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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


Chapter XXII

The necessity for a government of some character among the early Oregon pioneers, which had been taking form by degrees ever since the arrival of the “Great Reenforcement” to the Methodist missionaries in 1840, was emphasized the next year by the death of Ewing Young, who came here with Hall J. Kelley, already mentioned in these pages, in the fall of 1834. Young’s death was, in reality, the special event which stimulated the settlers to speedy action, since he was a man of considerable means, of no family (as was supposed), and the condition was presented to the settlers of a valuable estate without an owner or anyone possessing legal claim to any part of it. It was a very awkward condition, since his property consisted of many horses and cattle as well as desirable land. No person had any right to move in the matter; there was no law to govern the situation, and yet some action must be taken.

Ewing Young, who occupied so prominent a position in our early history, principally, and singularly enough, by reason of his death, was born in Knox County, Tennessee, but the year of his birth seems not to be known. When a comparatively young man, however, he was in California. He left the Spanish settlement there in the summer of 1834 for Oregon, bringing with him a large number of Spanish horses — mostly mares. He had heard of the wonderful fertility of the land here and the boundless range the country afforded for grazing. He settled on the west bank of the Willamette River, opposite Champoeg, about twenty miles south of Portland. There he built the first house ever erected on the west side of the river.

The difficulty with which he was confronted soon after his arrival, in the form of a notification sent to Dr. McLoughlin by the Spanish Governor of California that Young and Kelley had stolen a large part of their horses, has already been mentioned, and the fact explained that the report had no truthful foundation. Subsequently the California Governor acknowledged his error and duly apologized for it.

In the spring of 1836, Young, concluding that there was more money to be made in the distillery business than in the slow process of raising and selling Spanish horses, began preparations for the manufacture of whiskey. Upon hearing of his intention Dr. McLoughlin, in a personal interview, explained to him that the introduction of the manufacture of whiskey would injure, and perhaps ruin, the farming industry, then just beginning to develop, and asked that he should embark in some other business. The request was granted. Young began, instead, the erection of a grist- and planing-mill, but was soon induced to return to California for a herd of cattle. These he brought back with him in the summer of 1838 and settled down to become a stock-raiser. In connection with this business, he erected his mill on the Chehalem Creek, near where it empties into the Willamette River, which he conducted until the winter of 1840-1841, when it was carried away by high water. It was not long after this that he was taken sick with a pressure on the brain and died a somewhat violent death at his home.

The death of Young, as has been stated, was the real origin of the movement which culminated in the Champoeg meeting. Soon after his funeral, the settlers began discussing the matter, which was not finally disposed of until several years afterward. His property finally went to the territorial government, but it required much time and encountered a considerable opposition.

On December 11, 1845, Mr. Garrison presented a petition to the provisional Legislature “from Daniel Waldo and Thomas Jeffries in relation to the estate of Ewing Young,” nearly five years after his death. Reference is made to the same matter in the Oregon archives December 17, 1845, December 4, 1846, and again December 8. It was finally disposed of by an act passed on December 24, 1844 (?). Its interest consists in its value as an illustration of the primitive conditions which prevailed among those who were striving amid the most adverse circumstances to found a State. The act reads as follows:

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Legislative Committee of Oregon that the executive power shall appoint an administrator to close up the estate of Ewing Young, deceased, and such administrator shall proceed as soon as possible to wind up the business of the estate.

Sec. 2. That the executive power shall cause to be let out to the lowest bidder the building of a substantial log jail at Oregon City, to be finished at such time and manner as they may think proper, and shall take such bond and security as they shall deem sufficient to secure its completion.

Sec. 3. That said administrator shall pay all moneys collected by him belonging to the estate of the said Ewing Young, deceased, to the treasurer of Oregon, whose duty it shall be to give the said administrator a receipt for the same.

Sec. 4. That the sum of one thousand five hundred dollars is hereby appropriated for the building of said jail, to be paid out of the first moneys received by the said administrator of said estate, and in the event there is not so much received, then the balance to be paid out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.

Sec. 5. That the faith of this government is hereby pledged for the payment of all moneys hereafter received from the administrator of the estate of said Young, whenever the same shall be lawfully claimed, and said claim established by the heirs or creditors of said Young.

Sec. 6. That the executive power shall be authorized to receive a lot donated by John McLoughlin for the purpose of erecting said jail, which lot shall be conveyed to Oregon agreeably to a communication received from John McLoughlin addressed to a committee of this House appointed to wait on him.

Sec. 7. That said jail shall be used alike for the imprisonment of all criminals in Oregon,

Passed December 24, 1844.
(Signed) M. M. MCCARVER, Speaker.

The reader will, of course, at once detect the contradictory dates in the foregoing account of the settlement of Ewing Young’s estate, but they are found in the archives as printed here and it is impossible to arrive at a definite conclusion as to their accuracy. It is a fact well established, however, that the property of Young had been sold and the proceeds loaned to different individuals when the “executive power” decided to call them in and invest them in a jail that would accommodate “all the criminals in Oregon.” It might be added here, sub rosa, that the inadequacy of such a jail now for such a purpose clearly indicates the phenomenal growth of the population of the Oregon Country since that far-away time when the log structure at Oregon City answered the purpose of incarcerating all the malefactors between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean — maybe.

One authority avers that the jail was built, as provided, and was burned to the ground some years afterward. By putting two and two together it may be inferred that the fire occurred soon after its completion, for it is recorded in the archives that on December 13, three years later, “Mr. Nesmith, from the committee on judiciary, to whom was referred that portion of the Governor’s message relating to the erection of a jail, reported that it was deemed inexpedient in the present embarrassed condition of finance to incur the expense of a jail.”

The inference is, of course, or at least one justifiable inference is, that the salutary effect of the log jail during its brief existence had been sufficient to disperse “all the criminals in Oregon,” and that since there was no other estate unclaimed and available to be used for the erection of another one thousand five hundred dollar jail, the young Territory — as yet belonging to nobody — could proceed along its way very well without one. Blessed condition!

Although the value of the estate of Mr. Young was collected into the treasury, it was never regarded as the absolute property of the Territory. In the territorial liabilities twenty-six hundred and fifteen dollars is given as “collected from the estate of Ewing Young.” In after years, when Oregon had been admitted into the Union, the value of his property was refunded to his son, Joaquin Young, who appeared and established his claim to the satisfaction of the authorities. Ewing Young, it seemed, had contracted a marriage with an Indian woman, in New Mexico, before going to California, the issue of which marriage was Joaquin, a personage who would have never been known in the history of Oregon if his father had died in the poorhouse — provided there had been one in Oregon.

When Ewing Young first came to Oregon, he was of the opinion that the land would be disposed of in large grants, as in California. In accordance with this impression, he made claim to practically all of the Chehalem Valley and was its nominal owner, without opposition, at the time of his death.

In 1845, there came to the valley a man named Sydney Smith, a grandnephew of Ethan Allen, of Ticonderoga fame, who secured employment on his farm. Young was said to be a hard man to get along with, but Smith appeared to understand him sufficiently well to smooth over the rough places and they were great friends at the time of Young’s death. Smith was born in New York State in 1809 and came to Oregon with a score of other young men, making the entire trip on horseback. Upon Young’s death and the settlement of his estate, Sydney Smith purchased as much of the land as he could lawfully hold, including the houses and other improvements. He was then thirty-two years old and single.

In 1845, there also came to the Chehalem Valley a man named Daniel Bailey, from Missouri. He had a family consisting of his wife and several children, and hearing that a bachelor named Smith had a house not far away, he immediately went to see him with the hope that he would like to take a family in for the winter, for he had no place to go. Fortunately, the proposition met with Smith’s approval, and the family moved in.

It may seem somewhat singular that ‘way out here on this coast, so long ago as 1846, such things could happen, but it turned out that Bailey’s second daughter, Miranda, looked good to Smith, and by Christmas time she began to suspect that such was his impression. In a few months more this suspicion proved to be well grounded.

So, one day in April — one Sunday, when the sun was shining gloriously and the meadowlarks, as if rejoicing at the turn things had taken, were making the air vibrant with their silver melody, Sydney Smith and Miranda Bailey were taking a stroll through the adjacent woods, talking, it may be supposed, of little nothings and of nothing in particular. As they walked along they noticed an acorn which, after spending the winter under a covering of leaves, had sent out a small sprout in search of a footing. Sydney carried the incipient oak in his hand until, as it happened, they came to the grave of Ewing Young, still covered with the low, square pen made of rails, which was placed there on the day of his funeral, five years previous.

On one of the top rails of this pen the young couple sat down to discuss such topics as were uppermost in their minds. Presently Smith suggested that they plant the acorn on the grave and watch for results. Accordingly he made a small hole in the dirt, Miranda placed the sprout in it and covered it with the toe of her shoe. They went home that day by a circuitous route, and before they arrived an agreement had been entered into that there should be a wedding in the immediate vicinity sometime during the year — and they knew who the contracting parties were to be.

So, on the seventh day of the following August Sydney Smith and Miranda Bailev were married and lived all their lives on the farm which he obtained from Ewing Young. During the summer of 1846, several visits were made to the grave of Ewing Young to observe the growth of that acorn. It had, in fact, developed into an oak plant and reached the height of one foot in that season. It prospered without interruption in the years that came afterward and is today, at the age of sixty-five years, a sturdy tree forty feet in height, thirty inches in diameter. Standing, as it does, on the grave of Ewing Young, it constitutes the only monument to the memory of a man whose singular career had so much to do with the early history of Oregon.

Sydney Smith was one of the fifty-two Americans who carried the day at Champoeg on May 2, 1843, and his name is carved on the marble shaft which has been erected there. He died on his farm on September 18, 1880. Mrs. Smith is still living, a remarkably bright woman past eighty years of age, and is the owner of the old farm in the Chehalem Valley. Her oldest daughter, Irene, is the wife of Dr. T. F. Calbreath, superintendent for eight years of the Oregon Hospital for the Insane, now a prominent physician of Portland.


Next Chapter - In 1843, in Champoeg, the settlers voted with their feet to form their own provisional government and break with the Hudson Bay Company.


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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