Marie Dorion

medDorianpicture_1.jpg Print by John Clymer

Marie Dorion, a native woman, was revered in the time of the mass migration to the Oregon Territory. She and her family assisted many of the sick and abandoned children and immigrants who arrived in Oregon with little or no knowledge of how to make a life in the new environment. She was so highly thought of that at her death she was buried inside the St. Louis Catholic Church in Gervais. This honor is usually reserved for bishops or saints.

She and her husband, Pierre, were fur trappers with the Astoria Fur Company. He died leaving her with two infant sons to care for. She had a lot of knowledge of the northwest and became an interpreter with the Hunt party that left from Missouri heading for Oregon. She endured extreme hardships along the way, giving birth to a stillborn baby and left behind by the Hunt party. Because of the winter snows in the mountains she was unable to travel for several months. When she was desperate to find food and help, she wrapped her boys in a buffalo robe and buried them in the snow o protect them from the cold. She crawled to a trapper’s hut, where she found men who went back for the boys and helped her get on her way.

She rejoined the Hunt party where they had spent some time waiting out the winter. She spent some years in the Washington Territory working for the army helping to care for the sick at the encampment. She married Louis Venier, a young man who had long cared for Marie, and they moved to Oregon where they raised horses and farmed the land. He was murdered while on a hunting trip with her son Paul. There were some unproven stories that Paul had killed Venier. Paul left the family and was estranged from Marie for many years. She again married, this time to Jean Toupin, a good man. He was able to assist her and her family in caring for the people to came to her.

There are many references to her in the histories of the Northwest. There is a statue of her in Idaho and a women’s dormitory in Eastern Oregon State College is named after her. There is a painting about the Hunt party with a woman with them. There is a plaque at Vista House overlooking the Columbia River. The legend reads:

“Dedicated to the memory of Marie Dorion.
Red Heroine of the West.
Wife of Pierre Dorion.
Interpreter with Astoria Overland Expedition from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia,
under the leadership of Wilson Price Hunt. That party passed this point early in 1812.
Erected by the Oregon Society, Daughters of the American Revolution,
March 1, 1941.”

There are many descendents of the Dorion family in this area who would like to have some acknowledgement of her having spent the latter part of her life on several farms sites in the Gervais and the Lake Labish south shore. Lake Labish is the land adjoining the Chemawa school. While the planned roadside monument will not be on the school property, it will be in the roadside along the property line. The City of Salem has agreed to place this monument so that it can be seen by the many cars that pass this way entering into Keizer.