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
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.
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
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: