Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission

Frances Fuller Victor    (1826-1902)
By Walt Curtis © 1995

Frances Fuller Victor came to Portland from San Francisco with her husband, a naval engineer. She was captivated by the novelty, grandeur and romance of the Pacific Northwest.

Traveling extensively, she met many Northwest notables, plying them with questions, and becoming one of the West Coast's finest historians. Many volumes would flow from her pen.

Colonel Joseph L. Meek, the notorious mountain man, supplied her stories that would end up in The River of the West (1870).

After her husband died and needing money, Victor worked at Hubert Howe Bancroft's publishing house. She was offered a 10-year contract but had to turn over her extensive collections and research. There, she helped produce and publish monumental work such as the first 2 volumes of Bancroft's History of the West. After quitting Bancroft in 1890, Frances returned to Oregon, living in Salem and Portland. To pay the bills she sold face cream and other articles door-to-door. A dreary end for an important literary figure. Oregonians ought to re-discover her.

Excerpts from:

The River of the West Joe Meek was a cousin of President Polk's wife. In 1848, he was designated to go before Congress and the President and ask for Oregon to be made a US Territory. In a dramatic ride, after the so-called Whitman massacre, Meek would do this. For his troubles he was made a US Marshall. On the way to the East Coast, the former mountain man thought: "I had never tried to act like anyone else but myself, I would not make myself a fool by beginning to ape other folks now. So I said, 'Joe Meek you have always been and Joe Meek you shall remain; go ahead, Joe Meek!' "

In a fashionable Washington DC establishment named Coleman's a bill of fare was laid beside his plate. Turning to the colored waiter who placed it there, he startled him first by inquiring in a low growling voice:

"What's that, boy?"
"Bill of fare, sah," replied the "boy" who recognized the Southerner in the use of that one word.
"Read!" growled Meek again. "The people in my country can't read."
"What have you got to drink, boy?" continued Meek, still unconscious. "Isn't there a sort of wine called - some kind of pain?
"Champagne, sah?"
"That's the stuff, I reckon; bring me some." Meek went on to stand up in his blanket coat and unkempt hair and proclaim to the assembled crowd: "I am an envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary from the Republic of Oregon to the Court of the United States!"

According to Victor, senators were wowed by his behavior and he soon would have an audience with the President himself.

Meek, who is buried at Old Scotch Church in Washington County, just off Sunset Highway, left a legacy of quotes through Victor's diligent work. When asked how long he'd been in Oregon, Meek replied, "Since Mt. Hood was a hole in the ground."

Are there souls like that today with egos as big as volcanoes? Isn't it curious how Victor, an ardent feminist and friend of Abigail Scott Duniway, a major figure in the Equal Suffrage Movement, could put up with Meek's macho braggadocio?

In a new biography, A Bit of Blue, the Life and Works of Frances Fuller Victor, Jim Martin quotes her: "Doesn't a boy forever delight in making a girl cry? Whether it is his sister or cousin or school-fellow, he always has some little feminine victim to vent his mischievous propensities on, with a view to seeing her 'dissolved in tears'; when he adds insult to injury by denominating her a 'cry baby.'

Author Jim Martin deserves to be read and better known, as does his amazing subject, Frances Fuller Victor.