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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



It so happened that I lived in Salem during the precise period of the Civil War, and I was old enough to fully understand its meaning and to appreciate the nature of the struggle. Boys of my age were as enthusiastic of the contest as were the men, and as anxious for the success of the side they espoused. Of course the sympathy of the people of Oregon was overwhelmingly for the Union, but there was quite a large and outspoken percentage which hoped for the success of the South. Indeed, public expressions of sympathy for the Southern army resulted in many personal encounters on the streets of Salem, and it was seldom that the voicing of such sentiments was not challenged on the spot. There was one man in Salem, in particular, who had several fist encounters on the street — several of which I saw — because of his shouting, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!”

Soon after the commencement of hostilities between the two sections a local militia company was organized in Salem known as the “‘Marion Rifles,” officered by prominent men in business and public life. It was splendidly equipped and was on duty whenever there was any occasion for a demonstration justifying its appearance. It was especially unpopular with the Southern sympathizers and always drew from them expressions of contempt. Most of the boys with whom I associated belonged to it, but they were older than I and therefore eligible for membership. In the summer of 1864, I grew very anxious to become a member of the “Rifles.” Being only thirteen years old, I was too young to be accepted but as I was larger than many of the members who were several years my senior, my size served to annul the impediment and I was admitted.

The armory was in the second story of the Moore building, situated on the northwest comer of Commercial and State streets. It continued to be used until the summer of 1910, when it was demolished to make room for the first steel, five-story structure to adorn the capital city.

During the fall of 1864, those who were opposed to the war and were especially hostile toward President Lincoln — and they were in sufficient numbers to create a great deal of noise — frequently boasted that they would interfere with the orderly process of the election in November. Indeed, it was greatly feared that there would be a riot, as those who were openly giving sympathy to the Southerners threatened that there “would be something doing” on election day. It was thought by a great many people that there would be rioting even during the night preceding the election. This seems strange at this distant day, but it will be recalled easily by the older members of the community who were here then that at one time in the early stages of the war there was a well-grounded fear that an attempt would be made to effect the secession of the Pacific Coast States. Of course, this rash step was never undertaken, but the sentiment which caused the apprehension was active until the very last days of the Southern Confederacy.

This situation created grave anxiety in Salem during the days immediately preceding the election in 1864, and it was this unrest which decided the officers of the Marion Rifles to prepare for any possible emergency. On the night before the election, the company met in response to a special call in the armory, and after discussing the situation made all the arrangements in detail for meeting and suppressing any outbreak on the part of those who had threatened to interfere with the election.

In the process of the discussion it was agreed that it would be dangerous to meet in the armory, in case of trouble in the night, as it would afford a trap in which we might be cornered and even captured. It was agreed, therefore that in case we had to assemble, a designated officer, who remained up all night, was to hurry to the Methodist church and give a certain number of taps with its bell, which would be the signal for the members of the company to gather immediately at the church for orders.

Every member took to his home that night his musket and a belt full of ammunition, prepared for the worst. At that time I was living in the family of Prof. L. J. Powell, whose house stood on the northeast corner of State and Twelfth streets (the house still stands on a lot fifty feet to the north and is owned and occupied by Gideon Steiner). Here, on a chair by my bed, I laid my belt of cartridges, with the musket leaning against the wall, expecting to hear the familiar sound of the old church bell at any hour; but no call came and the election “passed off quietly,” as elections are wont to do. This was the beginning and ending of my military service.

There were a great many boys attending the University who were too young to join the Marion Rifles and who were handicapped by their size as well as their age; but this did not serve to lessen their ardor or to diminish their admiration for anything that smelled of war. These boys formed a company of their own and manufactured their guns out of any old board they could find that was an inch thick and long enough to look like a musket. From a board like this a boy would “carve out” a gun that had all the outlines of a rifle or shotgun, and with this outfit would march around with distended chest and erect bearing, only regretting that his gun didn’t carry a deadly bullet and that he was not confronted by some man on mischief bent. Thus equipped, about fifty University boys formed a military company and, with a full list of officers, employed much of their leisure time in maneuvering on the University campus. In a little while they understood the manual of arms in all its ordinary requirements, and often would march up and down the principal streets of Salem.

I remember, however, that this was too tame for some of the boys. They wanted to enjoy the smell of real blood. It was too much make-believe to answer their cravings for gore. Among the students of that age there were three, and three only, who were openly for McClellan, and they were regarded by the “army” boys is enemies of their country and fit subjects for severe punishment. One of the favorite practices of the company was a double-quick march, terminating in “charge bayonets.” This last, usually given as the bell rang for the school session, was a great favorite with the boys. As the three “dissenters” did not belong to the company, it was thought the proper thing to regard them as the enemy, and it was a common proceeding to surround them in the double-quick march toward the building and shove them around in great form with the ends of the “muskets.” This they took in good part — it was good diplomacy to do so — and all usually ended well.

