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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 campaign of 1888 opened, I was nominated for the Legislature again and my election followed, with all the Republican ticket in Marion County, my colleagues being William Armstrong, John B. Waldo, John Q. Wilson and Samuel Layman – all strong men.

Indeed, in looking over the list of members of the Legislature of 1889, both Senate and House, I am inclined to the belief that it contained a larger percent of able men than any other session in the history of the State. I was so impressed at the time, and I recall that the personnel of the delegation from Multnomah County in the House was remarkable because it was made up of men who were even then prominent in the business and political world. It is well known that in these days and under the present conditions of political life it is seldom that men of this caliber can be induced to submit to the annoyances and humiliations which characterize the average political campaign.

There were nine men in the House from Multnomah County in 1889, as follows: William M. Ladd, H. H. Northup, W. B. Gilbert, R. P. Earhart, W. T. Hume. D. P. Thompson, J. A. Strowbridge, J. J. Fisher, S. R. Harrington and T. E. Fell, – men of weight and ability and sincerity of purpose.

William M. Ladd is at present, and for many years has been, the president of the banking firm of Ladd & Tilton. one of the oldest and strongest financial firms west of the Rocky Mountains. H. H. Northup is one of the able lawyers of Portland, a Grand Army man with a distinguished record during the war; since serving in the Legislature that session, he has been Judge of Multnomah County for four years and was the “sound money” candidate for Congress in 1896. W. B. Gilbert was soon afterward appointed to the position of United States Circuit Judge for the District of Oregon and California, the duties of which he is discharging with great honor to himself and to the satisfaction of the people. R. P. Earhart had but recently retired from the position of Secretary of State, which he had occupied for eight years with signal ability. D. P. Thompson was one of the best known men in Oregon, a man who, after reaching his majority, had split cordwood in the woods near Oregon City. and who afterward amassed a fortune by his careful management and shrewd investments. Mr. Thompson once said he was “a farmer by birth, a blacksmith by trade, a surveyor by education and a banker by occupation.” In 1890, he was the Republican nominee for Governor, but was defeated by Sylvester Pennoyer because he was a banker. He would have made a most excellent Governor, but paid the penalty of being a successful man. He died when comparatively young, leaving a large fortune to his family. W. T. Hume was a lawyer of rare ability who afterward served Multnomah County for two terms as District Attorney. S. R. Harrington was a lawyer with an extensive practice and a splendid record as a soldier and officer in the Union army during the Civil War. J. J. Fisher was a prominent physician of East Portland and J. A. Strowbridge was a well-known business man of Portland and one of its earliest pioneers.

This was a notable list of distinguished citizens who were willing to donate their services to the public for the public good. They were able to make their campaigns without meeting a torrent of personal abuse and were not accused of being rascals bent upon the “subjugation of the common people.” These men are all living today, with the exception of Thompson, Earhart and Strowbridge, and it is not at all likely that any one of them, if a candidate for the Legislature now, could be elected under any circumstances.

In the Senate, Multnomah County had Joseph Simon, George A. Steel, J. C. Carson, Donald Mackay and J. K. Wait. Simon has since been United States Senator from Oregon and Steel has served one term as State Treasurer. The other three were men of high standing in the business circles of Portland. Other members of the Senate were: George Chandler, of Baker; T. E. Cauthorne, of Benton; J. W. Watts, of Yamhill; F. A. Moore, of Columbia; Thomas H. Tongue, of Washington; J. H. Raley, of Umatilla; J. B. Looney, J. B. Dimick and M. L. Chamberlin, of Marion; J. H. D. Gray, of Clatsop; C. A. Cogswell, of Lake; R. M. Veatch and S. B. Eakin, of Lane; J. C. Fullerton, of Douglas; S. A. Dawson, of Linn, and Charles Hilton, of Wasco.

In the House were E. L. Smith, of Wasco, chosen Speaker; John T. Apperson, Peter Paquet and R. V. Short, of Clackamas; J. N. Williamson, of Crook; J. E. Blundell, of Douglas; Robert A. Miller, of Jackson; S. W. Condon and A. C. Jennings, of Lane; J. W. Maxwell, of Tillamook; H. J. Bean, of Umatilla; E. O. McCoy, of Wasco; Charles Goodnough, of Union, and Thomas Paulsen, of Washington.

