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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



So potent and far-reaching has been the influence of the Willamette University in the promotion of education in the Northwest – its foundation being almost coincident with the first coming of the white man – that a brief sketch of the careers of those who constituted its first Board of Trustees will be of interest and value.

William Roberts was one of the most prominent and useful members of that body. He came to Oregon in 1847 as superintendent of the missionary work of the Methodist Church, and at once became known as an energetic worker. Not only was he active within the sphere which directly demanded his attention, but every proposition which seemed to promise a development of the new settlement in an educational and material way found in him an enthusiastic and efficient supporter. I remember him well, as Salem was his home most of the time, though his territory included what is now California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. This he covered as often as possible, of necessity making the larger part of it on horseback, after the manner of the early itinerant preachers, for the most part “without money and without price,” looking for his reward in the satisfaction of doing his work well and in the approval of his fellow men. Mr. Roberts was a cultured man, a very able expounder of his religious faith, and was regarded as one of the most effective ministers of his denomination on the Pacific Coast. He continued to be a trustee of the Willamette University until his death, which occurred in 1888. His service covered a period of forty-one years and he lived to see the membership of his Church in the district over which his jurisdiction extended increase from one hundred to more than twenty thousand. Like several others of the early missionaries, he acquired a tract of land where Salem now stands and one of the most valuable additions to that city bears his name to-day.

George Abernethy was a native of Scotland, born in 1807, but his parents came to the United States when he was two years of age and settled in New York State. In 1840, Mr. Abernethy joined the missionaries who accompanied Jason Lee on his return trip to Oregon on the Lausanne, being a lay member of the missionary force. In 1845, the settlers in the Willamette valley had organized a provisional government, and under its authority an election was held on June 3 for a full list of officers. George Abernethy was a candidate for the position of Governor, receiving a majority of ninety-eight votes out of a total cast of five hundred and four. His opponent was A. L. Lovejoy, a Missourian who had crossed the plains in 1842 with Dr. Elijah White, and who, by the way, was one of the men who afterward platted the city of Portland.

In 1847, Mr. Abernethy was a candidate for re-election and received five hundred and thirty-six votes out of a total of eight hundred and forty-seven. Mr. Lovejoy was again his leading opponent and Abernethy's plurality over him was but sixteen votes. At the end of his second term, the territorial government of Oregon had been established by Congress and Joseph Lane arrived from Indiana as the appointee of President Polk to act as the first territorial Governor. Governor Abernethy was a man of good business qualifications but did not rank high as a politician, which may or may not have been a misfortune. At the end of his service at the head of the provisional government he engaged in the mercantile business at Oregon City and gained a considerable amount of property, which was mostly lost in the great flood in the Willamette River in December, 1861. The last years of his life were spent in Portland, where he died in 1877.

Alanson Beers was also a member of the Lausanne party in 1840 and soon after his arrival settled upon a claim which included the site of the original Mission. A part of this is to-day owned by his son, Oliver Beers, a resident of Salem. Alanson Beers was chosen at the famous meeting at Champoeg on May 2, 1843, as one of the three members of the executive committee, whose duties were to be the same as those of the Governor of any other Territory. This was the first civil government organized west of the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Beers served on this committee until July, 1844, and was really one-third of the first Governor of the Oregon Country.

James H. Wilbur deserves more than a passing notice in any history of Oregon which aspires to do justice to the men who may be correctly termed its founders. Born in New York State in 1811, he came here in 1846 by way of Cape Horn, arriving at Portland on June 3, where he found a village of three houses. He went at once to Salem and began traveling over the circuit, which reached to the California line. In 1848 he was transferred to the Portland and Oregon City circuit and built the first church ever erected in the former city. He raised the money by the subscription process and paid the mechanics twelve dollars a day. Lumber cost one hundred and twenty dollars a thousand. In 1851, he built the Portland Academy and Female Seminary. He performed much of the mechanical labor himself, carrying mortar in hods and dressing like the commonest of the workmen.

