Fifty Years in Oregon was written by Theodore T.
Geer, a grandson of Joseph Carey Geer and a shirttail ancestor of
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
The Presidential campaign of 1868, the first
after the close of the Civil War, was a very exciting one throughout the
country, with General Grant as the Republican candidate and ex-Governor Horatio
Seymour, of New York, his opponent. Public interest was intense in the Cove and
party feeling ran very high. Democrats and Republicans alike were profoundly
distrustful of the honesty of those differing from them in politics and
certainly had little faith in their good citizenship. In the Cove, the
Republicans were outnumbered four to one by the Democrats, who — it was a
popular thing to say, and it had some truth in it — had belonged to “Pap”
Price’s army in Missouri and had largely overrun the Grand Ronde valley.
At that time, there had never been a paper
printed in Oregon east of the Blue Mountains, but the Democrats had made
arrangements to start one in La Grande about the first of May in order more
successfully to spread the gospel of Democracy. E. S. McComas, the county clerk,
— a good writer and sound in his Democracy, — had been engaged to do the
editorial writing for the new “organ.”
The Republicans, not to be outdone, by a
little hustling and much sacrifice on the part of a few, succeeded in obtaining
a sum of money sufficiently large to purchase a press of their own, upon which
they announced they would print a Republican paper in “the near future.” George
Coggan, a merchant and stockman, and M. Baker, in that time the leading lawyer
in eastern Oregon, constituted the firm which furnished the financial backing
for the paper.
By some delay in the matter of freight
delivery, the Democrats were unable to issue the first number of their paper,
the Democratic Sentinel, until its Republican rival, the Blue Mountain
Times, had presented itself and taken the prize as the first newspaper
venture in eastern Oregon. This was very humiliating to the Democrats, but they
made the fur fly in great style a few weeks afterward.
There had been a debating society in the Cove
during the previous winter in whose proceedings I had ventured to take some
part, and political questions had not only not been tabooed, but were preferred
as subjects for discussion. Before the campaign opened, we had disposed of the
long-mooted question as to whether fire was more destructive than water, and
were, therefore, in good trim to grapple with any debatable problem that
appeared to be aching for a definite solution.
To add to the troubles of the Republicans, the
Democrats had a habit of inviting W. W. Baker, of La Grande, to come over
occasionally and address the people on “the political issues of the day,” and
Baker had a way that was particularly exasperating to the Republicans — who, by
the way, always went to hear him — in that he was sarcastic, somewhat abusive
and was a fluent talker. And, then, he was a Democrat. But the establishment of
a paper gave us abundant opportunity for setting forth the iniquities of
Democracy and they were not neglected. In the general discussion participated in
by those who were active in both parties, and that included nearly the entire
body politic, it appeared to me — I was then just past seventeen years of age —
that the Republicans were not accomplishing enough. More should be said and it
should be said in a better and more effective way. I was disappointed, and felt
that I ought to come to the rescue of my beloved party and all that it stood for
as the bulwark of Liberty in this country and the hope of free institutions — or
words to that effect.
I was in this apprehensive state of mind when,
providentially for the party and the country, the Blue Mountain Times
appeared and the opportunity was given me to remedy the shortcomings of my
fellow Republicans and to show up the Democratic party as its wickedness richly
deserved. The second number of the paper had been printed, but it fell far short
of that spirit of destruction of the opposition which should have characterized
it. There were so many things left unsaid which should have been said, in the
first two issues, and the editorials were so shamefully tame and tolerant of a
monstrous evil, that my decision was soon formed. I would write a communication
to the Times that would open the eyes of the public to the dangers which
would certainly follow the success of the Democratic party — and it was a crisis
when any unnecessary delay might prove disastrous. I would show up the enemy in
The second issue of the Times had been
printed on Saturday, April 25, and had been received at the Cove. The next day
my father and mother went on a visit, to be gone the entire day. While they were
getting ready for the trip it suddenly occurred to me that, since I was to be
alone for several hours, I would employ the time in writing my communication in
defense of Republicanism and the country. The opportunity was propitious and the
motif lofty, while there could be no doubt as to its effect. I would warm it to
As soon as I was left alone, therefore,
securing the family pen and pad of paper, I sat down and began the work. It
proved very agreeable, for I could clearly see the enemy falling behind the
breastworks as I fired charge after charge of unanswerable logic. I had no pity,
since there was no excuse for the existence of the Democratic party anyway.
Having completed my broadside, I read it over, pronounced it good and put it
away, for not for the world would I have had my father know what I had done. I
didn’t know what degree of excellence was required in a newspaper communication
and, therefore, had some misgivings as to its acceptance. I read it over several
times and with each succeeding perusal it seemed to lose some of its biting
sarcasm. I began to wonder why I had not made it more scathing. But there was no
time for revision and it must stand on its own merits — or demerits.
Those were great days in the Cove. As there
was no post-office, all the mail intended for its people was sent to Union and
by common consent “Jim” Hendershott was authorized to carry it both ways.
Outgoing letters were left at the home of S. D. Cowles, and while Hendershott’s
trips to Union might be, and usually were, irregular at the first of the week,
he never failed to bring the mail down on Saturday afternoon. Early on Monday
morning, after writing my communication, I went down to the residence of Mr.
Cowles and deposited it in the receiving box, while nobody was looking, and hied
The ensuing week was a very trying one for me.
I was in constant torture lest my letter should not be printed, and at the same
time suffering distressing pangs lest it should. By Thursday, I had completely
lost my appetite and was heartily wishing I had never entered the newspaper
business. I could not understand why I had not let well enough alone — why I
hadn’t left the defense of the Republican party to others, to those who liked a
fight. My father noticed my gradual wasting away and questioned me closely; on
Saturday he suggested that a doctor be sent for, but I assured him that it was
only a temporary attack and would most certainly disappear that day.
After dinner I went, as usual, for the mail.
It was the custom on Saturday for the people within a radius of several miles to
assemble at the Dixie schoolhouse and wait for the arrival of Hendershott. S. D.
Cowles, a splendid old fellow who was afterwards postmaster at the Cove for ten
years, always took the mail out of the sack and called out the names, while the
eager crowd stood around and reached for the letters and papers as their names
were called. On that particular afternoon Hendershott was late and I praised the
Lord for it — the delay deferred for a time my knowledge of the fate of my
effort and I felt better. But I didn’t mix with the people, an unnatural thing
on my part, and I am sure that I must have looked guilty — of something. If
there had been any officers there looking for suspects, I should have been
arrested without any inquiry. A countenance such as I carried that day, if it at
all reflected my inward feelings, would send a man to jail, notwithstanding the
most vigorous protestations of innocence.
When Hendershott arrived, I took my place in
the outer circle of the crowd, and when Mr. Cowles picked up the package
containing the Times I leaned against a window-sill and prepared myself
for the worst — still undecided whether I wished the letter printed or not. When
my father’s name was called, I was unable to respond or to reach forth my hand,
but a man standing near, recognizing me, placed the paper in my hands and I at
once hurried out of the house.
Having escaped, I did not know which way to
go, seeing that the goods were on me, as it were. Finally, I went behind the
schoolhouse and with trembling hands opened the paper — and there was my letter,
graphically portending the fall of the Democratic party!
I didn’t stop to read it. My first
consideration was to get away, for I assumed that within a few minutes every man
there would have read that scathing arraignment of the only menace to the
progress of the Republic and would at once suspect me as being its wicked
author. The first thing for me to do was to place myself beyond the reach of the
So I hurried up the hill toward home, but
after I had reached a place of probable safety I could no longer repress my
longing to see how my production looked and to know what it sounded like. I
therefore seated myself in a corner of old man Martin’s fence and read the
letter through. This relieved me somewhat, and I proceeded on my way until I
fell the victim of an overweening desire to read it again, when I sat on a rock
by Sam Colwell’s fence and gave it a second perusal! This satisfied me until I
reached home, when I handed the paper over to my father. He at once saw the
communication from the Cove, read it, pronounced it a good thing, and wondered
“who in Sam Patch wrote it.” He had me read it aloud, asking my opinion as to
who its author could be. We suggested several well-known men as the guilty
parties, but finally gave it up as a riddle too difficult for us to solve.
