Family History    Wines

Photography       Books

Amazon Bestsellers

Fifty Years In Oregon

Table of Contents

Site Contents

Home Page

Book Resources

Family History



Wildlife Photos

Wine Tastings
 - Bottled Poetry

Other Pages

About Us

Contact Us

Privacy Policy


Site Map

Affiliate Sites

Powell's Books

Alibris - Books You Thought You'd Never Find - Outdoor Gear

Additional Affiliate Programs

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 legislative session of 1891 met in January that year, I was a candidate for Speaker of the House. After a little preliminary skirmish, which involved more or less of communication with members from other parts of the State during the preceding month or two, I was successful. There were but two other aspirants, H. B. Miller, of Josephine, and George L. Story, Multnomah. Mr. Miller had represented his county the State Senate, where he had made a splendid record as a hard and efficient worker, but a week before the session convened he announced that he had no desire to Speaker. Mr. Story had been a member of the House 1885, serving with distinction, and was one of the ‘y earliest settlers in the city of Portland. He did not make a very active campaign for the Speakership, however, and there were few obstacles in the way of my success. R. R. Hays, of Tillamook, was chosen chief clerk, Frank Davey assistant clerk, and Glenn O. Holman reading clerk.

This session of the Oregon Legislature may be said have been characterized by an “era of good feeling.” There was not much demand for general legislation and the “political pot,” which in this State has boiled with a good, old-fashioned boil for fifty years almost without intermission, was actually enjoying the experience of a perfect rest for the first time. The “fight against Mitchell” which had known no cessation since his advent to the State in 1860, had been abandoned and, though his second term in the United States Senate was terminating and he was a candidate for re-election, he received every vote in the Republican caucus, which was attended by every Republican member of both Houses, and received every Republican vote in the joint convention – and all the members were present.

Mitchell was a candidate for the United States Senate in 1866, but lacked one vote of securing the caucus nomination. There were no more Republican Legislatures until 1872, when he was again a candidate for Senator and, after a strong combination against him had been overcome, a successful one. At the end of his term the Legislature was again Democratic and he was retired in favor of James H. Slater. In 1882 there was another Senator to elect and a Republican Legislature chosen to perform that duty. Mitchell was an active candidate for the position, but after a struggle, which lasted until the very last moments of the session, Joseph N. Dolph, Mitchell’s law partner, was elected.

The principal objection to Mitchell among those Republican members who opposed him was that he was a “corporation lawyer,” and the fact that his partner was finally selected was held to be one of the instances of political inconsistency frequently encountered along the highway of caucuses and conventions. Upon his return to Portland after his defeat he received a tremendous ovation from the thousands of men who had assembled on the streets, while the successful candidate received, by comparison, no welcome whatever.

The Legislature of 1885 was confronted with the duty of electing a Senator, and Solomon Hirsch, of Portland, received the Republican caucus nomination. There was a defection, however, of eighteen members, who refused to be bound by the caucus action and were able to prevent an election. The struggle was continued until the last minute of the constitutional duration of a legislative session and an adjournment was had without an election. In the following October, Governor Moody called a special session of the Legislature for the purpose of electing a Senator and Mitchell was again a candidate. The fight which was made upon him at this time was one of the fiercest known to Oregon politics. It was led by the Oregonian and nothing was left unsaid or unprinted which it was thought would contribute ‘to Mitchell’s defeat. The attack was directly personal and Mitchell was charged with all the sins of omission and commission known to the calendar of moral and personal delinquencies. Proof of the truthfulness of the charges was offered – indeed, was published – and challenges to institute a suit for libel were printed daily in black-faced type, but Mitchell, like Cuffey, “des kep’ on sayin’ nuffin’.” After a short session of this character, although it seemed a long one, a sufficient number of Democrats came to Mitchell’s support to give him the necessary forty-six votes and he was elected.

Considering the nature of this furious onslaught in 1885 against Mitchell it was a matter of surprise, and of rejoicing, that at the end of his term there was no opposition to his re-election in any quarter. All was peace and Mitchell must have thought the millennium at hand. But it was only a lull in the cyclone which usually focused around the political headquarters where John H. Mitchell was the central figure, – as later Oregon history abundantly shows.

It was during the session of 1891 that I formed the acquaintance of H. B. Miller, member from Josephine County. He was a prominent contractor in southern Oregon and had much to do with the construction of railroad bridges. He was also extensively engaged in horticultural pursuits, as well as manufacturing enterprises in Josephine County.

He had a well-developed ambition to go to Congress and had his eye on any old thing that promised to assist in preventing the re-election of Binger Hermann. At that time Hermann had acquired the fixed habit of going to Congress every two years, which was naturally discouraging to a few other men who were ambitious to serve the people’s interests at Washington. Among these very deserving aspirants was H. B. Miller. In those years Oregon had but one member of Congress, and since it began to look as though Hermann, with his perfect health and convincing handshake, would live as long as anybody else and stay in Congress as long as he lived, there seemed little chance for any other man to acquire the privilege of sending garden seeds to the farmers of the State, – unless, indeed, something out of the ordinary should happen.

But Miller and I decided that Hermann could be displaced if only the proper steps were taken. Others were admitted to our councils, and it was finally decided that if about five of us, living in different parts of the State, should become candidates for the nomination, the combined strength of the opposition would throw Hermann in a minority, and after that had been accomplished it would not be difficult for us to unite on the man who should represent us.

It was a good scheme, its only fault being that it didn’t work out so well when put to the actual test as it did in our private consultations. When the session of 1891 adjourned, there was a well-arranged understanding between Miller and myself that before the campaign of ‘92 opened we would have a scheme perfected which would result in placing Hermann on the shelf. We felt sure it could be done with proper management, and that we were in position to carry it to a successful termination.

I saw Miller at intervals during the following summer and fall, and each time we added minor details to our campaign. He said it looked good to him in southern Oregon, and that he was certain he could come to the convention with several counties hitherto solid for Hermann in his pocket.

In January, 1892, we met by appointment in Portland to complete the plan of our attack. A few flank movements were decided upon and our lieutenants selected. We separated with a promise by Miller that some time within a month he would write me a letter which would give further details as to the southern Oregon situation, for Hermann must first be shaken in his own section, and Miller, because of his prominence, and coming from that part of the State, was going to be the most formidable man in the combine.

I returned to the farm and resumed my plowing and sowing, expecting to hear from Miller at any time. The spring oats were sown, the orchard pruned and yet nothing from Miller. I knew he was busy preparing for the solar plexus blow that was to give us a different Congressman, but finally, thinking – that valuable time was being wasted – I had some thing’s of my own to do if I was to get seriously into the contest – and concluding that by that time Miller had surely laid the foundation for the fight good and strong, I wrote him a letter. He had promised to let me know and had not done it. I was anxious to hear the details of his inroads into the Hermann ranks, so sent him the following:

MACLEAY, OREGON, March 10, 1892.

HON. H. D. MILLER, Grant’s Pass, Or.:

My Dear Miller:


Sincerely yours,

Three days afterward I received the following lucid answer to my letter, which constituted an exhaustive explanation of the political situation in southern Oregon, as far as Miller had succeeded in causing a defection in the Hermann ranks:

GRANT’S PASS, OREGON, March 13, 1892.

HON. T. T. GEER, Macleay, Or.:

My Dear Mr. Geer:

I was delighted to hear that you are “well.” Good health is a great blessing.

Truly yours,

It was not the kind of letter which called for an immediate answer. It spoke volumes and breathed such a deep appreciation of my prime physical condition that I was wholly overcome. I at once counted myself out of the Congressional race – I didn’t wait for others to do so – and was not at all surprised when the Republican State Convention assembled along in April to read that it had re-nominated Hon. Binger Hermann, of Douglas County, for Congress “without serious opposition.”

One of the important acts of the session of ‘91 was the creation of the office of Attorney General. Attempts to do so had been made prior to that date, but there was general opposition to the establishment of new offices and they failed. That there was need for such adviser to the State officials there could be no doubt, so provision was made for the new official to be appointed by the Governor, to hold until the next general election. Accordingly, Governor Pennoyer named George E. Chamberlain, of Linn County, who was nominated by the Democrats for the same position in 1892, and, according to the Chamberlain custom, was successful at the polls, defeating L. R. Webster, Republican.

There were many new members in the House in 1891, though there were several who had had wide experience in legislative matters and who afterward became prominent in State affairs. There was much to enliven the ordinary trend of legislative proceedings and, as is usually the case, a humorous reply or statement often came at the most unexpected times.

One day the House was considering a proposed bill on assessment in Committee of the Whole. The Committee on Assessment had undertaken to revise the entire system of taxation – a proposition which always appeals to the aspiring legislator as a means not only of immortalizing his own name, but of contributing to the welfare of the masses. For a full hundred years this work of drafting an assessment law that will make all taxation “equal” has been prosecuted in our older States and there is the same complaint of the injustice of the prevailing system, no matter what it is, that characterized the unrest of the people at the beginning.

But we were in the midst of considering the new bill on taxation, as reported by the committee, by sections. We had reached a section which provided for the taxation of watches, when Holmes, of Marion, a Democrat who had managed to be elected by a margin of six votes in that strongly Republican county, arose and said:

“Mr. Chairman, in these times a watch has become an article of necessity and not one of luxury, as was formerly the case. Everybody now, even the poor man, carries a watch and I move that this section be stricken out in the interest of the common people.”

Before the chairman could put the question Starr, of Benton, a man who had not been on his feet before during the entire session, asked for recognition and said:

“Mr. Chairman, I am opposed to striking out this section. Just a few minutes ago we adopted another section which taxes horses, and I object to taxing horses and exempting watches, for hundreds of times I have seen young fellows on the Long Tom riding four-dollar cayuses and carrying forty-dollar watches!”

After which Holmes’ proposed amendment didn’t have a “look in.”

Glenn Holman was the reading clerk for the session of ‘91, as indeed he had been for many sessions before, and he had a most remarkable memory as well as a splendid voice for that purpose. That was before the day of the typewriter, and as all the bills and resolutions were written in long hand, and usually by their authors, samples of handwriting drifted up to the clerk’s desk that would often put a crimp in that officer’s tongue. But Holman could read anything that even looked like writing and get away with it in pretty good shape. He never stalled. If he came to an obstacle in the way of a sprawl across the paper, he named it and went on without any hesitation whatever. It was one of his boasts that he had never yet found a specimen of writing that he could not decipher with ease.

One day a member who intended to introduce a bill to prohibit the killing of certain kinds of pheasants, except at stated times of the year, handed it to me in advance to get my opinion of it. One section was something like this: “It shall be unlawful to kill or have in possession, except as otherwise hereinafter provided, any ring-necked pheasant, silver pheasant, golden pheasant, copper pheasant, green Japanese pheasant, Reeves pheasant, scholmeringu pheasant, etc.”

In this last word I saw an opportunity to have some fun out of Holman and asked the member to let me write his bill, telling him my purpose. I wanted to write that word “scholmeringu” in such a way that Holman would be baffled. The bill had but two or three sections and it was soon done. I had let a dozen members into the joke and they were ready for a laugh on Holman. As soon as the House was called to order the bill was introduced. With his customary assurance, the reading clerk began to declare its provisions to the members in ringing tones which reached every part of the chamber. I had written the word “scholmeringu” in such a way that it spelled nothing whatever, only the first three letters being decipherable at all. After their formation the word flattened out into a meaningless scrawl. And here is the way Holman read it, while the House listened and watched to see him forced to admit his defeat: “It shall be unlawful to kill or have in possession, except as otherwise hereinafter provided, any ring-necked pheasant, silver pheasant, golden pheasant, copper pheasant, green Japanese pheasant, Reeves pheasant or – any other kind of pheasant,” and he went right on with a broad smile on his face while the House indulged a round of laughter at my failure to trap the versatile translator of duck tracks, et al.

Holman had a wonderful memory for names, and after calling the roll of sixty members a half-dozen times could easily dispense permanently with the printed form. He was at the reading clerk’s desk in the House sessions of ‘80, ‘89, ‘91 and ‘93. One day toward the last of the session of ‘93 he was calling the roll for about the thousandth time, perfunctorily, as the proceedings were very uninteresting, when he came to the name of Merritt, of Jackson County, who had been a member during the preceding session. When Holman came to his name that day he unconsciously switched from the roll-call of ‘93 to that of ‘91 and followed Merritt’s name with those who succeeded his in the session of two years before. The “break” was not noticed until some of the members were astonished to hear names of men called who had gone down to defeat, and some even were dead. After adjournment, in commenting upon the incident, Holman repeated, from memory, the roll-call of ‘91 without hesitation, and even repeated that of 1880, thirteen years before, with but a few mistakes.

Toward the end of the session of ‘91 the members began to show their impatience at any move which consumed time. This, however, is not unusual. At the beginning of a session there appears to be “all kinds of time” in which to transact the business before the Legislature and a motion to adjourn will always carry. The first three weeks of an Oregon session, which is constitutionally limited to forty days, it is customary to adjourn on each Thursday and proceed to Portland, not to return to Salem until the following Sunday night, or perhaps not until Monday morning. But when half the session is gone and members begin to discover that many of their bills are yet “in committee,” and that there is danger of their being lost altogether, an awakening always takes place and the great majority are willing to adjourn only for the time necessary for meals.

Although when the House adjourned sine die in ‘91, every bill had been disposed of and we had two hours to spare, there was much uneasiness during the last three days concerning the fate of several measures. The Ministerial Union of Salem had provided a minister to be present every morning to open the sessions with prayer. This had always been customary and it is a very fitting beginning of the day’s work. There were several members who had privately asked me to abandon the custom during the last week, in the interest of some of the belated measures, but I had assured them that we would “clean up” the calendar, and that it would not look well to reject the offers of the ministers to intercede for us at the Throne of Grace, since we probably stood in need of all the assistance we could get, both here and hereafter. I remember that Garfield, of Coos, was especially opposed to “wasting the time of the House in needless prayers.”

However, on the morning of the last day there had been so many importunities from members to dispense with the morning prayer that when Rev. Robert Whitaker, of the Baptist Church, stood by my side I whispered to him while the House was coming to order, “Cut it short,” for much of the complaint had been at the length of some of the prayers – which, indeed, were needlessly long. I knew Whitaker well, and as he was a very witty man both in and out of the pulpit, I felt perfectly free to ask him to “cut it short.” He was very obedient to my suggestion, for here is his prayer, verbatim: “Oh, Lord, we pray Thee to keep us from all evil throughout this day. We ask it for Christ’s sake. Amen.”

To say that the House was pleased would be to put it very mildly. Smiles were in evidence over the chamber, even some clapping of hands. Holman passed a hat among the members and secured for the considerate preacher five dollars, which was given him at the door when he passed out three minutes later. It was a signal triumph of the art of condensation, for he might have extended his prayer ten minutes longer, as some of the preachers did, without adding anything to the effectiveness of his appeal.

At that time Rev. Whitaker could have had any position within the gift of the legislature for the asking.


Next Chapter - President Harrison and Jeremiah Rusk (Secretary of Agriculture) visit Oregon in 1891.


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:


TheRagens Home Page   Family History   Recommended Book Lists   Wine Tastings and Recommendations   Wildlife Photos   Feedback and
Site Registration


Amazon Logo
by title by author