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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



When the State campaign of 1880 opened in the spring of that year I was nominated by the Republicans of Marion County as a candidate for the lower house in the Legislature. Under the apportionment then existing, that county was allowed six members and I was the youngest of the delegation. I had been enjoying the three years preceding in writing for the papers at somewhat regular intervals and was quite well-known locally, so, when the time came for selecting available material for the Legislature I succumbed to the “solicitation of my many friends” and “permitted the use of my name” in the county convention. The slate went through without much damage and after a joint canvass of the county with the Democratic candidates the entire Republican ticket was elected – since the county was under the control of that party by at least six hundred majority.

In those days the sessions of the Legislature were held in September, according to the terms of the State Constitution, though it was permissible to change the date by law, which has since been done. On the morning of September 13, I went to Salem to begin my legislative experience. Upon arriving at the State House, I found that the Republican caucus for the selection of officers was already at work. I was directed to the committee room where this important function was being attended to and upon timidly rapping at the door was greeted by a cheery looking man with hair and full beard which were even then snowy white. Upon my giving my name, with the information that I was a house member from Marion County, he greeted me with a degree of cordiality which was flattering to me, indeed, for a moment; for I assumed, of course, that my fame had preceded me, though, up to that moment I was not aware that I had any. But my suppressed pleasure was short-lived, for the man at once informed me that his name was Z. F. Moody, that he was a member from Wasco County and that he was a candidate before the caucus for Speaker. He also presented me with a card which set forth the same fact in black and white.

A few moments later the vote was taken for Speaker and Mr. Moody was elected. Of course, I voted for him. I had thus taken the first degree in practical politics and it appeared to be a very smooth game – everything was pleasant!

Mr. Moody was elected when the House met in its first business session and he made a model officer – always fair, always courteous and always “on the job.”

It was during this session that the bill was passed which finally provided for the care of the insane by the State. Until then, all the insane and feeble-minded persons in the State had been cared for by private persons under the contract system – for many years the work having been done by Drs. Hawthorne and Loryea, of Portland – and all efforts to break up this system had been unsuccessful. The contracts had been let at exorbitant figures and the contractors were amassing fortunes from a business which it was held the State could attend to as well, and at the same time save the people thousands of dollars annually.

For years, it had been publicly charged that a “sack’ was always provided to be used in preventing an “asylum bill” from being enacted, and, whether true or not, the attempt had at each session come to naught. It was under these circumstances that the Marion County delegation, in the session of 1880, decided to center its every effort toward the passage of a law appropriating money for the purpose of erecting an asylum building at Salem. We had agreed to sacrifice everything else in the matter of new legislation, if necessary, in return for assistance in support of our “pet measure.” The bill was prepared and was introduced by Hon. Tilmon Ford, the chairman of our delegation.

At once, for the reason already intimated, our asylum bill was the target for all kinds of attack. Prominent men were in the lobby pulling all the strings at their command, and as many members as possible were “lined up” in opposition to the proposed interference with the established order of things. It was soon discovered that we had a fight on our hands with the chances against us; but we also soon learned that, very fortunately, Speaker Moody was in favor of the erection of an asylum building and that he could be depended upon at all times. To this circumstance our final success was to be attributed, though the question had not been mentioned in the contest for the Speakership. In that matter we simply had been lucky.

This was one of the most bitterly contested struggles in the history of Oregon Legislatures, since the breaking up of a monopoly which furnished rich pabulum for its beneficiaries was not to be accomplished without meeting with fierce resistance. The friends of the measure at once called a caucus and met every night until success crowned their efforts. Every member was asked to look after as many members among his special friends as could be persuaded to join us and to keep things moving.

The two members from Union County, my old home in eastern Oregon, were Terry Tuttle and J. W. Blevans. They were friends of mine and I at once turned my attention to them, impressing upon them the necessity of the State taking charge of its unfortunates, not only in the interest of humanity, but in pursuance of a wise, economical policy. They at once agreed with me and attended our caucus meetings.

But I had a brother-in-law, Dunham Wright, who was a member of the Senate from the same county, and who had already served several terms in the House. By reason of this experience he was “wise” to some things, and having met with several defeats for his special eastern Oregon measures, had imbibed a very healthy dislike for anything that savored of western Oregon origin. When he discovered, therefore, after a couple of weeks, that his House colleagues were attending the asylum caucus, he promptly upbraided them for their shortsightedness, assuring them that in so easily agreeing to a measure which meant the expenditure of several hundred thousand dollars in Salem, without first exacting support in return for eastern Oregon measures, they were throwing away their influence and, in a sense, betraying the interests of their constituents, etc.

They both came to me without delay and explained their dilemma, adding that under the circumstances they would be compelled to withdraw from the asylum caucus. To this I seriously demurred, impressing upon them the danger to their reputations should they take such a step.

