published writings, calling him the "Sage of Yoncalla," but in the Deady correspondence there is a letter of hers giving a somewhat different private opinion.

In a scrapbook article from the Salem Statesman in 1895 she says:

I shall never forget my reception by the "Sage of Yoncalla," Jesse Applegate. He stood at the gate when the stage drove up. His philosophical head, close shaven, with its large ears stand ing almost at right angles to his face, his large mouth stretched wide in a cordial yet half-quizzical smile, together with his gaunt figure and farmer's garb, made altogether a most unexpected picture—for I had heard a great deal about this Oregon statesman, and looked for something different. Ten days were spent at his house, the evenings of which were devoted to historical reminiscences, and of all the minds I have ever come in contact with I think his the most independent; for, though stored with learning, he did not draw his ideas from other men's stock, but thought for himself. As he liked to talk, in his deliberate, reflective way, I only had to listen.

But 12 years before, on August 21, 1883, she had written the following letter to Judge Deady:

. . . Yes, Mr. Applegate is certainly very trying to his friends. I regret his barbarous ways, for I am inclined to like him in spite of them. I should enjoy his friendship if he would give it to me—or perhaps I ought to say if he had it to give. But there is always a difficulty about the friendship of a man for a woman—he wants her love in payment for his friendship, and the bargain is unequal and consequently a failure. I, at all events, do not feel bound to humor all Mr. A's whims because he does me the honor to acknowledge himself pleased with my society. Why should I? Do I not give as good—well, almost as good—as I receive? He writes charming letters when he is in the humor and insulting ones when he is out, and I've no liking for being petted and abused in turn, so I too had made up my mind to wait for ample apologies before recognizing him. But I cannot help feeling sorry for his sad old age, even while I do not acknowledge his right on account of his age to be a discourteous tyrant . . .

In her Salem Statesman article in 1895 she said some frank things of Joe Meek, about whom she had written her book The River of the West:

It was during my first year in Oregon that I met Joseph L. Meek. I think it was Judge Deady who brought about the meeting, and Meek sent me a batch of notes in pencil every little while for a year or more. On one occasion he came to town to have a photograph taken by Mr. Joseph Buchtel, from which an engraving was to be made, but did not come near me. By chance I met him as he came down the stairs from Buchtel's, and he was looking dissipated enough—limp and white from drinking. When he recognized me the gentleman in him asserted itself, and he said with a deeply apologetic air: "Punish me any way you please, Mrs. Victor. I know I am unworthy to speak to you; and I promise on my sacred honor not to be seen by you in this condition again." Nor did I ever see him really intoxicated afterwards-perhaps because when he came to town he usually reported to me, and I took measures to prevent him from meeting too many of his acquaintances on the street. For this and because he was made the hero of The River of the West, he entertained for me a profound respect and affection, as refined and loyal as one could wish from the most cultured of men.

Several clippings in the scrapbook tell about the hot water she got into by her treatment of the Whitman myth. She wrote The Early Indian Wars of Oregon for the State. It was published in 1894.

Tardily in 1897 H. S. Lyman sent from Astoria a long communication to the Oregonian, in which he said:

Mrs. Victor's estimate of Dr. Whitman will not be generally accepted. The impression given in her writings is of an inflexible, but designing and narrow-minded man, whose aims were largely personal. She says of him and his associates that, instead of spiritualizing the Indians, they became themselves unspiritualized. She makes the astonishing assertion that, upon setting out upon his winter trip to Washington City, in 1842, he threatened his Indians that he was going to bring many white men to chastise them. What proof she has for a declaration so little accordant with Whitman's character, and so unnecessary and foolish, she does not give, relying apparently upon the rumors around the Hudson's Bay trading post.

A few days later, John Minto wrote to the Oregonian from Salem, mildly not agreeing with Mrs. Victor's interpretation of the Whitman matter but mostly telling how little she received for writing The Early Indian Wars of Oregon. Then, from San Francisco, came a letter to the Oregonian from Mrs. Victor, with this opening paragraph:

It is so much the custom for reviewers in Oregon to dissect any book of mine dealing with facts of history, and to bring in the Whitman mission and massacre as the piece de resistance of their reviewer's feast that I have learned to expect, and not particularly to resent it. But on the last occasion, the review of my Early Indian Wars of Oregon, by Mr. H . S . Lyman, although I am not addicted to slang, I was forced to exclaim: "You make me tired!"

The Dalles Times-Mountaineer had over a year and a half earlier in August 1895, made this statement under the title "The Whitman Story:

Mrs. Victor is fortified in every position she assumes, but her version of the affair will not be eagerly accepted, because it destroys the patriotism and disinterestedness of Dr. Whitman in which the public have had implicit faith for long years.

Also in 1895 the Oakland, California, Times, calling it "A Literary War," had told how Dr. O. W . Nixon clashed with Mrs. Victor over "the agency of Dr. Whitman in the settlement of Oregon." According to the Times writer, "Dr. Whitman, in Oregon, was a sort of John Brown in Kansas."

These are the highlights of the Scrapbook of Frances Fuller Victor, one of the most brilliant of Oregon women and one of the greatest in her benefactions, whose lack of suitable recognition in life has continued for two score years after her death.