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William Plutarch Vandevert (February 24, 1854 – February 26, 1944) was a western adventurer, a cattleman, and a Central Oregon pioneer. After travels in California, Texas, and Arizona, he established a cattle ranch fifteen miles (24 km) south of present-day Bend, Oregon, before the founding of Bend or surrounding Deschutes County. He blazed trails through the Cascade Mountains and was a renowned bear hunter. He sired eight children, including three doctors, and was a leading citizen of Central Oregon for many years.
Vandevert was born in Cottage Grove in the Willamette Valley of Oregon to Grace Clark Vandevert, born in England and survivor of the Clark Massacre of 1851 on the Oregon Trail. His father was Jackson Vandevert, partner of Thomas Clark, Grace's brother, in the California goldfields of 1849. Vandevert's ancestor, Michael Pauluzen Van der Voort, was an early settler of Dutch New Amsterdam, now New York City.
When only 15, Bill's uncle, Thomas Clark, persuaded his mother to let Bill help him drive 29 horses to California. Bill broke his shoulder when his horse threw him but continued on the trip. He returned with three horses of his own, a saddle, and $200 in gold.
At age 17, while traveling to the Silver Lake-Summer Lake area of Oregon with a survey crew, Bill first saw the land that would become Vandevert Ranch. It was a meadow on the Little Deschutes River, surrounded by pine forest, with an excellent view of the Cascade Mountains, particularly Mt. Bachelor.
In the 1870s he carried mail from Camp Warner in Oregon to Fort Bidwell in California, riding through the area of the Modoc War as it was in progress. He made the San Francisco newspapers when, on one trip, he killed a much-feared "Silver Lake Grizzly" that the hunters who had cornered it were afraid to approach. Bill got so close to the bear that the powder from his gun singed the bear's hair.
In 1876 Bill took off for Texas where he joined the large cattle-ranching Hash Knife Outfit. On his travels between Oregon and Texas he spent a season herding sheep for the Requa family in the hills above Oakland, California. During that time he met Joaquin Miller, Oakland's then-famous poet, and reported that Miller was the dirtiest man he'd ever met.
Marriage and children
In 1878, Sadie Vinceheller, well-educated and fluent in French and Spanish, arrived in Fort Griffen, Texas to teach school. Alighting from the stagecoach, she knocked on the door of a nearby house hoping to borrow a lantern to light her way to her arranged lodgings. Bill Vandevert answered the door. The two were married in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, on November 10, 1880.
After the Hash Knife Outfit was acquired by the newly formed Aztec Land & Cattle Company in 1884, the couple moved with the company to Holbrook, Arizona. They endured the decline of the company due to drought and overgrazing before leaving in about 1889. Bill's granddaughter, Grace McNellis writes, "We never knew for sure why they left Arizona except the family suggests Sadie was homesick to see her sister in New York City. The family also believes she was just plain tired of the chaos of the fights amongst the sheep-men and cattlemen and whatever else there in Arizona. (See the Pleasant Valley War.) I understand that she and Grampa would actually go out in the street from their home and drag in the wounded men and doctor them. Didn't matter which side they were on - - just did it! I'm sure Sadie, by then, with five children, needed to get away from that kind of atmosphere. She was raised a rather genteel lady in Kentucky and I'll bet she never dreamed of ending up like that in Arizona. She must have matured rather rapidly after marrying Grampa.
"They actually left Arizona in 1889, or so, because they had Kathryn Grace in New York on May 26, 1890, and they left there in 1891 when Sadie was pregnant with my Dad, Claude. They arrived at Bill's father's ranch in Powell Butte, Oregon, approximately December, 1891, and had my Dad in January 1892. It was always said that they only lived in New York for one year – in Spring Valley, Rockland County."
William and Sadie had eight children:
Mittye – born August 17, 1883 in Fort Worth Texas. Died February 5, 1975 in Bend, Oregon.
Thomas William – born December 26, 1884 in Fort Griffen, Texas. Died February 28, 1969 in Bend, Oregon (known as Bill).
Maude – born February 22, 1886 in Fort Worth, Texas. Died September 30, 1945 in Bend, Oregon.
John Clinton – Born January 13, 1887 in Holbrook, AZ. Died Mar. 14, 1967 in Bend, Oregon (known as Clint. Doctor in Bend.)
George – born December 3, 1888 in Holbrook, AZ. Died November 1972 in Grants Pass, Oregon (Doctor in Bend until 1928 and then in Oakland, California)
Kathryn Grace – born May 26, 1890 in Spring Valley, Rockland County, NY. Died of influenza on November 4, 1918 on Vandevert Ranch near Bend, Oregon.
Claude Chandler – born January 6, 1892 in Powell Butte, Oregon. Died December 5, 1975 in Bend, Oregon.
Arthur – Born November 27, 1894 in Bend, Oregon. Died June 16, 1972 in Sellersburg, Indiana. (known as Bush. Doctor in Kentucky.)
While the couple was in New York, Bill's brother Charlie wrote to him to say he'd bought the land on the Little Deschutes River in Oregon that Bill had always admired. Charlie was holding the property to sell to Bill. Bill bought the land for $600 and established the ranch in 1892, building a log homestead, raising his family, and raising cattle. Bill bought from Charlie the eastern 160 acres (0.65 km2) of the ranch that had been homesteaded by a man named Scoggins. Vandevert himself homesteaded the western 160 acres (0.65 km2) of what came to be known as Vandevert Ranch.
The ranch was at times a post office and a stagecoach stop. Bill's son, Claude says, "... my mother was from Kentucky and a Democrat and she got the post office – we had it right here at home." The post office was established in 1893 and was named after John G. Carlisle, also from Kentucky, who was Grover Cleveland's Secretary of the Treasury. A visitor in 1898 wrote the area had a "real backwoods" appearance but noted the Vandeverts "had sent their daughter to school in the east." This was the oldest daughter, Mittye, who had stayed in the east with relatives. "They had a little store and a blacksmith shop but were stock raisers for the most part."
The first settler to know the surrounding area well, Vandevert added to his income by guiding hunting trips for bear. He once guided the two sons of E.H. Harriman, the famous railroad builder. The family added further to its income by trapping otter, beaver, and mink. Bill was a good sheep shearer and could do a hundred sheep a day at ten cents a head.
In 1898 and 1899 Bill worked for the Department of the Interior as the first forest ranger in Central Oregon. He would take a pack string into the mountains from Sisters to North Umpqua and send in reports. He would be gone two weeks, rest a week or so, and go back out again. He blazed a great number of trails.
In Holbrook, Arizona, Bill had become acquainted with Alexander M. Drake. When Drake came to build irrigation canals and develop the city of Bend in the early 1900s, Bill helped give him the lay of the land. Bill was an active member of the Bend Commercial Club, the Masons, and the Pioneer Association.
Even in the isolated environment of the ranch, Sadie saw to it that her children were well-educated. Three of them became doctors, including Clint Vandevert, a leading and respected doctor in Bend for many years. Due to problems in the little local school, some of the older children started staying at the Drake's in 1903 and going to school in Bend. Bill helped build a new school in Bend in 1904. In 1929 the one-room Harper School  was moved to the ranch and operated there until the 1950s.
A quarrelsome family settled near the ranch and some cattle were stolen. The mother died mysteriously and the father disappeared. After much persuasion, Bill assisted in the search. The father's body was found buried under a smoldering fire. He had been shot in the back of his head and the bullet lodged against his temple. A member of the search party opined that the man had been shot with a .45 pistol. Bill had the only .45 pistol in the area and insisted that the bullet be dug out. Lacking surgeon's tools the local doctor tried sawing through the skull but gave up. Bill finished the disgusting job. The sheriff picked up a table fork and dug out the bullet. It was a .32 bullet. The man's son was indicted but found not guilty. Facts uncovered later confirmed the verdict.
Giving his family a taste of adventure and the outside world, Bill took the entire family to the Lewis and Clark Centennial of 1905 in Portland. The family traveled by wagon over the Santiam Pass, filled the children's heads with wondrous sites, stocked up on fruit and vegetables not available in Central Oregon, and came back via a river barge to The Dalles.
Well into the 1930s Indians would visit the ranch every fall to hunt deer. They set up teepees and a sweathouse near the river. When they visited the Vandevert homestead, Bill conversed with them in their own language.
Sadie died in 1924 and Bill lived on the ranch until two days after his ninetieth birthday in 1944. Ownership and management of the ranch passed to his two sons, Thomas William and Claude Chandler, who finally sold the ranch in 1970. One hundred years after the original founding of the ranch, the land, with an additional 80 acres (320,000 m2), became a 22-lot luxury gated community still known as Vandevert Ranch. The original log homestead was rebuilt and the schoolhouse was completely renovated.
Influences and interests
The dominant interests in Bill Vandevert's life were his family, cattle, untamed country, and hunting. Though he spent weeks in the wilds by himself, he enjoyed people and having visitors to the ranch. He was apparently a good storyteller. Though he wasn't highly educated he valued education in his wife and his children. It seems he was curious about the more civilized environments of Kentucky and New York but decided they were not right for him.
Both his parents showed a spirit of adventure in emigrating to Oregon. But his uncle, Thomas Clark, may have heightened Bill's interest in new places by taking him to California at age 15 and bringing him to Texas at age 22 to join a cattle operation. Thomas Clark's devotion to hunting came through in Bill's prowess as a bear hunter.
Vandevert's love of adventure and dedication to the land on the Little Deschutes show him to have been a bit of a romantic. Fearless and hard-working, he was an ideal pioneer.
McNellis, Grace Vandevert, "Home on the Vandevert Ranch", Red Apple Publishing, Gig Harbor, WA, 1999
Haynes, Ted and McNellis, Grace, "Vandevert - The Hundred Year History of a Central Oregon Ranch", The Robleda Company-Publishers, Menlo Park, CA 2011
Burgderfer, Don, "The Clark Massacre Party of 1851", in Little Known Tales from Oregon History Volume III, Sun Publishing, Bend, OR 2001
Gardner, Jim, W.P. Vandevert: the great adventurer finally settles on the Little Deschutes, for the Sunriver Sun, date unknown.
Stranahan, Martha, A Pioneering Family, Ruralite, August 1977, Midstate, pp. 15–17
Historic Vandevert Collection to Find Home at Museum, High Desert Quarterly June 1998 pp. 2–3
Jones, Randall S., Bend Resident Relates Stirring Story of Indian Raid on Pioneer Travelers, Oregon Historical Society SB#272 p. 61
Linn, George W., "Homesteading on the Deschutes" in Little Known Tales from Oregon History Volume 1, Sun Publishing, Bend, OR 1988
Power, Evada R., Old Days Revived in Stories Told by William Vandevert, of La Pine, The Redmond Spokesman, August 20, 1936
Bill Vandevert, Bear Hunter, Bend Oregon, in The Oregon Journal November 22–23, 1922. To read the article, link to.
Lemon, Emma R., From Cheney, Washington, to Watsonville, California 1898. Mother's Diary, with commentary by John Francis Lemon some 50 years later. To read the article, link to 
Strope, Nancy, History of Vandevert's, monograph written in Redmond, Oregon 1970. To read the article, link to 
Vandevert, Claude (son of W.P. Vandevert), Indian Meadows, unpublished transcript of monologue, 1971. To read the transcript, link to 
Vandevert, Vincent, E-mail to Grace Vandevert McNellis, May 19, 1999
McNellis, Grace Vandevert (granddaughter of W.P. Vandevert), interviewed on October 26, 2008
Birth and death dates supplied by Grace McNellis from family records and newspaper obituaries.
- Vincent Vandevert
- McNellis Interview and E-mail
- Claude Vandevert, Indian Meadows, p.5
- McNellis Interview
- Lemon, Emma R.
- Bill Vandevert, Bear Hunter
- Claude Vandevert, Indian Meadows, p. 23
- Claude Vandevert, Indian Meadows, p. 22
- McNellis, Home on the Vandevert Ranch
- "Vandevert Ranch - Welcome". www.vandevertranch.org.
- "Camped at Vandeverts". www.vandevertranch.org.
- "History of Vandeverts - Strope". www.vandevertranch.org.
- "Indian Meadows". www.vandevertranch.org.