Family History    Wines

Photography       Books

Amazon Bestsellers

Fifty Years In Oregon

Table of Contents

Site Contents

Home Page

Book Resources

Family History



Wildlife Photos

Wine Tastings
 - Bottled Poetry

Other Pages

About Us

Contact Us

Privacy Policy


Site Map

Affiliate Sites

Powell's Books

Alibris - Books You Thought You'd Never Find - Outdoor Gear

Additional Affiliate Programs

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



A pretty place is Champoeg, Marion County, Oregon. It is located on the east bank of the Willamette River, about thirty miles above Portland, or rather the spot is where Champoeg was in 1843 and where it continued to be until it was washed away in the great flood in the Willamette River in December, 1861. The magnificent French Prairie, which begins a few miles north of Salem, some twenty miles away, narrows in an irregular way as one travels toward the north until, as the Willamette is approached, the timber closes in occasionally only to give away again for a smaller opening of fertile land. Champoeg was located where the last of these small prairies touches the river, where the bank is at least forty feet above the water when at its average stage.

For the reason that the Indians who inhabited the Willamette Valley naturally followed the open land as they journeyed to the river on their annual and other fishing trips, they made their Great Camp at the point where this route led them. It was for this reason that the Hudson Bay Company established a trading post at that point in the spring of 1843. Prior to that time, however, it had built a small warehouse there for the purpose of receiving wheat, which was raised in small quantities on the French Prairie. Dr. McLoughlin had discovered that the Russian traders toward the north were fond of wheat and were quite willing to give furs in exchange for it. The Doctor, being certain that wheat would grow to great perfection in the Willamette valley, as early as 1836 had induced Joseph Gervais to locate on the French Prairie and engage in that business. Others in a small way followed his example and a warehouse was erected at Champoeg — “The Place of the Camp” — to receive the new product, which was transported to Vancouver and to Oregon City for the purpose of exchange.

F. X. Matthieu, who came to the French Prairie in September, 1842, and who is still living, assisted by another Frenchman, built an addition to this warehouse in the early spring of 1843, in which Dr. McLoughlin placed a small stock of goods. His company was thus enabled to take advantage of the disposition of the Indians to barter furs for bright colored articles of apparel. After that, Mr. and Mrs. No-Shirt, coming from the vicinity of Salem or Scio, could return home arrayed in all the hues of the rainbow and excite the envy, if not the admiration, of their copper-colored fellows in all the region ‘round about.

As the early settlers in the Willamette Valley by common consent regarded Champoeg as the most centrally located point for their occasional meetings, naturally it was chosen as the place where they should assemble to decide the momentous question whether or not an attempt should be made to effect a civil organization. It was, indeed, a day and an occasion fraught with wonderful consequences, as we look backward and consider the situation and the courage of the men who were directly behind it.

At the appointed hour, one hundred and two men had assembled at Champoeg — May 1843 — in accordance with the call of the Committee of Twelve. As may be supposed, the atmosphere was charged with apprehension, uncertainty and a decided, though somewhat suppressed, feeling of bitterness; for the Hudson Bay men had come in force to vote against any sort of an organization. The Americans, on their part, had summoned every man from California to British Columbia! And, all told, there were one hundred and two men there to engage in a contest which probably would decide — and which actually did decide — whether a country half as large as the best portion of Europe should ultimately belong to the United States or to Great Britain.

It was a great day for millions yet unborn. The importance of it was fully appreciated by the Americans, for they were striving in the interest of the nation they loved, and while it must be admitted that their opponents were equally in earnest, their underlying motive was merely a desire to keep the country in the condition most favorable for the business of trapping.

The various records of that great meeting at Champoeg do not give its details. The records merely recite the results, together with the manner of taking the vote. F. X. Matthieu is now the only survivor of that gathering: singularly enough, it was his action and influence alone which decided the vote in favor of the Americans. Many times I have visited the old patriarch at his home on his magnificent farm, located near Champoeg, and listened with increasing interest to his narration of that incident and many others of surpassing historical value.

The fact is, many more people participated in the meeting than its promoters dared hope. Some men were compelled to travel more than a hundred miles on horseback or on foot, and though the meeting had been extensively advertised, and the interest was unbounded, it was not thought that even a hundred people would undertake the difficult journey. Mr. Matthieu says, however, it was hardly possible after adjournment to recall the name of an American settler who had neglected to respond to the call of duty on that day.

The meeting was called to order and Dr. I. L. Babcock chosen as presiding officer. Three secretaries were selected, Gray, Willson and LeBreton. Amid suppressed excitement, and some threats from both sides as to what would be the result if so and so should happen, the Committee of Twelve submitted a plan for the organization of a government which included a supreme judge, with probate powers, a clerk of his court who should be a recorder also, a sheriff, three magistrates, three constables, a treasurer, a major and three captains. It also provided for “the appointment of nine persons who should draft a code of laws to be submitted to a public meeting to be held at Champoeg on July 5, next.”

After the report was read, or, in other words, after the red flag had been waved in the face of the English lion, the storm burst with great fury and all forms of parliamentary procedure were abandoned. One man got the floor and began “a few remarks,” but soon discovered that there were several groups in the room engaged in a warm discussion “on the side.” The noise, and the confusion which it necessarily precipitated, soon rendered the chairman powerless to preserve order or further direct the meeting. At this juncture, he put the question on the motion to accept, which was about to be declared lost, when LeBreton demanded a division. This was seconded by William H. Gray, and as the room was too small to hold so large a gathering — a part of the men never having been able to get inside the door everybody rushed for the outside, where it seemed for a moment that all would end in a dispersion without further results. Excited men were standing in groups gesticulating frantically, after the manner of Frenchmen, and talking vociferously in English and French, with a suggestion here and there of Spanish. LeBreton’s motion was still “in the air,” when that bold mountaineer and trapper — he of giant frame and courage unquestioned, Jo Meek — seeing the drift of things and the danger which confronted the Americans of losing all, suddenly shouted, “Who’s for a divide? All in favor of organization, follow me!”

The effect of Meek’s impetuosity and characteristic “go,” acted like magic upon the partially disconcerted and puzzled Americans. At once he strode to one side of the little prairie, the dimensions of which were a half–acre, and the Americans followed him to a man. Those opposed to organization remained in a group. A count disclosed the fact that there were fifty men with Meek and fifty opposed, with two men half-way between the opposing forces, not yet taking sides and engaged in a very earnest conversation. These men were F. X. Matthieu and Etienne Lucier — both Frenchmen.

The suspense lasted but a few moments, however, for the two belated debators suddenly turned and took their places with the Americans, who, having already “taken the count,” knew the result. With hats flying in the air and handshaking going on with the utmost enthusiasm, they took possession of the “meeting,” while the defeated participants mounted their horses and rode away.

It was a small contest, comparatively, waged three thousand miles and more from the capital of the United States by fifty-two men who were Americans either by birth or in sentiment, but in that hour a question was decided which without doubt resulted in the final acquisition of all the Northwest Territory by our beloved Uncle Sam. Benton, Linn and their associates did valiant work for many years in behalf of this very consummation, but the most important link in the great chain which finally bound this country to the United States was welded on that day at Champoeg by that little band of determined and patriotic men. Chief among these — shall it not be said? — were Meek, Matthieu and Lucier. And the chief of this triumvirate was Matthieu, who, it was discovered immediately after the meeting was adjourned, had been in favor of an organization all the time; but finding Lucier undecided, and about to follow his fellow Frenchmen against the Americans, Matthieu arrested him en route to their camp and persuaded him to accompany him. It was, indeed, what would be called in modern slang “a close shave.” Etienne Lucier at that time had a farm on French Prairie, but had previously been employed by the Hudson Bay Company. He had a home and family and Matthieu, not yet married, was living with him. The influence of the latter was sufficient to secure his support and the day was carried.

The meeting at once proceeded to elect officers in accordance with the plan adopted and chose A. E. Wilson, supreme judge; George W. LeBreton, clerk, and Joseph L. Meek, sheriff. The first Legislative Committee was composed of Robert Shortess, David Hill, Alanson Beers, William H. Gray, Thomas J. Hubbard, James O’Neil, Robert Moore, Robert Newell and William Doughty.

Before adjournment a resolution of instruction to the Legislative Committee was passed which read as follows:

The sessions of the said Legislative Committee shall not last longer than six days; no tax shall be levied; the office of Governor shall not be created; the compensation of the members of the Legislative Committee shall be one dollar and twenty-five cents per day and the revenues of the territory shall be secured by voluntary contribution.

Oh, for another condition like that! — where there shall be no taxes levied, no revenues except voluntary contributions, legislators serving for a dollar and a quarter a day and — no Governors!

The first meeting of the Legislative Committee, the first of its kind, or of any kind, west of the Rocky Mountains in any part of the territory now constituting the United States, was held at the Methodist Mission ten miles below Salem. The building used was known as the “Granary,” a story-and-a-half building, sixteen by thirty feet, with a square room in front. After having been successively used for a school and church and finally turned into a granary by the missionaries, it now became the Capitol of the “Oregon Country” about whose acquisition statesmen of national renown had wrangled with varying degrees of eloquence for more than twenty years.

The members appear to have appreciated the importance of the step they were taking and were as frugal in their disbursements as the “proletariat” could have wished. Alanson Beers and Dr. Babcock contributed enough to the public treasury to defray the entire expense of the first session and each of the members gave a sum equal to the amount of his pay. This session convened May 6 and adjourned four days later to re-convene June 27, which latter session was completed June 28.

The chief work of these two sessions was the preparation of an organic law which was submitted to the people at a mass-meeting held at Champoeg July 5 and ratified practically without opposition, the only note of discord arising from the proposition to create the office of Governor, in violation of the instructions of the meeting of May 2. Rev. Gustavus Hines, who presided, made a vigorous speech against the report in this particular, denouncing it as “the proposed triple executive, a hydra-headed monster — a repetition of the Roman Triumvirate.” But the office was created as a sort of trinity, a three-in-one Governor, whose responsibility could not be definitely fixed.

Accordingly, Alanson Beers, Joseph Gale and David Hill were chosen as the Executive Committee to serve until a general election should be held in May, 1844.

In talking with F. X. Matthieu not long ago about that Champoeg meeting, prompted by curiosity, I asked him what kind of weather it was on that day. After thinking a moment, he said the sun was shining, he believed, as he remembered that the men were there in their shirt sleeves. But, he added, that fact would not necessarily indicate the kind of weather which was prevailing, since few of the men had any coats to wear, anyway!

His friend Lucier had been made to believe by his fellow Frenchmen that if a government was organized the few things they possessed would be so heavily taxed that it would be ruinous. Lucier had been told that if the Americans carried the day the tax on a single window-glass would be twenty-five cents, and Matthieu was laboring with him to disprove such an absurdity while the fifty impatient Americans were waiting to see where they would take their places.

“Besides,” said Matthieu to him, “you know you have no window-glass in your house anyway, and won’t, perhaps, for a long time. What difference will that make? It isn’t so, anyway.” So Lucier went with him, and Oregon was “saved.”

Matthieu, who was then living with Lucier, says his only windows consisted of openings in the logs, which were covered with panther skins, carefully scraped so thin that they served the purpose very well.

“But you couldn’t see out,” I suggested to Mr. Matthieu.

“No,” he replied quickly, “but nobody could look in, either!”

At intervals, for many years after Mr. Matthieu settled on his splendid farm on French Prairie, he shot deer from his front porch, but a few hundred yards from where the electric cars running from Portland to Salem now pass every hour at the rate of forty miles an hour!


Next Chapter - F. X. Matthieu, who helped break the 50-50 tie in the vote, reminisced about the early part of the century, including his time with the Indians.


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:


TheRagens Home Page   Family History   Recommended Book Lists   Wine Tastings and Recommendations   Wildlife Photos   Feedback and
Site Registration


Amazon Logo
by title by author