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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



Much of the journey from Lakeview to Burns, a distance equal to the width of many of the Eastern States, is across a cheerless desert, as before stated, covered largely with sagebrush. Much of it is very rocky, and yet in the winter and early spring months it is surprising to see what great herds of cattle and sheep are supported by native winter grass which, in some astonishing way, obtains and maintains a foothold. For this reason it is a fine stock country at that season of the year when the better ranges require a rest.

At Burns we were joined by Malcolm A. Moody, who had defeated Mr. Ellis for the Republican nomination for Congress at Astoria, and from then until the close of the campaign he traveled with us. Mr. Moody is the eldest son of ex-Governor Z. F. Moody, a native son of Oregon, and was elected by a large majority. He was re-elected two years later, but was defeated for a re-nomination in 1902 by J. N. Williamson, of Prineville. Mr. Moody developed a splendid talent for the work of a Western Congressman and had won the esteem of all his colleagues when, owing to an unfortunate fight within the ranks of the Republican party, he was set aside. This action of the Republicans of his district was not only a disappointment to Mr. Moody but was a decided loss to the public service. He has frequently been urged since then to re-enter the political arena, but has steadfastly declined, giving. as a reason the uncertain tenure of political life, the petty motives which so often govern those who, for the time being, have the power to control situations and the capricious tendencies of men who should be above the influence of passing fads. “Never again!” says Moody, and the public has lost the able services of an industrious worker.

At Burns we also found J. W. Morrow, the Democratic candidate for State Senator for that district, who we suspected had come thither at that time in order to reap such benefits as might accrue to his candidacy from being present at the big Republican meeting of the campaign. At any rate, he was there, and engaged in shaking more Republican hands, inside the hall and out, than all the Republican candidates combined. There was no stage line then running to Canyon City, the next meeting place, and since there were, all told, about a dozen candidates who desired to make connections without fail, we hired a “carry-all” and started toward that famous mining center of the early ‘60s. We had no driver, at least none who had the courage to tackle a four-horse proposition, and in this extremity “Billy” Morrow offered his services. Most of us were little inclined to accept them, since he was the only Democrat in the crowd and several of us were running for some mighty big offices. We feared that he was an emissary of the Democratic State Committee looking for this very opportunity to put us out of commission, especially as we had known him for thirty years and had never heard of his having anything to do with horses in any capacity, though he assured us that he had driven a stage for a good part of his life. The road from Burns to Canyon City is for a great part of the way over a mountainous country, and in places the grades are along the sides of precipitous slopes where a designing driver could maim a dozen passengers and at the same time save his own life.

But “Billy” proved not only game but reliable and “landed” us at Canyon City the second day, himself covered with glory and dust. Incidentally, he was elected to the State Senate in that strongly Republican district.

Canyon City was one of the best known of the mining camps in eastern Oregon during the boom of 1863-64. I had never been there before and was especially pleased to visit the spot where my father had spent two years when the mining excitement was at its height. It was here, also, that Joaquin Miller, Oregon’s famous poet, made his home in the early days and where he served as judge of the new county of Grant. His old home was still there, surrounded by unkept apple trees of his own planting in 1863, which almost hid from view the little house which he built with his own hands before the poetic muse claimed him for her own.

It was in Canyon City, also, that Phil Metschan, one of Oregon’s most prominent and popular citizens, settled, in 1862, in his early manhood. Mr. Metschan’s career reads more like fiction than fact, and proves once more that pluck and a character which will win the confidence of his fellows are the very best assets with which a young man can be equipped when he starts out on his lifework.

Mr. Metschan was born in Hesse-Cassel, Germany, in 1840. When fourteen years of age he decided to come to America and spend his life in the Western world. His mother’s brother had already come to this country and was engaged in the butchering business in Cincinnati. When Phil decided to come to America he did not know one word of. English, but his people were anxious for him to join his uncle and carve out his future under the more favorable circumstances which prevailed in this country.

“When I got ready to start,” said Mr. Metschan, “my mother packed all my belongings in a trunk which was nearly as big as one of the horse-cars that were used on the streets then. They saw me aboard the ship at Hamburg and I had no trouble until I got to New York. I couldn’t speak a word of English, but as there was nothing to do on ship but eat and sleep, and as both could be done in one language as well as in another, all went well until we landed. Then my troubles began. I had a ticket out to Cincinnati, but the railroad lines in those days did not belong to one company, as now, and only ran from one big city to another. But my trunk was my salvation I found that when it came time to change cars I would have no difficulty if I followed my trunk. So, when we arrived at a new terminus, I would get out on the platform and closely watch the operations at the baggage car. If my trunk was left aboard I would re-enter my coach and remain there, but if I saw it changed to another train, I would board that and remain with it until it was changed again. By this means I reached Cincinnati without any mishap and was thankful that it was no worse.”

“Then you really traveled on a trunk line, even in those days,” interposed a listener to his interesting narrative. Phil smiled and added that, come to think of it, “that must have been the first trunk line running west of New York.”

Arriving in Cincinnati, Metschan remained with his Uncle four years, thoroughly learning the butcher’s business. In 1858 he went to Kansas, the next year to California, and after drifting about for a year spent the winter of 1861 working on a ranch in the Sacramento valley. He avers that he actually drove a team and plowed for several months, but his friends, who ordinarily believe anything he says, have never quite accepted that statement. Nothing they can conjecture could at this time afford a more ludicrous spectacle than to see Phil Metschan between two plow handles, while a span of mules was receiving his directions and objurgations in a language that was neither English nor German.

After settling in Canyon City, Mr. Metschan was elected city treasurer for two terms, two years as county clerk, four years as county judge, and afterwards another term as county clerk. There were no other offices in Grant County at that time, so it was necessary to “rotate” Phil in order to satisfy the public.

In 1890 he was nominated by the Republicans for State Treasurer and was elected, being reelected in 1894, serving in that responsible position for eight years. Soon after his retirement he purchased an interest in the Imperial Hotel in Portland, and has since, with his four sons as partners, secured the entire stock of that popular hostelry.

Within a week after he was nominated for State Treasurer, I visited my father in Union County. He was inquiring with much interest about the personnel of the State ticket and finally asked me who the man Metschan was who had been nominated for State Treasurer. I replied that I had never heard of him before, but that he was from Canyon City, had lived there for thirty years, and that some one had told me that he was a butcher. After studying a moment, father suddenly said with much animation:

“What’s his first name?”

“Phil,” I said.

“Well, by George,” said he, “I’ll bet it’s ‘Phil, the Butcher.’”

And it was. I was sufficiently interested then to inquire further when I had an opportunity, and ascertained that in the early days in Canyon City, as was usual in mining camps, Metschan’s first name was all anybody knew or cared to know. So many men went to the mines as adventurers whose chief desire was to cut themselves loose from their former associates and acquaintances that it was often painful to be questioned, so “any old name” was sufficient, and undue curiosity has frequently accompanied by undesirable consequences to the “butter in.”

My father had lived in Canyon City only during the first two years of Metschan’s residence there, and though they were intimate friends during that period, “Phil, the Butcher” was the only name by which the future State Treasurer was known among his customers and everyday acquaintances.



Upon entering Burns after our long desert ride we discovered that the Democratic State Committee had secured large lithographs of Mr. King, the Democratic candidate for Governor, and had the town plastered with them. They were to be seen on every telephone pole, barn, fence and other object large enough to hold one. I was not a little chagrined to know that this very effective means of advertising had been adopted by the opposition. Of course it was quite expensive, and, as there had been no proposition to pursue a like course among our people, I at once took high grounds against such an unseemly method of exploiting one’s candidacy. Many of my friends at Burns inquired why this mode had not been adopted by the Republican State Committee, expressing the opinion that it was very effective in increasing the popularity of a candidate, especially if he was a good-looking man, as King was. To this I replied that, although nothing had been said on the subject by our State Committee before leaving Portland, I was very much opposed personally to such a loud method of advertising — it was in bad taste; furthermore, I regarded it as an exhibition of the weakness of the candidate that it was necessary thus to depend upon his facial expression rather than his merits, natural and acquired.

On the way over to Canyon City we found King’s picture on every rim-rock and stump along the road and the town was full of them. Again I felt the necessity of explaining to my inquiring friends that there was nothing in that sort of advertising except to emphasize the weakness of the candidate who would resort to it, and that, besides, there was a species of vanity about it from which I, being a very modest man, naturally shrank, etc. My companions were disposed to “josh” me about the 22 enterprise shown by Mr. King’s friends and they all seemed convinced that it would gain him many thousands of votes — perhaps result in my defeat unless counteracted in some manner. To this I replied that I would not adopt such unseemly methods to secure votes; even if I were assured that such neglect would cost me the prize for which I was contesting. I took a high stand, and ridiculed the extreme measures to which parties in these degenerate times would stoop to attain success.

I remember that about one mile before we reached Sumpter, in Baker County, there appeared to be a King picture on every shrub and log, not counting the standing trees, and, as a means of suppressing the comments of my companions as to how many votes the matter would cause King to run ahead of his ticket, I began again to moralize on the bad taste of thus flaunting one’s countenance before the world with the hope of securing votes, adding that the probable effect would be to drive thoughtful men away, etc., etc. Suddenly, as the stage swung around a bend in the road and we came in full view of a new barn, Moody shouted:

“Hello, whose picture is that? Hey, look here, boys.”

And there, tacked on the side of the barn, within two feet of one of King’s pictures, was one of the writer of these lines, almost life-size and executed in the highest degree of the lithographer’s art. Everybody looked, of course, and the shout of laughter that rent the mountainside quite equaled in volume a clap of rollicking thunder. The driver stopped the team, all hands got out and examined the specimen at close range and, by turns, dragged me hither and yon, until I was not only sore physically, but at my traveling companions as well.

It was a great joke at my expense, to be sure, and I did not hear the last of it until we finally disbanded on the night before the election — for those horrid pictures, though very true to life, were plastered so thickly over every available object, not otherwise appropriated, throughout the State that King’s little edition appeared like a feeble experiment only.

My colleagues on the State ticket who did more or less active campaigning were, besides Judge Moore, F. I. Dunbar, candidate for Secretary of State, and J. H. Ackerman, candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction. Mr. Dunbar had been for four years recorder of Clatsop County and was at that time just concluding two terms as county clerk. He had been a very capable officer and came to his nomination with an exceptionally good record for efficient services, though he was not known at all throughout the State.

There was another Dunbar living in Astoria who had been publishing a paper there which appeared to be little more than a blackmailing sheet. His bitter attacks on local men had involved him in serious trouble many times and he was very much disliked. In fact, he served quite a long sentence in the county jail at one time for defamation of character. It was about this time that F. I. Dunbar had been nominated for recorder. As was customary, several candidates hired a carriage and made a trip into the interior of the county in the interest of their respective aspirations. Their first trip was into the Nehalem Mountains, about thirty miles away, where there was a small store and a post-office. Arriving there after dark, the candidate who had charge of the team and did the driving introduced his associates to the landlord, who, by the way, was the post-master and storekeeper. When the two had gone to the barn with the team, the host said to the driver, with whom he was well acquainted:

“So that’s Dunbar, is it? Well, I’ve been reading a good deal about him lately and he has got a jail-bird face, all right, hasn’t he?”

As the joke was too good to keep under cover, the driver told it to Dunbar the next day. It came to me one day after the election, and when Moore, Dunbar and I, as the State Land Board, after concluding our business for that sitting, were recounting the different kinds of experiences, ludicrous and exasperating, one en counters when engaged in a protracted political campaign, Dunbar himself related it.

Dunbar served for eight years as Secretary of State and made one of the most efficient and systematic officials that branch of the State government has ever known. He is now living a very quiet life in his home town, Astoria, to whose interests he is very much attached.

J. H. Ackerman, who was chosen Superintendent of Public Instruction, had for many years been connected prominently with the schools of Multnomah County and came to his new position unusually well equipped for the duties of that responsible position. Ackerman is so well endowed by nature with those qualities which constitute the agreeable man that nothing could pry him loose from his position until he had served three successive terms of four years each, a record only equaled once before in the history of Oregon — by E. B. McElroy, in the same position. Ackerman had not been in office three months until he had visited nearly all the schools in the Willamette valley, and before his first year had ended he had been in every remote part of the most distant county. By that time it was surmised that he intended to be a candidate for re-election — killing two birds with one stone, since his visits were always helpful to the schools. Before the end of his first term he had secured the active support of ninety-nine per cent of the teachers of the State, and the other one per cent had no choice. The records show that fully ninety-nine per cent of the teachers in the public schools of Oregon are women, who, although having no direct vote, do have and exercise wonderful influence along lines where they are interested.

I did not know Ackerman well until we made our first trip to visit the State Normal School at Ashland. We had our breakfast in a “diner” together and I ordered a fairly good meal — having been a farmer and being accustomed to that sort of thing in the morning — including a good steak, eggs and their customary accessories. We were busily engaged in talking and I had paid no attention to his order, which was delivered first. I noticed then that he had duplicated my selection. My order was for some reason delayed, and in the meantime Ackerman had devoured the best part of the steak and all the eggs. My portion, when it came, consisted of a small piece of sickly toast and a dish of rice. I was naturally astonished and told the waiter that he had taken my order wrong. He replied, with a look of surprise, that he had by mistake changed the two.

I immediately glanced at Ackerman. His amused look was a plain admission that he had seen the possibility of securing a good breakfast at a minimum of expense by continuing the conversation on normal schools with enthusiasm, for the Governor was at that time obliged to pay all his expenses out of his own pocket, or did, while the Superintendent, while allowed his traveling expenses, was obliged to render an account even to details to the Secretary of State.

From that time I knew Ackerman quite well-well enough to be always on the watch for a practical joke, for he was not only an exceptionally good official, under whose management the school system of Oregon has become one of the best in the United States, but he is a born wag.

He is now the principal of the reorganized State Normal School at Monmouth, where he has an opportunity to contribute still further toward the improvement of our educational system.


Next Chapter - Geer musters out the Oregon volunteers for the Spanish-American war of 1898.


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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