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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



Before leaving for Ohio I had decided to employ a day or two after the campaign was over in visiting my father’s birthplace, which I knew was somewhere near London, in Madison County. He was born there in 1828 and was twelve years old when his father moved to Illinois. Thousands of times I had listened with great interest as he related his boyhood experiences, and had always entertained a longing to see the old farm. This, it appeared, was my opportunity and I decided to make the most of it.

I was most agreeably surprised, therefore, upon reporting to Republican headquarters soon after arriving at Columbus, to discover that the third place assigned me in the campaign was London, and an afternoon meeting at that. The meeting was held in an old skating rink, of ample dimensions, which was filled to its utmost capacity. Several persons explained to me, with pardonable pride, that McKinley had often during the last twenty years spoken in that same building.

I opened my speech by saying that, although a native Oregonian, I felt at home in Madison County, Ohio, for the reason that my father was born there seventy-three years before. This announcement put me on good terms with the people, and I added that I would deem it a personal favor if, at the close of the speech, those in the audience who could tell me where the old Geer farm was located would remain long enough to give me that information.

When the meeting adjourned, at least a dozen people, both men and women, began to make their way through the crowd toward the platform. Each one of them knew exactly where it was, though more than sixty years had elapsed since my grandfather lived there. Finally, one man said he had seen the present owner in town that day. After a little search he was found and the county committee at once placed a carriage at my disposal for the following afternoon. My next appointment, luckily, was for the evening of the next day, thus giving us ample time for this most pleasant visit.

There have been few happier days in my life than the one on which I visited the birthplace of my father. It was a most delightful October day and the autumn foliage of the Ohio forests was at its loveliest. I imagined I could see my father, with his brothers and sisters, as they were living in that by-gone time, knowing nothing then of the great land on the far-away Pacific Coast to which they were destined to go later on and in the development of which they were to do their part as brave pioneers. Ohio is a beautiful state in the autumn — if you don’t stay there too late — and the woods at that time of the year are delightfully attractive. We traveled along one country lane where, for a quarter of a mile, plank fences on either side of the road were constructed of walnut lumber. Our driver explained that it had been built thirty years before, but that at that time a walnut tree was worth a small fortune; that the year before a representative of an Eastern manufacturing concern had been through that part of the country buying every old walnut stump he could find in the woods or pastures, some of them bringing as much as forty dollars. Their roots, he said, would be followed until they were no more than two inches in diameter.

When my father was a boy in Ohio, every member of the family who was large enough had to work in the walnut timber, burning logs and digging stumps, in order that the land might be cleared for agricultural purposes. Conservation of natural resources was not then a burning question, though the destruction of the walnut timber was! The house built by my grandfather in 1836 was still standing when the present owner purchased the farm some twenty years before, but was burned the next year.

The one standing in 1901 had been built immediately back of the one destroyed and the foundation of the latter, consisting of large, flat stones at each of the four corners, had never been disturbed. They were just even with the top of the ground and were partly covered with blue grass. I could almost imagine they were speaking to me, as I saw in my fancy, my grandfather or some of the “boys,” placing them there during the summer that Martin Van Buren was elected President of the United States.

But the identical log barn my grandfather built was still there and doing daily service. As we drove past it there was an enormous Poland China sow stretched out in the shade of a shed, vigorously scratching fleas, the outcome of the contest being in apparent doubt. And the barn looked every day of its age.

I went to the spring under the hill, fifty yards from the house, and drank from it. Overshadowing it stood a huge hickory tree which had sheltered my father in his boyhood years. It is well to remark, in passing, that nearly every farmhouse I have seen in the Mississippi Valley States is built at least fifty yards away, often twice as far, from the spring which supplies the family with water — and the water is always to be carried up hill! The law of gravitation seems never to have been discovered by the benighted people in those sections of our country.

The daughter of a man named Willard, who owned the farm joining that of my grandfather in the days he lived in Ohio, became the wife of Ralph C. Geer, who for fifty years was a well-known farmer of the Waldo Hills. Willard’s son owned the place when I was there, a man then seventy-five years of age. He was my father’s playmate, of whom I had heard him speak thousands of times. I stopped a few minutes at the Willard farm and found the old man out in a woods pasture trimming the limbs from the young hickory trees, for the purpose, he said, of forcing them to grow straight enough to be sold later for wagon spokes. His hair and beard were snow-white and he had never been out of the State of Ohio more than a month, all told, in his life.

When I returned home, I wrote an account of my Ohio trip to my father’s brother, Carey, in California. He was then eighty years of age and had not seen Ohio, or any other place east of the Rocky Mountains, since he came to Oregon “on his own hook” in 1845. I thought by writing him of the scenes of his early boyhood I would arouse in him a feeling of homesickness, a longing to see them himself; but in answer to my question whether he ever entertained a desire to visit once more the old place, he replied:

“I have never wanted to see Ohio since I left there in 1840, nor do I desire to see any other part of the United States except the Pacific Coast. Why, I wouldn’t give an acre of ground in Oregon or California for all of any one state in the Mississippi Valley. There’s Jim Willard you wrote about. We were little boys together, and though he is now seventy-five years old he has never been out of sight of the smoke of his father’s chimney. Bah!”

Our driver returned to London by way of the celebrated Darby Plains, one of the richest and most beautiful sections of Ohio. We had not traveled far with him, however, before we discovered he carried a bottle of spirits of generous proportions which he interviewed with surprising frequency. After a while he became so jolly that he insisted that I share his potations, and my refusal served only to increase his desire to empty the bottle, Just before reaching London we had to drive down a long incline, at the bottom of which the road narrowed to the width of a culvert. We were going at a fearful rate, the horses plunging in a fast run, with their heads pointed in a direction which, if kept, would miss the bridge by at least ten feet. Before reaching it, I rose from the back seat, snatched the lines from his hands, and without doubt thus prevented the occurrence of a fearful accident. He accepted my interference as a joke, remarking that “‘s no danger — horses zhawl right.”

After safely crossing the culvert, we drove along a small creek bottom which had been in corn that summer, and the stalks, still standing, showed that the yield had been very light. The ground was weedy and parched and showed the effects of an overflow some time during the growing season. I remarked to the driver, partly in order to take his mind from the little experience we had had:

“Those spindling corn-stalks seem to show that the crop there this year was very light.”

“Yes,” he returned, as he felt for his bottle, “we had a great fluency of rain here last spring!”

We left Ohio on our return trip to Oregon on November 6, and by that time the trees were swept perfectly bare of their leaves and the storms had begun. There had already been quite a snow-storm in Wisconsin and in Ohio the rains were freely interspersed with spitting snow. It was very disagreeable and we were glad to turn our faces once more to the Pacific Coast. As we passed across Wisconsin there were large patches of snow still on the ground here and there and I remarked to my wife, as we were looking at the dreary scene: “Isn’t it strange that people will live in this climate when there is room for millions of people on the Pacific Coast, where the climate is always temperate, and where even now the trees are bearing their leaves?”

As we were traveling through Minnesota the outlook was still more cheerless, and I frequently remarked how singular it was that people would settle in such a country, and remain there, when they had surely heard of the magnificent climate of the Coast.

In Dakota it was worse, if possible. Passing through a blizzard, we saw herds of cattle and sheep, here and there, huddled together for mutual protection. We later crossed Montana and the outlook was still more discouraging. It was colder and the snow was flying on a level at a speed of eighty miles an hour — at least, so it seemed.

On the same car with us was a man whose home was in Helena, Montana. At the time of which I am writing, our train was speeding along through a most terrific wind-storm, interspersed with a “fluency” of snow, and I was saying to my wife:

“Just take note of that, will you? Isn’t it awful? And right now in the Willamette Valley all the trees still have their foliage and people are picking apples. No doubt there are late raspberries to be had, here and there, and every thing is lovely. I can’t understand why people will live in such a country as this when, by making a trip of only forty-eight hours, they can leave it all behind them. Most of them have surely heard of Oregon and — “

Just then a brakesman entered the car and shouted:


And, sure enough, we could see the dome of the State Capitol in the distance. I was resuming my commentary on the mental condition of people who, having heard of Oregon, would yet remain in such a God-forsaken section, when somebody touched me on the shoulder. Looking up, I saw it was my Montana friend, who said, as he stooped to look out of our window while he was fastening his overcoat collar, which reached a foot above the top of his head:

“Well, sir, it does a fellow good to get back to God’s country again.”

He had been in New York for two weeks!

This circumstance served to open my eyes somewhat to the fact that the progress of any country or section depends altogether upon the loyalty of its citizens to its interests. There are no people anywhere more firmly attached to their State than the people of Montana, and few States have made greater strides in material development during the last generation.

After this remark by my Montana acquaintance I still marveled at his “make-up,” provided he had ever heard of Oregon’s matchless climate, but had a profound admiration for the fealty he exhibited toward the land of his adoption.


Next Chapter - Stories of Homer Davenport, the cartoonist, as a young man before he became famous.


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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