Fifty Years in Oregon was written by Theodore T.
Geer, a grandson of Joseph Carey Geer and a shirttail ancestor of
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
In the last chapter reference was made to
Homer Davenport’s share in making Mark Hanna famous in the campaign of 1896, and
this suggests that, as he is an Oregon product, he deserves a word of special
mention in these pages. His mother was my first cousin and I have known him well
since his birth. He is the son of T. W. Davenport, one of Oregon’s best known
pioneers and public men, who died this summer at the age of eighty-seven years.
To those who have known Homer since his
childhood, it will not seem an exaggeration to say that few men in this or any
other day are justly entitled to more credit for the fame they have won than he.
Until he was past twenty-one years of age he gave little promise, although he
never had any bad habits, unless the indisposition to apply himself to anything
which might prove of ultimate benefit to himself might be so termed. He had no
educational advantages beyond those furnished in the common schools, and his
most intimate acquaintances cannot recall any great application on his part even
there. He was not given to applying himself steadily to any one thing. To be
sure, he had a liking for sketching, wearing out every bit of chalk he could get
hold of on old board fences, drawing figures of horses and chickens; but this
was held to be a sad and distressing evidence of general worthlessness — to be
discouraged, if possible.
When the old “narrow gauge” railroad was built
through Silverton, Homer’s general shiftlessness and good nature drew him to the
engineers and firemen, who, since much of their time was unoccupied, invited him
to make the trip to the terminus, fifty miles farther south, as a diversion for
themselves. In those days there was a train on that road each way every other
day, and consequently there was ample time to indulge in sports of different
kinds. It was about eighty miles from Portland to the terminus and it required
all day to make the trip — one way. At that time the Chinese pheasants, which
had been imported into Oregon some time previous, were becoming so plentiful
that the ban against shooting them had been removed. It was the custom for the
train to stop a dozen times a day, when a flock of pheasants was sighted, to
permit the crew to make the rounds of the adjoining field with their guns, which
they always carried for this purpose. They usually returned with a fine lot of
birds. They did their own cooking at Ray’s Landing — the terminus on the
Willamette River where the men lived in a “bunk house,” similar to a logging
camp — and these contributions to the larder were always welcome.
This sort of life appealed strongly to Homer
Davenport. He was a good shot, and the railroad men for that reason the more
appreciated his company. Ordinarily, he would make his “keep” and some to spare.
Then, too, Homer was quite crazy about dogs. I
may say the condition was mutual. A dog would make friends with him on sight,
and the more friendless the dog, the more friendly it would be with him —
especially if it was frightfully homely and bereft of any redeeming quality that
would appeal to anybody else.
Not long since an ex-railroad man told me that
one day he was running the engine on that road, with Homer as a helper, when
they saw a dog standing in a field by the track, apparently without an owner.
Homer at once begged the engineer to stop, as he wanted to investigate the
situation and to get the dog, if possible, promising to meet the train at that
point the next day. At the speed the train was running it was but a question of
walking back fifty yards. So a stop was made and the engineer made the remainder
of the run alone. But although he looked for Homer next day all along that
stretch of track for ten miles he didn’t see him — nor did he afterward see him
for more than three weeks, when he came to the Silverton station one day, the
dog by his side, to inquire how the engineer was getting along, anyway! He
himself has informed the public how he finally went to San Francisco and secured
employment on one of Hearst’s papers, after drifting about some time, and how,
at the opening of the McKinley campaign in 1896, he was transferred to New York,
where his merciless cartoons of Mark Hanna made him famous.
At the time Homer first went to San Francisco
his father was troubled with a weak eye, on account of which he had for several
years worn a leather “patch” over it. He had been so adorned, when serving in
the State Senate, and, thus disfigured, was familiarly known to his
acquaintances over the State. Within two weeks after Homer’s tearful departure
from Silverton a letter was received at the post-office there with no writing on
the envelope but the address, “Silverton, Oregon.” Just above the address,
however, was a life-like picture of T. W. Davenport, arrayed in his slouch hat,
long whiskers, and a patch over one eye — the latter slightly enlarged.
It was Homer’s first popular cartoon, and
after his father had read the letter the envelope was placed in the front window
of the post-office where it was an attraction for the next ten days, The idea
was illustrative of Homer’s native wit and was one of the first indications of
his future career as a successful cartoonist. The Silverton boys were all proud
of that envelope and Frank Simeral, Matt Brown, Trent Hibbard, Milt Fitzgerald
and Tom Blackerby, as well as the “belle of Silverton,” spent much of their time
showing it to those who chanced to come into town from the country.
Within two weeks after the election in 1898,
which was in June, I received a letter of congratulation from Homer. On the last
page was a very clever cartoon — an Oliver Chilled plow, standing at rest in the
field, and a placard hanging on the handle bearing the words, “To Let.” It was
very suggestive and was highly appreciated by me. It has been preserved to this
day and will be found reproduced on one of the pages of this book.
By his native wit, agreeable presence,
cultivated talent and association with the great men of the country, Homer
Davenport has made a world-wide reputation of which the friends of his boyhood
days, still living in and around Silverton and the beautiful Waldo Hills, are
justly proud. This short chapter is dedicated to him in memory of the early days
when he was a barefoot boy begging doughnuts from his Grandmother Geer.
Next Chapter -
Various moral reflections about personal character and, in particular, making
poor assumptions about who one is talking to. Includes stories about Al Reed and
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
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: