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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



The campaign of 1876 will take its place in the history of the United States as the most exciting, in the nature of its final settlement, the country has known, to date, at least. Only by the narrowest margin was an actual revolution averted, which good fortune was due to the horse sense of the American people, to their real capacity for self-government. Many questions arose for settlement which had never been presented before, for which there was no precedent, and indeed for which there was little excuse. Through a chance circumstance the personnel of the Electoral Commission was Republican in its character, and all its findings were for that reason favorable to that party. If the Commission had been democratic in its majority, its decisions would have made Tilden President of the United States, for they voted as solidly as did the Republicans – partisanship ruling every move made by every member. When possible, most men see things as they wish them to look, not as they really are – unless we take the other end of the question and say that the aspect of most objects is determined largely by the coloring our own vision furnishes. The world is bright to one man and dark to another on the same day – though the world really presented but one picture on that day!

Very few Republicans are today especially proud of the way Hayes was seated; yet there seemed to be no other action possible in that fearful crisis and they only did what the Democrats would doubtless have done had conditions been reversed. And it is said, anyway, that all’s well that ends well.

Locally, in Union County, in 1876, the Republicans nominated John W. Norval and myself for Representatives in the Legislature and W. J. Snodgrass, of La Grande, for State Senator. We made such campaign as we could in the face of adverse conditions, but of course came out of the contest snowed under by the normal Democratic majority in that county, at that time about three hundred. Norval continued an active force in Union County politics until 1888, when he was successful in his campaign for a seat in the State Senate, serving through the sessions of 1889 and 1891. I was a member of the House from Marion County in both these sessions, the latter year serving as Speaker. So, “after many years,” my old comrade and I met in the legislative halls and exchanged many enjoyable reminiscences of the early struggles in Union County. The time arrived when Norval had some assistance in his local battles and his reward had come. His home was about two miles from the railroad station on the line running from La Grande to Elgin. One day, not long after the expiration of his service in the State Senate, he was walking across country to catch a train, and, hearing it in the distance, ran for a half mile. He reached the station just as the train did, but was so exhausted that he sat down on a pile of lumber and died within five minutes from heart failure.

J. W. Norval was a good man, endowed with many splendid qualities, and his name will always be recalled by the pioneers of Union County with a high regard for his active work as one of the founders of that little empire which nestles so cozily in the heart of the Blue Mountain Range.

After the campaign of 1876, W. J. Snodgrass was several times a candidate for State Senator and once or twice attempted to secure the Republican nomination for State Treasurer, but never was successful. For several years, he was in the mercantile business in Okanogan, near the British Columbia line, but afterward returned to his old home in La Grande – where he died in the year 1910, after forty years of great activity in business and political life in the Grand Ronde valley.

In the fall of 1876, I received an urgent request from my mother’s people in the Willamette valley to return to the scenes of my childhood and settle down among them. To look the situation over, I went to that section after an absence of ten years, and notwithstanding the ties I had formed in the Grand Ronde valley, the land of my birth looked good to me and I decided to make the change the ensuing spring. I made this trip immediately after the Presidential election in November. The Hayes-Tilden difficulty had already taken form, and as we met the stages while en route to Umatilla Landing I would anxiously inquire of the driver the latest news. At Portland I stopped at the St. Charles Hotel, then the leading hostelry in the city – George Coggan, formerly of La Grande, was the proprietor – and I recall the excitement prevailing among the people who assembled to learn the latest news from Washington and to discuss the alarming situation.

I returned home within two weeks, sold my farm and stock in the Cove and was prepared to leave for the Waldo Hills when the weather would be suitable for the trip overland in the spring.

On May 26, 1877, therefore, with a four-horse team, a wagon – with four wheels and a “bed” – a wife and four children, one a step-daughter, I drove from the little town of Cove, never to make it my home again. On June 16, 1870, I had married Mrs. Nancy Batte, a young widow with a little girl, and in the subsequent years there had been two girls and a boy added to the family, the latter being but four months old at the time of our departure. About fifty people had assembled to “see us off.” It was a sad parting, since the country was yet new enough to have retained the pioneer spirit and the families were all closely bound together in neighborly ties such as are never formed in older countries.

I shall never forget that day in May. It was no indication of weakness that there were few, if any, dry eyes as the last handshakes were given and the wheels began to roll toward western Oregon. It was an ideal day in the Cove. The morning sun had come across the old mountain which for thousands of years had stood guard over the changes in the beautiful valley, and birds everywhere were giving forth their silver melody, as if to mock the sadness of the occasion; the old mill was grinding away just across the creek, utterly oblivious of the fact that it had been my first bedroom in Grand Ronde valley, and that I regretted leaving it almost as much as the people themselves. Then there was the “Morrison” church, which I had painted as my contribution toward its building, and in which, as an officer in the local Grange, I had partaken of many of its famous “fourth degree” dinners, attended dances long to be remembered and had led in the singing at occasional revivals held within its walls. “Dad” Russell was pounding away on the anvil in his shop, but he had already been to see us; “Johnny” Clark, from his shop, waved us his farewell; “Uncle” Cowles, pipe in mouth, had come to wish us well, and a group of school-children – bless their hearts! – whose teacher I had been the previous winter but one, came along on their way to school and stopped to say good-by.

And the old “Dixie” schoolhouse – I was to be a frequenter of social gatherings within its walls no more. How the old times filled my memory as I recalled the debates we had had there; the singing schools, with the different teachers who had since gone their way; the writing school, where L. J. Rouse taught us the principles of the “Spencerian” system and other “practical foolishness”; the Union Sunday-school, with its summer Sunday afternoons; the day-school I had taught there, and how the children had “turned me out” on the day before Christmas, at the noon hour, for a joke, and how I returned the joke by going home and leaving them to dismiss the school as they saw fit – all these incidents came to my mind while bidding farewell to the place, as well as to the people. A last glance at “Dixie” brought to view, in imagination, “Jack” Gallagher and Lambert, two of the earlier teachers there; Revs. Koger, Booth and Lewis, three Baptist preachers who believed in foreordination and predestination, and earnestly urged all sinners to accept their faith in order that they might be saved – regardless of predestination, it is presumed; and “Uncle” Dan Elledge, popular and jolly Christian minister who had no doubt that he was preaching the Gospel “according to the faith once delivered to the saints.”

Finally, however, we were on our way and that night camped on the Grand Ronde River, a few miles above Oro Dell. As we made the turn around a point which gave us the last glimpse of the old home, I stopped the team while we discussed the situation with saddened hearts, and wondered if we should ever regret the move, when we should ever see the familiar scenes again, if ever, and why we had not “let well enough alone,” anyway. There was no joy in the camp that night.

I did not see the Cove again for six years, when I made a visit there and had a wonderfully cordial reception, remaining two weeks. In the succeeding years I returned nearly every year, sometimes oftener, until the death of my father. One day in August, 1903, while standing in the doorway of my home in Salem, I received a long-distance call telling me of his sudden illness and that he had requested that I come at once. As I had been to his home on a visit two months before, on which occasion he and I had spent three days in calling at the homes of many of the old friends, this request of his was alarming. It was Saturday afternoon, but I took a train for Portland and reached the Cove on Sunday afternoon at one o’clock, only to find my father unconscious. An effort was made to arouse him by the announcement of my arrival, but without success. When asked if he knew what was said, he gave a slight nod of his head, but no other evidence of consciousness. He passed away within an hour, at the age of seventy-five years.

In his delirium he frequently inquired if I had arrived – even within a half-hour after the message was sent and asked that I should write his obituary notice in case he should not survive to make the request in person. This I did, publishing it in the Oregonian, giving an outline of his life, as detailed in a preceding chapter, and closing with these two paragraphs:

In 1866, Union County having been recently established, he served for a few months as deputy sheriff, and, being attracted by the marvelous beauty of the Grand Ronde valley, decided to locate there permanently and again engage in horticultural pursuits. He carried his decision into effect and for thirty-seven and one-half years, exactly half his lifetime, he cultivated one of the most successful and best-kept fruit farms in eastern Oregon. He was actively in the harness when the summons came announcing that his work was done. He lived a very active life and died with the highest respect of everybody.

A short time before his demise, when asked if he wanted anything, he replied, “Only death,” and when asked if he was ready to die, he said he had always been ready. Just before losing consciousness for the last time he asked if I had arrived, and his last earthly request was that I should write his obituary. This I have done, lovingly as a son, and on these closing lines my pen lingers, as, sitting under the whispering pines, just above the old home, whose branches sheltered me so many times during my boyhood days, and confronted on every hand by the countless familiar objects which were my companions and his during the struggles of my early manhood, I bid my father goodby until we meet in that “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

I may be pardoned for adding that my father and I were more like two brothers than parent and child, and many people not intimately acquainted with us or the family supposed we were brothers. My first wife was a younger sister to his second wife, thus making us brothers-in-law, and the children of the two sisters, as well as their parents, were frequently puzzled to figure out the precise relationship which they bore to one another. My father was the uncle to my children, as well as their grandfather, and their aunt, who was my stepmother, was their grandmother! Also, my wife was not only the aunt of my father’s children – by his second wife – but was their sister-in-law, as well. My little stepdaughter came nearer than any other member of either family to a plain title, and even she was the niece of her sister’s grandfather and her mother was her grandmother’s sister! Yet the two families “got along” splendidly!

My father was one of the jolliest of men, counted the best of companions and his home was always a popular resort, even for young people, or perhaps I should say especially for young people. I have been to the Cove but once since his death, as the old place seems not the same without him. His remains are resting in the cemetery on the hillside overlooking the beautiful little section which he chose for himself in middle life, by the side of the wife who preceded him by two years.


Next Chapter - Geer leaves the Grande Ronde Valley to return to the Willamette; notes from the journey including details of their brief stay in Pendleton


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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