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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



In the spring of 1874, when the State campaign opened, there appeared to be more activity in political circles than usual. The Republicans of Union County were early in the field and, though in a hopeless minority on a straight vote, always had that buoyant feeling that alone keeps life in minorities. Two years before that Samuel Hannah, a prominent merchant in Union, had defeated James Hendershott for re-election to the State Senate. It was on a local issue, however, involving the re-location of the overland stage line over the Summerville route – really a forerunner of the county-seat contest – but Hannah was a Republican and his party took to itself all the glory of a purely partisan victory.

Sam Hannah was a man of high character, had close connections with the people of Union County, which gave him a strong prestige, and had the advantage over Hendershott of never having been in political life – a lever which many good men have discovered is worth a great many votes in a political campaign. Often an admittedly third-rate man will receive more votes for a public position than his opponent, if the latter has occupied an important office where he has been obliged to disappoint a dozen or two people in the selection of an incumbent for some position carrying a salary of three hundred per annum.

Incidentally this reminds me of a remark once made to me by the late Senator John H. Mitchell, to the effect that in his extended experience in disposing of public patronage he had discovered that, when you have a good appointment at your disposal, there will be, on an average, ten aspirants for the job. In the performance of your duty you are obliged to select one of the ten, with the result that you have probably made nine enemies and one – ingrate!

However, Sam Hannah had every qualification for his position in the State Senate and discharged his duties in a very acceptable manner. For ten years or more he filled a large place in the affairs of Union County and died at his home in Union in the early ‘80s. His election marked the first break of the Republicans of Union County into the solid ranks of the Democracy. They had never been able to obtain any position, high or low, and the discovery that the thing was possible came as a revelation where no hope had been entertained. At that time, one of the most outspoken Republicans in the Grand Ronde valley was John W. Norval of Summerville. For several years, there had been but three Republicans in Summerville precinct, but at each recurring primary meeting they always “assembled” and sent their delegate up to La Grange to attend the Republican county convention. Norval was the delegate. With the regularity of a good clock, these three men met every two years in the Summerville schoolhouse and organized by the election of Norval as chairman and the second man as secretary; the third would take the floor and make the necessary motions. And it was no ordinary affair for those three men who, through good report and bad, held the citadel against the foes of good government, for the primaries came only every two years and the occasion was always used for the passage of a string of resolutions denouncing the Democratic party, which was longer and more comprehensive than an average national platform of either of the parties. Usually these resolutions would recite the origin of parties, show how, by degrees, the principles of the Republican party had become necessary to the preservation of the national life and the progress of mankind, vow eternal devotion to the glorious tenets of the “grand old party,” and close by promising the unanimous support of the Republicans of Summerville precinct to the tickets to be nominated. Incidentally, Lincoln and Grant were mentioned frequently in the body of the pronunciamento.

Norval was an able man and the conditions then prevailing in political life were conducive to intensity of feeling. I do not recall that there was any criticism from any Republican quarter of his radicalism, but, rather, envy of his ability in that direction.

The election of a State Senator by the Republicans of Union County in 1872 served to inspire hope in the bosoms of several budding politicians that the miracle might be repeated. The result was that there was an unusual scramble for nominations in the county convention, which met in La Grande. Among those who were anxious to trust their fortunes to the electorate were Norval and myself. I do not now remember whether Norval was nominated, but it was conceded that the east side of the valley should have one representative on the ticket for the Legislature, but in the convention a man named Ross, living in the Eagle Creek country, defeated me by one vote and was successful at the ensuing June election. His colleague was Dunham Wright, a Democrat who had been a member of the previous Legislature.

The State campaign of 1874 was given an unusually spicy flavor by the Independent movement, which put a full ticket in the field as a protest against the regular Republicans. Its chief interest centered in the three-cornered congressional contest, the Republicans having nominated Richard Williams of Portland, the Democrats George A. La Dow of Umatilla and the Independents T. W. Davenport of Marion. Williams at that time was one of the best-known lawyers in the State, as he is to-day; Davenport was a farmer, living in the Waldo Hills, who had served several terms in the Legislature, was a man of unquestionable ability, but never in harmony with any organization whose numerical strength was sufficient to enable it to accomplish its avowed purposes. Davenport was always on the side of the opposition, no matter what the subject or occasion, and was gifted enough to defend his attitude with a degree of plausibility that was surprising.

In the campaign of 1874, he and Williams made a joint canvass of the State, addressing the audiences by dividing time, and it proved perhaps the most memorable in the political history of Oregon. Williams was no less resourceful as a campaigner than as a lawyer, but he was put on his mettle, as he freely admits, in this forensic encounter with Davenport, whose defense for his eccentric course in politics rested on the general idea embraced in Emerson’s declaration that “consistency is the deadly enemy of progress,” and that he would say just what he thought to-day, though it might give the lie to all he said yesterday.

Davenport’s first wife (the mother of Homer), the daughter of Ralph C. Geer, was my first cousin. He was two years older than my father and I had known him intimately all my life. When the meeting with Williams and Davenport was held in La Grande, I went over from the Cove, and as it was Saturday, he returned with me to my home and remained over until Monday, when we went to Union where the next meeting was held. It was a treat to listen to such a war of words between two such antagonists as they were. It was all good natured-on the surface – but there was a deadly undercurrent of sarcasm, ridicule, cutting repartee and irony. Of these, of course, irony hurt the most. It were well if we all followed the sage advice of an old woman who observed this fact: “People should never ironize!”

At La Grande, Davenport had referred to a severe criticism by Williams of one of his actions when a member of the Legislature in 1868 and inquired why he (Williams) had supported him for re-election in 1870 if he considered him so grossly culpable. As Williams, in his reply at La Grande, paid no attention to Davenport’s inquiry, at Union Davenport insistently repeated his demand for an answer, his courage seeming to be reinforced by Williams’ attitude. He said:

“I should like Mr. Williams to tell this audience, here and now, in my presence, why he supported me for reelection in 1870 if my record in 1868 was so open to censure.”

Mr. Williams was sitting on the platform and there was no escape. But as Davenport paused and turned toward him, he arose, walked to the front of the stage and, standing by the side of Davenport, said:

“Well, ladies and gentlemen, I confess that I had not intended to explain this matter, rather preferring to pass it by; but as Mr. Davenport has insisted upon it, I may as well say that I supported him for reelection for the reason that, incredible as it may seem, his Democratic opponent was a meaner man than he was.”

The effect of this retort was sufficient completely to unhorse Davenport, who had brought it upon himself, and as Williams stood by his side a moment longer and looked him in the face, while the entire audience shouted with uproarious laughter; it presented one of the most ludicrous scenes of a notable campaign.

George A. La Dow, the Democratic candidate, remained at his home at Weston, Umatilla County, while this battle was waged by his more pugnacious rivals. He was not known outside of his county, did not leave it during the campaign – and was elected. Williams and Davenport so divided the Republican vote that both were defeated, though each gave the other “a run for his money,” and the people an intellectual treat of the first quality. La Dow died before taking his seat, and at a special election held in November, 1875, Lafayette Lane of Douglas County, a Democrat, was chosen to fill the vacancy.


Next Chapter - Fishing in Wallowa Lake, T. T. Geer reflects on the incredible bounty of the Northwest.


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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