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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 Legislature met in January, 1895, John H. Mitchell had been United States Senator from Oregon for fifteen years, Joseph N. Dolph for twelve years and Binger Hermann had been in the lower House of Congress for ten years. These were three able men and their influence in Congress was at least equal to that of the delegation of any other State. Indeed, it was frequently declared by Eastern observers that no other State had two Senators who stood so well in the Senate in point of ability and who secured so much in the way of appropriations for home improvements, as had Oregon. Mitchell was a man of wonderful personality and popularity, and had great influence among his colleagues. Dolph, though not so genial in his manner, was the stronger man intellectually and his addresses before the Senate always held the attention of his associates. He had a commanding presence and there was a substantiality to his conclusions that indicated profound research and unquestioned sincerity. He was not a demagogue in any sense and declared his convictions without any regard whatever for their effect on his political fortunes.

Binger Hermann was one of the smoothest politicians Oregon has ever produced (and that is “going some” for Hermann) and his ability to secure help for his State from the Federal Treasury was unequalled by any other Representative in Congress. These three men were so successful in obtaining what they asked for from Congress that Oregon gained great prestige in the nation at large and their constituencies were justly proud of them.

Mr. Dolph was a pronounced advocate of the gold standard, having given much thought to the question, and before it became a matter of general discussion had delivered several speeches in the Senate relative to what he could foresee would soon develop into a national issue. His term expired on March 4, 1895, just in the midst of the Populist wave which overspread the country, but his attitude on the money question remained unchanged and he went down to defeat at the hands of Republican members of the Legislature, who were bound that no “gold bug” should represent them in the Senate.

Senator Mitchell had always been an advocate of the free coinage of silver and his friends took the initiative: in defeating Dolph for re-election. A sufficient number of them refused to observe the action of the Republican caucus which re-nominated Dolph and prevented an election until the last minute of the session, when the name of ex-Secretary of State George W. McBride was presented and he was elected.

The defeat of Senator Dolph was a great mistake on the part of the Oregon Republicans who were responsible for it, for not only did they retire from the public service a very able and conscientious statesman who had conferred distinction on his State in the United States Senate, but it arrayed his friends against Mitchell and was the beginning of a bitter warfare against him.

The retirement of Dolph disrupted the delegation which had done so much for the State and none has ever stood so well in Congress since. Hermann was defeated two years later. Since then, Oregon’s representation in the national lawmaking body has been of a hit-and-miss character, frequently changing, and sometimes not changing fast enough, usually at variance with itself and having little to do with questions of national moment.

That was a splendid era in Oregon history when Dolph, Mitchell and Hermann were for ten years its sole representatives in Congress and were known as its “working delegation.”

Perhaps no Presidential campaign during the last fifty years has so literally been one “of education” as that of 1896. The question of the monetary standard had finally been brought to the attention of the country at large, partly through the persistent agitation of the matter of fiat money by the Populists, and partly by the silver interests of the West. Bryan was nominated by the Democrats as a pronounced free silver champion and McKinley was put forward by the Republicans on a gold standard platform. There was no dodging the issue and every other question was subordinated to that of the future financial policy of the country.

There was a very amusing aspect to the newly developed situation in Oregon, which was also without doubt witnessed elsewhere. Men who had never before been known to express an opinion on the question, who had not discussed public matters of any kind — men whose entire lives had been devoted to, daily toil on foothill ranches, for instance — suddenly developed into veritable oracles on every detail of the complicated minutia of monetary problems. I knew many men who had been my acquaintances for a generation and who had devoted no thought to the free coinage of silver or any other phase of public financial matters, who in 1896 would argue by the hour, or even by the half-day, if an audience of only one man could be secured and held, to show the tendency of the times toward “the subjugation of the masses” by the operation of the gold standard. Prices had been distressingly low for three years and the gold standard was the cause; therefore, prices could never rise and thus bring relief to the masses until the gold standard was upset and the free coinage of silver again adopted, and that “without waiting for the consent of any other nation on earth!” This mere reference to the matter sounds like reading an old, half-forgotten story, so familiar are these phrases and declarations, also these mournful predictions.

The stress of hard times which had been endured by the people for a few years had produced a condition favorable for the successful propagation of these fallacies, and by regiments they accepted the theory that what we wanted was a cheaper currency and more of it. Bryan’s speech at the Chicago Convention had an electrical effect upon thousands, even millions, of people who afterward themselves wondered at their shortsightedness. So general was the spread of the free silver gospel that in Oregon, if the election had been held on the first of September, Bryan would without doubt have carried it by at least five thousand majority — and it required “a campaign of education” to prevent it.

I had been nominated by the Republicans at the State Convention which met in Portland in April as one of the four Presidential electors and, as such, took an active part in the fall campaign. There was an apparent hesitancy on the part of many Republicans of prominence to begin the contest, which it was plain must be waged vigorously if a victory for McKinley was to be won. Senator Dolph had been retired because his attitude had been precisely that endorsed by the National Republican platform and Senator Mitchell was one of the most pronounced and active free silver advocates in the United States. He had repeatedly declared for the very principle embodied in Bryan’s platform, and had contended with an earnestness not surpassed by the Boy Orator of the Platte himself that it was of supreme importance to the people of the United States.

Naturally, therefore, there was much speculation among the people of Oregon as to what course Mitchell would adopt in the situation thus presented. He himself said nothing, though repeatedly urged by the Republicans to declare his intentions. In the early fall, however, he made a journey to Canton, Ohio, had an interview with Major McKinley, returned home and announced that he would support the Republican National ticket and that he would take the “stump” for McKinley.

But his hesitancy displeased the great body of the Republicans and his decision especially angered the Populists, the free silver Republicans and Democrats. It was, in fact, a very hard situation for Mitchell, and the action he finally took was the only one possible under the circumstances — unless, indeed, he concluded to follow the course of Jonathan Bourne, and thousands of other Republicans, who bolted outright and gave their support to Bryan. Bourne had been elected as Representative from Multnomah County in the preceding June as a Republican and was also the secretary of the Republican State Committee. He was, however, a strong believer in the free coinage of silver and an enthusiastic admirer of Mitchell, and after the national conventions had been held announced his intention of supporting Bryan and did support him. The fact that a Bryan man was secretary of the Republican State Committee presented a very anomalous as well as embarrassing situation and largely accounted for the difficulty encountered in putting any sort of life and aggressiveness into the McKinley campaign. Mr. Bourne finally resigned his position, and after Mitchell had decided what he would do the campaign was formally opened on September 18, when an immense meeting was held at the Marquam Theater in Portland, under the auspices of the Sound Money League, an organization which had been formed by many of the leading Republicans of that city, who were impatient with the apparent apathy of the State organization. I attended this meeting, and from there went into Clackamas County and was not again at my home, except one Sunday in October for two hours, until after the election, which was held on November 3. I visited almost every county in the State, speaking generally in the country districts and the smaller towns, where, it was thought, the greatest defections from the national ticket were to be found. It was a most difficult itinerary to follow, traveling by all sorts of conveyances, sometimes on foot, and frequently speaking two and three times a day.

I was sent to a town called Rufus, in Sherman County, a railroad station merely, where at that time of the year there were hundreds of farmers camped every night delivering their grain from the remote sections of that district. Some of them employed three days to make a trip and return. It was a very populous place during the grain delivery season but was abandoned for the remainder of the year.

I arrived at Rufus in the afternoon and found everybody very busy. As nobody appeared to be interested in politics just then, I went to the hotel and entertained myself without molesting those who appeared to be in better business. There I discovered an old schoolmate whom I had known in Silverton, nearly forty years before, and who had lived in the old town all this time. He was one of its well-known business men, and was so much better dressed than I had ever seen him before that I was really surprised — also surprised to see him where he was. So I said:

“Why, hello, Os! What in the world are you doing here? It’s the first time I have seen you outside of Silverton for thirty years.”

He explained that he was off for a short vacation and that he was visiting some of his wife’s relatives who lived not far away.

After supper, and when I had concluded that it was about time for somebody to be looking after the meeting, I was sitting in the hotel office near a table and my friend was at another, some twenty feet to my rear. Suddenly two men came, somewhat out of breath, looked at me a moment and passed on to the Silverton visitor, when one of them said:

“I beg your pardon, but are you the gentleman who is to speak here to—night?”

“No, sir,” I heard him reply, “I am here on a visit only.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” the other returned. ”You are the only man in the room who looks like a speaker and I thought you must be the man we are after. We are the committee.”

At this my friend explained who the speaker was, but by this time I had presented myself, laughingly apologizing for my ordinary appearance, and the four of us went to the meeting where several hundred farmers had assembled, all deeply interested in Mr. Bryan’s declaration that wheat, then bringing fifty cents a bushel, would never bring a higher price until we got rid of the gold standard.

On the night of September 30, I addressed a meeting in the town of Tillamook, and the next night, accompanied by a dozen of the prominent Republicans of that place, took a gasoline launch and started across the Bay to hold a meeting at Bay City, some ten miles away. We did not start until after dark and the night was very foggy. When we had traveled about long enough to have arrived at our destination we saw a light, but as we were getting ready to disembark, it was discovered that it was the lantern hanging at our starting point! We had made a huge circle around the Bay and returned to Tillamook.

It was then time for the meeting to begin, but we concluded, as the night was pleasant, to make another trial, explain to the people the cause of the delay — it was thought not good policy thus to disappoint a “bunch” of voters whose support was likely to be badly needed and perhaps return by midnight.

Upon the second trial the captain was more successful and landed us at the Bay City wharf at nine-thirty. We were met by a committee which announced that the schoolhouse on the hillside was “full of men and women who had been waitin’ for two hours,” so we proceeded there at once. We found them singing “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,” “Onward Christian Soldiers,” etc. When we entered, I at once began to explain how it was, and had been, with us — that I regretted the affair very much and hoped that at some future time I might have the opportunity, etc., etc. — but there were loud protests at any postponement, one man rising and saying that the people wanted to hear the speech, that there had been, it appeared to them, a disposition to slight their locality because it was somewhat out of the way, and that they proposed to remain.

I surrendered at once and the meeting proceeded, occupying an hour and a half. After it was over we again boarded our launch. The captain said that if we hurried we might be able to retrace our course across the Bay, since the tide was just beginning to recede; on a low tide we would be compelled to make a detour of several additional miles. So we started straight across the Bay on an ebbing tide and when not more than a half-mile from Bay City struck a sand bar. Of course, on a falling tide it was impossible to get away, and in five minutes we felt the boat settling into the sand.

Within an hour our little craft was “high and dry” and not a drop of water within three hundred yards of us. We had no bedding, no luncheon, not even a peanut to take off the edge of our keen appetites, not even so much as a stool upon which to sit. There was a pile of slab-wood which was used for fuel, upon which a few of us lounged by turns. One of the men had his wife along, as she insisted upon having a little “outing,” and she proved about the bravest and most patient of the entire crew, as is usually the case.

About daylight, we saw the tide returning and at seven o’clock or thereabouts were able to float once more and proceed to Tillamook, where we ate a late breakfast of fresh salmon and other delicacies that carried terror to the heart of the astonished landlord.

On account of this delay, I missed the stage that morning for Portland, where I had expected to attend a meeting addressed by Roswell G. Horr, a noted campaigner from Michigan. But I enjoyed the day with friends in Tillamook, after taking a nap of a few hours duration, and became very much interested in that splendid region which constitutes one of the finest dairy countries in the world. Before many years there will be a coast line from Astoria to San Francisco, making the coast counties of Oregon one of the most desirable and prosperous sections of the Northwest. The Coast range of mountains is not rocky, being unlike the Cascades in that respect, and with its relatively mild climate and productive soil will furnish homes for millions of people from its summit to the very beach of the Pacific Ocean.

There is something very fascinating in the work of a campaign like that of 1896. There was absorbing interest manifested in the questions at issue, and the people were deeply concerned as to the outcome of the contest. For this reason the attendance was always large and the interest never permitted to lag. If your friends were too few in number to greet you frequently with “tremendous applause,” the “enemy” was quite likely to make it warm enough to answer all reasonable purposes. I remember that I once addressed a meeting at a place called Bellevue, in Yamhill County, which was held in the afternoon in a schoolhouse. I was invited there by the only Republican in the precinct, as it turned out afterward. He had written that it was a good place to “do missionary work,” since the Populists were overwhelmingly in the majority, but was careful to conceal from me the fact that they constituted about ninety-nine per cent of the population and were on the warpath for every Republican scalp from John Sherman down.

I had spoken at McMinnville the evening before, and three prominent Republicans from there drove over to Bellevue to attend the meeting. When we arrived within sight of the place — only a schoolhouse at a crossroads there was a crowd waiting for me, most of them sitting on the fences, whittling and relating what they would do to me when I should make my “gold bug” speech.

We tied our horses to a maple tree near by and proceeded to the schoolhouse. It was decidedly the coldest greeting — if that be the proper word to describe the manner in which the suspicious people eyed us — one can imagine. After we went in the house was soon filled and Watt Henderson, the sheriff of the county, and one of those accompanying me, called them to order — there were no local Republicans — and I began my “remarks.” I had not talked more than five minutes before a long whiskered fellow who was sitting in a window-sill interrupted me with the intimation that he would demand the proof before he would believe what I had just said. l had copied the statement from a speech in the Congressional Record, which I had at home, but, although I gave the date and page, my questioner said that was not sufficient. He wanted the Record itself, and added that the country was full of gold bug speakers who were fooling the workingmen with rot for which there was no foundation. He was not satisfied, he said, with mere quotations. ”Give us facts,” etc.

That was the signal for a display of fireworks that knew no cessation for fully two hours. Finally, as I was to speak at Sheridan that night, I was compelled to adjourn the meeting, which was done amid the greatest confusion, When l had reached the door one of the men again attacked me, with his tongue, also with a very threatening’ attitude physically, and, with the entire gathering surrounding us, said I had not once referred to so and so, and that was the most important thing he wanted to hear. All the Republican speakers dodged it, he said. So I returned to the platform, called the meeting to order, and we had an encore that lasted for ten minutes.

After this I was allowed to escape, for which piece of good luck I have never since failed to be thankful. Although such experiences were not uncommon in Oregon at that time, that was the “fiercest” exhibition of political enthusiasm (I use the word enthusiasm rather than intolerance out of deference to that spirit of charity which I have since cultivated and developed) I ever encountered in my twenty years’ campaigning in Oregon.

A few years since I was relating some of the pleasures, surprises and hardships I had “met up with” while engaged in campaign work to Fred Lockley, the genial manager of the Pacific Monthly, among which was the trip to Tillamook. This reminded him of an experience he had in the Coast Mountains once upon a time, when canvassing for the Salem Statesman, that is worth listening to.

“It was in November,” said Lockley, “and the rainy season was on. I was traveling on horseback and was on my way from Woods to Tillamook. Night overtook me and houses were few and far apart. Occasionally there would be a little clearing, with a cabin in it, and then it would be dense timber for a mile or two. The rain was falling in torrents and I was wet through. Suddenly, I spied a light through the timber and it soon proved to be in a log cabin not far ahead. Arriving at the house, I shouted at the top of my voice and a man came to the door. I told him my predicament and that I would be glad for merely a shelter for myself and horse until morning. He said he would be pleased to have me stay all night, so we put my horse in a small stable near by. He gave me some supper and soon afterwards showed me where to sleep. The room was a ‘lean to’ about seven feet square, and I was glad enough to retire and rest, also to divest myself of my soaked clothing.

“The bed had not been ‘made up,’ but I cared nothing for that. There was plenty of bedding and a good pillow, which still showed the impression of the head of its last occupant. As the air was filled with a dank odor which was not pleasant, I tried to raise the single window at the foot of the bed, but I found it had been nailed in. I decided finally that I was lucky to have a bed and shelter at all and retired.

I slept exceedingly well and awoke the next morning refreshed and feeling like a new man. When I appeared for breakfast, my host asked how I had rested.

“Oh, splendidly,’ I replied. ‘The bed was soft and I was dead to the world until morning.”

“Well, I’m glad of that,’ responded the fellow, as he poured out two cups of black coffee, “you see my wife died in that room two weeks ago of pneumonia and I haven’t had the heart to go into it since they carried her out for the funeral.”

“One cup of coffee was all the breakfast I wanted,” continued Lockley, “and it took me several months to banish even partially from my mind the picture of that impression in the pillow in which I had laid my head for the splendid night’s rest which followed.”


Next Chapter - Geer was named one of Oregon's three electors in the electoral college in 1896; he visited with McKinley after the nomination was secured. Geer was later snubbed, however, by McKinley for an appointed office.


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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