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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



Most of us can, I presume, recall without difficulty the first deep impression made upon the memory. Nothing is clearer to my recollection today than that event in my own life, though I remember absolutely nothing of what occurred the day before.

Architecture in those days differed somewhat from the style in vogue at present, and especially was ventilation based on a system generous in the extreme. Certainly the fathers were what would be termed “fresh air fiends” in these days, without intending, however, to pay especial attention to hygienic laws. The first thing my father did on his Donation Land Claim was to build a house ten by twelve feet, with a kitchen extension two sizes smaller. In the floor of the kitchen, the possibilities of ventilation between the puncheon boards of which it was made were so ample that my sister, who was two years younger than I and just able to crawl, acquired the very annoying habit of dropping our spoon through one of those cracks at least once every day. We had a knife and fork also, but they were regarded as dangerous weapons and were kept on a shelf beyond our reach.

To make diurnal visits under that floor and rescue that spoon was exacted from me at the tender age of three years, and it is the first thing that I can remember. The space was about six inches above the ground, as I recall it, and at least eight feet square, but it was perfectly dark and my youthful imagination peopled it with all the hideous monsters known to zoology, geology or mythology.

But my mother was inexorable, my sister, even at that tender age, maintained the reputation of her sex for persistency, and the exploration of that dark cavern was as regularly my delegated task as was the coming of the noonday hour.

Another of my very early recollections is that my father had a band of sheep which he occasionally salted on the hillside, and that at his call they would appear from every direction, coming at a full gallop and filling the air with such a terrific bleating that I thought it meant certain death to him unless he should run for cover, which to my surprise he never did. His escape with his life always seemed to me little short of miraculous.

Another event which occurred while we lived on Hills farm was the appearance at times of Waldo’s cattle — perhaps a hundred head or more — coming in a run in search of water, which was to be found in a small stream near by. To my childish imagination there seemed to be at least ten thousand of them. There were few fences in the country then and the cattle would sometimes divide into two herds as they swept by the house, bent, as I thought, upon the destruction of the earth itself. Their occasional appearance, as they rushed down the hillside, must have been the greatest dread of my life, since to escape it I would have, consented willingly to crawl under the kitchen floor after the family spoon.

How mysterious are the opening years of a child’s life anyway! A baby knows less at its birth than any other young animal. It only knows enough to breathe. It only knows what it sees and hears, and grows in usefulness through the advancing years by reason of its natural tendency to imitate. A child born of American parents if put with a Chinese family at birth, and permitted to hear no language save Chinese, would begin talking like a Chinese baby and would have no more idea of the English language than if its parents had been Esquimaux. And all these wonderful unfoldings from the Land of Nowhere cause many more hours of serious conjecture in the minds of very young children than we are apt to realize, unless, recurring to our own experiences, we go back to the very beginnings of memory and recall the things that first made an indelible impression upon it, — for memory does not begin with life; it is an after-growth and, indeed, a miracle.

Strange as it may appear, I distinctly remember being very unhappy one afternoon when, although I was but four years old at the time, I was left alone in our little house. Of course I do not recall how it happened, but the one thing I have never forgotten was that we had a clock — a tall one, with a long pendulum which ticked very slowly. Doubtless my mother had exacted my promise not to go away while she went to a neighbor’s house for an hour or two; but under no circumstances would I have ventured out of doors anyway, with Waldo’s cattle likely to come rushing over the hills at any minute, and those wild animals huddling, in a starving condition, under the kitchen floor. I was very miserable. I wondered why anybody had been born, how long it had been since the beginning of things, and the very stillness of the house was appalling and oppressive. There was no sound anywhere of anything except the ticking of the clock and the apparently far­away buzzing of some house flies, circling about the ceiling immediately above my head. The stillness was so very pronounced that each alternate tick of the clock produced a faint ringing sound, which died away gradually as its successor came in its place.

This, combined with the buzzing of the flies in musical but lonesome cadence, joined to my apparent desertion and the hopeless solitude, produced within me a feeling that I had then lived about long enough, though I do not think I had at that time ever heard of such a thing as death.

In the succeeding years, I have met with my share of disappointments and discouragements — along with my share, also, of happy days and appreciated successes — but I have never felt an hour of lonesomeness which caused me such real distress as that particular summer afternoon in 1855, and the impression it made on my mind was so very deep that, to this day, there is nothing which is more likely to produce within me the feeling of absolute loneliness — that, perhaps, friends are not only not very plentiful, but still less dependable — than to sit in a room by myself on a warm, drowsy day, where there is no sound save the ticking of a clock and the humming of the flies in an unvaried monotone.


In the fall of 1855, my father sold his six hundred and forty acres of land and moved to Silverton, a new town just springing into existence about seven miles away. I am not sure what he received for his land, but I think it was a yoke of oxen, a pair of tongs and a quarter of beef. I know it was regarded as a good trade in those days, for there was more unoccupied good land in the country than anything else. (The same tract of land, now divided into several splendid farms, is easily worth one hundred dollars an acre.) But men cannot foresee the result of these moves on life’s checker-board, and it is probably best, else everybody would soon be rich and the human race would die of starvation through the lack of sufficient labor to produce enough food to sustain life.

Today, Silverton is one of the most thriving towns in Oregon, having a population of about two thousand. When my father moved there in 1855, however, it contained but one house, and that was on wheels, or log rollers, having just arrived from the town of Milford, two miles above, on Silver Creek — and when that house started away, it being a small mercantile establishment owned by Ai Coolidge, Milford was entirely depopulated and has been ever since.

It was in Silverton that I attended my first school. The “master” was Paul Crandall, a pioneer of the earlier days, at one time well known over the State. Another teacher was F. O. McCown, afterward a prominent attorney in Oregon City, who died several years ago.

In Silverton my father engaged in the nursery business and, for several years, supplied the farmers of the surrounding country with most of the apple, pear and plum trees which formed the first orchards of the Willamette valley. In connection with this he started quite a pretentious poultry industry in 1859 and hauled the finished product” to Portland, fifty miles away, which waas the only market of any consequence in the country. To deliver the poultry, he constructed a doubled-decked coop the size of a wagon-bed, in which he could take several dozen chickens at one trip. In the fall of that year he made the journey several times, each requiring five days, and as I had importuned him unceasingly to low me to go with him — for to see Portland in all the magnificence with which his accounts had invested it was the highest aspiration of my life — toward the last of October, after a particularly persistent appeal, he allowed me to accompany him. The cup of my joy was full to overflowing. Only a few things, however, especially impressed themselves upon my mind, the first being our arrival at Aurora, then universally called “Dutchtown,” about five o’clock in the afternoon, where we were to camp for the night. We unhitched the team on the banks of Pudding River, and while my father attended to its wants, I dragged a lot of dry sticks from some nearby brush and we soon started a campfire. And how delighted I was! What a pity little things cannot give as much pleasure in after years as they do in childhood. We fried ham and eggs over the fire and made some coffee, and the delicious odor arising from the three articles of food — always good at any time, in any country — I have never forgotten. It was a memorable evening — for it was thirty miles from home, and I was going farther!

The next morning, after traveling an hour or so, we came to the Willamette River, which we crossed at Boone’s Ferry, a well-known pioneer landmark, quite as old as the first settlements and yet bearing the same name — and in use. The Willamette River I had heard of since my first attention to things I had not seen, and here it was — and here I was! As we drove into the boat, but little larger than the wagon and team, I wondered if it was possible ever to reach the other side — so far away was it — but a look into my father’s face inspired me with confidence that all was well, so I began to enjoy the novel situation. I had never before seen a stream larger than Silver Creek, where we crossed it on the covered bridge that Homer Davenport has made famous, and I fell into a deep consideration of the possibility of the Pacific Ocean being any larger than the Willamette, while I wondered how the boat could cross the river by hanging to a rope which stretched from bank to bank.

That afternoon we came up over the divide, just south of Portland, and I had my first glimpse of the great city. Singularly enough, I do not recall any of the circumstances connected with the stay there, but the appearance of the city as we first came in sight of it is as plain to me now as it was at the time. I distinctly remember that at frequent intervals there were very tall fir trees growing on the bank of the river, so close to the water’s edge that many of them were leaning out from the land, and I wondered why they did not fall. I also remember that on the rear end of a building which projected over the water was the sign, “S. Arrigoni,” in very large letters, and that father said, when I called his attention to the phenomenon, that there was where we would get our supper, and that he was the man who would buy the chickens. I also remember passing the territorial penitentiary, just south of the town, and I was duly impressed by means of a little fatherly moralizing that it was not a good place to be — that bad boys, as a rule, made bad men, and that bad men were sent there to live and were not allowed to have much to eat, nor to get away. Sometimes they were shot, and that served them right. I listened to my father’s detailed description of the awful place, coincided fully in his conclusions, and gave him a verbal guarantee on the spot that I would so gauge my conduct that there would be nothing doing in that line in my case — or words to that effect.

The return home was without particular interest, but for about a month afterward I was the hero of Silverton among my little chums, who, by the way, appeared to have lost much of their prestige in my estimation. Since they had never been in Portland, I wondered what they found in life worth striving for anyway! By degrees, however, I resumed my normal place in the little world in which I moved and I was once more on a level with the Brown and Wolfard and Dudley and Barger and other children in my “set.”


Next Chapter - In 1862, T. T. Geer fell upon hard times with the divorce of his parents and, after moving from home to home in Salem, moved to the Grand Ronde Valley.


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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