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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 most active member of the House in the session of 1880 in opposition to the passage of the asylum bill was A. J. Lawrence, of Baker County. He was a lawyer of some ability, a fair speaker, always in evidence, wore a flannel shirt with the collar unfastened, his hair showing the effect of an independence of combs and brushes for probably the preceding five years, and was constitutionally opposed to every bill that appeared to have any prospect of enactment. He frankly said that he wanted to make a record for preventing as much legislation as possible – an ambition not to be particularly censured when directed in some channels.

Lawrence also loved the flowing bowl, the proof of which was often in evidence during the daily sessions. He was especially active against the asylum bill at every stage of its progress, generally relying on the effect of dilatory motions rather than on any sort of argument. He preferred always to prolong the debates in order to consume time, hoping by that means to delay bills until the end of the session, when they might be waylaid for lack of time for their consideration. One of his chosen methods was to object strenuously to a committee report and, after pointing out his grounds for opposition, move to refer for amendment. Upon its reappearance he would move to re-refer – anything for a delay. He was always the last speaker on any proposition, since, if the debate could be prolonged by others, his main purpose was attained and he was willing to remain silent.

Lawrence was a “character,” and his native ability made of him an opponent to be feared, for he was shrewd and had no care for the methods employed, so his ends were accomplished. His manner was peculiar. When it became evident that a debate was drawing to a close, he would lean forward in his seat, take on the look of a fox, and twirl his spectacles in one hand while he closely watched the trend of things. This attitude always indicated that he was about to begin his attack. But we managed to dodge his flank movements successfully until toward the very last days of the session, when we had our forces so aligned that we were sure of the necessary support, provided a vote could be taken at once. We realized that any delay would be dangerous, for the opposition was very resourceful and was leaving nothing undone to deflect a vote where it might be possible. We had agreed to force a vote immediately after dinner and not to engage in any debate whatever. When this became apparent, which it soon did, Lawrence could not conceal his surprise, for he had counted upon a prolonged fight on the floor of the house. When the Speaker ordered the clerk to call the roll on the passage of the bill, Lawrence, who had been leaning forward and twirling his spectacles, arose and addressed the Chair, but Speaker Moody, according to the program which had been formulated, said, “Will the gentleman from Baker please take the chair?”

Lawrence, who had “ginned up” a little more than usual for the coming fray, seeing that his game was a losing one and that his being called to the chair at that particular time was a prearranged affair, gave up the contest, accepted the situation with a broad smile and with a decided uncertainty in his gait proceeded up the aisle to the Speaker’s chair amid the general laughter of the members.

Upon taking the gavel from Speaker Moody’s hands, he said:

“Gentlemen, the question is, ‘Shall the bill pass?’ Those who are in favor of the bill will answer ‘aye’ as your ‘noes’ are called and those opposed will answer ‘no’ as your ‘ayes’ are called. The clerk will call the roll.”

The fact was that his tongue was wobbly as well as his feet, and the jingle of the usual form of putting the question was too much for him to master. It was probably five minutes before there was sufficient decorum restored for the roll to be called in an orderly manner but the result was a victory, with one vote to spare and all was well.

The humdrum of ordinary legislation was relieved during the latter part of the session of 1880 by a reception given one afternoon to President Hayes and General W. T. Sherman, who were touring the Pacific coast. Both houses met in joint convention and were addressed by the President and the hero of the great March to the Sea. It was the first time a President of the United States had ever been in Oregon and it was justly counted a great event, but it was plain that the enthusiasm aroused by the presence of the great military commander surpassed that felt on account of the visit of the President, though his reception was cordial in every respect. After the addresses had been made, the President, General Sherman and Mrs. Hayes stood in lint and greeted the public with a hearty handshake. I recall that as I took the General’s hand I said:

“General Sherman, this is almost as hard work as marching to the sea.”

“Yes,” he replied, with his jerky manner of speech as he reached for the hand of the next man in line “quite as hard work, but less dangerous.”

On that occasion there was much admiration expressed for Mrs. Hayes, as there was, indeed, wherever she was known. Her democratic manner, together with her exceeding simplicity of dress, was a matter of general comment. It was commonly remarked, I remember, that of the many hundreds of women who attended the reception, the President’s wife was without doubt the least expensively dressed. Mrs. Hayes was an American woman with that best of womanly endowments – common sense!