These were all substantial citizens who proved very active and efficient members. F. A. Moore has since been a member of the State Supreme Court for twenty years and H. J. Bean, after serving as District Attorney and Circuit Judge for Umatilla and Morrow counties, is just now beginning a full term as one of the Justices of the Supreme Court. E. L. Smith has served for several years as president of the State Board of Horticulture and has done more to make the apples of Hood River famous the world over than any other man. Robert A. Miller has since been a Democratic candidate for Congress and served for six years as Register of the United States Land Office at Oregon City. J. N. Williamson has since been elected to Congress twice and is one of the prominent stockmen of Crook County. R. V. Short was a member of the State Constitutional Convention of 1857; S. W. Condon was the son of Rev. Thomas Condon, who for several years was geologist at the State University; E. O. McCoy was a prominent business man of eastern Oregon; J. W. Maxwell was a well-known Grand Army man of Tillamook County; Charles Goodnough was a man extensively interested in several mercantile firms in Union and Wallowa counties and Thomas Paulsen was one of the successful dairymen of his county.

There were other members worthy of mention who contributed to the work of the session intelligently and conscientiously. Taken altogether, as I have said, it was without doubt the ablest assemblage which has ever composed an Oregon Legislature – and no participant in any other session can possibly take umbrage at this estimate, for he can, if so disposed, console himself with the reflection that too many of his colleagues failed to reach the average requirement for a good legislator!

One of the most popular members of that session was James E. Blundell, of Douglas County. He was a very small man physically, probably not weighing more than ninety pounds, but he was exceedingly witty and always commanded the attention of the House when addressing the Chair.

One afternoon Bowditch, of Jackson, grew somewhat belligerent in a debate he had precipitated with a fellow member regarding a bill that appeared to have been lost in some committee shuffle, and had received a retort which greatly angered him. To this he replied with vigor, and as he appeared to be making a hostile demonstration toward the accused committeeman, there was a great uproar in the House. The Speaker had begun to exercise his authority to preserve order, when Blundell arose and, standing almost by the side of Bowditch, who was a two-hundred pounder, said in his peculiar piping voice:

“Mr. Speaker, I will undertake to preserve order on the floor of the House in my immediate vicinity, and I hereby notify the gentleman from Jackson that if he doesn’t promptly resume his seat and govern that temper of his, I will hold him personally responsible.

As he said this, he shook his fist at the Jackson County member, and his attitude, together with the delicious absurdity of his remark, – his head scarcely reached above his desk, – created a roar of laughter that lasted for several minutes. But good feeling was restored and Bowditch himself enjoyed the episode as well as his fellow-members.

Blundell served four terms altogether from Douglas County, being a member in 1887, 1889, 1891 and 1895. On the last night of the session of ‘89, an hour before adjournment, there was no business to attend to and the members, with the permission of the Speaker, devoted themselves to all sorts of recreation not known to parliamentary law. Colonel Robert A. Miller was in the chair and Roberts, of Coos, had introduced a resolution ousting him from his position on account of an arbitrary ruling. Miller put the motion on the adoption of the resolution and, though it received a unanimous vote of approval, declared it lost.

At this juncture, when all was in an amusing disorder Blundell climbed into his chair and from it to the top of his desk, from which vantage point he shouted it tones which were heard above the general din, striking the open palm of his left hand vigorously with the clenched fist of his right, the while:

“Gentlemen, I do not propose to shirk the duty which rests upon me as a representative of the people of Douglas County by submitting to the tyranny of the gentleman from Jackson, who happens for the moment to be the presiding officer of this House. If any one other member will follow my lead, I will take the gentleman from the chair by force and –”

At this point, McCoy, of Wasco, a giant in stature took Blundell around the waist with his right arm and with his legs kicking wildly in the air, carried him down the aisle and into the main lobby of the Capitol.

Probably a more side-splitting incident never occurred during a legislative session in any State than that. In short time Blundell and McCoy returned to their seat arm in arm, order was restored, Speaker Smith took the chair and the important business of the State was resumed in a serious manner. “All work and no play makes Jack,” etc.

Poor “Jimmy Blundell” was afflicted with asthmatic trouble but his countenance was always cheerful, as was his heart. He was a school-teacher by profession and occupation. When his distressing ailment finally proved fatal, the announcement of his death carried a feeling of regret to every part of the State.

