Victor name honors Salish chief
BY CHARLEY LYMAN
MONTANA LIVING — Place names. Sometimes, we don’t even think of them. Montana, like most states, is filled with names we don’t even bother looking into. Needless to say, many of Montana’s place are quite interesting and merit a closer look. Hence our first installment of “Montana Place Names,” a look at the history of some of Montana’s more interesting names.
Jeffrey H. Langton, Ravalli County’s district court judge, is a Bittertoot Valley native and author of “Victor Story : history of a Bitter Root Valley Town,” is a good person to ask about the origins for the name Victor, which is about 10-15 minutes north of Hamilton.
White settlers wanted to name their community Garfield, after the assassinated U.S. president James Garfield, when the town of Victor was platted in 1881. Informed by officials in Washington, D.C., that the name Garfield had already been used, the residents had to come up with another.
“I pieced together that they had a meeting,” Langton said in a phone interview. Earlier homesteaders suggested Victor, in honor of the Salish Chief who had died two years earlier on a buffalo hunt when he was about 80 years old.
Victor was highly thought of by the early white settlers. His Salish name was “Plenty of Horses,” in a society known for its equine skills. Early Jesuits, who had converted him to Catholicism shortly after the St. Mary mission was opened, called him Victor.
According to Langton, Victor’s father, Three Eagles, led a band of Salish to meet Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s. The meeting is immortalized in Charlie M. Russell’s “Lewis and Clark meeting the Flathead Indians,” mounted above the podium at Montana’s House of Representatives in the capitol in Helena. The word Flathead comes from settlers misinterpreting sign language, Langton says. The Bitterroot Valley’s original residents prefer Salish.
Later in his life Victor helped negotiate the Hellgate Treaty. The scene of Salish, Pend Oreille and Kootenai people meeting with government is depicted on an Edgar Paxson mural in the Missoula County courthouse. An outcome of the 1855 treaty was an agreement to let Victor’s people remain the Bitterroot Valley while the president decided where to put what was eventually the Flathead Indian Reservation north of Missoula.
The Salish left their ancestral homeland in 1891, under the leadership of Chief Charlot, Victor’s son.