Twenty years of Mr. Wilbur's later life were spent in conducting an Indian training school at Yakima, Washington, a very practical and successful method of “converting” Indians, the good results of which are yet felt in that section. He died in 1887 in Walla Walla, where his home had been after his retirement from his long and arduous services for the public weal.

John D. Boon, a Wesleyan Methodist preacher who came to Oregon in 1845, was elected treasurer of Oregon Territory by the Legislature in January, 1855, and served continuously for the ensuing ten years, with the exception of the year 1856, when Nat. H. Lane was chosen to that position for one year, that being the length of the term in those times. Upon the organization of the State government in 1859 he was elected the first State Treasurer, serving three years. He conducted a large store – for that period – in North Salem in the first brick building ever constructed in that part of the city. He raised a large family of sons and daughters, with whom I attended the University in the '60s, and died at his home, well advanced in years and having the respect of all the people.

Asahel Bush, a printer by trade, came to Oregon from Massachusetts in 1850 and soon after his arrival established the Statesman at Oregon City, afterwards moving it to Salem when the capital was changed to that location. In Washington City, he had previously consulted Samuel R. Thurston, the first delegate to Congress from Oregon Territory, as to the prospects for a young newspaper man in the Far West. Thurston gave him great encouragement, since he was very ambitious politically and had already made a good start, and since, what was more important, there was no Democratic paper in the territory. As the result of this conference, Mr. Bush at once made all necessary arrangements to ship the materials for a printing plant to Oregon and himself embarked for his new home in July, 1850. He arrived at Astoria in September, having made most of the distance across the Isthmus on muleback. He proceeded from Astoria to Portland by a small boat, and at once located in Oregon City. When the Legislature met at Oregon City in December, Mr. Bush was chosen territorial printer, the assurance that his plant was on the way being sufficient to secure his election. His paper was first issued in March, 1851, and was a “hummer” from the beginning. He was a very caustic writer, using ridicule as his chief weapon and sparing no political enemy. He was courageous under all circumstances, and as his paper reached every part of the Territory, his influence was far-reaching. He was elected official printer at each successive session of the Legislature, which met annually, until the organization of the State government in 1859, and then was chosen to succeed himself in the new order of things. In 1862, Harvey Gordon was chosen to succeed Mr. Bush, but died before being sworn into office. As the Governor neglected to appoint a successor, Mr. Bush served until the election of H. L. Pittock, of the Oregonian, in 1864.

Mr. Bush sold the Statesman in 1861, and after engaging in various business enterprises, established, in 1867, the banking house in Salem of which he has ever since been the head and for the last thirty years the sole owner – perhaps the only instance on record where a newspaper man actually started and maintained a bank.

During its existence as a Territory and State Oregon has experienced its full measure of stormy political campaigns, prominent men being voted up, voted down and voted out, combinations effected which have produced the most unexpected results, agreements made over night which astonished the natives, and others, but no man has ever wielded so autocratic a power for so long a period as did Asahel Bush. There was nothing that he desired to do that he was for a moment afraid to do or that he didn't do. A political foe was an obstacle which should be removed. That was what foes were for! Having the Statesman at his command, as well as the English language, his meat and drink were found in lampooning and lambasting his political enemies, and the last five years of the territorial regime were luminous with the lavish display of his wonderful power as a writer and political dictator.

The files of the Statesman for those years furnish a splendid political history of Oregon in its swaddling clothes, and give a most interesting picture of the methods pursued in that turbulent era by the group of really able men who had drifted here, most of them with the intention of engaging in the political game usually offered in a new country, and which was especially promising and alluring in Oregon at that time. The tirades in which the Oregon editors engaged in the later '50s were so pronounced and extreme in their nature that “the Oregon style” was known far and near. The “star” writer was Asahel Bush – and it but added to his popularity.

During the year 1904, I was the editor of the Daily Statesman, and each Sunday morning I would reprint extracts from the Statesman just fifty years before. It proved a very interesting department, not only to the old-timers, but to the newer residents, who marveled at the nature of the political contests of long ago. To “dig up” this stuff for the Sunday paper proved a very fascinating pastime each Saturday afternoon. One day I ran across an article which roasted General Joseph Lane to a finish, the latter distinguished gentleman and Mr. Bush, though both were Democrats, having broken their political friendship because of their difference of opinion on the slavery question, the bad feeling being accentuated, to be sure, by the natural action of local strifes and ambitions through a period of ten years' scrapping. Lane had written a letter which had greatly displeased Mr. Bush, and as the old General had a confirmed habit of showing his utter indifference to the rules laid down by the man who had invented spelling, the brilliant and ebullient editor not only applied his battery of ridicule to the subject-matter of the Lane letter, but printed it with its original arrangement of the alphabet unchanged. It made “mighty interestin' reading,” and I reprinted an extract from it of such liberal dimensions that its encroachment upon “valuable space” was entirely ignored.

The next day I met Mr. Bush in front of his bank and he accosted me with a frown which seldom accompanies an inward feeling of hilarity.

“Say,” he remarked, “why do you reprint those extracts from the Statesman so long ago that most people have forgotten the matters they tell about?”

“Why not?” I inquired. “Important history was being made in those days, and people living now are glad to know how it was made and who the chief actors were.”

“Yes,” he replied, “but that extract you published yesterday about Jo. Lane should not have been reproduced. Lane was a pretty good man, after all, and we were living in exciting times and many things were said that it would have been just as well to have left unuttered.”

“No doubt,” I said, “but the same may be said of most men who have figured in the history of most countries. It is likely that Blaine, in after years, would have been glad to suppress the ebullition of satire he fired at Conkling while they were both members of the lower House of Congress, but the history of the United States would be crippled in one of its most important chapters if it failed to give the fullest details of that red-hot verbal engagement between two of the most renowned forensic gladiators America has ever known.”

But this didn't satisfy Mr. Bush – he never surrenders an opinion nor has he ever been known to acknowledge a conversion. His reply was:

“Yes, but Lane has many descendants living now in all parts of Oregon, and the publication of these things will make them mad – they won't like it.”

“That may be,” I insisted, “but there is a bare possibility that General Lane and his relatives didn't approve of the articles at the time you first printed them, and certainly they cared more about the matter and were entitled to more consideration at that time than his descendants are now.”

To this Mr. Bush replied that they all, perhaps, went too far in the excitement of the campaign, when everybody was striving for the ascendancy in the new territory, and that he was “younger then than now.” The fact was that in after years, when they were both old men and had permanently retired from the activities of public life, Bush and Lane renewed their earlier friendship and often laughed at the bitterness which characterized the contests in which they had engaged.

General Lane, of whom more will be said in this volume later, was twenty-two years older than Mr. Bush and died in 1881, aged eighty years. But the veteran editor and banker still lives in Salem at the advanced age of eighty-eight years, attends to his office business every day, maintains his cheerful disposition, takes a deep interest in current events, has but little use for many of the modern innovations in the forms of government, and quite recently remarked that, after all, in his opinion, the people of Oregon were fully as well governed when the “Salem Clique” was in the saddle as now.

Mr. Bush is a very cultured gentleman of the old school. He still wears the tall standing collar of the old-time gentlemen of ante-bellum days, and has worn precisely the same style of hat for forty years without change – always new and becoming, totally unlike that ever worn by any other man, since no other man has been able to discover where it is obtained. He has the respect of all the people of this region, and his name will remain among the first on the remarkable list of brave and ambitious men who managed the public affairs of Oregon during the formative period of its existence, in the decade immediately preceding the Civil War. He was a Douglas Democrat, upheld the cause of the Union during the Rebellion, and was seriously considered by President Cleveland, at the time of his second inauguration, as a proper man to appoint Secretary of the Treasury.



Among the prominent men who constituted the “Salem Clique” in the territorial days, and who was one of the first trustees of the Willamette University, was Benjamin F. Harding. As I hark back now to the time when I had not yet reached my teens, I recall how the conversation around my father's fireside, when we lived in Silverton, so often included references to “Ben” Harding. My father and all his people were Douglas Democrats, and my first recollection of political affairs was when, in 1858, being then seven years old, people who came to our house would discuss the effects of the Lincoln-Douglas debate. The usual decision was that the “Little Giant” had utterly vanquished the “Illinois Rail-splitter.” Asahel Bush, then editor of the Salem Statesman, Ben Harding and James W. Nesmith were the leaders of the anti-slavery, or Douglas, wing of the Oregon Democracy, while Joseph Lane, Delazon Smith and George K. Shiel were the foremost men in the Breckinridge forces, the pronounced champions of the extension of slavery into any or all the Territories.

In those days, Ben Harding was in his prime, as well as in his element, politically. He was a genial man, a good organizer and counselor and universally popular. Born in Pennsylvania in 1823, he came to Oregon and at once settled in Marion County. He was a lawyer, but never seriously followed his profession after arriving here. He was a born politician and made little claim to any other business for many years, though he owned a good farm on French Prairie, near Salem. He was appointed United States District Attorney in 1853, and was territorial secretary from 1855 to 1859. In 1862 the State Legislature elected him to fill the unexpired term of Colonel Edward D. Baker – who had been killed at the battle of Ball's Bluff on October 21, 1861 – in the United States Senate. He was at one time county clerk for Marion County, and while holding that position built the house in which Judge William Waldo now lives. He could secure any office he wanted by merely indicating his preference, during the territorial days, and for some time after the State government was inaugurated, or until the Democratic party lost control of its affairs, and for ten years or more he was one of the most prominent and influential men in Oregon Territory. He died at his home in Lane County in 1899, aged seventy-six years.

John Flinn, another member of the first Board of Trustees of the Willamette University, born in Ireland on March 26, 1817, is now past ninety-four years of age, and in such excellent physical condition that there is every prospect that he will reach the century mark. He regrets that his birth did not occur eleven days sooner, in order that he might have saved much time in the course of a long life by celebrating two birthdays at once, but he is a born philosopher and accepts these little misfits with entire composure. He remained in Ireland until he was twenty-three years of age, when he came to America and lived some time in St. John's, New Brunswick. During that time he entered the ministry and began his long service in that calling in 1840, now full seventy-one years ago!

In 1850 he sailed for Oregon and arrived here in the fall of that year, at the time when “Father” Wilbur was completing the construction of the church where the Taylor Street landmark now stands. Mr. Flinn takes great pleasure in relating how Mr. Wilbur took part in the manual labor, and also how he would solicit assistance from the gamblers, who even at that time were prosecuting a profitable business in the little city on the Willamette. The one thing that may be said in favor of gamblers, as a class, is that they are universally liberal in their donations of money for almost any purpose which savors of charity. From them, Mr. Wilbur received much help in footing the bills for the erection of his new church building. The good old soul had not learned that there is such a thing as “tainted money,” and had the old-fashioned idea, evidently, that no dollar itself is ever “tainted,” though the man who uses it for a disreputable purpose may himself be contaminated.

Mr. Flinn preached his first sermon in Oregon on the next day after his arrival in Portland, in September, 1850, and has been actively engaged in his good work ever since, though, 6f course, in recent years he has had no regular charge. Whenever he appears at any public gathering, however, he is certain to be called upon for a “talk,” and then the humor which was born with him, and which has grown with his growth, bubbles over, to the great enjoyment of his audience. When he falls into a reminiscent mood, one never tires listening to his relation of pioneer experiences,

An amusing incident, and one which he enjoys describing, occurred at the rude Congregational church building during the morning service on his first Sunday in Portland. Rev. Horace Lyman, Sr., was delivering the sermon at the time. At a certain point, as he was describing with much feeling the betrayal of the Savior by the Apostle Judas Iscariot and the tears were appearing in the eyes of the more emotional of the congregation, a disturbance suddenly began to take place, evidently under the floor of the building. It did not appear by degrees, but burst out in full force at once. The fact was – and it became apparent without any preliminaries – that a lot of hogs were sleeping under the floor, which was but a foot off the ground and composed of boards loosely put together. The room appeared to be wholly inadequate for the size and number of the hogs which had taken refuge there. The congregation was seated on benches around the walls of the building, and as the insurrection proceeded, the boards in the middle of the floor were pushed out of position by the “rise of pork” and the services necessarily suspended while a few volunteers drove the intruders out into the adjoining woods – about where the City Hall is now – and the story of Judas' treachery was resumed.

I always love to meet Father Flinn. His good humor is infectious and he keeps the brighter side of life to the fore, while he minimizes the ills which are inevitable. I have never had the dyspepsia, nor the “blues” very often, but if I were subject to either misfortune I would cultivate the company of Father Flinn and learn at his feet the lesson of good cheer, good sense and sound philosophy as to the duty of the average – and other – man.

Lafayette Grover, another of the Willamette University trustees, who devoted much of his time to its upbuilding in the days when it required a great deal of careful nursing, has occupied a larger share in the public life of Oregon as a Territory and State than any other man. He was born in Maine in 1823 and came to Oregon in 1851 in search of his fortune, as did so many ambitious young men of the Eastern States at that time. His first public work was to assemble, as far as possible, the records of the Territory as far back as any had been kept and to prepare them in a permanent form. This was a difficult task, for the reason that no records of any kind were kept of some of the proceedings of the preliminary meetings which were held by “the settlers of the Willamette valley,” and others were not only incomplete, but somewhat inaccurate. I have spent many days in the office of the Secretary of State searching these early archives collected by Mr. Grover in 1853 and have always found them of great interest and value. Many laws were enacted by the early territorial Legislatures, a record of whose progress through the lawmaking body would not for a moment stand the test of our latter-day, fine-grained critics, who can frequently save those unquestionably guilty of murder from the gallows by proving to “the satisfaction of the court” that a comma should have been in a different place in a sentence.

But this work of Mr. Grover is of great value and he did it well. He was elected a member of the Constitutional Convention, which in 1857 framed the organic act under which Oregon was admitted to the Union in 1859, and proved to be one of its most active members. There has been no Constitutional Convention in Oregon since, in fifty-two years of statehood, but under the “Oregon System,” of which so much has been said in all parts of the United States within the past five years, the Constitution of Oregon has been amended out of all recognition and can be changed with as little difficulty as would be met in the passage of a law taxing dogs.

In that convention, Mr. Grover served with signal ability and at the election held under it for State and other officers he was chosen to represent Oregon in the lower House of Congress. The admission of the State was not effected, however, until February 14, 1859, seventeen days before the expiration of the term for which he had been elected. Upon his return to Oregon he resumed the practice of law at Salem, his home, and was not prominent in political affairs until 1870, when he was elected Governor and re-elected in 1874. At the legislative session in September, 1876, in the middle of his second gubernatorial term, he was chosen United States Senator, his wish during that period being law with his party.

It was at this time that the famous Hayes-Tilden trouble arose, and it finally developed that as Oregon went so would go the election. And the contest was so uncomfortably close that the loss of even one of its three electoral votes to Hayes would result in the election of Tilden. It was what might be called a “close shave” for the Republican Party at a most critical time in its history.

