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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



During the progress of the legislative session of 1891, it became known that in the spring President Harrison would visit the Pacific Coast, including Oregon, and before adjournment a joint committee was appointed to meet him and his party at the State line and to take charge of their itinerary while they remained among our people. Accordingly, the committee, consisting of three members of the Senate and five from the House, including President Simon of the Senate and myself, went to Ashland on May 5 to meet the Presidential party, which arrived there at four o’clock. The weather had been quite dry for the preceding month, but at noon of that day a threatening haze overspread the sky and ten minutes before the train arrived there was a heavy fall of rain. This developed into a steady downpour, and by the time the President appeared before the great audience to make his address there was a general scurrying for awnings, doorways and anything else that offered protection. It was thought to be only a passing shower, but it proved to be the beginning of a three-days’ rain which has rarely, if ever, been equaled in Oregon during the month of May. At Grant’s Pass the people had prepared a huge bonfire, and when the train arrived at nine o’clock a large audience had congregated to greet the President, sheltered by umbrellas and kept busy endeavoring to preserve the life of the flames against the furious onslaught of Jupiter Pluvius.

The Presidential train was scheduled to arrive at Eugene the next morning at six o’clock, and the people of that enterprising town had made great preparation to give their distinguished guests a magnificent reception. Several men had been sent the day before up the McKenzie River to catch a basket of mountain trout to present to the President. When the train arrived, which it did on schedule time, there were literally acres of people assembled to welcome the nation’s Chief Magistrate. When I arose and looked out of the car window, it seemed to me that I saw more people than I supposed were living in all of Lane County. After all, however, whether there were any people at all was a mere matter of conjecture, since there was only an unbroken sea of umbrellas in sight. It was raining so steadily and vigorously that one might suppose it to be the middle of November. There were miniature lakes of water everywhere, but all this did not daunt the enthusiasm of the men and women — and children — of Eugene. Nothing ever does.

As soon as the President’s train came to a stop there were loud calls for “The President,” “Harrison,” etc., but there was no response. Finally his secretary appeared on the rear platform and bowed to the people, while the anxious committee, having in charge the large basket of McKenzie trout, handsomely packed in ice and decorated with beautiful flowers, handed it to the secretary, with the compliments of the people of Eugene. He graciously received them in the name of the President, and retired within the car.

The people standing in torrents of falling water continued to call for the President. After a delay of perhaps five minutes his secretary again appeared and announced that upon retiring the night before he had given orders not to be molested until just before reaching Salem, toward noon. He was very tired, he said, and needed rest.

Upon this turn of affairs the people gave vigorous utterance to their disappointment, which finally turned into disgust and anger. The train pulled out soon after, amid exclamations that were not especially laudatory of the President, and some of which would not look well in print! And through it all President Harrison slept the sleep of the weary and the unconcerned. Incidentally, it is proper to remark that neither Theodore Roosevelt nor William J. Bryan would have been asleep under similar circumstances.

But there was one man in the President’s party who had seen this exhibition of indifference on the part of the President to the expectations of the people of Eugene — whom he had promised to address as a part of his itinerary — and who was sorely troubled over Harrison’s failure to keep faith with them. That man was “Uncle” Jeremiah Rusk, then Secretary of Agriculture in the President’s Cabinet — a man with a big heart, a typical Western American of the true pioneer type. He was greatly annoyed by the Eugene incident and that night, while sitting near me on the platform while the President was addressing a great audience in the old Exposition Building, he leaned toward me and said:

“Do you know that I wouldn’t have had that affair happen at Eugene this morning for a hundred dollars? It was really too bad and should not have been permitted.”

The Secretary’s peace of mind was especially upset because during the afternoon the committee which had presented the President’s representative with the mountain trout sent a dispatch to that individual in Portland informing him that, if he would return the basket to them, he could keep the fish and they would call it even!

At Salem an immense throng had assembled though the rain continued. There was but one hour to be devoted to Salem and nearly half of this was lost in trying to find Governor Pennoyer, who had refused to accompany the committee to the State line on the ground that the Governor of a State is a “bigger man,” officially, than the President of the United States, since the States are “sovereign,” while the Federal Government is but the “creature of the States,” etc. He had publicly said that he would be glad to welcome the President in his office in the State House, but that it would be “unseemly” for him to go to the State line. And he didn’t!

When the train arrived at Salem, however, the Governor was at the depot in a cab, but this was not known until the procession was about to start to the Capitol, when the committee in charge, learning that the Governor was in the crowd somewhere, instituted a search for him. When he was finally discovered, at least one — fourth of the hour was gone. Another fourth was consumed in getting to and into the Capitol, where the program was to be presented in the Representatives’ Hall. The first thing arranged was an address by Mayor P. H. D’Arcy, and as he was a young man who appreciated the great privilege of actually addressing: the President of the United States, he had prepared a regular oration, dealing with the Boston tea — party, Paul Revere’s ride, Israel Putnam at Ticonderoga and Webster’s reply to Hayne, all leading up to the causes of the Great Rebellion, etc., etc.

Of course this consumed nearly all that remained of the hour and when the President arose to address the people there was only time to thank them for coming out to see him and to express his love for this great Western Coast, etc.

This turn of affairs, taken in connection with the antics of the eccentric Governor, presented an amusing phase of the situation which was generally enjoyed, especially since Mayor D’Arcy was born in Salem, had lived there every day of his life and was known personally to every man, woman and child within thirty miles of the capital, and could be heard, — indeed, had been heard, — on hundreds of other occasions. But D’Arcy was young then, He has since developed into one of the most popular orators in Oregon, and the public always is glad to hear him speak on any subject and occasion.

The Presidential train arrived at Oregon City in the middle of the afternoon. Here another immense gathering had assembled to welcome the Chief Executive, and it was raining’ harder, if possible, than it had rained at any other point. The water simply fell in torrents and there were more umbrellas in sight than I had supposed could be found in all Oregon. It was here that the President made use of one of those strikingly apt expressions which characterized all his speeches on that memorable trip. As he began his address he was standing under an umbrella, while every citizen there was actually ashamed of the weather — it was so “unusual” and unnecessary. Everybody was apologizing for its misbehavior. Different members of our committee had over and again assured him that such a storm in May had not been known since the first white settler came here, ages ago, etc.

But the first thing the President said was: “My fellow citizens, I have just come from the land of sunshine, roses and irrigation to a country where it is evident that the Lord himself takes care of the crops.” This put him on splendid terms with his audience, proved to us that he knew a good thing when he saw it and convinced us that “this Oregon of ours” never makes a mistake in its weather, after all.

A great welcome was given the President in Portland, one entirely worthy of that city’s reputation for openhearted hospitality, though it continued to rain. The only consolation to be derived at the time from this unusual opening of the heavens was that when the Presidential train arrived at Seattle the next morning it was pouring as steadily as it had during his stay in Oregon.

“Uncle” Jerry Rusk, President Harrison’s Secretary of Agriculture, was the kind of man who had full sympathy with the disappointments or sorrows of others. He was a big man, physically and temperamentally. He was always popular with the people of his State of Wisconsin and after serving his district six years in the lower House of Congress was elected Governor and served for two terms. Upon the creation of the office of Secretary of Agriculture President Harrison appointed him to that position, which he filled with great credit to himself and with benefit to the public. He was a good executive officer and had the confidence of his fellows always.

In October, 1887, I was in St. Louis at the time of the assembling of the Grand Army of the Republic for its national encampment. One day of the week was set apart for an excursion to Springfield, Illinois, to visit the tomb of Lincoln, and since it was my intention to visit the home town of the great emancipator while on my travels — for it was my first trip anywhere farther East than to Baker, — I accompanied the Grand Army men to that most interesting city — interesting because of its connection with the early struggles and final triumph of the great Lincoln.

Upon arriving at Springfield everybody went directly to Oak Ridge Cemetery where the great monument stands over Lincoln’s remains, and after an hour spent in walking reverently about the grounds, calls were made for a speech by Governor Rusk of Wisconsin. As the demand would not be stilled, he appeared soon afterward in an open place in the immense crowd and began speaking. At once voices from every direction demanded that he speak from some place where he could be seen as well as heard. Near by was a carpenter’s work bench — the grounds at that time not having been cleared of the rubbish left by the contractors — and several men picked it up and brought it to where Rusk was standing. Upon this he was assisted to mount, and after he had spoken a few minutes loud calls were made for his staff, which it was learned was present, to mount the bench and stand by his side.

