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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



We arrived at the home of Grandfather Eoff, whose farm – on which I was born – of eight hundred acres was situated both in the Waldo Hills and on Howell Prairie on June 8. I took possession of my farm of three hundred and twenty acres adjoining this on the first of the succeeding October, and for the next twenty years was engaged solely in the endless work which such a farm – or, indeed, any farm – entails. I had no rest from ceaseless toil except during the four terms I served in the State Legislature, of forty days each, and the time devoted to public speaking in various parts of the State between 1892 and 1898.

I can truthfully say that for a long time I had no clearly defined ambition to occupy public positions. It was developed as the result of circumstances which I had no hand in shaping. Early in life I found myself possessed of a liking for newspaper writing, for the pleasure I found in controversies involving the discussion of public questions; and as they usually appeared to be welcomed by the papers and appreciated by their readers, I rather cultivated the tendency during my farm life. Indeed, I found in it the only diversion from really hard work, and without some mental rest or occupation to vary the daily grind of farm labor, the life one leads there is not so different from that of the horses one drives every day and for whose physical necessities he provides. The man whose occupation requires all his daylight hours and whose duties call for the constant bending of the back, the crooking of the elbows and straining of the arms, really leads a life which differs so little outwardly from that of the work-mule that the distinction is hardly worth considering. And this is not an unfaithful picture of the lives of hundreds of thousands of farmers throughout even these United States, not to mention those less favorably situated in other parts of the world.

So, as I have intimated, I found some relaxation after the daily routine – hauling rails, building fences, splitting wood in the timber, plowing, sowing grain, harvesting it, haying, clearing land, digging oak “grubs” and postholes, making gardens, hauling and spreading manure, cultivating potato fields, pruning orchards, killing hogs and kindred stunts – in spending my evenings writing for the newspapers. Often, while plowing, I have thought out the substance of an article for publication and, having constructed and reconstructed a sentence until I was satisfied with its arrangement, have stopped the team and, sitting on the plow beam, jotted it down on a paper which I carried with me for that purpose. This process would be repeated many times, then late some evening, while the family slept, I would devote two or three hours to the actual writing of the letter.

The first five years I lived on the Waldo Hills farm there was no post-office nearer than Salem, eight miles away, and it was the custom to watch for some neighbor passing along the road on his way to that town and hail him with a request to bring out our mail. I had a neighbor whose family lived in Salem, where his children were enjoying the advantages of better schooling, and he went each Saturday to spend Sunday with them, returning to the farm late on the afternoon of that day. He regularly brought the mail for every family living along the road, and “Lew” Griffith’s return home was watched for eagerly on every Sunday afternoon for a number of years. At this writing, he still lives on his large farm at the age of eighty-three years, but has been helpless by reason of a paralytic stroke for the past ten years. Through it all, however, he has shown remarkable patience and fortitude and has the sympathy of the unusually large circle of friends and acquaintances among whom he has lived for more than sixty years.

In about 1882, however, what was known as the “narrow gauge” railroad was built from Woodburn, on the main line of the Southern Pacific on French Prairie, to Springfield, in Lane County, passing through the Waldo Hills within two miles of my farm. A station was built at what had been known as “Stipp’s schoolhouse” since my earliest recollection. It was called Macleay, after Donald Macleay, of Portland, who was prominently connected with the “Scotch Company” which gave the necessary financial backing to the railroad enterprise. Afterward, Mr. Macleay donated a large sum toward the erection of a fine schoolhouse for the town, named in his honor, with which, and an additional sum supplied by the people of that school district, was erected an edifice which for many years was the finest in the State outside the incorporated towns.

And with this innovation passed a landmark which holds a cherished place in the memory of hundreds of people now scattered all over the Pacific Coast; for “Stipp’s schoolhouse” was known far and near in the days when all the people of Oregon were yet pioneers. Elder John Stipp owned a farm near by and was a “Hard Shell” Baptist of the most impervious kind – most probably he belonged to the family of Noah – and his sermons were as long in their delivery as they were dull and obscure. But this latter characteristic in no wise diminished the appreciation of his hearers of his theological pronunciamentoes, for he was “called of God” and the finite mind was not expected to be able to comprehend the revelations of the Infinite. The more incoherent the deliveries of Elder Stipp, the greater the evidence of their divine origin and the resultant awe which they produced. His portrayal of foreordination and predestination, interwoven with official assurance that infants a span long are burnt through all eternity in a lake of fire and brimstone because they are not members of the “elect,” was accepted without question by most of his congregation, and for many years he was regarded as one of the ablest preachers in his denomination in all that region.

Soon after my return to the Waldo Hills in 1877, Elder Stipp, who had then lived in Clackamas County for several years, visited his old neighborhood and preached a sermon one Sunday morning in the schoolhouse that had just replaced the one named after him, erected in 1850, and his congregation included all the old-timers within a radius of ten miles. All greeted the grizzled warrior in the army of the Lord with that warmth which is characteristic of the pioneers, and the old man, then showing plainly the ravages of cruel Time, held his audience for two hours while he delved into the mysteries of revelation and demonstrated that the second coming of Christ was then overdue, that it is inconceivable how even the mercy of God can save such sinners as the best of us are, that, in effect, a smile under any circumstances is an evidence of frivolity and that an exhibition of mirth of any character indicates a lack of that seriousness which should mark the deportment of those who expect ultimately to “vie around the eternal Throne,” etc.

On this occasion Elder Stipp’s delivery had taken on an additional degree of “hesitation,” compared with which his former style was a frisky gallop among his confused verbs and nouns. He always began his sentences in a modulated tone, with a gradual rise until a satisfactory pitch had been reached, when there was a partial lessening of force and a lowering of tone for a few words; but the rising scale was soon resumed and followed until his whole effort was centered on some particular word near the end, when there was a partial verbal collapse which became complete when the period was reached. There was a rhythm permeating his tones after he had talked for fifteen minutes, with a sliding scale of diminuendoes and crescendoes as graceful and regular as a well-rendered modern two-step, and if one was not careful, he would find himself involuntarily keeping time to these variations with a swaying of the head and body. Sometimes half the congregation were so affected. He had practiced this method of delivery for so long that it had become an art, and where the matter of his sermon did not convert, the melody of the musical scale was’ perfectly irresistible. Now you could detect a familiar bar in “Nearer My God to Thee” for a dozen words, as he described the gold which is used in paving the streets of the New Jerusalem; a minute later a section of “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks” would be recognized for an instant, as it was called into service to emphasize the horrors of perdition – and was gone before there was time for a salutation!

But Elder Stipp, good old soul, has passed away, as has the old schoolhouse, his style of preaching, and, for the most part, the creed he propounded for a full half-century to those who sincerely thought he was “contending for the faith once delivered to the saints.”

In following this reminiscent vein, however, I have drifted away from the consideration of the fact that with the building of the “narrow gauge” railroad, a post office was established at Macleay, and with it came a daily mail service. This was, of course, a marked improvement, though it necessitated a trip of two miles each way on the part of some member of the family. In our case we usually decided at the noon meal which one should make the trip for the mail during the afternoon, for by this time many of us felt obliged to take a daily paper and the mail must be obtained every day. This condition obtained during the other fifteen years of my residence on the farm, and I reckon that, between all the members of my family, in that time we traveled some thousands of miles on foot – for there was a deep canyon to cross and by the road the distance would have been fully doubled.

Within a year after I moved to Salem, however, the rural free delivery system was inaugurated and the mail was delivered at the farm every day before noon. At the same time a telephone line was erected through that neighborhood, and so two of the rural inconveniences, with which I wrestled for twenty years, were removed.

But, Mr. Reader, have you observed how untrue is the assumption that the introduction of the rural mail delivery and the telephone has increased the sociability in farming communities? This is a common statement in the average newspaper – that the isolation which has heretofore made country life so unpleasant has been removed by these two agencies. But quite the reverse is true.

One day in 1902, I rode from Salem to my farm on a bicycle, and at the dinner table asked Simeral if Tom Jones was showing any more gray hairs than when I had seen him last a few months before. He replied that he hadn’t seen him for two months, he guessed.

“Haven’t seen him for two months?” I gasped. “Why, have you had a falling out?”

“Oh, no,” he laughingly answered, “but you know we have ‘phones now and when I want to talk to him I simply ‘call him up,’ and that is all there is to it. He is well, though, for I was talking to him this morning about whether the gourds are bad in his wheat this summer.”

Tom Jones was my nearest neighbor, and during the twenty years I lived on the farm, there was rarely a day that I did not see him, either at his home or mine. And I discovered that Simeral had not been to Macleay for a month. He had no business there, as his mail was delivered at the house, and not while he waited, either. He had seen none of the neighbors in that direction since the Christmas entertainment, six months before, but the amount of information everybody possessed about everybody else was astonishing. Every family within a radius of ten miles was on a “party line,” and when two people were indulging in local gossip it was usual for every family between Salem and Silver Creek Falls and from Silverton to Sublimity, to have a receiver down – learning the latest. This is the rule, and is in part justified by the fact that the ordinary conversation in the country lasts from one to two hours, so, if one wants to be “next” on the line, he must needs be in position to start his claim at the drop of the hat. And even then he is frequently left in the assertion of his right!

One day, merely as an experiment, a Macleay man called up a neighbor, according to a previous understanding, and told him that a well-known citizen of the locality had sustained a dislocated knee joint through an accident occasioned by a runaway team, though nothing of the kind had happened. Within the next hour the ‘phone at the home of the supposedly injured man was kept red-hot by calls from every part of eastern Marion County inquiring as to the exact extent of his hurt!

And when everybody was compelled to go to Macleay for his mail, one would usually find from ten to twenty men there waiting for the arrival of the train from Portland and the stage from Salem. At such times, there was an enjoyable hour or two of sociability which permitted the discussion of current topics, local, State and national, religious, political and agricultural. But there is nothing of the sort now. There is nothing to go to Macleay for! Uncle Sam brings your mail to the door free of charge, and if you desire to talk to a man living there you can take down your receiver – if some other fellow has not already brought his own into use – and have it out with him, while in the former days you would be getting ready to saddle your horse for a half-day’s journey.

All of which goes to show that in these days things are so handy that you can put in all your waking hours at work, while your neighbors are doing the same. Did you ask if I regret the change? Oh, no, indeed, I was merely stating a fact. Let the improvements come, and when the airships are perfected we can sail away to the blue Mediterranean for a little vacation, giving out no information as to the time of our departure or our return – if, indeed, we do return.


Next Chapter - Geer wins election to the Oregon Legislature in 1880; stories from his first session including Z. F. Moody, Terry Tuttle, and J. W. Blevans.


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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