Biography of John Dovell

JOHN DOVELL. – Mr. Dovell is one of those men who have belabored fortune, and have knocked about the world until it is sufficient to turn one’s hair gray simply to listen to their adventures. A native of the Azores, of Portuguese parentage and born in 1836, he came to Portland, Maine, at the age of fourteen, and learned shipbuilding. He left in four years and plied his trade in New Orleans, shipping thence to Liverpool, and coming as ship’s carpenter from that foreign port to San Francisco. He soon came up the coast to Portland, Oregon, and worked upon the steam ferry Independence, building near the “South End Sawmill” by Powell, Coffin, “Preacher” Kelly, and Hankins, the captain, to run opposition to Stevens’ ferry.

Starting for the Frazer river mines in 1859, he met a number of friends at Victoria, and, together with seventeen of them, put across the Georgian Gulf in rowboats, making a dangerous passage. They then followed up the river by the Skilloot route to Horse Beef bar, the company then separating and going to prospecting. Dovell made no strike. Some twenty of the company on the way back went down to the Littoot Lake, and in the absence of a boat to go down to Langley were compelled to take one by force from one Robertson, for which high-handed act they were arrested upon their arrival at Victoria three days after, and compelled to pay Robertson eighty-seven dollars. The judge gave Dovell ten dollars for his part taken in the matter.

Returning to Portland, he worked in Jacob’s wagon shop, and in the spring of 1860 went to the Nez Perce mines, whipsawing lumber and taking bed-rock for pay, bringing him for a fact to bed-rock financially. On this trip he first saw Walla Walla, but was little impressed with its meager proportions. Upon getting out of the mines, however, he stopped in the valley, taking care of the cattle of George E. Cole, afterwards member of Congress. Opening a wagon shop in the city in 1862, he took a stock of goods to Placerville, Boise, in 1863, doing a flourishing business except for selling too much on credit. Returning to Walla Walla, he did some genuine pioneer work for the city, putting up a water-power planing mill, and in 1870 replacing it with steam. In the same year he built the first public hall in the city. He is at present in the furniture business.

Such, much in brief, and much in his own language, is the story of Mr. Dovell’s life. He is an honest, jolly fellow, half salt and half fresh, who has no quarrel with Fortune, but when she plays the vixen makes no bones about giving as good as she sends. Mr. Dovell has an interesting and well-educated family, consisting of the following: Dorothy F., born in 1867; W.T., born in 1869; and Rose E., born in 1871. The two latter graduated from Whitman College in 1888.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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