“Don’t you know,” I said, “it is currently reported around the State House that there is a large sum of money here to be used liberally for the purpose of defeating the asylum bill, and that if, after you have been meeting with us and declaring yourselves in favor of its passage, you suddenly change base and join the other side, there are those who will put two and two together and make four – maybe five, or six?”

This presentation of the situation had its desired effect and they promised to attend at least one other caucus meeting on that night and look into the matter a little further.

I at once reported the threatened loss of the two supporters of our measure to several friends and when the caucus met I carried out a scheme – which we had agreed upon – by moving, as soon as it was called to order, that Hon. Terry Tuttle, of Union County, be elected chairman to serve during the evening, the regular chairman, strangely enough, being absent. The motion was carried with a great show of enthusiasm and Mr. Tuttle was escorted to the chair. Of course, this proceeding so prominently identified him with the asylum movement that it was thereafter impossible for him to desert us without arousing suspicion as to his integrity, though in his case such distrust would have been wholly unfounded.

The effect of this ruse was to hold Tuttle and Blevans in line for our bill, and it finally passed the House with but one vote more than the constitutional requirement. It might have been an instance of legislative log-rolling – it was, perhaps – but it was entirely legitimate and was wholly in the interest of good legislation. Mr. Tuttle was for several terms superintendent of schools for Union County and was a splendid type of the western pioneer. He owned a fine farm near Summerville, twenty-five miles from where I lived when I was a citizen of that county. In the winter of 1874, I painted his house, inside and out, boarding with him for a week. It was at the time when all the lanes in that part of the Grand Ronde valley had drifted so full of snow that they were entirely abandoned for neighborhood travel. Mr. Tuttle died a few years ago when well past eighty years of age.

“Jeff” Blevans, soon after his legislative experience, moved into Wallowa County, where he still lives. He had been a school-teacher in his earlier days and had taken on what may be called the pedagogic habit of conversation. He was very precise in his use of language and somewhat pompous in his style of expression. One morning, about the middle of the session, he arose when the House was called to order and asked of the Speaker that he might be excused for the day, as he desired to visit some friends across the river in Polk County. Partly as a joke, I asked if he really ended to go to Polk County or if, as had been the case with many members, he only wanted to attend to other matters around town. He replied that he was going to be away from the city all day and wanted to be marked legally absent. He was, therefore, excused the day and the fact entered upon the minutes.

Just before noon, however, after the roll had been called on the passage of a bill and before the result had been announced, Blevans arose from his seat and asked that his name be called. I had not noticed his presence until I heard his familiar voice, and, in pursuance of some fun, I objected to the granting of his request, since I was certain the records would show that the gentleman from Union was at that moment over in Polk County.

“But,” said Blevans, “when I reached the river bank, I found that the Dallas stage was already crossing on the ferry and I was left. Therefore, I am here and want very much to vote on this measure, as it is my bill.”

Without looking at Blevans, whose seat was immediately behind mine, I insisted to the Speaker that he was not present, as the House would distinctly recall that he had been excused, that he had promised to stay away until the next morning, and that in all disputed legislative questions the record itself was final – and I appealed to the record! This confused Blevans to a greater degree than I had supposed possible, and while the House was roaring with laughter over his discomfiture, the clerk read the minutes which declared that he was undoubtedly in Polk ‘County. Upon this showing, I insisted that outsiders had no right to vote on measures in the House, that it was not within our province to change the minutes unless they were manifestly wrong, and that they were not correct not even Mr. Blevans would contend!

Blevans finally succumbed and made no further effort for recognition. He said his bill had passed, he had learned, that he really had some business he could attend to during the afternoon anyway, and that he would, with pleasure, make his actions conform strictly with the record – and he did, quite turning the tables on those of us who had decided to abandon further opposition and admit him to the fold at once.

The Legislature of 1880 organized by the election of Z. F. Moody, Speaker; C. B. Moores, chief clerk; J. W. Strange, assistant clerk; E. C. Hadaway, sergeant at arms, and T. A. Bacon, doorkeeper. Soon after these officers were installed, the peculiar combination of their names appealed to me as being altogether out of the ordinary and in a few minutes I rose in my place and said:

“Mr. Speaker, I trust our Democratic friends will not be Moody any Moore, nor think it Strange that the Republicans Hadaway of saving their Bacon in the organization of the House.”

The suddenness of this announcement at once had a most depressing effect upon the members, but as soon as they had regained their normal bearing I found myself in the midst of a near-mob which was considering the propriety of introducing a resolution of expulsion; but my friends, for I had a few yet remaining, pleaded my youthfulness and lack of experience in my defense and the affair was permitted to blow over without further trouble. But it was a narrow escape.


Next Chapter - Legislative Session of 1880: Notes on A. J. Lawrence, George Chamberlain, and William Galloway


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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