“The death of Judge Nicholas Sinnott at an entirely too early an age,” said a Klamath Falls newspaper editorial, “brings to all men and women deep sorrow. … Mr. Sinnott, ‘Nick,’ was always on duty; always ready and always anxious to serve. This nation has lost a good judge, and the people of Oregon have lost, not only an able official, but also a warm personal friend.”
Nicholas John Sinnott was an Oregon native, born in December 1870 along the Columbia River, in The Dalles. He knew Indians and played with them because his father was an Indian agent.
Perhaps it was the real pioneers and the stockmen who frequented his father’s famous hotel, the Umatilla House, who encouraged his love of Oregon — a love he never hesitated to express as often as he could.
During his 14 years in Congress, colleagues said that no one’s words were more honest and elegant than those coming from the mouth of this “large, slow moving thinker.”
“I wish that I could take you out into my country,” he said in a speech to the House of Representatives. “Southward, Crater Lake, cauldron-like and circular. To the scientist, a mighty volcano collapsed upon itself. To the poet — the sea of silence, a lake of mystery.”
His rise from high school graduate to becoming one of the most influential voices in government policy toward the Western states was sure and steady.
At Notre Dame he was not only a serious scholar; he was also an all-around athlete and football star, winning a lot of gold medals to prove it.
But it was his interest in theatrics that eventually led him to his eventual oratorical renown.
When the university presented Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Nick insisted on taking the part of Cassius, considered by many to be one of the most difficult parts in the play.
“The way in which he rendered it,” wrote a reviewer, “showed that he is possessed of considerable histrionic power as a delineator of Shakespearean characters.”
After graduation in 1892, Nicholas returned home to study law, and the Oregon Bar admitted him in 1895.
He was elected to the State Senate in 1908 and served in that body until elected U. S. Representative from Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District. He rose to chair the House Committee on Public Lands, giving him authority over the 11 Western states — the states where most of the country’s public lands lie.
Nicholas had a strong hand in the original bill requiring the federal government to return 50% of timber sale receipts to Western counties.
In 1928, after serving through seven consecutive congressional terms, President Calvin Coolidge appointed him Judge of the United States Court of Claims in Washington, D.C.
Less than a year later, July 20, 1929, he died after his second heart attack in two weeks. He was 58.
In May 1930, Crater Lake Superintendent Elbert Solinsky announced that Congress had authorized $10,000 to build a memorial to “Nick Sinnott, ardent friend of Crater Lake.”
Constructed of native stone, 1,000 feet above the azure blue water, the Sinnott Memorial, observation lookout and museum, was dedicated July 16, 1931. The large delegation of national, state and local officials included Will Steel, known as the “Father of Crater Lake” because of his early efforts to have the lake designated a National Park.
“It is good to consider,” said a reporter, “that the Nick Sinnott we knew so well is not forgotten by his generation, and that others who come after will know that here, too, was one to whom Oregon was dear.”
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’” — a collection of his previous columns. Reach him at email@example.com.