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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



Perhaps of all the men who figured largely in the public affairs of Oregon during its formative period less is known to-day of Thomas H. Pearne than of any other. For nearly fifteen years he was prominent in the public eye, and took a leading part not only in church matters – he was a leading Methodist – but was always to the front in the discussion of the political questions that demanded the attention of the people. For the entire period of his residence in Oregon, he served on the Board of Trustees of Willamette University. Yet today not many Oregonians, except the few still surviving who were here at that time, know anything about Pearne or ever heard of him!

Thomas H. Pearne was born in New York State on June 7, 1820, and before reaching his majority entered the ministry of the Methodist Church. He followed his profession in various parts of the Eastern States until 1851, when he was transferred to the Oregon Conference. Physically and mentally he was a man of unusual vigor, combative to a fault almost, impatient of opposition, and frequently verging upon the very extreme of intolerance. He was a born fighter, with the ability to follow successfully his bent in that direction.

In 1855, the Methodists founded the Pacific Christian Advocate, which has been published continuously since, and Pearne was elected its editor. This position he held without intermission until 1864, when he asked for a leave of absence to join the Christian Commission, which was then engaged in assisting the Union army. After the war was over, he settled in eastern Tennessee, took charge of a church there and never returned to Oregon.

During the years Pearne was editor of the Advocate, he used its columns for the free discussion of political questions, and since he contended that good politics meant good religion, and vice versa, his critics always received as good as they sent. He was a very pronounced anti-slavery man, holding that slavery was a stupendous sin and that a good Christian should fight sin wherever found.

My grandfather on my mother’s side was an ardent and outspoken Southern sympathizer during the war, and in the years immediately preceding that event, while spending weeks at a time at his home when a small boy. I would listen while he and his friends discussed the public situation. I remember that I imbibed from what I heard that a man named Pearne was about the least desirable of citizens. I think that no man, perhaps, was hated by certain people in Oregon during those years more enthusiastically than was Pearne. I know that as a child my impression was that he was a veritable brute, lacking every characteristic of a man fit to be tolerated in society. But the fact was he was one of the ablest of the men in Oregon at that time and was instrumental in crystallizing public opinion along lines which meant the best results for the public weal.

Mr. Pearne was one of the official short-hand reporters in the State Constitutional Convention of 1857, and, as a lobbyist, took an active part in the struggle in that body with regard to its attitude on the slavery question – and he was hated for that! That was during his editorship of the Advocate. There were thousands who insisted that he was a “political preacher,” and that he had no right to interfere in a contest of that character; but such criticism had as little effect upon the belligerent editor as pouring water on the back of a duck.

Pearne was an active preacher during his nine years’ residence in Oregon, in addition to his other duties, and had his share of hardships and adventures incident to conditions which prevailed here at that time. In fact, he had experienced many of them during his different pastorates in interior New York before coming West. He used to relate this incident:

“In my boyhood, the introduction of instrumental music in the Sunday school service created much agitation and warm controversy. A maiden lady of mature years came into the church while the first hymn was being sung. For the first time instruments had been introduced into the choir in the gallery; but as she sat under the gallery, directly below the choir, she did not observe them and sang from the same hymn-book with my mother with apparent zest and delight. After the prayer, and after the second hymn was announced, the instruments sounded the pitch. ‘What is that?’ said she to my mother. ‘Musical instruments,’ was the answer. She was at once seized with convulsions which lasted for several days.”

Another of Pearne’s experiences – rather an exciting one this time – took place in the Willamette valley. “On one occasion,” he said, “when I was preaching on the Sabbath in Long Tom, in Lane County, a man became deranged. He ordered me down from the pulpit that he might preach. I expostulated with him. He became angry and pulled off his shoes, with which he pelted me. His aim was so good, and the force with which he hurled the shoes at me so great, that I had to do some dodging to save my face from mutilation. Then he ran up into the stand to take me down. Strong men seized him and carried him away. There was no lunatic hospital in Oregon then and a log pen was made, in which he was placed. He was fed and cared for in that pen, but he died in a few months.”

Whether Pearne relates this incident to illustrate the power of his preaching is a matter which opens up to the reader a wide field for conjecture.

At another time Pearne was conducting a camp-meeting on Rock Creek, in Clackamas County, which was attended by all the different denominations. Of this meeting he says:

“One could not determine from general observation who were Methodists and who were not. One morning I took a long walk before breakfast. Half a mile from the meeting I found a man milking in his kraal, or cow-pen, whom I had not seen at the meetings. 1 entered into conversation with him about as follows:

‘I don’t think I have seen you at our meetings up above here.’

‘I presume not,’ said he, ‘I never go to such places.’

‘Why not?’ I inquired.

‘I don’t believe in ‘em,’ he said.

‘Perhaps you do not profess religion.’

‘O, yes, I do.’

‘Of what Church are you a member?’

‘Of the Baptist Church.’

‘But,’ I said, ‘there are several Baptists camped up here at our meeting.’

‘They are not my kind of Baptists,’ he said.

‘What kind of Baptist Church is yours?’ I inquired.

‘It is a Two-Seed Baptist Church, or a Two-Principle Baptist Church, as it is sometimes called,’ he answered.

I asked him to explain and he said: ‘The Lord has a seed and the devil has a seed. The devil’s seed are goats. The Lord’s seeds are sheep, and thar’s no mixin’ of them ar’ breeds. The devil has been tryin’ to make goats outen’ the Lord’s sheep for six thousand years and has never made a single goat outen a sheep. And at your camp-meetings ministers of the gospel have been tryin’ to make sheep outen the devil’s goats and never made a sheep outen a goat yit.’ “

Still another camp meeting experience of Pearne’s in Oregon during the territorial days:

“I held a camp-meeting once in the forks of the Santiam. We had been somewhat annoyed by the Campbellites, who denied conversion by faith and the Holy Ghost, and who taught baptismal regeneration, or conversion by baptism. Weeks before the meeting, I announced far and wide that I would preach on salvation by faith, as being the Bible teaching on that subject, rather than salvation by water baptism or immersion, as held by the Campbellites. My sermon lasted three hours and a half. Beginning at eleven o’clock in the morning, I finished my discourse at half-past two in the afternoon. Strange as it may seem, I held the audience all that time without a break. We heard less about salvation by water after that sermon than we had been accustomed to hear before.”

Of course, Brother Pearne might have misconstrued the fact that he heard less about his subject after that sermon than before. It is easy to understand why he at least never heard from those same people again – after their escape. And the incident as related by Mr. Pearne illustrates the vein of intolerance which cropped out in his dominating nature on every occasion. The same spirit is shown in his allusion to the members of the Christian Church as “Campbellites,” he being well aware of the fact that those belonging to that denomination feel in a measure insulted when so referred to.

Another Pearne experience in Oregon was this:

“About a month after reaching Oregon, I had occasion to travel, on one Saturday, thirty-five miles across country to hold a meeting at Dimmick’s, on French Prairie. I went to the Willamette River, expecting to find a ferry boat at Champoeg, ten miles beyond which was Dimmick’s. But as the boat had been washed down the river by a freshet, I had to go back and up the river to another ferry. Attempting this, I was lost in a fog. I met a boy driving cows to pasture and he piloted me to the house of a German named Fulquarts. I inquired of him the way to the ferry. He directed me thus:

‘Vell, den, you see my farm down dare in de pottom (an inclosure of an acre or two for a truck patch). You vill take dat farm up on your right hand, and dat vill bring you to von very bad slough; dere you had petter git down and lead your horse or you vill mire down mit him; den you vill take anodder farm up on your right hand, and turn anodder corner down on your left hand and dat vill pring you to de ferry.’

The ferryman was a half-breed Indian. I had to inquire my way to Dimmick’s. I asked the Indian if he could speak English, but could not make him understand me. I said, ‘What is your name?’

‘Icta,’ he replied, which I afterward learned means ‘what’ in jargon.

I said, ‘Is your name Icta?’

‘Wake,’ he replied. ‘Wake’ means ‘no.’

‘Your name is Icta Wake?’ I inquired.

He merely laughed at my verdancy. Finding that I could learn nothing from him, I pushed on, traveling three or four miles, fording deep water. At last I came to a whitewashed house surrounded by a peach orchard. I hailed, and an Indian woman came to the door. I said, ‘Who lives here?’

“‘Lucy,’ she answered.

Supposing she had given me her surname, I inquired if her husband’s name was ‘Lucy.’

 ‘Nawitka,’ she said.

‘Then your name is Lucy Nawitka?’ I inquired.

She laughed at my blunder and said in good English, ‘My husband’s name is Lucier.’ ‘Nawitka’ is the Chinook, or jargon word, for ‘yes.’

I asked her the way to some American house. She said if I kept on for a mile and a half I would reach Champoeg, and there I would find Dr. Newell, an American. Here I staid all night, but I had eaten nothing since morning and went to bed supperless. The next day the Doctor piloted me to Dimmick’s, which I reached by church time.

In 1864, Mr. Pearne was chairman of the Oregon delegation which attended the Republican National Convention at Baltimore where, as he says in his “Notes,” the first blood of the war was shed.

“‘Then the business of the convention was advanced enough, Rev. Dr. J. Mc Kendree Riley made the opening prayer. It was deeply affecting. He thanked the Lord that, after four years of bloody war, we were enabled to hold a national convention in the city of Baltimore. His tones were pathetic. The convention stood during its delivery. Many of the members wept freely. One man in particular, of the Ohio delegation, could not refrain from sobbing and weeping violently. In the preliminaries of the convention he had been very talkative and, withal, quite profuse in the use of profane language.

After the prayer, however, when the convention was seated, one of his own delegation challenged the profane man thus:

“Why, I didn’t know that you were so d––– pious.”

“Well,” said the other, “I don’t cry very much nor very often, as a rule, but that prayer was so d––– good, it just drew the juice out of me in spite of everything.”

After spending thirteen vigorous years in Oregon, Mr. Pearne finally accepted a pastorate in Cincinnati, where he preached for many years. He died in that city not many years since, well advanced in age, strong in his convictions and courageous in expressing them to the last.


Next Chapter - Reminiscences from Geer's early years at the Central School in Salem.


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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