Family History    Wines

Photography       Books

Amazon Bestsellers

Fifty Years In Oregon

Table of Contents

Site Contents

Home Page

Book Resources

Family History



Wildlife Photos

Wine Tastings
 - Bottled Poetry

Other Pages

About Us

Contact Us

Privacy Policy


Site Map

Affiliate Sites

Powell's Books

Alibris - Books You Thought You'd Never Find - Outdoor Gear

Additional Affiliate Programs

Fifty Years in Oregon was written by Theodore T. Geer, a grandson of Joseph Carey Geer and a shirttail ancestor of ours.

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 interesting.

Table Of Contents

This book was originally published in 1912 by The Neale Publishing Co. If you are interested in a copy, search at Powell's Books.

Fifty Years in Oregon

BY T. T. Geer, formerly Governor of Oregon, and one of her native sons



Nowhere in the various experiences of the people in “the old Bible times,” graphically told, to be sure, is there a story so fraught with self-sacrifice and daring purpose as that truthfully narrated by the early Oregon pioneers. In those old days of Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Noah, David and Solomon, the entire world, as it was known to them, was little larger than the territory which one now covers in going to a country fair in the United States. When they left behind them the very best they had they did not deprive themselves of a great deal. There is not much difference between the highest and the lowest estate when all men live in caves, or even when a man will labor for a farmer seven years for his daughter and, finding a mistake has been made, will repeat the service for any other old girl in the same household who is disengaged. In such times it is not possible to get very far from home under any circumstances. But when the missionaries in Jason Lee’s time left New York for Oregon – the voyage always necessitating a stop at the Sandwich Islands – it meant a real, live trip. In the old times, a journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem was merely a little hike of ten miles, and to Beersheba but fifty. The Plains of Sharon are but ten miles across – about half as far as from Portland to Hillsboro – and from Damascus to the mountains of Lebanon is but fifty miles. I remember hearing Hon. D. P. Thompson, an Oregon pioneer who for several years was the United States Minister to Turkey, say that owing to the little distance between points of interest in Palestine, the attractiveness of the country is noticeably diminished. He said he found the River Jordan especially disappointing – that it reminded him particularly of the Long Tom, in Lane County, Oregon, which as all old settlers know is sluggish in the extreme and utterly without native beauty.

But it was all the world there was at that time and the old pilgrims went as far as they knew the road and stopped, of course. They knew of no other place to go. The situation at that time reminds me of a remark made by Colonel Roosevelt during his recent visit to Portland. In addressing the Grand Army men, after warmly complimenting them for their part in subduing the Rebellion, he referred, in passing, to the services of his comrades and himself in the Spanish War, saying: “By comparison it was not to be mentioned in the same breath with the affair of ‘61, but it was all the war there was!

While comparisons may be “odious” at times, they are often very instructive, as well as interesting. The trip of Anna Maria Pitman made to Oregon in 1836 not only meant leaving home and friends behind, never to be seen again, but a voyage of some ten thousand miles into an unconquered wilderness. Neither can the motive which prompted her to make the sacrifice be deemed much less commendable than that which guided many of the movements recorded in early Jewish history. When the end of the long journey was in sight, and while the ship was anchored at Honolulu, preparatory to making the run to the Columbia River, Miss Pitman wrote to her sister in New York the following letter, which gives a thrilling insight into the motives which controlled those early missionaries, as well as the fortitude with which they accepted their cheerless surroundings.



I have taken up my pen to address you, far from the land of my birth, the home of my childhood and of my riper years, not with painful but with pleasing and grateful emotions. Truly prosperous breezes have wafted us onward, until by the goodness of my heavenly Father I am once more on firm footing. Oh, my dear sister, you cannot enter into my feelings, neither can I describe them. When I first stepped on the ship at Boston, the first thought that entered my mind was: “Perhaps I shall never be permitted to place my feet on land again.” However, I soon succeeded in banishing the thought by giving myself to the Lord, in whose hands I felt perfectly safe. If He saw fit to give me a grave in the ocean, I could say, “The will of the Lord be done.” I have been somewhat afflicted during the voyage, but I have found it good to be chastised. I have been happy and enabled most of the time to rejoice in the Lord.

The passage has been good. We have had much pleasant weather; saw land but once, and that at a distance. When we came in sight of these islands I was much animated. The first island was Owyhee, some miles from this. We did not get near enough to distinguish anything like land – it seemed like one pile of mountains whose tops were covered with eternal snow – but with the help of the spy-glass we could see the waves dash upon the shore. On that island there is a burning volcano, but the island is very fruitful. The natives on all these islands use the same tongue. We came in port Friday evening, seven o’clock, December 23. Some of our men went ashore that night, returning the next morning, bringing eggs, milk, cucumbers, bananas and watermelons. After we had breakfast some of our Presbyterian brethren came aboard and greeted us with a hearty welcome. We soon left our floating home and were glad once more to walk on land. Blessed be the name of the Lord for His preserving care. We were received in the families of this mission with pleasure. I cannot speak too highly in their praise; really they are examples worthy of imitation. I feel as though I were among my own people. Oh, when will names be forgotten, party spirit be removed and all Christians dwell together in unity of spirit and bonds of peace! Heaven hasten the day when we shall be bound together as with a three-fold cord that cannot be easily broken.