Everybody, leading Democrats as well as leading Republicans, was searching the election returns diligently for some technicality that would justify “going behind the returns,” with the hope, and without doubt the intention, of discovering a vital error which would change the result. At this juncture, it was found that one of the Republican electors, Dr. J. W. Watts, of Lafayette, Yamhill County, was the postmaster in his hometown. a position which probably yielded a salary of one hundred dollars a year. But the Federal law governing the qualifications of Presidential electors prescribed that they should not be holding any “remunerative” office, and the eagle-eyed Democrats, perceiving the value of the discovery, and its possible influence at that critical juncture, made the most of it. The news was immediately sent to Washington, with the result that the contest was re-opened with a partisan vigor which has not been surpassed, perhaps not equaled, since the formation of the Government.

Of course, everybody knew, that Oregon had voted decisively in favor of the election of General Hayes. There was not a shadow of doubt as to what the people of the State wanted, nor as to what they intended when they expressed their choice for President. But the admitted wish of the people was not to be considered for a moment. There was a dazzling prize at stake, and everything was fair in a war of this character. To correct the error, Dr. Watts resigned his position as postmaster, thus creating a vacancy in the Oregon college, and the other two members, assuming the right to fill a vacancy, when they met at the State capital to cast their votes for President at once selected Dr. Watts, who at the time held no “remunerative office.” The doctor without hesitation accepted the unexpected honor, took his seat as a member of the college and within a few minutes three votes were cast for Rutherford B. Hayes for President of the United States. And that act made him the national Chief Executive for four years!

But not without a struggle which is unparalleled in our history. Governor Grover, always a partisan who could be counted upon under any sort of party stress, refused to recognize the election of Dr. Watts as a member of the State electoral college and gave him no commission. Instead, he appointed the Democratic candidate who had received the highest number of votes and he went to Washington City with his certificate of appointment. The Electoral Commission, however. being inclined to the Republican party, refused to recognize the legality of his claims and accepted the vote of Dr. Watts, just as the same body would have reversed this finding had a majority of its members been Democrats – so prone are we all to see and interpret matters in accordance with our wishes and personal views.

This exciting national episode developed into a near-scandal, as it was charged that cipher dispatches passed between those having the Tilden interests in charge in Washington and the Oregon State authorities which hinted at some transactions that were not intended to be generally known. It reached so far that charges were made against Governor Grover as to certain features of his election to the Senate, and a committee actually came to Oregon and investigated the matter, but it came to naught, and he was permitted to conclude his six years' service without further molestation.

From the date of his arrival in Oregon in 1851 until his retirement from the Senate in 1883, Mr. Grover held a greater variety of public positions, including the highest within the gift of the people, than any other man. He was clerk of the United States District Court; prosecuting attorney for the second district, which then extended from Oregon City to the California line; raised a company of men to fight Indians in the Rogue River country; was a member of the territorial Legislature in 1855 from Marion County and was returned the next year, when he was chosen Speaker of the House; was elected a member of the Constitutional Convention, which met in Salem on August 17. 1857, and was chosen the new State's first Representative in Congress in 1858. From this date until 1870 he devoted himself to the practice of the law in Salem and was prominent in business enterprises of various kinds. In 1866 he was chairman of the Democratic State Convention and of the State committee in the campaign which followed. Four years later, he concluded he would like to be Governor of the State, and it was so. His preference was to serve a second term, and a second term was given him, the State being Democratic and the party gospel at that time entirely subject to his interpretation of the text. By a singular combination of circumstances, when the middle of his second term as Governor had come around he decided that he was precisely the proper age to enter the United States Senate, communicated his decision to the Democratic members of the Legislature, which met in September, 1876, and on the day provided by law a certificate of election was made out in his name.

Indeed, in those days Lafayette Grover was a power in the land, and he understood how to wield it in the way that would best serve his personal ambitions. He was the first Governor of Oregon who was able to secure a reelection, though since then Sylvester Pennoyer has had that distinction, as has also George E. Chamberlain – all Democrats. In this connection it will not be amiss to remark that the people of Oregon have chosen five Republicans and five Democrats to the office of Governor during the fifty years of its statehood, excluding the present incumbent, who is a Democrat, and it is a somewhat singular circumstance that no Republican has been able to succeed himself, while three Democrats have made that record. The fact is that no Republican Governor has ever been re-nominated by his party, the inference being that there has been such a perfect wealth of superior material among them for that position that, even restricting them to one term, the aspirants cannot be satisfied within the ordinary lifetime, while with the Democrats the case is dif–––––, however, it is best to be charitable.

Governor Grover is a very cultured man. In his capacity of politician he was always dignified in his bearing and in a manner reserved when the situation did .not call for a different mien. But with all this he was affable, kind, approachable and personally popular, as any man with his remarkably successful record must necessarily be. Soon after his retirement from the United States Senate, in 1883, he removed to Portland, where he engaged in many business undertakings. During the past fifteen years he has been a confirmed invalid and has at no time appeared in public.*

*It is a somewhat strange circumstance that since the first of this chapter was written this morning – May 12 – Governor Grover has passed to the life beyond, the evening papers just at hand announcing that while at his breakfast he was attacked with a fainting spell and died within a few moments, at the advanced age of nearly eighty-eight years.



Dr. W. H. Willson, – spelled with two l's, – was born in Massachusetts in 1805, came to Oregon in 1837 and was among the first settlers in Salem, the fact being that he made the original plat of that city and should be known as its founder. He took up a claim which included the tract later owned by Rev. J. L. Parrish, in North Salem, and a part of the present campus of the Willamette University. He also donated to the city of Salem that beautiful tract known as Willson Avenue, one block wide – and the Salem blocks are unt1sually large – and four blocks long. It covers the distance between the State Capitol and the Marion County courthouse, is artistically arranged with shade trees of various kinds and has winding walks among a lavish display of flowers during ten months of the year – all of which attractions make it a favorite resort for Salem's people and their visitors.

In 1853, Dr. Willson established a drug store in Salem, the first in the future capital of Oregon, locating it one block west of Commercial Street, near South Mill Creek. He did a thriving business in that line and also practised his profession. While in this business he erected a fine home one block north of the present site of the Capitol, where he lived until his death, and where his family, consisting of his wife and three daughters, lived during my school days in Salem.

Dr. Willson's ancestors originally came from Salem, England, and Salem, New Hampshire, received its name from them. Oregon's capital owes its name to Dr. Willson, who naturally desired to perpetuate it in the new country in which he had permanently located. Its streets were platted by him and the donation of the avenue made at the same time. The original plat is now in the possession of his daughter, Mrs. J. K. Gill, of Portland.

In August 1840, Dr. Willson married Miss Chloe Clark, a member of the celebrated Lausanne party, which came to Oregon the previous June. She was the first teacher in the Oregon Institute and remained in that position for several years. Dr. Willson was a man of especially cheerful nature and his optimistic disposition made him a favorite with all his acquaintances. He sold his drug store in the spring of 1856 to W. K. Smith, but retained it as his headquarters while following his profession as a physician. In April of that year, while he and Dr. Smith were sitting by the stove, Dr. Willson was relating to Smith the circumstance of a French woman who had that morning made a purchase in the store, the humorous feature being the misapplication of the word used by her in describing the article she wanted. While the two were laughing at the recital, Smith noticed that Dr. Willson leaned far over in his chair and appeared to be in great pain. After waiting a moment and satisfying himself that something was wrong, he jumped up and went to his friend's rescue, only to discover that he had completely collapsed. A physician, Dr. A. M. Belt, was sent for at once, but all efforts to revive him failed and he died within a half-hour from the effects of heart failure, to which he had been subject for several years.

Dr. Willson was the first secretary of the Willamette University Board of Trustees and held that position until his death. He was especially happy in his domestic relations and his untimely demise was keenly felt by a host of friends.


Next Chapter - A brief history of Thomas Pearne, one of the first Methodist ministers in Oregon.


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:


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