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



On the fifth of September, 1863, I entered the primary department of the Willamette University, then known as the “Institute.” It was the name of the institution established and erected by Jason Lee and his associates and was, indeed, the same building. It was rechristened by the Legislature the “Willamette University,” but in 1863 nearly all the pioneer missionaries were yet living and many of them were to be seen on the streets of Salem every day. I easily recall the faces of “Father” Waller, David Leslie, Gustavus Hines and his brother Harvey, William Roberts, J. L. Parrish and others as prominent men in those days. The University was called the “Institute” until it was removed to the new brick structure, a hundred yards distant, on October 21, 1867, the cornerstone of which had been laid with fitting ceremonies on July 24, 1864. I remember with what pride the students, some two hundred in number, marched on that occasion across the campus to view the rare collection of souvenirs deposited in the cornerstone, and to listen to the addresses of the men who had been instrumental in securing the money which enabled the trustees to begin the structure. It was more than three years before it was actually occupied, so difficult did it prove for even Father Waller and his persistent associates to raise sufficient funds to proceed with the work.

The Institute had been changed to the Willamette University by the territorial Legislature on January 12, 1853, the preamble of which act read as follows:

Whereas, the happiness and prosperity of every community, under the direction and government of Divine Providence, depend in an eminent degree on the right education of the youth who must succeed the aged in the important offices of society, and the principles of virtue and the elements of liberal knowledge fostered and imparted in the higher institutions of learning tend to develop a people in those qualifications most essential to their welfare and future advancement; and,

Whereas, it appears that the establishment of a university in the town of Salem, Marion County, with a suitable preparatory department for the instruction of youth in the arts and sciences, is likely to subserve the intellectual development and enlightening of the youth of this Territory,

Therefore, Be it enacted, etc.

Section I of the charter of this, the oldest university in the United States west of the Rocky Mountains, has been deemed of sufficient interest to warrant reproduction here because of the unusual array of prominent men who constituted its first Board of Trustees:

Section I. That there shall be established in the town of Salem, in the County of Marion, a university to be called the Willamette University, and that David Leslie, William Roberts, George Abernethy, W. H. Willson, Alanson Beers, Thomas H. Pearne, Francis S. Hoyt, James H. Wilbur, Calvin S. Kingsley, John Flinn, E. M. Barnum, L. F. Grover, B. F. Harding, Samuel Burch, Francis Fletcher, Jeremiah Ralston, J. D. Boon, Joseph Holman, James R. Robb, Cyrus Olney, Asahel Bush and Samuel Parker, and their associates and successors, are hereby declared to be a body corporate and politic in law by the name and style of “The Trustees of the Willamette University.”

To the pioneer Oregonians, what a wealth of memories in law, religion, business, campaigning, backbiting, scheming, vituperation, successes, failure, statesmanship and genuine Christianity does this list of names recall! At that time, Oregon had been a territory but four years and it had belonged to the United States but seven years. Prior to that (1846) it had been No Man’s Land – a veritable wanderer upon the face of the earth, if the somewhat strained figure of speech may be pardoned.

But these men were here at this early date – many of them for several years previous – and showing a remarkable activity in developing the country along all lines which tended toward better conditions materially, socially, spiritually and intellectually.

David Leslie, the president of the Board, who had joined the old Mission in September, 1837, accompanied by his wife and several children, was a member of a prominent New England family. One of the first men to settle in Salem, he “took up” a quarter section of land which now constitutes a part of the southern section of Oregon’s capital city.

Mr. Leslie deserves a more extended mention and a larger degree of appreciation than is usually given him in the accounts of the early history of Oregon. As early as 1839, Senator Lewis F. Linn, of Missouri, presented a petition to the Senate of the United States, dated March 16, 1838, setting forth the earnest desire of the American settlers that Congress should take immediate and decisive steps toward the ultimate acquisition of the Oregon Country. I will quote a few paragraphs which will serve to illustrate the forceful character of the few men who, even at this early date, had made their way to the Pacific Coast and were clamoring for national recognition and protection. This great plea for help from the nation’s representatives began with the following clear-cut statement of conditions and possibilities:

We are anxious when we imagine what will be, what must be, the condition of so mixed a community, free from all legal restraint and superior to that moral influence which has hitherto been the pledge of our safety. We flatter ourselves that we are the germ of a great State and are anxious to give an early tone to the moral and intellectual character of our citizens, for the destinies of our posterity will be immediately affected by the character of those who immigrate. The Territory must populate – the Congress of the United States must say by whom. The natural resources of the country, with a well-judged civil code, will invite a good community, but a good community will hardly emigrate to a country which promises no protection to life and property… Well are we assured that it will cost the Government of the United States more to reduce elements so discordant to social order than to promote our permanent peace and prosperity by a timely action of Congress.

This patriotic and dignified appeal for assistance in the great work which confronted the early settlers in the Northwest is worthy a place alongside the best clauses in the Declaration of Independence. It was a strong cry from the wilderness, from those who had wandered afar in the interest of the mother government, to be taken under the shadow of the Stars and Stripes.

This petition was followed by another in 1840, of which David Leslie was the author. It was no less patriotic and earnest, and eloquently expressed the purpose of the American settlers here to remain Americans, and to hold the fort until the Government should recognize the value of the great region which could be acquired if prompt and energetic steps were but taken. A part of this appeal reads as follows:

They have settled themselves in said territory under the belief that it was a portion of the public domain of said States, and that they might rely upon the Government thereof for the blessings of free institutions and the protection of its arms. But they are uninformed of any acts of said Government by which its institutions and protection are extended to them; in consequence whereof, themselves and the families are exposed to be destroyed by the savages around them, and others who would do them harm.

That they have no means of protecting their own and the lives of their families other than self-constituted tribunals originated and sustained by the power of an ill-instructed public opinion, and the resort to force and to arms.

That these means of safety are an insufficient safeguard of life and property – that they are unable to arrest the progress of crime without the aid of law and the necessary tribunals to enforce it.

Thus was Father Leslie taking a prominent and effective part in “saving” Oregon two decades before the breaking out of the Civil War and many years before most of the men now prominent in national affairs were born.

David Leslie was born in New Hampshire in 1797, was reared in the shadow of the White Mountains, and remained there, preaching from the time he was twenty-five years of age until his coming to Oregon in his fortieth year. He was in charge of the Oregon Mission from 1838 to 1840 during the absence of Jason Lee while the latter was engaged in securing the “Great Re-enforcement,” which arrived in the latter year.

A great affliction overtook Mr. Leslie in 1842 in the death of his wife. Being left with a family of five daughters, he soon afterward decided to take two of them to the Sandwich Islands, that they might have the advantages of an education, leaving the youngest two with a married daughter, Mrs. Cornelius Rodgers. Mr. Rodgers and his wife were moving just then to the Falls, as Oregon City was called in those days, which they intended to make their future home. The journey was made in a large “Chinook” canoe, manned by four Indians. In the boat were Dr. White, Nathaniel Crocker, W. W. Raymond, of the Mission, Mr. Rodgers and his wife, with the youngest Leslie girl, the other, who was in delicate health, remaining with some friends in Salem.

Upon their arrival at the Falls, it was necessary to make a portage. They fastened a line to the canoe, as was customary, and Mr. Raymond, with two Indians, walked along the rocks, endeavoring to guide it to a safe landing. Dr. White had also stepped ashore. At this juncture a swift current struck the boat and capsized it, with the result that it was immediately swept into the raging waters. The men lost the line, and in a moment Mr. Rodgers, his wife and her little sister were dashed over the Falls. A contemporary account of this most appalling affair says: “Mrs. Rodgers, on seeing her inevitable fate, clasped her baby sister to her breast and the remorseless waters passed over them, hiding them forever from mortal sight.” Mr. Crocker also lost his life in this disaster which threw a mantle of gloom over the little settlement of whites.

During the three years I attended the Willamette University, David Leslie was the president of the Board of Trustees. I remember he appeared to me as an extremely old man. I do not know what his physical affliction was, but it must have been some phase of paralysis, as his steps were scarcely six inches in length and he seemed to be so very feeble that it used to make me long to render him some assistance. He always had a kind word for everybody and was beloved by all. He remained at the head of the Board of Trustees for twenty-five years, or until a year before his death, which occurred at his home in Salem on March I, 1869, when a truly good man passed on, “full of years and full of honors.”


Next Chapter - Brief histories of many of the founders of Willamette University including Asahel Bush, John Flinn, Lafayette Grover, and Dr. W.H. Willson.


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