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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



Sylvester Pennoyer had been Governor of Oregon for eight years when the campaign of 1894 began to command the attention of the people of Oregon, and since the State Constitution forbids the same man occupying the position of Chief Executive for more than two terms of four years each in succession, it became necessary to search for new material with which to fill that position. It had been suspected for two years that the retiring Governor had cast a covetous eye on a seat in the United States Senate, and this suspicion was verified in the spring of 1894 when he announced his intention to canvass the State in support of his candidacy, in the hope of electing a Democratic Legislature. He had been exercising a surprising influence over the people of Oregon, principally by addressing himself to the farmers, appealing to them for support and directly allying himself with them and their interests. In his campaigns, he had adroitly planned his trips through the State in a way that included the smaller towns, avoiding the cities, to which most public speakers directed their main efforts. In this way, he met the farmers and, as a rule, captured them in great numbers. He was one of the most effective campaigners the State has ever known; for he was plausible and his solemn countenance would carry conviction to the assemblage, which failed to detect the twinkle of the eye that a closer inspection would always discover.

For this reason, and because of the victories he had won in past campaigns in the face of apparently insurmountable obstacles, the Republicans viewed with alarm the prospect of losing a seat in the United States Senate. The term of Senator Dolph was expiring, and as he had from the very beginning of the discussion of the question of free silver been an eloquent and convincing advocate of the gold standard, the situation presented conditions which appeared to contribute directly to Pennoyer’s success. There seemed to be good reasons for fearing not only the loss of a Senatorship, but the election of a Democratic Governor for the third time in succession in a strongly Republican State.

William Galloway had been nominated by the Democrats for Governor and he was an admittedly strong man. Against him, the Republicans had chosen Judge William P. Lord, who for sixteen years had served on the State Supreme Bench with great distinction. While a noted jurist and having a splendid record, he was not a public speaker and was further handicapped in making a State campaign by reason of his partial deafness.

Under these circumstances the Republican State Committee invited me to make a canvass of the State, advocating Judge Lord’s election. Having been a farmer all my life, it was thought that I had better be sent on the trail of Pennoyer, who had already published his itinerary, to speak in every town and locality where he had appeared.

To this request I consented, after some well-grounded misgivings as to the wisdom of the course. I had never done any campaigning outside of my own county, save a half-dozen speeches during the Harrison campaign two years before, and it seemed a tremendous undertaking. However, there was much at stake for the Republicans and I buckled on my armor and “waded in.”

It was certainly a “red-hot” campaign, practically every speaker in both, or rather all three of the political parties, Republican, Democratic and Populist, taking some part in the contest, either local or in the State at large. Governor Pennoyer was on the “stump” most of the time for a month, visiting every part of the State, preaching the doctrines of free silver, populism, where it would appear to do the greatest service to his cause, and denouncing the “money power,” “gold bugs,” “centralization,” and the “Crime of ‘73” with all the rhetorical vehemence he possessed.

Nathan Pierce, of Umatilla County, was the Populist candidate for Governor, and Pennoyer supported both him and Galloway, for during the last Pennoyer administration it was never quite made out whether its chief was a Democrat or a Populist.

The result of this campaign was an easy victory for Judge Lord, his majority being several thousand, and Sylvester Pennoyer’s ambition to go to the United States Senate became but a dream. At the end of his term as Governor, in January, 1895, he retired to private life, though afterward he was elected Mayor of Portland and served in that capacity for one term of two years.

On May 28, during the campaign in 1894, I addressed a meeting at Arlington at eight o’clock in the evening. I had spoken at Pendleton the night before and was due at La Grande the day after, but as time was valuable and election day drawing near, it was decided that I should run down the Columbia to Arlington and, after the meeting, take the night train back to La Grande. The Columbia River was unusually high at that time and many people advised me to abandon the Arlington meeting on account of the danger of encountering a washout and thus rendering the return to La Grande impossible. But the train was going to risk the run down and I took the chance.

As it proved, however, it was the wrong thing to do, for the east-bound train did not come. The rapidly rising river destroyed the track in several places and the next morning there was no connection from Arlington with any point, either east or west, by rail, ‘phone or telegraph. It was an uncomfortable situation, aside from the anxiety and vexation we experienced because of our inability to fulfill our engagements. But we were most effectually stranded. After vainly trying all day to hear something from somewhere — anywhere — a cattle buyer (W. H. Daughtrey) and I hired a team to take us to The Willows, nine miles above, where the Heppner branch makes its junction with the main line. We hoped the train on that branch might make the run, and if we could get to Heppner, some sixty miles away, we could go overland to Pendleton and thus make our escape. But there was no train back to Heppner and we were not so well off as at Arlington.

However, there was a small crew of men rigging out a hand-car which they intended to take up the track some fifteen miles to Castle Rock, and they informed us that if we were once there the station-keeper would no doubt take us with his team to Umatilla Landing, which point was above the damaged portion of the roadbed. And they added that if we would assist in pumping the car that fifteen miles they would furnish us the transportation without charge! Realizing that there was no alternative, we accepted the favor (?) and took our places at the handles. The car was loaded with materials of various kinds which were piled so high that it was impossible to see the men working at the opposite side of the “engine.” To be candid, much of the time I wondered whether there was any force being applied to the propelling power except what I was furnishing myself.

I really believe that was the hardest single piece of work I ever did. The grade up the Columbia on that stretch of track is steep and the load was heavy. I had been inured to the hard work of a farm, and for thirty years had managed one of my own, frequently putting in twelve and even fifteen hours a day mowing, harvesting, plowing, making rail and cordwood, fencing and digging postholes, but I was never so near “hollering enough” as when we had made about five miles of that trip on an R. & N. hand-car. I was standing on the rear end of the platform, which projected barely enough for a foothold, and after we had made about one mile, I was so entirely out of breath that I was unable to furnish the least particle of motive power. Neither could I let go of the handles, since they supplied me with the only purchase I had to maintain my place on the four-wheeled bronco. I not only could not let go, but I could not stop, even for a moment, the up-and-down motion of the handles. I was, in fact, in great danger of falling off through sheer exhaustion when the exigencies of the situation compelled me to call a halt until I could reorganize my scattered forces.

After a short breathing spell, during which the railroad men indulged in much sport at our expense (for Daughtrey showed every sign of approaching physical dissolution when he emerged from behind the mountain of supplies), we proceeded on to Castle Rock, where the men went on after pointing out the station-keeper’s house. We roused him from his slumbers, for it was then 11 o’clock, and told him our predicament — how we happened to be there and that we wanted him to take us to the “Landing” the next morning with his team.

“Team?” he said, in a very surprised tone; “Why, I have no team here and never had. What would I want with a team here?”

And, sure enough, why should he keep a team? Castle Rock was then ten miles from anywhere, in the middle of a cheerless stretch of sand and sage-brush and not a tree nearer than forty miles. That we had been taken in by the railroad men was then apparent, but the station-keeper routed a part of his family out of their beds — where he put them we never could determine — and we were made so comfortable that, crude as were our accommodations, by contrast with the handcar experience they seemed superior to those of the Waldorf-Astoria.

The next morning, after breakfasting at six o’clock, Daughtrey and I settled down to a serious consideration of the situation. It was Decoration Day, and as the sun came up over those burning sand-hills its heat was enough to roast an egg — and it was twenty-five miles to the Landing! Finally, I told my companion, in pure desperation, that I was going to ask the good woman of the house to put up a luncheon for me — that I would walk that distance — that I could by that means at least be at the Landing at night — that it was only a matter of physical endurance and that I saw no other way out of the dilemma — did he? His reply was that he could not walk that far if his life depended upon it, and that I should, upon my arrival at the Landing, send a man and team after him. This I agreed to do and started out up the track. After proceeding two hundred yards, I heard a shout behind me. It proved to be Daughtrey, who informed me that if I would wait until he could secure a luncheon he would join me, since he couldn’t bear to remain at that “God-forsaken place” alone.

For ten miles, we walked along the river banks. As they were in many places submerged and the water backed out into sloughs for two miles inland, we were often compelled to follow these to their junction with the foothills and then return to the river, as they were too deep to ford. At Coyote the track “cuts across” a bend in the river and for at least ten miles there is no water in sight. Here we ate our luncheon, though it was but ten o’clock, and then plunged into this desert walk. By this time, the heat was frightful in its intensity. We had not proceeded more than three miles when Daughtrey, whose business required much horseback riding, and who was therefore unaccustomed to walking, even under sane conditions, began to lag behind. About every half-mile there was a pile of newly sawed railroad ties which had been dumped for repair work, and when one of these was reached Daughtrey would throw himself across it in an attempt to cool off; but these short rests only served to render his locomotion slower, with the result that within an hour he was almost entirely disabled. He finally removed his trousers, hoping thereby to gain some relief, and threw them over his shoulder while he trudged across that desert with the perspiration streaming from his nose and chin.

Tired and hot as I was, I was in no such condition as Daughtrey, but I verily believe that the contrast, which I recognized, was all that kept me going. If this page could be illustrated with a “snap shot” of Daughtrey, red of face, weighing two hundred and twenty pounds, trouserless and blistered, it would be worth any reasonable sum of money.

When within six miles of the Landing we spied the Columbia River but a mile away. Being almost famished, we debated whether it would be better to go to the river and back for a drink, thus adding two miles to our trip — and this seemed more than” we could endure — or whether we should make that six miles without water. We looked at the river and at each other, but the river presented much the more cheering prospect and we started in that direction. Upon reaching it, we prostrated ourselves full length and drank as only famished men can drink. I recall now bow thankful I was that an unparalleled flood was on, since it guaranteed a sufficient amount of water to satisfy our consuming thirst.

But this side trip was the final undoing of my companion. He had cooled off, was as “stiff as an ox,” as he said, and was wholly unable to go any further. After directing me to hire a liveryman at the Landing and send him down, he flattened himself out on a pile of sage-brush and collapsed utterly. But I had not proceeded far before I met a man with a team and wagon, the latter bearing a hayrack filled with provisions which he was taking to a crew of men who were working on an irrigating ditch. To him I explained the situation, and as he knew Daughtrey he agreed to take us to the Landing. We found Daughtrey in a sound sleep and in the midst of a fearful nightmare. Upon seeing his friend he fell all over him, assured him that he was the best looking man he had seen for a year, and offered to pay him in advance for taking us to the Landing. We finally arrived there at seven o’clock, tired and hungry, but thankful that we were alive.

After a hearty meal I went to my room at a hotel and was proceeding to retire, though it was not yet dark, when there was a vigorous rap at my door. It proved to be a messenger sent by a delegation of the town people to invite me to participate in a debate. As several hundred persons had been detained for two days in the town on account of the prevailing conditions, with nothing to do, it was thought expedient to hold a political meeting, particularly as Mr. Galloway, the Democratic candidate for Governor, W. R. Holmes, nominee on the same ticket for Attorney General, and other prominent politicians were among the visitors. As I could think of no plausible reason for declining, I re-dressed myself (as that seemed to be the only redress within my reach) and proceeded to the public hall where there was a joint debate which lasted until midnight.

The next morning, before arising, while thinking over the experiences of the preceding two days and nights, I wondered why I was not at home attending to my every-day duties, amid normal and pleasant surroundings, instead of engaged in campaign work for others, with no compensation whatever — only my actual expenses being paid — while I hired out of my own pocket a man to take my place on the farm! But, then, no man who enters deeply into political life can justly claim to be in normal condition.

A special car was sent to Pendleton that day to take a few of us there, and two days later I reached La Grande, where the last meeting of the campaign was held on Saturday. I had gone to Arlington on Monday and should have been in La Grande on Tuesday.

I remained in Union County for a week waiting for the Columbia to subside, when I returned to Pendleton; but the railroad tracks had not been repaired and the company sent all its passengers to Portland by way of Walla Walla, Spokane and Tacoma. We made the trip from Kelso to Portland on the Northern Pacific transfer boat.

On this campaign, though closely following Governor Pennoyer, I saw him but once. He addressed the people at Heppner the same night I was at Arlington. The next morning there was a train from Heppner to the Junction and he arrived there, nine miles from Arlington, very early in the morning. The fact is, there was nothing at the Junction except the mere junction, and as no trains were running there was no place to go, nobody to see and nothing to do. After looking about for a few minutes, His Excellency spied a shack not far away which looked as if it might have an occupant.

To this he went and rapped on the door. There was no response. Pounding again on the door with great vigor, he finally succeeded in eliciting the inquiry, made in no gentle tone:

“Who the devil are you?”

The brogue smacked decidedly of the Emerald Isle. Pennoyer replied in that peculiarly bland tone for which he was justly famed: “I am Governor Pennoyer, and I would like to get a bite of breakfast.”

“Well,” said the voice inside the cabin, “I have been up all night and am not going to get up now, not even for a Guv’ner.”

But Pennoyer insisted that he let him in, at least, as there was no place to go. To this the Irishman responded:

“Ah, go on wid ye! As ye said to President Cleveland, ‘You attend to your own business and I’ll attend to mine.’”

This was too much for the mirthful Governor. Abandoning the siege, he turned his face toward Arlington, nine miles away, in company with a companion who had listened to his interview with the Irishman, and who reported the joke on His Excellency. I was standing on the main street of Arlington about eleven o’clock on that day in conversation with a group of belated pilgrims when we saw Pennoyer walking toward us, grip in hand, bearing every evidence of excessive fatigue. When he reached us, I introduced him to the little gathering and he told us of his experience, omitting, however, his encounter with the son of Erin. He said that was the longest walk he had taken in twenty years. He remained in Arlington for a day and night, then started for Portland in a small boat, accompanied by three friends, and after many hardships and several narrow escapes from drowning, arrived in Portland in time to cast his vote on the following Monday.

During the prevalence of the Coxey’s Army crusade just previous to this campaign, President Cleveland had advised many of the Governors as to their duties in the management of the disorders it occasioned, and to his message sent to Governor Pennoyer, the latter replied as follows:

To the President:

Yours is received. If you will attend to your business I will attend to mine.


This telegram was eminently characteristic of Pennoyer, and his curt, not to say undignified, reply to the President caused wide and unfavorable comment; but this only pleased the Governor. Because of his loyalty to the gold standard, Pennoyer had a great loathing for the President, and one year, in order to show his independence of the “Great Apostate,” appointed a different day for the observance of Thanksgiving from that named by him.


Next Chapter - The presidential election of 1896 cast a wide swath through Oregon as the debate over the "gold standard" versus free silver ended with McKinley as the victor.


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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