John B. Waldo, a member from Marion County, was the youngest son of Daniel Waldo, the noted pioneer of 1843, and had but recently completed a full term of six years on the State Supreme Bench. He was a very reserved man in his manner, though exceedingly hospitable in his home. He was a close student all his life and almost lived in and with his books. Every summer for twenty years before his death he invited a few friends to accompany him into the Cascade Mountains on an extended camping trip, usually lasting for two months. It was his custom to go into the mountains with his pack train of a few horses and, without following trails, proceed to the summit, after which he would pursue the backbone of the range well southward toward the California line. He was an expert botanist and was perhaps more familiar with the flora of Oregon than any other man has been.

The likes and dislikes of Judge Waldo were very deeply rooted. I recall that as the session of 1889 was drawing to a close a local photographer asked me to see him and request him to sit for a picture. He explained that he was making a group photograph of all the members of both Houses and had secured sittings from all the members save Judge Waldo. When, as requested, I told the Judge what was wanted, like a flash, he inquired:

“Is Joe Simon’s picture going to be in the group?”

“Yes, I presume so,” I replied, “as he is the president of the Senate. Why?”

“Well,” replied the Judge, “I won’t have my picture alongside of Joe Simon’s.”

And he did not call at the photographer’s. That enterprising individual, however, succeeded in securing an old picture somewhere and his group contained photographs of all the members of both Houses.

The bitterness of Waldo against Simon was due to the impression he had received that the latter had been instrumental in his defeat as Supreme Judge when a candidate for re-election in 1886. His death occurred at his farm in the Waldo Hills three years ago. He was a man of the strictest integrity and held in the highest esteem by his acquaintances everywhere.

One of my colleagues from Marion County in the sessions of 1889, and again in 1893, was Samuel Layman, of Woodburn. He was a successful farmer and an intelligent Representative, but he could not address a public meeting without being lost in an overwhelming wave of embarrassment. It was the custom in those days for the candidates of the opposing parties to visit every part of the county and hold joint debates, the “remarks” of each candidate being restricted to a limited time. This part of the program Layman always endeavored to avoid, but in order to gain votes he found it necessary to make the rounds, and he was invariably called upon by some man in the audience, though his associates had agreed to let him off. In the two campaigns I made with Layman he made perhaps forty speeches, and these were the identical words he used every time:

“Fellow-citizens, I am not a public speaker, but am a farmer down on French Prairie. If elected to the Legislature, I promise you that I will oppose all the bad bills and favor all the good ones. I hope you will vote for me.”

This always provoked laughter from the audience and, inexpressibly confused, Layman would seek his seat. However, it is plain that if he had spoken for two hours he could have said nothing better than this – and might have said too much, as the rest of us frequently did. And, besides, Layman always received more votes than any other man on the ticket – as he deserved to.

Another influential member in the session of 1889 was Captain John T. Apperson, of Clackamas County. Captain Apperson had for a long term of years been a steamboat pilot on the Willamette River and had served in the State Senate during the sessions of 1878 and 1880. For about twenty years he was president of the Board of Trustees of the Oregon Agricultural College and is now a member of that body. He has been a tower of strength to that very deserving and useful educational institution, and has attended all its meetings during his long tenure of office on the Board.

A resolution had been adopted during the last week of the ‘89 session providing for adjournment on a Friday night at midnight. A few minutes before this hour arrived Speaker Smith had called Captain Apperson to the chair and was absent when the clock pointed to the hour of twelve. Five minutes before this, the House had called upon H. H. Northup to make a short address on the eve of our separation, to which he had responded. Judge Northup, who is a splendid speaker, especially upon an occasion of that character, was narrating a very pathetic incident which occurred on one of the battlefields of the Civil War, relating to the wounding of a drummer boy, when Captain Apperson called his attention to the fact that the hour for adjournment had arrived. A request went up from all over the House for him to finish his story, to do which, he replied in answer to a query, would take but two minutes; but Captain Apperson said the resolution called for adjournment at midnight.

“I have no discretion in the matter, gentlemen,” said he. “Your resolution says we shall adjourn at twelve o’clock, and you can see,” glancing at the clock on the wall back of the Speaker’s desk, “that it is now one minute past that time.”

And Judge Northrup’s story was never finished – all because Captain Apperson had for twenty years been a river pilot, where an order was an order, where punctuality meant being punctual, and where there was no dallying with the dictum of one man whose conclusion was the law.

And the House stood aghast – also, adjourned.


Next Chapter - Geer wins the Speakership of the Oregon Legislature; with H. B. Miller, attempts to unseat Binger Hermann as Senator.


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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