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



There is no truer statement than that we are all victims of circumstances — “Man proposes but God disposes.” It is all very well to say that the real live man makes his own circumstances, but in most cases he does not. The very circumstance he appears to make was possible for him on account of some favorable condition with which he had nothing whatever to do. An event which in itself amounts to little will change the entire career of a man or woman, and it will always be so. It may not be Fate — probably is not — but random happenings which apparently are not based upon any plan, necessarily lead to others, and the result is the endless variety of changes and combinations which makes up the daily life of mankind.

For instance, the creation of Union County, by detaching it from Baker in 1864, was the cause of my living in that part of Oregon for ten years of my life. Under the provision of the act authorizing it, the Governor appointed the first set of officers and Governor Gibbs selected my father’s brother, Isaiah, as its first sheriff. At that time, my father had become discouraged in his mining enterprises and was ready to accept the proffered position of deputy sheriff. He at once went to La Grande, the county-seat, and took a position in the sheriff’s office. The sheriff himself lived in the little town of Oro Dell, situated where the Grand Ronde River rushes out of the Blue Mountains and starts on its sluggish journey across that most beautiful valley on the Pacific Coast, using one hundred and ten miles of its length in reaching a point opposite, only twenty miles away.

At that time Oro Dell was a town of some pretensions, W. J. Snodgrass, lately deceased, having a grist-mill there then, as well as a mercantile establishment carrying a large stock of goods. Here, also, was where the overland stage line emerged into the valley, as the famous Meacham toll road, over which all the immense freight traffic for the Idaho mines from western Oregon was carried from Umatilla Landing, ran this way. But with the development of the country, Oro Dell was absorbed by La Grande, which today is one of the best towns in eastern Oregon, extending to and including the buildings of its former rival.

Doing the housework for the sheriff’s family at that time was a young woman who had come recently from Missouri, Miss Eliza Duncan, whose father had beet obliged to leave that State in the spring of 1864 on account of his espousal of the side of the Union in the unpleasantness then distracting our unhappy country. Miss Duncan was a comely woman, thirty years of age. My father was a widower and boarded with the sheriff’s family. Naturally, the two single persons became acquainted. By the middle of the summer of 1866 some plans had been perfected between them, strange to relate, which led to a wedding on October 14. This led to my locating in the Grand Ronde valley, as already mentioned, in the following December — all on account of the notion of some people in 1864 that Union County should be created, and because Governor Gibbs was a personal friend of Uncle Isaiah. Otherwise, I might have, — but I didn’t!

The ten years spent in the Cove, Union County, were delightful years. I was at the right age to enjoy life — between fifteen and twenty-five — was in the best of health and, like all other persons at that age, had most of my life, at least in prospect, before me. It was a new section, however, and we were confronted with all the difficulties and inconveniences which always accompany the first years of a country’s settlement. In 1866, much of the flour used in the Grand Ronde valley was freighted from Walla Walla, though two or three local grist-mills had already been erected and the famous Mt. Fanny Mills, of the Cove, built by S. G. French and Henry & Hailey, were in process of construction.

Much of the valley was yet unfenced and, indeed, most of the fertile land which constitutes that garden-spot, the Cove, was out in the commons. Nothing was produced but wheat and barley, aside from the stock-growing industry, which was the chief reliance for local revenue. By degrees the beauty and unusual natural advantages of the section attracted the attention of outsiders; it became densely populated and today is one of the most prosperous parts of the Pacific Coast. Indeed, I believe that the Grand Ronde valley is one of the best and most fertile bodies of land to be found anywhere, since all its acres can be put to profitable use and the climate is favorable to the growth of a marvelous variety of products which reach a perfect state of maturity.

When I arrived at the Cove in 1866, there was a store and hotel at Hendershott’s Point, a stage station where the high range of hills which begins several miles to the east and which separates the Cove from the valley proper toward Union, through a gradual lessening of altitude dwindles to a point and is lost in the level valley itself. The store was owned by the firm of Frank & Bamburger and was doing an immense business, while the hotel was conducted by James Hendershott, at that time one of the best known men in the State. He had moved there from Salem in 1862, but had previously lived in Josephine County, of which he was at one time sheriff. He was elected to the lower House of the State Legislature from Union County in 1866 and to the State Senate in 1868. He was afterward register of the State Land Office at Union and was for several years a very influential lobbyist at the different sessions of the Legislature. He was a man of most generous impulses, extremely hospitable, always public-spirited and aided much in developing the agricultural and horticultural resources of the Grand Ronde valley. When nineteen years of age, he married Miss Harriet Vincent, in Iowa. Mrs. Hendershott is now living at the age of eighty years, with her only child, Mrs. Minerva Eaton, wife of John Eaton, one of the State tax commissioners. Mr. Hendershott died in 1899 at the age of seventy years.

I will relate one incident that happened in the Cove in the winter of 1868 which well illustrates the nature of “Jim” Hendershott. At that time the population was so sparse that no one church could afford to maintain a separate organization and building, so there was organized what was called the “Union” Sunday-school in the Cove, and to it people of all beliefs and all shades of belief, as well as many of no belief, came from every part of the valley. J. R. Kellogg, a well-to-do farmer living but two miles from La Grande, twenty miles from the Cove, was chosen superintendent, and as he was a singing-school teacher as well it was considered a very fortunate thing that his services could be secured. He had served in the Union Army during the war and was a splendid fifer, having acted in that capacity in his company in the South. In almost every public event, of whatever kind, which took place in the Grand Ronde valley for thirty years, J. R. Kellogg participated, and with an accompanying drum could be heard and seen marching along the principal street, in his element while arousing the cheers of the multitude.

Mr. Kellogg never missed that summer in his attendance at the Cove Sunday-school. He was always cheerful and his optimism was contagious. The last time I saw him was in the summer of 1905, at a public gathering in Newport, where he was taking a vacation. Being called upon for a song by those who knew his capabilities, he responded by singing that old ballad, “For Uncle Sam Is Rich Enough to Give Us All a Farm.” And he did it well for a man eighty years of age. The next year he passed to that land of which he sang during a long lifetime.

People came to that Sunday-school from all directions and it was the most popular institution the valley had ever known. No discussion of denominational subjects was permitted — only “Christ and Him crucified.” W. T. Wright, then a young, unmarried man living in Union, where he still resides, was a regular attendant. He belonged to the choir which led the congregation, but was suspected of having an attraction there (it usually appeared in a calico dress and pretty sunbonnet), aside from his devotion to the faith.

As a rule, families brought their luncheon in huge baskets and, when the Sunday-school was over, everybody repaired to some convenient, shady spot where a meal fit for the gods was served, those not provided with their own luncheon being invited to partake of their neighbors’. Nobody went hungry and no meals were paid for. At three o’clock the singing-school was opened in “Dixie” schoolhouse, where all public meetings were held, and for two hours all the old-time hymns and glee songs were rendered by everybody present in a manner which left nothing to be desired in point of — lung power and enthusiasm. And perhaps those crude efforts were more uplifting than much of the music furnished by the church choirs of today, paid for at so much per.

There was a Bible class in the Sunday-school composed of a dozen of the older men in the community — one man being a Universalist, another an avowed agnostic, several Methodists, Baptists and United Brethren. Here all phases of religion were discussed freely and no feelings hurt. This unusual association, which made for good fellowship and neighborly amity, often is recalled by those now surviving, though after forty-five years the list is small.

In all this “Jim” Hendershott was in his element. Although he did not belong to any Church, he was deeply religious when under the influence of religious excitement, and when the “invitation song” was being sung at a camp-meeting — of which there were many during those years in the Cove — his voice could be heard above any other, and he really seemed to feel sincerely the effect of his surroundings — but he never joined the Church.

One Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1868 the matter of providing funds for the Sunday-school was under consideration. It was finally decided to give an entertainment at the close of the season — for that kind of a Sunday-school did not and could not thrive in bad weather. It was estimated that the sum of twenty dollars was wanted and voluntary contributions were called for, it being stated that if all the men present, or if even most of them, would give fifty cents each the necessary amount could easily be raised.

This was at a time when partisan feeling between political parties was well defined, for Appomattox then was but three years past. Between Hendershott, a leading Democrat, and Mc. Rees, the most prominent Republican of the place, there was much good-natured rivalry. Both were most generous in the matter of giving money toward any public enterprise. When contributions were called for, Rees was the first on his feet, announcing that he would give as much as anyone man present. Hendershott immediately arose and said he would give twenty dollars, — as much, it was thought, to embarrass Rees as for any other purpose, and thinking no doubt that the result would be a proposition on the part of the latter to compromise. But Rees at once produced his money and gave it to the chairman, Hendershott, always game, following his example.

This, of course, created great laughter. It was finally proposed that they cut their donations in half, but neither would listen to it, so they paid all the expenses of the entertainment — and enjoyed the experience immensely.

That summer Uncle Dan Elledge, a well-known and popular Christian minister of the old school, a man who thought Alexander Campbell the greatest man since Christ, but who resented calling his denomination “Campbellites,” carried on a protracted meeting with great success. Uncle Dan was a man of great energy and natural ability; everybody liked him and everybody went to hear him preach. As Dixie schoolhouse would not hold half of his ordinary congregation, he would stand on the outside of the building, in the shade of an umbrella, and “dispense” the Gospel without money and without price. At this meeting Hendershott was always present — so was everybody else — and was the leader in the singing. He was great at “starting” a song in church. I can now hear him, by the aid of memory’s ear, leading one of his favorite songs:

This world is beautiful and bright,
Oh, scarce one cloud has dimmed my sky;
And yet no gloomy shades of night
Are gathering ‘round me, though I die.

Not a very cheerful song, it is true, but it was thought especially appropriate in those days for the awakening of the indifferent sinner.

As the interest in the meeting increased, it was thought best to have evening services, to help to maintain the fervor aroused during the afternoons. Everybody being in favor of the proposition, the question of providing lights was presented. Tallow candles were in general use then and several offered to contribute a certain number each night. It was decided, however, that it would require a great many to light the room sufficiently, and another effort was made to increase the donations. At this juncture Hendershott, who had hitherto remained silent, arose and said:

“Well, I am not a member of this church, but I have enjoyed Uncle Dan’s preaching and I want the evening meetings. To have a successful time we want this room well lighted, and tallow candles, no matter how many you get, will not answer the purpose. The more you get of ‘em the less you can see. I will buy a box of sperm candles and present them to the congregation as my contribution. Besides, Uncle Dan Elledge is not a tallow candle preacher!”

After life’s fitful fever, James Hendershott sleeps well on the beautiful hillside in the Cove cemetery, overlooking that splendid panorama of rural homes, lovely gardens and fruitful orchards, the literal fulfillment of the prophecy of the immigrants of 1847 — a veritable Land of Promise.


Next Chapter - The Presidential campaign of 1868 triggered an early interest in the Republican party by T. T. Geer, who started his career in politics with letters to the Butte Mountain Times.


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