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



General Joseph Lane became the first Governor of the new Territory of Oregon by Presidential appointment, his commission being dated August 18, 1848. He was a resident of Indiana, had served with distinction in the Mexican War and also a term in the Legislature of the Hoosier State. He was born in Buncombe County North Carolina, December 14, 1801.

He came to Oregon during the winter of 1848, traveling by way of New Mexico, Arizona and California and arrived at Oregon City, the territorial capital March 2, having pulled an oar part of the time en route from Astoria. On March 3, he wrote and issued his proclamation, and on March 4, the last day of President Polk’s administration, was sworn in and assumed, his new duties.

From that day until his retirement from his short service in the United States Senate on March 4, 1861, no man was better known or had wider influence in the Territory than he. In fact, there was no time that he was not holding an important public position, either by Presidential appointment or by the suffrage of the people. Whatever “Jo” Lane wanted was his for the asking.

On June 18, 1850, he resigned his position as Governor, assuming that he had been superseded by the appointment of a Whig, since General Taylor had been elected in November, 1848, and it was not a part of General Lane’s make-up to be caught napping. Bu for once his anticipations were ill-founded and there was an interim during which the secretary of the Territory acted as the Governor. On June 2, 1851, General Lane was elected as the delegate to Congress. After serving one term, he was again appointed Governor by President Pierce but after qualifying and serving for three days, resigned to become again the Democratic candidate for Congress. He was elected and was continued in that position until his election as one of the first United States Senators under the State Constitution. He served in this position from February 14, 1859, until March 4. During the summer of 1860, he had been nominated by the pro-slavery wing of the Democratic Party for Vice-President, as the running mate with Breckinridge but was defeated. After the expiration of his term in the Senate, he retired to his farm in the Umpqua valley, which had been his home during all his residence in Oregon and there died April 19, 1881, aged eighty years.

I saw General Lane at the State Fair grounds at Salem during the Pioneer Meeting, in 1879, where, upon the invitation of the people who were present, he delivered a short address. I remember that, even at his advanced age, he exhibited that same nervous spirit which had characterized him through life, whether leading a charge in the mountains of Mexico or planning a convention of delegates.

I am disposed to incorporate here an extract from an address by Colonel Nesmith, in which he gives a most interesting account of a meeting with the Rogue River Indians at the close of the war with them in 1853, the purpose being to agree upon terms of peace. It not only throws an interesting side-light upon the character of General Lane, but presents another instance of the dangers which the early settlers encountered in the transformation of Oregon into a peaceful and prosperous State. Colonel Nesmith said in his address:

The accession of Captain Smith’s company, with my own, gave General Lane a force sufficient to cope with the enemy, then supposed to be about seven hundred strong. The encampment of the Indians was still on the side of the mountain of which Table Rock was the summit, and at night we could plainly see their campfires, while they could look directly upon us. The whole command was willing and anxious to fight, but General Lane had pledged the Indians that an effort should be made to treat for peace. Superintendent Palmer and Agent Culver were upon the ground. The armistice had not yet expired and the 10th was the time fixed for the council.

On the morning of that day, General Lane sent for me and desired me to go with him to the Council ground, inside the Indian encampment, to act as interpreter, as I was master of the Chinook jargon. I asked the General upon what terms and where we were to meet the Indians. He replied that the agreement was that the meeting was to take place within the encampment of the enemy, and that we should be accompanied by ten other men of his own selection, unarmed. Against those terms I protested, telling the General that I had traversed that country five years before and had fought those same Indians; that they were notoriously treacherous, and in early times had earned the name of “Rogues” by never permitting a white man to escape with his scalp when once within their power; that I knew them better than he did, and that it was criminal folly for eleven unarmed white men to place themselves voluntarily within the power of seven hundred well-armed hostile Indians, within their own encampment.

I reminded him that I was a soldier in command of a company of cavalry, and was ready to obey his orders to lead my men into action or to discharge any soldierly duty, no part of which, however, was to go into the enemy’s camp as an unarmed interpreter.

The General listened to my protest and replied that he had fixed the terms of meeting the Indians and would keep his word, and that if I was afraid to go I could remain behind. When he put it upon that ground I replied that I thought I was as little acquainted with fear as he was, and that I would accompany him to what I feared would be our slaughter.

Early on the morning of September 10, 1853, we mounted our horses and set out in the direction of the Indian encampment. Our party consisted of General Joseph Lane, Joel Palmer, superintendent of Indian affairs, Samuel P. Culver, Indian agent, Captain A. J. Smith, and several others. After riding a couple of miles across the level valley we came to the foot of the mountains, where it was too steep for horses to ascend. We dismounted, hitched our horses, and after scrambling up for a half a mile over huge rocks and through brush, found ourselves within the Indian stronghold, just under the perpendicular cliff of Table Rock, surrounded by seven hundred fierce and well-armed hostile savages, arrayed in all their gorgeous war-paint and feathers.

Captain Smith had drawn out his company of dragoons and left them in line on the plain below. It was a bright, beautiful morning and the Rogue River valley lay at our feet like a panorama; the exact line of dragoons, sitting statue-like on their horses, with their white belts and burnished scabbards and carbines, looked as if engraved upon a picture, while a few paces in our rear the huge perpendicular wall of Table Rock towered frowningly many hundred feet above.

The business of the treaty commenced at once. Long speeches were made by General Lane and Superintendent Palmer, which had to be translated twice. When an Indian spoke the Rogue River tongue it was translated by an Indian interpreter into Chinook for me, when I translated it into English. When Lane or Palmer spoke, the process was reversed. This double translation of long speeches made the labor tedious and it was late in the afternoon when the treaty was completed and signed.

