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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



The issues which characterized the campaign of 1898 were not particularly exciting, consisting merely of those which divided the Republican from the Democratic and the Populist parties. The Spanish War had just begun, and that fact assisted in a way to further the prospects of the “party in power,” though it should be remembered that all parties were supporting the administration in its determination to “remember the Maine.” The election passed off quietly and the Republican ticket was triumphant with a majority of ten thousand. Incidentally, I may be pardoned for adding that my majority was represented by that figure, which was the largest by almost two to one ever given any candidate for Governor of Oregon, before or since. This was attributable, of course, to the fact that the party had united on me in the State Convention, there being no opposition — a condition not since existing in any campaign. For this very flattering honor bestowed upon me by the people, I here desire again to express my thanks, and to add that, while I have been defeated for a nomination I have never failed to receive an affirmative vote when appealing directly to the people of Oregon. I have a right to feel proud of this fact and to refer to it — modestly, I trust — while expressing my gratitude.

In the nature of things, this book is personal and in a manner reminiscent, but it is not my purpose to extol, criticise, defend or otherwise consider the merits of my administration of the public affairs of Oregon during the four years from January, 1899, to January, 1903. To do so would not be seemly on my part. I leave that to the future historian, to whom it properly belongs. There was no exciting feature during the course of my administration; all the departments of the State Government discharged their functions without other friction than was the result of counter political aspirations and the usual trouble engendered by disappointed office-seekers. This led to my defeat for re-nomination in 1902, but, since I have no apology to make for the acts which displeased those who were in control of the party at that time, a discussion of them would be useless. Where questions come up for an ultimate decision and the Governor as the agent of last resort is compelled to settle the matter one way or the other, it is to be expected that somebody will be disappointed, dissatisfied, and disgruntled. And since the dissatisfied, disappointed and disgruntled ones outnumber those who meet with success, “it follows as night the day” that the one man who under the law is required to decide important questions will have a very hard task to discharge, especially if he belongs to the dominant party in his State. And I did! Enough said.

In the summer of 1899, six months after my inauguration, the Spanish War was brought to a close and the Second Regiment of Oregon, which had shed such glory on the State by its marvelous intrepidity and uniform readiness for action at all times, was returning home. It was the first to land on foreign soil in that conflict and was the first mustered out of the service.

The regiment was due to arrive in San Francisco about July 10 and I went to that city, accompanied by my full staff, to welcome them home in the name of their State. The people of Portland had made very elaborate arrangements to receive them, supposing they would travel from San Francisco to Portland by water. A large local fleet was to proceed down the Columbia and escort the heroes home amid the plaudits of the people, the waving of banners and the belching forth of friendly cannon. The program was fully arranged and the expense of it all had not been considered for a moment. I proceeded to San Francisco to extend the glad hand and to bid them God-speed as they left the Golden Gate on their return trip after a rest in the Bay City.

Of course the actual time of the arrival of the two transports bearing the regiment could not be ascertained, and I remained in San Francisco two days waiting for tidings. On the third day, in company with Governor Gage of California, we sighted the incoming boats outside the bar and met them inside the Bay, near the Presidio. As we stood watching the vessels, at first mere tiny specks, grow larger and larger, realizing the while that their passengers were all Oregon boys who had more than performed their duty as soldiers battling in the defense of their country against a savage and superstitious foe, it seemed one of the most thrilling sights of my life. Almost the entire population of San Francisco, it seemed, had assembled on the shores of the Bay and were enthusiastically shouting their appreciation of American valor.

As our boat finally swung alongside the two transports, I could easily recognize the familiar features of Colonel Owen Summers, the beloved commanding officer of the regiment, who shouted:

“Hello, there, Governor! We are awfully glad to see you.”

I returned the salutation, recognizing at the same time several of the boys who greeted me with their shouts. Under the circumstances I thought it my duty to make a short address of welcome, but when I began to say a few words there was a general yelling:

“Muster us out in San Francisco! Muster us out in San Francisco!”

I waited a moment for the interruption to subside, when I again attempted to let them know how glad the people of Oregon were to know of their return and how proud they were that, etc., etc., when my voice was drowned by the repeated shouting by a thousand throats:

“Muster us out in San Francisco!”

This second demonstration convinced me that I did not want to make any speech, anyway, and there was every reason for belief that they were not wanting to hear a speech. I then boarded the “Ohio” and began shaking hands — also to get some valuable information. Colonel Summers at once informed me that before leaving Manila the boys had heard of the intention of the people of Portland to give them a hearty welcome upon their arrival, and that they at once rebelled at the proposition. They had worked hard, had endured many hardships, lived on such food as was to be had, marched under a burning sun to be met by the treacherous Filipinos, and they were not looking for further demonstrations of any kind, especially one that would mean another sea voyage after being on land for two weeks at San Francisco.

Besides, they had given their service for very small remuneration, and if formally mustered out at San Francisco they would be entitled to travel pay from that point home. This would mean a goodly sum for each one of them, and, they said, they would need that upon arriving home far more than a demonstration which would be “all show and no money.”

I had not talked with the General and the boys ten minutes until I could see that Portland reception going a-glimmering. The boys were true soldiers, but the proposition to force them to go home by way of the Columbia River did not look good to them, and it looked no better to Colonel Summers. I at once called up Portland and got in communication with H. W. Scott, of the Oregonian. After I had told him how the matter stood, he remarked in his usual sententious manner: “I expected as much.”

The next day I telegraphed the situation to Secretary of War Root and asked permission to muster the Second Oregon Regiment out in San Francisco. The request was granted, and peace once more reigned within the ranks of the famous regiment.

I returned home and two weeks later met the regiment at the California State line, where each one of the boys wore a grin as wide as a full-grown hard-tack.

Three months later I was invited by President McKinley, with the Governors of all the other States, to be present at the laying of the corner-stone of the new Federal Building at Chicago. I had been trying for some time to secure a cannon from the Philippines — one that had been captured there by the American troops, if possible — out of which to manufacture appropriate medals to be presented to the members of the Second Oregon Regiment, as a souvenir from the “State of Oregon. I had not succeeded at the time this invitation came from President McKinley, and since the Secretary of War was to be in Chicago on that occasion, it occurred to me that the opportunity would be presented there to explain the matter to him personally and thus secure his assistance.

Upon arriving at Chicago I learned that Secretary Root was there, but the papers the next morning announced that he had returned to Washington on a night train in answer to a telegram demanding his immediate presence at the national capital. Of course this changed my plans, but having traveled that far in the interest of the medals I decided to extend the trip to Washington. This I did. Upon presenting the matter to Secretary Root, he said:

“I thought that cannon had been ordered already. I remember your request and that it had my sanction.”

After I had explained the question in detail, admitting that there was a measure of sentiment in wanting the medals made out of a cannon brought from the Philippines, he said he would write at once to the authorities there to send one along without further delay.

“But,” I said, “Mr. Secretary, two months have already elapsed since this matter was taken up and so far nothing at all has been accomplished. At this rate, the Spanish War will be partly forgotten before those medals can be manufactured and distributed among the boys. They are all young now, to be sure, but these medals should be given them before they become grandfathers.”

At this the Secretary smiled, thought a moment, then said: “Well, I guess Uncle Sam can stand the expense of a cablegram in the interest of those Oregon boys.” And, reaching for a pen, he wrote an order for the immediate shipment of a cannon to Portland, showed it to me, and called a messenger to have it sent at once.

Within a month the cannon arrived in Portland. Shortly afterwards the medals were made and distributed among the survivors of the Second Oregon.

While in San Francisco waiting for the arrival of the Manila transports, I was the guest of General Shafter, who had seen active service in Cuba and was at that time in command of military affairs in San Francisco. He was a most affable man, for one accustomed for so many years to military discipline, and I enjoyed his company very much. He was a man of enormous proportions, physically, weighing fully three hundred pounds. On the day of the public reception of the Second Oregon by San Francisco, he appeared on horseback, riding with all the dignity expected of one of his position. How he mounted his steed I was not able to discover. He had a ranch not many miles from San Francisco and one day visited it, returning late in the afternoon heated in body and mind. As soon as he had regained his composure enough to engage in conversation he said:

“I had a deuce of a time this afternoon. I am endeavoring to drain some land down there and am having more trouble trying to manage twenty d——d Chinamen than I had in Cuba directing twenty thousand soldiers.” And he was mad, indeed.


Next Chapter - In 1902, Geer was invited, as a guest speaker on behalf of Governor Nash, to visit Ohio.


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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