Before passing from a consideration of some of the more prominent features of the legislative session of 1880, I must refer to the fact that the House of Representatives had three members who were serving their first terms in any official capacity, and who were afterwards elected Governor of the State, – I refer to Z. F. Moody, George E. Chamberlain and the writer. Speaker Moody was nominated for that position by the Republican State Convention in 1882, and was elected over his Democratic opponent, Joseph S. Smith, who had been elected to Congress in 1868, by a good majority. Mr. Moody made a splendid chief executive in every respect and at the end of his term, having built a fine residence in Salem, became a citizen of the capital city and has since resided there. He is now in his eightieth year, in good health, and bids fair to remain in the land of the living until he really becomes an old man. During his term the Legislature changed the time for the beginning of its biennial sessions from the second Monday in September to the second Monday in January. Under the Oregon State Constitution, the Governor is not inaugurated until the vote is officially canvassed and declared by the Legislature, and one result of this change was the addition of four months to the length of Governor Moody’s term of office, he having served from September, 1882, until January, 1887.

George E. Chamberlain was a member of the House in 1880 from Linn County, having come to Oregon four years before from his native State, Mississippi. He made no special mark during the session and certainly gave no promise of that remarkable capacity for political manipulation that has since characterized his career, though the main ingredient, a cordial handshake, was there, it is recalled, with all its Southern fervor. It was generally known that he was recently from the South, and his manner had all the effusive cordiality peculiar to the people of that section. It was noticeable that he became intimately acquainted with all the members sooner than any other man had done, or perhaps was able to do. At the end of the first week he knew Jim from eastern Oregon and Tom from Jackson familiarly enough to slap them on the shoulder and walk out of the State House arm in arm with them, thus laying the foundation for the popularity that had in it the elements which, within two decades, placed himself twice in the Governor’s office and once in the United States Senate.

Two other men in the session of 1880 deserve a passing mention, John M. Thompson, of Lane County, and William Galloway, of Yamhill. The session of 1878, at which time Thompson had been Speaker of the House, had appointed a committee to investigate certain charges which had been made against the Grover administration, covering several matters, and Thompson and Galloway were the leading members of that committee. They were both Democrats and it was expected, in some quarters at least, that the report would be so arranged .that no political damage would follow. Thompson and Galloway had, however, adopted the policy of calling a spade a spade and their report was altogether unsatisfactory to those who were engineering the matter. The result of this was a determined effort to defeat them for reelection. This attempt failed in their respective county conventions and before the people. They were both returned to the session of 1880, a splendid vindication of their course, but were not in good standing with their political colleagues. There was constant friction among the Democratic members on this account, and though their party was in a minority in the Legislature for the first time in eight years – largely, it was thought, on account of this legislative report – there was enough of ill feeling to produce continual irritation. Chamberlain ranged himself with the Old Guard, and so bitter was the feeling that one day he and Thompson had a personal altercation which, it was generally understood, almost led to bloodshed, both being armed, it was said, but better counsels prevailed and the affair passed into history as a harmless episode.

Thompson was a man of quick temper and was besides in ill health, the latter leading to his death within a short time after the close of his legislative experience. Galloway, on the contrary, will probably live to be a hundred years of age – holding lucrative positions all the time. He owns a fine farm in Yamhill County, but has lived in some public building most of the time since he became of age, some forty years ago. He was the Democratic candidate for Governor in 1894 against William P. Lord, but was defeated. He was for a long time Judge of Yamhill County and served in the Government Land Office at Oregon City until he decided he would rather discharge the duties of judge for the Third District, comprising the counties of Marion, Linn, Yamhill, Tillamook and Polk. Having come to this conclusion he announced his candidacy and, though a Democrat, defeated a good Republican in a district that is Republican by at least two thousand majority. At the end of six years, feeling that he would enjoy another term, he so informed the electorate – and it came to pass.

Galloway was raised in Yamhill County and, when a boy, knew every Indian on the Grand Round reservation – in fact, they were boys together. He called them Tom, George and Charley, as the case might be, and they all called him “Bill.” One day, three years ago, he was holding court in Dallas, and a case was being tried which involved a Grand Round Indian on a charge of gross misconduct. This Indian and the judge had been boys together, though the former had always remained on the reservation. The prosecuting attorney was examining the Indian as a witness and had flatly contradicted a statement he had made. This so angered him that he turned to the court and said:

“Bill, that is the truth. You know, Bill, that I wouldn’t lie !”

“Bill” acknowledged the corn and from the bench vouched for the uniform good character of the Indian, as an Indian, and his acquittal soon followed.

Judge Galloway is a man who has the confidence of those we call the “common people,” is suave always, has the Chamberlain manner in accosting people, acquaintances and strangers alike, is a Democrat between campaigns but a non-partisan during their progress, and is, withal, a good, all ‘round typical Western American citizen of the pioneer mold – and that is saying a good deal in favor of any man.


Next Chapter - Geer has a run-in with Sylvester Pennoyer, Governor of Oregon, about the Oregon Railroad Commission; stories of George Waggoner.


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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