In the meantime, an episode occurred which came near terminating the treaty, as well as the representation of one of the “high contracting” parties in a sudden and tragic manner. About the middle of the afternoon a young Indian came running into camp stark naked and with the perspiration running from every pore. After making a brief harangue he threw himself upon the ground, apparently exhausted. As his speech had created a great tumult amongst his tribe, General Lane told me to inquire of the Indian interpreter the cause of the commotion. The Indian responded that a company of white men on Applegate Creek, under the command of Captain Owen, had that morning captured an Indian known as Jim Taylor, tied him to a tree and shot him to death. The hubbub and confusion among the Indians at once became intense and murder gleamed from each savage eye. The Indian interpreter told me that the Indians were threatening to tie us up to trees and serve us as Owen’s men had served Jim Taylor. I saw some Indians gathering up lasso ropes, while others drew the skin covers from their guns and wiping-sticks from their muzzles. There appeared to be a strong probability that our party would be subjected to a sudden volley.

I explained as briefly as I could what the interpreter had communicated to me, and in order to keep our people from huddling together and thus making a better target for the savages, I used a few English words not likely to be understood by the Indian interpreter, such as “disperse” and “segregate.” In fact, we kept so close to the savages and so far separated from one another that any firing must have been nearly as fatal to the Indians as to the whites.

While I admit I thought my time had come and hurriedly thought of wife and children, I noticed nothing but coolness among my companions. General Lane sat on a log with one arm bandaged in a sling, the lines about his mouth rigidly compressing his lips, while his eyes flashed fire. He asked brief questions and gave sententious answers to what little the Indians said to us. Captain Smith, who was prematurely gray-haired and was afflicted with snappy eyes, leaned upon his cavalry saber and looked anxiously down upon his well-formed line of dragoons in the valley below. His eyes snapped more vigorously than usual and muttered words escaped from under the white mustache of the old dragoon that did not sound like prayers. His squadron looked beautiful, but, alas! they could render us no service.

I sat down on a log close by old Chief Joe, and having a sharp hunting knife under my shirt kept one hand near the handle, determined that there should be one Indian made “good” about the time the firing commenced.

But in a few moments General Lane stood up and began to speak very slowly and distinctly. He said: “Owens, who has violated the armistice and killed Jim Taylor, is a bad man. He is not one of my soldiers. When I catch him, he shall be punished. I promised in good faith to come into your camp with ten other unarmed men to secure peace. Myself and my men are placed within your power; I do not believe you are such cowardly dogs as to take advantage of our unarmed condition. I know that you have the power to murder us and can do so as quickly as you please; but what good will our blood do you? Our murder will anger our friends and your tribe will be hunted from the earth. Let us proceed with out treaty, and instead of having war have lasting peace.” Much more was said in this strain by the General, all rather defiant and nothing of a begging character. The excitement gradually subsided after Lane promised to give a fair compensation for the defunct Jim Taylor in shirts and blankets.

The treaty of September 10, 1853, was completed and signed, and peace restored for the next two years. Our party wended its way down the rocks to where our horses were tied and mounted. Old A. J. Smith gal­loped up to his squadron and gave a brief order. The bugle sounded a note or two and the squadron wheeled and trotted off to camp. As General Lane and party rode across the valley, we looked up and saw the rays of the setting sun gilding the summit of Table Rock. I drew a long breath and remarked to the General that the next time he wanted to go into a hostile camp unarmed he must hunt up some one besides myself to act as his interpreter. With a benignant smile he remarked: “Bless you, sir, luck is better than science.”

On account of his extreme sympathy with the South through the war General Lane was bitterly hated by many of our people during that period. His advocacy of slavery had divided the Democratic party in Oregon for several years before the affair at Fort Sumter which resulted in his downfall politically. One of his most influential opponents in his own party was Colonel Nesmith himself, his successor in the United States Senate, but long before he died, former animosities were forgotten and he and Nesmith were the same cordial friends as of yore.

Lane was a born general and politician, at home either in the field of diplomacy or where shot and shell were laying their victims low. It was said at the time he secured the passage of the enabling act which admitted Oregon into the Union that the representation of the extent of our population, notoriously below the 1egal requirement, was so “manipulated” by him, having in view his election to the Senate as a consequence, that his constituents, although rejoicing in his triumph, were ashamed to look one another in the face for a full year afterward. I distinctly remember hearing my father and his neighbors discussing the wonderful feat and denouncing Lane, whom they disliked, since they had “split” with him on the slavery question.

His opponents used to enjoy relating the following story at his expense, to illustrate his vein of diplomacy in the political realm.

He was returning to his home in the Umpqua valley, after an absence of a year in Congress, when he stopped at a house but three miles from his own to exchange greetings — for he was a candidate for re-election. Mrs. Smith was at home, and in the course of conversation told him of a new variety of cucumbers she had raised the year before, giving him a handful to take home for his own planting. With that engaging politeness which he always exhibited, especially toward the women, he accepted them and thanked her profusely, after again inquiring after the welfare of the men folks, who were out in the field.

When he arrived within a mile of home, passing another neighbor’s house, he stopped to show his good will and the great esteem in which he held the family — for there were three voters who belonged there — and as he started away he said: “By the way, Mrs. Jones, here is a package of cucumber seeds which I brought all the way from Washington for you folks, and they are said to be the best variety known and remarkable for the great amount they yield.”

Mrs. Jones accepted them with expressed pleasure saying: “Well, I declare, if these seeds aren’t done up in a piece of calico just like that dress Polly Smith had last summer!”

But the old General, who was solicitously inquiring about Tom and Ben, pretended not to hear the remark about the singular coincidence.


Next Chapter - In 1857, Oregon held its Constitutional Convention and, in 1859, Oregon became a state.


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