Fifty Years in Oregon was written by Theodore T.
Geer, a grandson of Joseph Carey Geer and a shirttail ancestor of
I have put much of the book on
this website. I started because several
chapters describe the early roots of our family history in Oregon. I
kept going because
I found many of the chapters from this perspective on the early
settlers and the history of Oregon to be quite
The necessity for a government of some
character among the early Oregon pioneers, which had been taking form by degrees
ever since the arrival of the “Great Reenforcement” to the Methodist
missionaries in 1840, was emphasized the next year by the death of Ewing Young,
who came here with Hall J. Kelley, already mentioned in these pages, in the fall
of 1834. Young’s death was, in reality, the special event which stimulated the
settlers to speedy action, since he was a man of considerable means, of no
family (as was supposed), and the condition was presented to the settlers of a
valuable estate without an owner or anyone possessing legal claim to any part of
it. It was a very awkward condition, since his property consisted of many horses
and cattle as well as desirable land. No person had any right to move in the
matter; there was no law to govern the situation, and yet some action must be
Ewing Young, who occupied so prominent a
position in our early history, principally, and singularly enough, by reason of
his death, was born in Knox County, Tennessee, but the year of his birth seems
not to be known. When a comparatively young man, however, he was in California.
He left the Spanish settlement there in the summer of 1834 for Oregon, bringing
with him a large number of Spanish horses — mostly mares. He had heard of the
wonderful fertility of the land here and the boundless range the country
afforded for grazing. He settled on the west bank of the Willamette River,
opposite Champoeg, about twenty miles south of Portland. There he built the
first house ever erected on the west side of the river.
The difficulty with which he was confronted
soon after his arrival, in the form of a notification sent to Dr. McLoughlin by
the Spanish Governor of California that Young and Kelley had stolen a large part
of their horses, has already been mentioned, and the fact explained that the
report had no truthful foundation. Subsequently the California Governor
acknowledged his error and duly apologized for it.
In the spring of 1836, Young, concluding that
there was more money to be made in the distillery business than in the slow
process of raising and selling Spanish horses, began preparations for the
manufacture of whiskey. Upon hearing of his intention Dr. McLoughlin, in a
personal interview, explained to him that the introduction of the manufacture of
whiskey would injure, and perhaps ruin, the farming industry, then just
beginning to develop, and asked that he should embark in some other business.
The request was granted. Young began, instead, the erection of a grist- and
planing-mill, but was soon induced to return to California for a herd of cattle.
These he brought back with him in the summer of 1838 and settled down to become
a stock-raiser. In connection with this business, he erected his mill on the
Chehalem Creek, near where it empties into the Willamette River, which he
conducted until the winter of 1840-1841, when it was carried away by high water.
It was not long after this that he was taken sick with a pressure on the brain
and died a somewhat violent death at his home.
The death of Young, as has been stated, was
the real origin of the movement which culminated in the Champoeg meeting. Soon
after his funeral, the settlers began discussing the matter, which was not
finally disposed of until several years afterward. His property finally went to
the territorial government, but it required much time and encountered a
On December 11, 1845, Mr. Garrison presented a
petition to the provisional Legislature “from Daniel Waldo and Thomas Jeffries
in relation to the estate of Ewing Young,” nearly five years after his death.
Reference is made to the same matter in the Oregon archives December 17, 1845,
December 4, 1846, and again December 8. It was finally disposed of by an act
passed on December 24, 1844 (?). Its interest consists in its value as an
illustration of the primitive conditions which prevailed among those who were
striving amid the most adverse circumstances to found a State. The act reads as
Section 1. Be it enacted by
the Legislative Committee of Oregon that the executive power shall appoint an
administrator to close up the estate of Ewing Young, deceased, and such
administrator shall proceed as soon as possible to wind up the business of the
Sec. 2. That the executive
power shall cause to be let out to the lowest bidder the building of a
substantial log jail at Oregon City, to be finished at such time and manner as
they may think proper, and shall take such bond and security as they shall deem
sufficient to secure its completion.
Sec. 3. That said
administrator shall pay all moneys collected by him belonging to the estate of
the said Ewing Young, deceased, to the treasurer of Oregon, whose duty it shall
be to give the said administrator a receipt for the same.
Sec. 4. That the sum of one
thousand five hundred dollars is hereby appropriated for the building of said
jail, to be paid out of the first moneys received by the said administrator of
said estate, and in the event there is not so much received, then the balance to
be paid out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.
Sec. 5. That the faith of
this government is hereby pledged for the payment of all moneys hereafter
received from the administrator of the estate of said Young, whenever the same
shall be lawfully claimed, and said claim established by the heirs or creditors
of said Young.
Sec. 6. That the executive
power shall be authorized to receive a lot donated by John McLoughlin for the
purpose of erecting said jail, which lot shall be conveyed to Oregon agreeably
to a communication received from John McLoughlin addressed to a committee of
this House appointed to wait on him.
Sec. 7. That said jail shall
be used alike for the imprisonment of all criminals in Oregon,
Passed December 24, 1844. (Signed) M. M. MCCARVER, Speaker.
The reader will, of course, at once detect the
contradictory dates in the foregoing account of the settlement of Ewing Young’s
estate, but they are found in the archives as printed here and it is impossible
to arrive at a definite conclusion as to their accuracy. It is a fact well
established, however, that the property of Young had been sold and the proceeds
loaned to different individuals when the “executive power” decided to call them
in and invest them in a jail that would accommodate “all the criminals in
Oregon.” It might be added here, sub rosa, that the inadequacy of such a jail
now for such a purpose clearly indicates the phenomenal growth of the population
of the Oregon Country since that far-away time when the log structure at Oregon
City answered the purpose of incarcerating all the malefactors between the Rocky
Mountains and the Pacific Ocean — maybe.
One authority avers that the jail was built,
as provided, and was burned to the ground some years afterward. By putting two
and two together it may be inferred that the fire occurred soon after its
completion, for it is recorded in the archives that on December 13, three years
later, “Mr. Nesmith, from the committee on judiciary, to whom was referred that
portion of the Governor’s message relating to the erection of a jail, reported
that it was deemed inexpedient in the present embarrassed condition of finance
to incur the expense of a jail.”
The inference is, of course, or at least one
justifiable inference is, that the salutary effect of the log jail during its
brief existence had been sufficient to disperse “all the criminals in Oregon,”
and that since there was no other estate unclaimed and available to be used for
the erection of another one thousand five hundred dollar jail, the young
Territory — as yet belonging to nobody — could proceed along its way very well
without one. Blessed condition!
Although the value of the estate of Mr. Young
was collected into the treasury, it was never regarded as the absolute property
of the Territory. In the territorial liabilities twenty-six hundred and fifteen
dollars is given as “collected from the estate of Ewing Young.” In after years,
when Oregon had been admitted into the Union, the value of his property was
refunded to his son, Joaquin Young, who appeared and established his claim to
the satisfaction of the authorities. Ewing Young, it seemed, had contracted a
marriage with an Indian woman, in New Mexico, before going to California, the
issue of which marriage was Joaquin, a personage who would have never been known
in the history of Oregon if his father had died in the poorhouse — provided
there had been one in Oregon.
When Ewing Young first came to Oregon, he was
of the opinion that the land would be disposed of in large grants, as in
California. In accordance with this impression, he made claim to practically all
of the Chehalem Valley and was its nominal owner, without opposition, at the
time of his death.
In 1845, there came to the valley a man
named Sydney Smith, a grandnephew of Ethan Allen, of Ticonderoga fame, who
secured employment on his farm. Young was said to be a hard man to get along
with, but Smith appeared to understand him sufficiently well to smooth over the
rough places and they were great friends at the time of Young’s death. Smith was
born in New York State in 1809 and came to Oregon with a score of other young
men, making the entire trip on horseback. Upon Young’s death and the settlement
of his estate, Sydney Smith purchased as much of the land as he could lawfully
hold, including the houses and other improvements. He was then thirty-two years
old and single.
In 1845, there also came to the Chehalem
Valley a man named Daniel Bailey, from Missouri. He had a family consisting of
his wife and several children, and hearing that a bachelor named Smith had a
house not far away, he immediately went to see him with the hope that he would
like to take a family in for the winter, for he had no place to go. Fortunately,
the proposition met with Smith’s approval, and the family moved in.
It may seem somewhat singular that ‘way out
here on this coast, so long ago as 1846, such things could happen, but it turned
out that Bailey’s second daughter, Miranda, looked good to Smith, and by
Christmas time she began to suspect that such was his impression. In a few
months more this suspicion proved to be well grounded.
So, one day in April — one Sunday, when the
sun was shining gloriously and the meadowlarks, as if rejoicing at the turn
things had taken, were making the air vibrant with their silver melody, Sydney
Smith and Miranda Bailey were taking a stroll through the adjacent woods,
talking, it may be supposed, of little nothings and of nothing in particular. As
they walked along they noticed an acorn which, after spending the winter under a
covering of leaves, had sent out a small sprout in search of a footing. Sydney
carried the incipient oak in his hand until, as it happened, they came to the
grave of Ewing Young, still covered with the low, square pen made of rails,
which was placed there on the day of his funeral, five years previous.
On one of the top rails of this pen the young
couple sat down to discuss such topics as were uppermost in their minds.
Presently Smith suggested that they plant the acorn on the grave and watch for
results. Accordingly he made a small hole in the dirt, Miranda placed the sprout
in it and covered it with the toe of her shoe. They went home that day by a
circuitous route, and before they arrived an agreement had been entered into
that there should be a wedding in the immediate vicinity sometime during the
year — and they knew who the contracting parties were to be.
So, on the seventh day of the following August
Sydney Smith and Miranda Bailev were married and lived all their lives on the
farm which he obtained from Ewing Young. During the summer of 1846, several
visits were made to the grave of Ewing Young to observe the growth of that
acorn. It had, in fact, developed into an oak plant and reached the height of
one foot in that season. It prospered without interruption in the years that
came afterward and is today, at the age of sixty-five years, a sturdy tree forty
feet in height, thirty inches in diameter. Standing, as it does, on the grave of
Ewing Young, it constitutes the only monument to the memory of a man whose
singular career had so much to do with the early history of Oregon.
Sydney Smith was one of the fifty-two
Americans who carried the day at Champoeg on May 2, 1843, and his name is carved
on the marble shaft which has been erected there. He died on his farm on
September 18, 1880. Mrs. Smith is still living, a remarkably bright woman past
eighty years of age, and is the owner of the old farm in the Chehalem Valley.
Her oldest daughter, Irene, is the wife of Dr. T. F. Calbreath, superintendent
for eight years of the Oregon Hospital for the Insane, now a prominent physician
Next Chapter - In 1843, in Champoeg, the settlers voted with their
feet to form their own provisional government and break with the Hudson Bay Company.
If you are interested in finding this book, Fifty
Years in Oregon, it can
often be located at Powell's Books in Portland
which is one of the largest used book stores in the United States or, through the
which catalogs used books from stores across the country. For more information on the Geer Family, visit the Geer Family website. Other resources
and references include: