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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



As the time for the opening of the campaign of 1892 approached, I asked the Republicans of Marion County to favor me with a fourth term in the Legislature and my request was granted. I appeared to have contracted the habit of going to the Legislature, but after the lapse of so many years it is difficult to understand the reason. I think my only motive was to be in a position where I could serve a second term as Speaker, which at that time no man had ever done. I had served as Speaker of the House at the preceding session and had heard no word of criticism from any quarter of my administration of the duties of the position. I hoped, and apparently with good reason, that I could be re-elected easily, but upon the assembling of the members I discovered that Hon. W. P. Keady, who, as a member from Benton County, had been elected Speaker in 1885, was again a member, this time from Multnomah County, and was an active candidate for the same position.

The result was that two of my colleagues from Marion County had for reasons that seemed sufficient to them formed an indirect alliance with Mr. Keady, and with my local support thus divided he was able to make other combinations which gave him a majority in the Republican caucus. The effect of this was that Mr. Keady, instead of myself, won the honor of being elected Speaker of the House of Representatives twice, — the only man who has ever had that distinction to date.

Among my ardent supporters for the Speakership in 1891 was J. W. Merritt, of Jackson County. During the progress of that session he was deeply interested in the success of a certain measure which I did not approve and against which I voted upon its final passage. His bill was lost and he felt the disappointment very keenly, frankly admitting to me that he was “sore” over my attitude toward it, though we remained good friends. When the campaign for the Speakership in 1893 was beginning to take form, I wrote Merritt saying that I would feel grateful for his support and that I very much hoped I might count upon it. I remembered his disappointment in the matter of the bill but thought it better not to refer to it.

In a few days, I received an answer in which Merritt said he would pledge his support, as requested, as he thought I had made a very good presiding officer, and that he was disposed to overlook my vote regarding a certain measure in the preceding session, “since it was not likely that any man would make such a d——d fool of himself twice in succession.” Of course, under the circumstances, taking into consideration the fact that his support was pledged, I could afford to disregard his brutal candor. There are few things one cannot forgive during the stress of a political campaign.

Tilmon Ford was a prominent member of the House at this session from my own county, and to him was directly due my defeat for the Speakership. There was a political rivalry in Marion County between us and he was openly opposed to my candidacy for a second term as presiding officer of the House. The reason given for his action was that Hon. Edward Hirsch, Senator from our county, was an aspirant for the presidency of the Senate and he preferred to render his contest easier by making impossible the election of a Marion County man to the Speakership. It was fully known that circumstances were such that Mr. Hirsch had no chance for success, and the real reason for Mr. Ford’s attitude could be traced to another source; but the outcome was the same and his purpose was accomplished.

Four years later I was a candidate for the Republican nomination for Congress. The fact no sooner became known than Mr. Ford also was possessed with an ambition to serve Oregon in that body. He immediately organized his supporters into a working force in every Marion County precinct, with the result that, having carried the Salem districts, with one or two in the country, he had a majority in the county convention. The “unit rule” applied, and he had the support of our county in the District convention, which met in Albany.

It was in this convention — 1896 — that Mr. Hermann was finally defeated for a renomination, after serving in Congress continuously for twelve years. To accomplish this result, it required about fifty ballots and a session lasting until midnight of the day on which the convention met. Through the entire protracted struggle Mr. Ford’s support only included that of Marion County, though it remained with him until the very last ballot. Naturally, he was very much crestfallen over the unexpected — to him — result, but I had been kept out of the contest and in a measure he and his friends had won a victory, though it was a left-handed triumph. This was practically the end of Mr. Ford’s political aspirations, though he was a Presidential elector in the campaign of 1904 and made a partial canvass of the State.

I refer to this for the reason that for ten years I was obliged to meet Mr. Ford’s opposition in every move I made in political matters, and when I succeeded, it was in spite of his active influence, which was not to be overlooked as he was a man of splendid ability, a lawyer of reputation, was a good public speaker and had at his disposal a private fortune. After the Albany convention had nominated Mr. Tongue, Mr. Ford ceased his active opposition to me, though he gave me no real support until during the primaries of 1906, when, meeting him on the streets of Salem one day, he asked for the opportunity to say that he was in favor of my nomination for Governor and that he would do anything for me that I would suggest. This I appreciated more than I could say, and so told him. He, as well as his special friends, afterwards gave me much assistance.

Mr. Ford met with a serious accident in 1905 which, after a lingering illness, caused his death. He made many bequests in his will — he was a bachelor — to friends here and there and gave to each of fifty men named a stated sum, with which they were to purchase a keepsake — a diamond ring or a watch — by which to remember him. I confess that I was surprised to find my name among the favored ones. To be perfectly fair, however, Tilmon Ford was a man with a big heart in many ways, had a high sense of honor in business matters and was greatly esteemed by the people generally. We entered public life together as colleagues in the Legislature from Marion County in 1880, in the campaign of which year I first met him. When at that time we began the joint canvass with the opposing candidates, he was charged at once with having been a Southern sympathizer during the Civil War, and the story developed by constant repetition into the direct statement that one day in ‘63 he “rode along the streets of Salem on a mule, hurrahing for Jeff Davis.” To this story, repeated daily in the papers and elsewhere, Ford paid no heed until the very last night of the campaign, when, before an immense audience gathered in the old Reed’s Opera House in Salem, he said, in closing his speech:

“Now I come to a yarn to the effect that during the war I rode up and down the streets on a mule hurrahing for Jeff Davis. Fellow citizens, I want here and now to brand this story as the biggest kind of a lie. (Loud applause.) I never rode a mule in all my life — it was a yaller cayuse!”

To this there was a responsive yell of delight that left Mr. Ford rather the favorite among the entire list of Republican candidates. His was the closing speech of the evening — and this was his closing remark. It hit the bull’s eye and left a splendid impression where a serious attempt at refutation might have been hurtful.

One afternoon during the session of 1893, the House was considering a bill that had to do with the labor question. There had been so much debate relating to it that the members were generally tired out and were clamoring for a vote, but Mr. Trullinger, of Clatsop County, arose and asked the privilege of making a few remarks. He had not before that taken any of the time of the House and, for that reason, his request was complied with. What he had to say was of real interest and he commanded the general attention for ten minutes, which fact seemed to create in his mind the impression that he could continue his speech indefinitely without objection — a mistake frequently made even by speakers of great reputation. The knack of knowing when enough has been said is not the portion of many public men.

After Trullinger had said all he should have said, instead of resuming his seat “amid the plaudits of his hearers,” he proceeded in this wise:

“Mr. Speaker, I believe in work. Every man should be a working man. Labor is honorable and tends to make a man healthy and strong. I have been a laboring man all my life, gentlemen. Mr. Speaker, I really doubt if any man in Oregon has done more days of hard work than I have, and I can now, at the age of nearly seventy years, throw down any man in this House.”

Before he could make further declaration of his prowess, Rev. W. R. Bishop, a member from Multnomah County, gray-headed and fully as old as Trullinger, sitting four seats in front of the latter, arose and advanced down the aisle toward the challenger, the while rolling up his sleeves to his elbows. Assuming a menacing attitude, he said:

“Does the gentleman prefer side holts or catch as catch can?”

Bishop had stopped when about ten feet from Trullinger, and the expression on the latter’s countenance at this unexpected interruption of his speech — the House roaring with laughter at the ludicrous turn the situation had taken — was a picture for the student of facial expressions. His answer to Bishop’s inquiry was never known, if he made any, for when order was finally restored he had resumed his seat, the gentleman from Multnomah had returned to his desk, and the labor question, as well as Trullinger, had been settled.

The real “character” of the House in 1893 was J. H. Upton, of Coos County. He was a quaint looking man who wore a long beard and was quite upset by his conviction that the “Crime of 1873” has not been equalled in its monstrous, abhorrent diabolism since the betrayal of the Savior by Judas Iscariot. He was practically “nutty” on the question of the demonetization of silver and it was next to impossible to make a motion to adjourn without calling out a speech by Upton in denunciation of the gold standard. When he addressed the Chair, he only remained standing at his desk during the delivery of the first ten words. After that he got in the aisle and began his walking exercise up and down its entire length, the while pouring hot shot into John Sherman and all his imps. His seat was midway between the Speaker’s desk and the entrance to the lobby in the rear, and when he was traveling toward the galleries he would direct his remarks to their occupants. As he turned to proceed toward the Speaker, he would address the presiding officer and the amused members on either side. Upton could not talk and remain still, and his listeners could not remain still while he talked. At times, in his enthusiasm, he would stoop so low as he proceeded up the aisle that the crown of his head was scarcely higher than the tops of the desks and his beard would almost sweep the floor, but in an instant he would resume a standing posture, finally terminating in a tiptoe attitude worthy a vaudeville artist as he delivered a broadside into the ranks of the people’s foes — the Gold Bugs! But everybody enjoyed Upton, and frequently the proceedings were so directed that he would be certain to take the warpath, usually just before an adjournment.

As the session was drawing to a close, however, he met his Waterloo. The report of the Mileage Committee had been read and it allowed Upton and his colleague, McEwan, only the usual amount of traveling expenses, direct to Coos County, when the fact was that, owing to the deep snow then on the Coast Mountains, they would be obliged to return home by way of San Francisco and proceed up the coast to their destinations — so Upton said. His seat was near mine, and upon hearing the report read, he leaned across to my desk and said:

“Say, I wish you would move to so amend that report as to allow McEwan and me mileage home by way of San Francisco, for we can’t get home across the mountains for two weeks yet on account of the snow. I wish you would do me that favor, for if I make the motion it will be voted down, of course.”

I told him I would — and, as it was well known that it was his purpose all through the session to make a record for “Reform” so conspicuous in its nature that he would capture the Populist nomination for Congress in the next campaign, I was able to see the probable outcome of a proposition to secure mileage home by way of San Francisco.

Therefore, as well as to be obliging, I addressed the Chair as follows:

“Mr. Speaker, the gentleman from Coos, Mr. Upton, informs me that the Coast Mountains are so covered with snow at this time that he and his colleague will be compelled to return home by way of San Francisco, and he has requested me to move for an amendment to this report which will allow them mileage on that route. He says that unless this is done they will be compelled to remain in Salem for at least two weeks after adjournment, and rather than that such a misfortune as this — to the gentlemen, I mean, not necessarily to the city, — shall be inflicted, I move that the report be amended in accordance with his request.”

The motion was adopted, and the gentlemen returned home by way of the Bay City, but Upton was never heard of as a serious candidate for Congress. Before the motion was put, an irreverent member moved that pay be allowed for the extra fifty miles Upton had traveled up and down the aisles during the previous forty days in his savage tirades against the Money Power, but the House suppressed the impudent suggestion as a reflection upon its appreciation of Brother Upton’s unquestioned earnestness in his defense of the white metal. He is still living, it is said, in Coos County, but his public life terminated with his legislative experience in ‘93. He was a kindly man who had some of the John Brown temperament in the attempted promulgation of his convictions. His greatest fault was that he believed every man who had access to his sources of information should have sense enough to believe as he did, and that there was no good excuse for his not doing so.

And there are many Uptons in every walk of life. Intolerance is illiberality, illiberality is a form of selfishness, and selfishness is at the basis of almost all the world’s sorrows and disappointments.


Next Chapter - Geer campaigned across the state for Judge William Lord against Sylvester Pennoyer in the governor's election of 1894.


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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