Driving along the Columba Gorge area it is easy to miss this small island located in the Columbia River. If you’re heading westbound on I-84 toward Portland take time to stop at the rest area and see this Hidden Gem.
The name Memaloose comes from the Chinook word memalust, which means “to die.” Lewis and Clark called it “Sepulcer Island” (burial island). Lewis noted, “Thirteen sepulchers on this rock which stands near the center of the river…”
When looking at the island you’ll notice a monument on the island. Is that for the Native Americans? No. It is the grave site of Victor Trevitt. He requested to be buried here among his friends. There used to be a sign at the Memaloose Rest Area but they have since removed it with this quote from Victor Trevitt who said, “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.”
This remark created controversy, but his wish was fulfilled and he was buried on the Island. The Native Americans stopped burying their dead on the Island soon after this. Why? Was it because they hated that a white man had been buried in their sacred burial ground? Maybe that played a part, but it was not the whole story. Memaloose Island, and other islands of the dead, started to be ransacked. The islands were stripped of the bones and objects that had been buried with the bodies-tomahawks, knives, coins, beads, etc. Since the white man did not consider their burial place sacred, the Native Americans did not use the Island anymore.
The Island you see now is only half an acre. Before the rising of the waters from Bonneville Dam being built it used to be 4 acres. The other burial islands were completely submerged.
While visiting The Dalles, you can visit the Trevitt house at 216 W. 4th Street and Trevitt street which is named after him.