This, my first effort in the field of
newspaper writing, which occupied the leading place on the editorial page of the
Butte Mountain Times, issued May 2, 1869, was a full column and was
signed “Ram Pant,” printed in capital letters. The general tenor of the letter
may be inferred from the nom de plume which I selected.
Having crossed the Rubicon without any mishap,
and having heard my production spoken of approvingly by my father, who was a
fairly competent critic, it was astonishing how rapidly my health was restored.
In two hours I was perfectly well, to all appearances, and as I asked for two
helpings of every dish we had for supper that night, I was told by the head of
the family that in justice to the cook I ought to have given some notice of such
an abnormal development of appetite.
Having broken the ice successfully, I
continued to send letters to the Times for several months without being
suspected of their authorship, which, by the way, occasioned much speculation
even among the Republicans. Of course, I told my father, as it was impossible to
do the work without his knowledge. Having gained the necessary confidence to
push forward, I soared into the realms of poetry, made incursions into the
Bible, quoted from Shakespeare and did all sorts of foolish things, enjoying the
experience immensely. I recall that later in the campaign I paid a great tribute
to the Republican party as the savior of the country and the hope of posterity,
closing with this declaration: “With General Grant elected President and the
Republican party in full power, the country will be stronger than the bonds of
Orion and benigner than the sweetest influences of the Pleiades.” Of course I do
not know what that means any more than I did then, but it sounded good and I
supposed it would make the Democrats mad — which helped some.
But I met my Waterloo in September. In some
way it was discovered that the “Ram Pant” letters were written by me — a
seventeen year-old boy with flaxen hair, of whom such a thing was never
suspected. At once, I was made the object of numerous attacks by different
writers in the Sentinel, but none of them hurt until Judge E. C.
Brainard, of Union, fired a “poem” at me. It consisted of a dozen verses of
doggerel, written in a vein of caustic ridicule, of which he was a master, and
to this I was never able to make a satisfactory reply. For several years I kept
this production of his stowed away in a dark corner of an old trunk, from which
it was brought forth at long intervals for inspection; but it has been lost,
else I would take great pleasure in reproducing it here. After expressing his
fear for my safety, if permitted to repeat my trips into the Pleiades
unattended, he besought the Lord to
Bring Soaplocks back to earth again,
and counseled a cessation of hostilities until
Forest Cove, on oats and grass, Recruits her panting, Ram Pant ass.
I have since had many hard jolts in the
political field, and time and again have felt the power of the solar plexus in
newspaper controversies, but I never received a blow that cut deeper and hurt
longer than that thrust of Brainard’s at the time when I had concluded I had
things my own way and that there was none to dispute. After that I was ashamed
for anybody to see me, and my father said I had not put in so many days on the
farm in anyone month for a year as during that September!
In that first letter, I dubbed W. W. Baker
“Wonderful Wearisome,” which I supposed would serve to eliminate him permanently
from the list of public speakers, but it did not seem even to discourage him. In
fact, he visited the Cove soon after that and addressed the people. I did not
attend his meeting, as I knew he would severely arraign the writer of the letter
and I feared my countenance would betray its authorship, but I learned afterward
that he committed a flagrant violation of common politeness by making no
reference to it whatever.
In after years, I often regretted that I had
not saved that first attempt at newspaper writing, but did not think it probable
that a file of the Times had been kept even by its publishers. Jasper
Stevens, of La Grande, was one of the first printers on the Times, and
when I visited the old town in the summer of 1903, he and I were talking over
the experiences of early days, when I expressed my regret that I had not saved
as a curio that first literary production of mine, ‘way back in 1868. He
remembered it well, and suggested that it might be found in the attic of his
home, where many bundles of the Times were in storage. A short search
discovered several copies of the early numbers of the pioneer paper of the Blue
Mountain region, and among them was that one which set forth the apprehensions
entertained for the safety of the country by a “Ram Pant” writer whose home
address was the Cove.
That merciless dissection of the Democratic
party — considered the standing menace of good government and composed of real
bad men — is now in the custody of George H. Himes, secretary of the Oregon
Historical Society, along with the old hand-looms, primitive wagon-hubs, rusty
Kentucky rifles and other junk, valuable only as curiosities of the past.
Next Chapter -
Thrift (and its close neighbor, poverty) were characteristics of the early
settlers in Oregon.
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
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: