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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



On May 8, 190I, the battleship Ohio was launched at San Francisco and President McKinley was present to participate in the attendant ceremonies. He had arranged an extensive itinerary which included all the Pacific Coast States, but while in San Francisco, the severe illness of his wife, by whom he was accompanied, made it necessary for him to cancel all his dates north of that city, much to the disappointment and regret of our people.

I went to San Francisco to attend the ceremonies of the launching and to extend an official invitation to the President to visit Oregon, but he was compelled to return to Washington and was assassinated at Buffalo a few months later. He was never in Oregon, though this State was always especially loyal to him.

Governor Nash, of Ohio, was present at the launching of the ship named after his State and I became well acquainted with him. We made several side trips together and I found him a very genial companion and most anxious to know more about this coast. On one of these little journeys he became inoculated with poison oak, or ivy, and was sorely afflicted for the remainder of his stay in San Francisco, being obliged to remain away from the public reception given the Ohio visitors by the people of that city. On his way home he was compelled to remain over at Salt Lake for a day and upon his arrival at his home in Columbus was unable to enter a carriage without assistance. He never regained his health and died the next year, many thought from the lingering effect of his exposure to the poison oak in San Francisco.

Governor Nash was renominated in the summer following, though his physical condition would have precluded such a thing had it not been for the general esteem in which he was held by the people of Ohio. When the campaign opened I received an invitation from the Republican State Committee of Ohio to take a part in the speech-making. Though I had declined a similar one the year before, I had a very friendly feeling for Governor Nash, and as the invitation from Chairman Dick was followed a few days later by a letter from the Governor, saying that he hoped I would come, I accepted. Soon after this, however, President McKinley was shot at Buffalo and the formal opening of the campaign, by the mutual consent of both political parties, was postponed until time should tell the result of his wound.

Owing to the subsequent death of the President the Ohio campaign was limited to two weeks. My first date was at the little city of Waverly, about twenty miles north of the Ohio River, and the time was equally divided between Senator Mark Hanna and myself. I had never seen that distinguished gentleman until we met on the platform a few minutes before the speaking began, and the impression he gave me was decidedly a favorable one. He was as plain in his manner as a farmer. As we rode in a carriage through the streets, after the meeting, it was scarcely possible to drive the team through the crowds, so great was the jam of people who walked beside the vehicle and insisted on grasping the hand of the Senator. There were continual shouts for “Uncle Mark,” and “Hurrah for Uncle Mark!” etc. He was a candidate for re-election, had been endorsed by the Republican State Convention and was stumping the State advocating the election of a legislature that would be favorable to him. There was no doubt of his reelection, by the popular vote, at least, — none to those who saw the demonstrations of that day.

Senator Hanna invited my wife and me to spend the following Sunday at his home in Cleveland, which we would gladly have done, but that we desired to visit the Buffalo Exposition and it was possible to do so only on that day. When I told the Senator I was the cousin of Homer Davenport, who cartooned him so unmercifully in the campaign of 1896, he at once began making inquiries about him and where he got his artistic ability. He said he had met Davenport several times and really liked “the fellow,” but added that he didn’t approve of his cartoon treatment of himself. I told him I never yet had found a man who could really enjoy a good cartoon of himself, though everybody else might regard it as a work of art. He said that he never cared “a peg” for Davenport’s cartoons, but that his wife hated, that artist “worse than snakes.” He remarked that he had instructed his secretary to save all the cartoons of himself that had appeared in the papers, but that they were to be kept from his wife, if possible.

The last week of the Ohio campaign I traveled in company with Governor Nash, except while I was at Marysville, where my time was divided with Warren G. Harding, since elected Lieutenant Governor and who was last year defeated for Governor by Harmon.

So far as I could see there was no difference between campaigning in Ohio and Oregon or Washington or Idaho. My previous experience served to illustrate very forcibly the fact that ours is a great country and, what is better, that we are essentially one great people. An American citizen of Ohio has all the characteristics of the American citizen of Oregon, Maine or Florida. This fact is more keenly realized when, in campaigning in States widely separated geographically, one discovers the sameness of the issues involved.

My wife and I spent Monday of the last week of the campaign in Cleveland as the guests of Myron T. Herrick, afterward Governor of Ohio, and in the evening visited the city of Ravenna, some ninety miles south of Cleveland, where Governor Nash and I addressed a meeting whose proportions fully sustained Ohio’s reputation for not “doing politics” by halves. Upon arriving at Ravenna, a committee met me at the train, Governor Nash having gone there early in the day to look after his local fences. After reaching the hotel, the chairman said he wanted to put me on my guard as to a characteristic of the people of his town.

“They always pay the best of attention to a public speaker and appreciate his coming. You will have a crowded house; but they never give any demonstration of approval, such as clapping of hands, stamping of feet, etc. We account for it to outsiders by claiming that our people are highly intellectual,” said he, with a twinkle in his eye; “but those not used to their ways are likely to misconstrue their attitude.” He said that when Senator Allison of Iowa was there the year before, he was greatly incensed at what he termed the coldness of the Ravenna people and declared he would never hold a meeting there again.

When I returned to Columbia after the campaign had closed, Chairman Dick, in talking over the situation, inquired what kind of a meeting I had had at Ravenna. After I told him it was a “stem-winder” and a great success in every way, he said he had been a little afraid of it, since the people there were noted for their lack of enthusiasm in public meetings. Chairman Dick was then a member of the lower House of Congress and Ravenna was in his district. While on this subject he told me this story:

Fifty years before, when Tom Corwin was in his prime as a famous stump-speaker and orator — and wit — he attended a meeting at Ravenna. After returning to his home in Cincinnati, while relating some of his campaign experience, in the State, he said: “Ravenna, though, is the d——st place yet. Why, up there they are so long-faced that they open their political meetings with prayer and close by singing the Doxology. I spoke there last week to a crowded house and the prospects for a successful meeting could not have been better. But I had spoken for fully half an hour without bringing out any applause or smile whatever. This was unusual, so I thought I would wake them up by telling a story.” I told one of the best I knew, and told it as well as I could; it fell perfectly flat. There was not a hand-clap nor a smile. I went on for another twenty minutes without any response from the audience other than the very best of attention. At this point I thought I would try another story on them. So I selected one of my best and did my utmost to tell it well; but it was as great a failure as the first.

“This made me mad, and I really cut my speech short on account of the dullness of the people — or their stupidity, or incapacity, or something — but I decided to give them just one more story and see what it would do. Now, of course, I know I have some reputation as a story-teller, and I felt a degree of personal pride in making an effort to rouse that audience. I closed with a story that would cause the dead to rise up and laugh, and used whatever art I possessed in relating it well, but, do you know, there was not the slightest indication in any quarter of mirth — no applause nor demonstration of any kind. Not even a smile.

“So the meeting was adjourned. Afterwards several of the leading men of the city gathered around me and one of them, speaking for the others, it seemed, said:

“‘Corwin, that was one of the best speeches I ever heard. It was logical, eloquent, unanswerable and right to the point — just what we needed here. And do you know, Corwin, your stories — why, when you told that last one, I came mighty near laughing right out loud!’”


Next Chapter - After campaigning in Ohio, Geer visits his grandfather's (Joseph Carey Geer) home in London, 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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