This extract from Miss Pitman’s letter, written while en route to her mission of teaching the savage the saving grace of humility, penitence, brotherly kindness and the “oneness of the human race in God,” reveals the true spirit of the zealous missionary who is dominated more by a disposition to do good than by a perception of actually impossible conditions, such as this poor woman and the man who was so soon to become her husband afterward discovered. But it is very interesting as a part of the complete history of Oregon, tending to illustrate the only kind of temperament which could withstand the discouraging environment of those days.

In the same letter, Miss Pitman abandoned her sentimental and religious reflections and dealt in actual facts. These are of decided historical interest as portraying conditions then existing and the early life of some men and women who afterward figured prominently in public affairs in the new country. Along this line she said:

The day before we arrived, letters were received from Daniel Lee. He states that they had received intelligence (through missionaries who had crossed the Rocky Mountains) that a re-enforcement was on the way to join them. He writes in fine spirits, being quite recovered from disease. They have had good crops from their farm this year, have four hundred bushels of wheat, eight hundred of potatoes, all kinds of vegetables and fish, pork, fowls, etc. They have all had the fever and ague. J. Lee has just recovered from an attack which left him in a weak state. They are each, in turn, farmer, blacksmith, cook, teacher, preacher and housekeeper. In their family, they have eighteen children, whom they teach and provide for. We are anxious to proceed immediately, but we expect we shall be obliged to wait until March before we can obtain passage. Dr. White and Brother Beer’s family live together; they have taken a house and we single ones are in different families of the Mission. Such a congregation of natives as I beheld on Sabbath I never expected to see. Truly the Lord has prospered this Mission. I cannot express my feelings on witnessing such a scene! One thousand or more decently dressed, assembled together in the Mission chapel, made in native style, seated in order to hear the Word of Life in their own tongue, was a sight that affected my heart, not with grief but with joy. After the services several of the natives shook our hands heartily.

I attended the Sabbath school – it was interesting, they sing sweetly. It is quite rare for them to see strangers; we excited considerable notice from them. I realize a good deal of what I have frequently read, but I know nothing of the trials and difficulties of a missionary life until I engage in our own field of labor. But the Lord will be our helper.

How little did this brave woman dream of the tragic experiences which awaited her in “our own field of labor.” The date of this letter was December 28, 1836. She arrived at her destination the following June, was married to “J. Lee” of whom she speaks, within less than thirty days, and twelve months later yielded up her life at the birth of a son, who himself lived but a brief hour. Certainly no woman who has been mentioned in Oregon history has had a career at once so romantic and pathetic. Her experience will never be duplicated, for the reason that no other woman will ever make the journey to Oregon and live, even for the brief space of one year, amid such an environment as surrounded Anna Maria Pitman.

I have never been able to find any record which would indicate that Jason Lee and his bride had ever met until that far-off day in beautiful June, 1837, when she arrived at the Mission, ten miles below Salem, thoroughly imbued with that self-sacrificing spirit which characterized the missionaries of that day. That under these circumstances there should have been a wedding, and a double wedding at that – for Cyrus Shepherd married Susan Downing at the same time, by the same ceremony, evidently before there was any assurance that a single Indian had been converted – again shows how irresistible is the dart which Dan Cupid hurls with so little regard for race, color or previous condition of servitude – or the absence of it. Jason Lee twice gave tangible proof that he thoroughly accepted the doctrine that it is not good for man to live alone.

The closing paragraph of this historic letter of Miss Pitman’s will be found of interest, as reflecting the impressions which the half-savage surroundings made upon her:

I witnessed one death on our voyage – our cook, a colored man, died of consumption. Though he was anxious about his soul, we had but a faint hope in his death; he died delirious. His funeral was attended with solemn respect. His body was sewed up in a hammock, with bullets tied to his feet. The American flag was thrown over him as a pall as he lay on the deck. The ship’s company was assembled while Dr. White read the burial service. He was then launched into the ocean. A few days after we had reason to hope for the steward’s conversion; the change in him was great. I trust our prayers for the crew have not been in vain.

We have had our class-meetings (on the ship), prayer-meetings, and as often as we could, on Sabbath on deck, have had worship with the seamen. But some of the sailors are a wicked set of men. Still, my heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord, and though He slay me yet will I trust in Him. Surely, goodness and mercy have followed me all my life. I often look back on the past with pleasure. I often meet with you in spirit around your family altar and in my class. I have enjoyed seasons there long to be remembered. I am striving to press my way onward. Oh, pray for me that I may endure hardness as a good soldier of the cross of Christ. I feel as though you had not ceased to pray for me. Oh, continue so to do.

I remain yours in the best of bonds,

All these manifestations of the goodness and sincerity of this pioneer white woman of the Oregon Country, so directly connected with the early missionary work – which, however, accomplished more for the ultimate settlement of the Northwest by patriotic Americans than it did for the “conversion” of the Indians – find an appropriate place here; furthermore, it should not only be a part of the every-day knowledge of our grown people, but should be included in the curriculum of our schools. The man or woman who would be assured of the solidity of a structure, either material or governmental, should take a deep interest in the manner in which the workmen proceeded with the construction of its foundation. And Jason Lee, with his wife and other associates, wrought mightily in the laying of the cornerstone of our present State government and advanced industrial development.


Next Chapter - The founding of Willamette University and the role of David Leslie as its initial president.


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 Alibris service 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:


TheRagens Home Page   Family History   Recommended Book Lists   Wine Tastings and Recommendations   Wildlife Photos   Feedback and
Site Registration


Amazon Logo
by title by author