But Sam Driver, a son of Rev. I. D. Driver, one of the ablest preachers the Methodist Church has ever known on the Pacific Coast, was not satisfied with so tame a proceeding. Ferociously anxious to go on the warpath, it occurred to him one evening after he went home that he would improve on his gun. Accordingly, he took a ten-penny nail, filed the small end to a sharp point, inserted the other end by some means firmly into the “muzzle” of his gun and took it to school next morning. The company had its usual drill before school hours, and when the bell rang the charge was made on the imaginary enemy in double-quick. Usually at this point in the drill the three opponents of good government managed to disappear, but this particular morning Lafe Williams, who had several times invited and justified the infliction of the severest form of physical punishment by declaring his preference for McClellan for President, was caught in the sweep of the march. Sam Driver made a “bee” line for him. To reach him before he escaped it was necessary to leave his place in the ranks; but this he did, and with his latest “improved” musket began to push the enemy along vigorously. He was literally “wild-eyed,” imagining that he was prodding the Southern Confederacy, incarnate in Lafe Williams. But he overdid the matter decidedly. His bayonet, and his use of it, proved his undoing. Lafe was larger than Sam, and after about six prods of the ten-penny nail he turned on his charging adversary with a belligerent expression, reinforced with a pair of “dukes,” that instantly changed the entire trend of events. The first pass Sam was sent sprawling, and the pummeling he got in the next two minutes was complete in its every detail. Nothing was lacking, especially from the standpoint of the erstwhile soldier.

The fact was, the boys, to whom Sam had shown his latest model of firearm when he first arrived at school, did not approve of his threat to use it on one of the “secesh” boys, as he called them, and when Lafe finally “went for him, thar and then,” the outcome was in perfect harmony with the wishes of the majority. Sam’s face showed the results of his “Bull Run” charge for a week and he didn’t drill any more with the boys for a month — and he enjoyed his furlough very much, indeed.

Sam Driver’s father lived in Eugene, and in order that the son might attend the great Methodist school he had come to Salem and was making his home with the family of Rev. Gustavus Hines. He and I became very chummy during my attendance at the University, but when I left it in the spring of 1865, I did not see him again for twenty years. Occasionally I heard of him and, in about 1875, I learned that he was an ‘ordained preacher in the Methodist Church. Afterwards, I heard that he was the presiding elder of a district in Idaho. It all sounded like a fairy dream that he could, with his overcharged electrical battery, attain and maintain the necessary poise for a minister of the Gospel.

One wintry morning in 1885, I think it was, I found myself in the town of Union, unable to start for Salem on account of delayed trains. It was Sunday, and not until the church bells began to ring did I recall that Sam Driver, my old college chum, was located in that very town as the local Methodist preacher. I had not intended to go to church, but at this thought I at once changed my plans and decided to hear Sam preach. The very idea seemed ludicrous. Not that he had been a bad boy, for he really had many good qualities, but his temperament seemed the very opposite of that which one looks for, and rightly, in a man who follows that profession.

And I was embarrassed, too, at the thought of appearing before him while in the pulpit, for I imagined that if in the midst of his discourse, he should suddenly recognize me, after a separation of twenty years, it might prove disconcerting to him. So I entered the church and took a seat where the huge stove-drum was in a direct line with the pulpit. Sam was standing near the platform, but with his back toward the congregation, engaged in conversation. But I knew his back — the dear old boy! — broad-shouldered and erect. He soon entered the pulpit, announced the song and led in the singing. After this he began his prayer, and the way he importuned the Throne of Grace for mercy toward all sinners fairly jarred the walls of the building.

When he began his sermon I shrank down in my seat so that I could see him through the space between the stove and its drum — so much afraid was I that a recognition of me would shatter his composure. But this did not happen and he preached a really good sermon. All the while my thoughts were not uninterruptedly centered on either the text or his deductions from it, for memory was busy recalling Lafe Williams’ charge and dozens of other incidents of the old days when Sam’s principal characteristic seemed to be a tendency to torment somebody or something.

After the sermon, as he came down the aisle shaking hands right and left, he approached me. As I extended my hand he instantly saw I was a stranger, and almost as quickly recognized me. Then with both hands he grasped one of mine and held it like a vise for several minutes, asking me meanwhile a thousand questions. I went home with him for luncheon and we had a most splendid visit. I went away on the evening train and never saw him again. After experiencing different sorts of vicissitudes, he died a few years ago in California.


Among the public men I have known in Oregon, none has had the dynamic force and ready fighting qualities, coupled with great ability, that characterized Rev. I. D. Driver, Sam’s father. He was disputatious to a wonderful degree on theological questions and had profoundly studied them, with all their related problems. He was elected to the State Senate from Lane County in 1896 and was a member of that body in the famous “Hold-up” session in 1897 — also in the extra session called by Governor Lord in October, 1898, and in the regular session in the following January. In the role of legislator Mr. Driver was a positive force, but did not take front rank as in his ministerial work.

Frequently, however, some Senator ran afoul of him and uniformly received as good as he sent, frequently getting some “boot” in the exchange. One day in February, 1899, I dropped into the Senate for a moment, just in time to hear the best part of a debate between Driver and a Multnomah Senator, when the latter, piqued at a hot remark by the Senator from Lane, reproached him for losing his temper, though a minister of the Gospel.

Not only as “quick as a flash,” but a trifle quicker, Driver shouted: “I’d have you know that I began getting mad a long time before I began preaching, — it’s the oldest privilege I’ve got!”

Mr. Driver was born in Ohio in 1824 and came to Oregon in 1853. He was married to Miss Rebecca Crumley in 1848, to Miss Mary Hardenbrook in 1852, to Miss Leanna Iles in 1867, to Miss Anna Northnip in 1875 and to Miss Mary E. Williams in 1877. His first four wives died, and three of them are buried in Lee Mission Cemetery, near Salem, side by side, with one tombstone doing service for them all. The story it narrates is not only unique but mutely pathetic. Beside them now rests the form of the husband, who died some three years ago, well past eighty, but vigorous mentally and ready to the last for a discussion of religious questions. Only a few months before his death, in the course of a luncheon which he and I took together in Portland, he related many interesting incidents of his early ministry in Oregon.


Next Chapter - James Hendershott was one of the original community leaders in Oro Dell in 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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