This brought out a loud round of applause, and soon several old veterans took their places by the side of the Governor. It was a most touching spectacle, as it was soon discovered that each man had lost either an arm or a leg. They kept coming until eleven men were ranged beside the Governor. As they stood there, hundreds of men in the vast gathering were moved to tears and everybody was hurrahing for Rusk and his staff and the flag. Seven of his staff had lost an arm each, three had lost a leg, and Colonel Henry Fisher, who had belonged to the Second Missouri, had a shattered limb.

Taking it altogether — the place where it occurred, the experiences of the men who constituted the assemblage, and remembering what the struggle for which they had risked life and limb meant to this great republic — it was at once one of the most inspiring and most pathetic scenes I ever witnessed.

Governor Rusk was a splendid story-teller, as most generous, big-hearted and whole-souled men are. On his trip to Oregon in 1891, he related one that is worth repeating since it aptly illustrates the truth of the old saying that a prophet is not without honor save in his own country.

Soon after his appointment to the position of Secretary of Agriculture in the President’s Cabinet it occurred to him that he would visit the home of his boyhood in Ohio, which he had left when barely of age and to which in all the intervening years he had not returned. When he left for Wisconsin in 1853 there was no railroad within twenty miles of the village where he lived, but upon his return he found that a line had been run through that section, but missing the village by a half mile, and that a “hack” was run down to the station to meet such passengers as might, for some odd reason, want to visit the little hamlet.

Upon arriving at the station — he was the only traveler who alighted — he saw near by a two-seated vehicle which he surmised, correctly, was waiting for a customer. He approached the prematurely old driver, whom he recognized as one of his schoolmates in the early days, and who had doubtless never been outside his county. Rusk took his seat by the side of the driver, but the man seemed indisposed to engage in conversation save with his horses, who appeared to be decidedly averse to arriving at their destination. To induce a faster gait, the driver was constantly using both his whip and voice.

Rapidly taking in the situation, Rusk himself began a conversation, or tried to. Presently he said to the man:

“I suppose you don’t know who I am, do you?”

“Giddup there,” said the driver, as he struck the off horse with his whip. “Oh, yes. I know you. You are Jerry Rusk.” And he said nothing more, except to continue his wrangle with his team. After a few minutes, Rusk began the attack again.

“Well,” he said, “do the people here know that after I went out to Wisconsin a long time ago I joined the Union army as a private and came out a brigadier general?”

“Giddap!” replied the man. “Oh, yes; we heard all about that.” And he shut up like a clam.

“And do they know,” continued the Governor, “that after I returned home I was elected to Congress and served in that body for six years?”

“Giddap!” shouted the driver. “Oh, yes, they heard all about that.”

After vainly waiting for five minutes for the driver to show some interest in the matter, and, perhaps, to get a line as to how he stood in his old home town, Rusk ventured to inquire:

“Well, do they know that after that I was elected Governor of Wisconsin for two terms?”

“Giddap! Yes, everybody heard about that, too.” And he relapsed into a profound and unbroken silence.

“I suppose they know that at present I am a member of the Cabinet of the President of the United States?” ventured Rusk, after a short pause.

“Giddap, Bill!” shouted the driver, as he gave the unambitious horse an undercut. “Yes, heard ‘em talking about it at the store ‘tother evening.”

There was a pause of several minutes, during which, Rusk said, he eyed the countenance of the driver to discover what sort of a man he was anyway. Seeing that he showed no glimmer of interest in his career, he made this last effort to get an expression from him as to the local estimate of himself and his political triumphs.

“Well, when the people here, where I was born and where I grew to manhood, who knew that I went West without money and no friends to help — when they learned that I came out of the war a brigadier general, was afterwards elected to Congress three times, served two terms as Governor of Wisconsin and finally became a member of the Cabinet of the President of the United States — when they heard all this, what did they say?”

The man gave his sleepy horse a more vigorous cut than usual and said:

“Ah, giddup there! Oh, they just laughed.


Next Chapter - In the session of 1892, there were several characters in the Oregon Legislature.


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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