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
Table Of Contents
This book was originally published in 1912 by The
Neale Publishing Co. If you are interested in a copy, search at
Fifty Years in Oregon
EXPERIENCES, OBSERVATIONS, AND COMMENTARIES UPON MEN, MEASURES, AND CUSTOMS IN PIONEER DAYS AND LATER TIMES
BY T. T. Geer, formerly Governor of Oregon, and one of her native sons
Oregon undoubtedly bears the distinction of being the only
State in the Union whose people formed a provisional government in advance of
territorial organization authorized by Act of Congress. The first settlers were
in a country which was without a successful claimant, and for a few years were
too few in numbers to need or maintain any kind of government. It was everybody
for himself, indeed, but there was nothing in the land to steal; and the only
“settlement” extended from the Columbia River to the California line and
consisted of not more than a couple of hundred white people.
The first meeting of a public
nature was held in February, 1841, for the purpose of determining on some means
of protection against the depredations of wild animals, which were destroying
the few hogs and calves with which the people were beginning to be blessed.
Several such were called that year and the next, with this object in view
ostensibly; but a feeling began to develop that it would be necessary for the
Americans to take the initiative in organizing a local government whose scope
would not be confined to the destruction of the wolves, but would include a
movement toward the control of affairs and the counteracting of the hostile
influence of the Hudson Bay Company. The company was opposed to any kind of
government — preferring the unbroken wilderness, fur–bearing animals in
increasing numbers if possible, and no legal restraint whatever. It was really a
case where they did not need any government in their business.
But the Americans, coming from
the centers of civilization, began to be clamorous for some regularly
constituted authority to which they might appeal in case something should
happen. Not only this, but the fair historian will be compelled to admit that at
even that early date there was a well-defined feeling among the Americans that
it was necessary to begin a movement whose ultimate results would be the
acquisition of the entire country by the United States. For they were men whose
attachment to Old Glory was firm as the foundations of the earth, and they were
not willing to lose any tricks through unnecessary delay or apparent
indifference. Many otherwise unimportant circumstances combined to awaken the
suspicions of the settlers, who were men of pluck and determination.
A few thefts began to take
place in the growing community and there was no lawful redress. Men of reckless
character, and of no character, were by degrees drawn hither by reason of the
anomalous situation, and the Indians were always to be closely watched. In the
fall of 1842, the house of a minister living on Tualatin Plains was entered and
provisions and clothing taken. This was a new experience and the neighbors took
the matter in hand in an effort to detect the thief. A committee was formed,
consisting of Rev. J. S. Griffin, Robert Newell, Joseph L. Meek and Caleb
Wilkins, whose purpose was to ferret out the culprit, if possible, and to
administer such punishment as the case seemed to require.
In a few days, an Indian came
to the house of one of the members of this committee and seemed to be very
anxious to ascertain whom the whites suspected. His unnatural interest in the
affair arousing the suspicion of the committeeman, he pursued such a line of
inquiry that it proved a veritable sweat-box — though it was not called by that
name in those days.
The result was that he was
detained, tried and adjudged guilty. He confessed, was tied up to an oak tree,
treated to five lashes at the hands of each of the judges and dismissed. The
affair caused a great deal of discussion and served to impress more forcibly
upon the settlers that the prevailing conditions were not only unsatisfactory,
but dangerous, for the Indians, especially, appeared to understand the
disorganized state of the colony and translated it into license — a proceeding
altogether in harmony with their desires.
At this time Dr. Elijah White
drafted and promulgated a code of “laws” which was intended to govern the
Indians in their relations with the settlers. It was called the “White Code,”
consisted of eleven articles and was as follows:
Article 1. Whoever willfully takes a life shall be hung.
Art. 2. Whoever burns a dwelling house shall be hung.
Art. 3. Whoever burns an outbuilding shall be imprisoned six months, receive fifty
lashes and pay all damages.
Art. 4. Whoever carelessly burns a house or any property shall pay damages.
Art. 5. If anyone enters a house without the permission of the owner, the chiefs shall
punish him as they think proper. Public rooms are excepted.
Art. 6. If anyone steal, he shall pay back twofold. And if it be of the value of a beaver
skin, or less, he shall receive twenty-five lashes; and if the value is over a
beaver skin, he shall pay back twofold and receive fifty lashes.
Art. 7. If anyone take a horse and ride it without permission, or take any article and use
it without liberty, he shall pay for the use of it and receive from twenty-five
to fifty lashes, as the chiefs shall direct.
Art. 8. If anyone enter a field and injure the crops, or throw down the fence so that
cattle or horses enter and do damage, he shall pay all damage and receive
twenty-five lashes for every offense.
Art. 9. Those only may keep dogs who travel or live among game. If a dog kill a lamb, calf or
any domestic animal, the owner shall pay the damage and kill the dog.
Art. 10. If any Indian raise a gun or other weapon against a white man, it shall be reported
to the chiefs and they shall punish him. If a white man do the same to an
Indian, it shall be reported to Dr. White and he shall punish or redress.
Art. 11. If an Indian break these laws he shall be punished by the chiefs, and if a white
man break them he shall be reported to Dr. White and he shall punish or redress.
But on February 2, 1842, a
meeting was held at the Institute, in Salem, for the purpose of “taking into
consideration the propriety of adopting some measures the protection of our
herds,” etc. This is known in Oregon history as the “Wolf Meeting,” and was
presided over by Dr. I. L. Babcock, the secretary being W. H. Willson. After
considering the purposes of the meeting, it appointed a committee consisting of
William H. Gray, Alanson Beers, Joseph Gervais, William H. Willson, G. W.
Bellamy and Etienne Lucier, who were instructed to make arrangements for an
adjourned meeting to be held on March 4 at the house of Joseph Gervais, on
French Prairie. Mr. Gervais was practically the first white settler in that part
of the Willamette Valley, having been induced to locate there by Dr. McLoughlin,
to raise wheat for the Russian trade.
At this meeting the committee
appointed on February, 2 made the following report, which will give the student
of early Oregon history a clear insight into the primitive condition of affairs
and what the people were compelled to accept as an unavoidable duty. The report,
which was in reality the germ that produced the succeeding governments,
provisional, territorial and State, was as follows:
admitted by all that bears, panthers, wolves, etc., are destructive to useful
animals owned by the settlers of this colony, your committee would respectfully
submit the following resolutions as the sense of this meeting, by which the
community may be governed in carrying on a defensive and destructive war against
all such animals. Resolved,
1. That we
deem it expedient for this community to take immediate measures for the
destruction of all bears, wolves, panthers and such other animals as are known
to be destructive to horses, cattle, hogs and sheep.
2. That a
treasurer shall be appointed who shall receive and disburse all funds in
accordance with drafts drawn on him by the committee appointed to receive the
evidences of the destruction of all such animals, and that he report the state
of the treasury by posting up public notices once every three months in the
vicinity of each of the committee.
3. That a
standing committee of eight be appointed whose duty it shall be, together with
the treasurer, to receive the proofs of the evidences of the animals for which
bounties are claimed having been killed in the Willamette valley.
4. That a
bounty of fifty cents be paid for the destruction of a small wolf; three dollars
for a large wolf; one dollar and fifty cents for a lynx; two dollars for a bear
and five dollars for a panther.
5. That no
bounty be paid unless the individual claiming such bounty gives satisfactory
evidence, or by presenting the skin of the head, with the ears, of all animals
for which he claims a bounty.
6. That the
committee and treasurer form a board of advice to call public meetings when
deemed necessary to promote and encourage all persons to use their vigilance in
destroying all the animals named in the fourth resolution.
7. That the
bounties named in the fourth resolution be confined to whites and their
On motion, it
That no one receive a bounty (except Indians) unless he pay a subscription of
It was moved
and seconded that the Indians receive one-half as much as the whites.
It was moved
and seconded that all claims for bounties be presented within ten days from the
time of becoming entitled to such bounties, and if there should be any doubt,
the individual claiming such bounty shall give his oath as to the various
In the meantime, however, it
was becoming apparent to the settlers that the protection of their own rights — and lives
— as well as their herds, could not be longer safely postponed, and as
the result of this growing conviction, the committee of twelve, which had been
authorized to call meetings relative to the protection of the herds against the
marauding panthers and wolves, issued a call for another meeting to be held at
Champoeg on May 2, in the following year (1843), to “consider the propriety of
taking measures for the civil and military protection of the colony.”
This was, indeed, a bold step;
literally “coming out from under cover,” for it was well understood that any
attempt to organize any kind of government would meet with the bitter hostility
of the Hudson Bay Company, whose control of the country for thirty years had
But changing conditions were
pressing for action. Civilization was calling for recognition, and men and women
who were accustomed to law and order were not to be balked in their purposes.
There was a deep dissatisfaction with the unsettled conditions which manifested
itself constantly, and in the light of ensuing events, which followed one
another in rapid succession, there is no difficulty in understanding the
impossibility of stilling the demand for the installation of a dependable
During all these manifestations
of an unmistakable drift toward an emancipation from existing conditions, there
was one man who was placed in a very awkward and unenviable situation — Dr. John McLoughlin, Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay Company and absolute Governor of the
Northwest Territory. Indeed, he was virtually its dictator, and had been for
thirty years. The London stockholders of the company had given him a free rein
and all the report they cared for was that which yielded enormous quantities of
But, fortunately for the early
American immigrants, the Doctor, himself a giant physically, was as big of heart
as of stature. In the situation by which he was confronted, his sympathies
outran his subserviency to the company which was paying him a princely salary,
and when he saw an American immigrant and his family in need of either food or
clothing, he contributed liberally from his stores. He thus indirectly aided in
the colonization of the Oregon Country by the Americans, which meant the ruin of
his own business, the extend and value of which can never be properly estimated,
For this, he was never reimbursed in any sense of the word.
Next Chapter - Ewing Young, through his death, unwittingly funded
the early stages of the Oregon Provisional Legislature.
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: