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
The death of Thomas H. Tongue
in 1902, member of Congress from the First Oregon District, was a loss to the
public service which was keenly felt at the time and is still recognized. He was
born in England, but, when a small boy, came to Oregon with his parents and
settled in Washington County. After arriving at the age of manhood, he became a
farmer, devoting his attention largely to the raising of blooded horses. He was
also admitted to 1he bar and for many years before entering Congress was
recognized as one of the leading lawyers of the State, He succeeded Binger
Hermann in Congress in 1897, remaining there by successive elections without
opposition until his death.
Mr. Tongue was one of the
best public speakers in Oregon, aggressive, ready, forceful and witty. He was
elected to the State Senate in 1888, serving in that body with distinction for
four years. He was always a prominent figure at gatherings of Republicans and
twice was president of the Republican State Convention.
Mr. Tongue was noted for his
illegible handwriting, and it was a standing joke among his friends. He gave
thanks to the man who first invented a typewriter and often remarked that his
friends were more thankful than he was. I recall that, one year, he wrote a
letter descriptive of Washington County for the New Year’s edition of the
Oregonian, to which his signature was attached in facsimile, as were those of
the writers of articles descriptive of the other counties. My paper came to me
during the holidays, while two Salem teachers in the public schools were
visiting at the farm. Upon its receipt I discovered Tongue’s letter, and his
signature looked so much more like anything else one might imagine that I called
the two teachers and asked them if they could decipher it. They, with my two
daughters, looked over my shoulder, as I sat in my chair, and guessed almost
every other name under the sun except that of Tongue.
The next day I wrote to
Tongue the following letter:
MACLEAY, OREGON, Jan. 2.
HON. TROS. H. TONGUE, Hillsboro, Or.
My Dear Tongue:
The New Year’s Oregonian,
just received, contains an article descriptive of the resources of Washington
County, which is so very admirable that I should like to know the name of its
author. His name is attached to it, to be sure, but it is printed in facsimile
and I cannot make it out. In fact, there are two school-ma’ams visiting at my
home this week, and as I sat in my chair they came and, looking over my
shoulder, failed utterly to decipher the signature.
Knowing that you are well
acquainted in Washington County, it occurred to me to write you and make an
effort to ascertain the author of the very excellent article, for I should like
to compliment him on his splendid and thorough treatment of his subject.
Yours sincerely, etc.
Within a week I received the
following letter, to appreciate which it is necessary to say that my own
handwriting was little, if any, better than Tongue’s, and that in order to
retain the respect of my friends I purchased one of the first typewriters that
came from the factory:
HILLSBORO, OR., Jan. 10.
Hon. T. T. GEER, Macleay, Or.
I am after information. I
received a letter a day or two ago written in such a wretched hand that I cannot
make out who it is from, and I write to you, for the reason that the envelope
has the postmark “Macleay” on it and, so far as I recall, you are the only
person living there whom I know, I wish you would make some inquiry about the
matter, for the poor devil may want to know something of importance that I can
tell him. The only thing I am sure about is that the letter came from Macleay
and that its author was sitting between two school-ma’ams when he wrote it.
Very truly yours,
Thos. H. TONGUE.
In the month of August, 1902,
Mr. Tongue joined a party of about twenty-five people who visited Crater Lake,
in Klamath County — which, by the way, is one of the greatest natural wonders on
the globe, being a sunken body of water on the very summit of the Cascade
Mountains, six miles across, the surface of the water two thousand feet below
the surrounding country. Teams and automobiles are driven to the verge of these
bluffs, from which point one of the grandest scenes afforded in all the
handiwork of Nature is presented to the beholder. These tremendous walls are
almost perpendicular and the water’s edge is accessible in one place only in all
their vast extent.
Official soundings have been
made by the government to ascertain the depth of this body of water, and it was
found that the average is about fifteen hundred feet, though several
measurements showed a depth of two thousand feet. On one side of this lake is a
cone-shaped island composed of burnt shell lava whose summit is eight hundred
feet above the surface of the water — all of which gives an abundant field for
speculation as to its origin. Undoubtedly, however, there once stood where this
lake now lies a huge mountain, probably similar to Mt. Hood, which was blown to
atoms in some convulsion of Nature in distant ages, leaving its summit to settle
into the vast chasm thus created. This afterward filled with water, at least to
within two thousand feet of the surface, and, finding some subterranean outlet,
remained at that stage — for Crater Lake has neither an inlet nor outlet that is
One of the most singular and
beautiful features of Crater Lake is that its water is as blue as the darkest
indigo, looked at from a distance or while riding on its bosom in a skiff, but
if dipped into a cup it is as clear as the purest mountain stream. This coloring
is supposed to be caused by the atmospheric effect, in conjunction with the
reflection of the sky into such an enormous cavity in the earth’s surface. Taken
as a whole, there is nothing in the world which will rival any of its remarkable
features, and it is destined to become a most, popular resort for those who are
investigating the causes and effects of Nature’s mysterious ways.
Mr. Tongue joined our party
on this outing, not only for the reason that he had never seen Crater Lake, but
in the hope that his health, which had not been good for a year, would improve.
The trip was made under the auspices of Will G. Steel, the veteran boomer of
Crater Lake. We camped the first night out from Medford at Eagle Point, a
delightful typical country village in a splendid agricultural section. The
people in the neighborhood came to our camp after dark, and by huge bonfires
several speeches were made, Mr. Tongue being especially happy in his remarks.
But it was frequently remarked by different members of the party that he was in
an enfeebled physical condition. When we made our camp on the banks of the
picturesque Rogue River and most of us began fishing for the delicious mountain
trout with which that stream abounds, Tongue spread his blankets down and
rested, explaining to me that his condition was worse, he feared, than most
The next day the teams all
stopped when we came to a small stream which flowed across the road. Tongue sat
down for a rest on an old rail fence which had not been repaired for a
generation, it seemed. I suggested to him that Steel get his Kodak and take his
picture, to be printed in the Oregonian and under it the words: “Congressman
Tongue in his favorite attitude.”
At that moment I was picking
up a rail from the ground with which to make myself a seat, and Tongue quickly
retorted: “All right, I’ve no objection, but let him take one of you also, with
the explanation: ‘Governor Geer still mending his fences.’“
The day following our arrival
at the lake the entire party descended the precipitous path which leads to the
water’s edge, took a couple of treacherous skiffs that were there, and rowed
across to “Wizard Island.” It was a very foolhardy thing to do, considering the
sort of boats we used, but we arrived safely and made the very difficult,
because exhausting, ascent of the island, every step sinking a foot into the
loose lava (I mean sinking a foot deep into it). In descending, one would often
slide ten feet at a time after taking one step, moving a rod square of loose
rocks in the operation.
The climb out of the lake was
a most fatiguing undertaking and we scattered out in the ascent as each one felt
able to proceed. We had all reached camp far ahead of Tongue, and were
discussing the advisability of sending some one after him when he appeared at
the top of the cliff not far away. Everybody remarked the awful pallor of his
countenance and his lips were of such a deep purple color that general alarm was
felt. He sank down on a nearby bunk, completely exhausted, and was unable to
talk for several minutes. He soon recovered, however, and seemed once more
himself; but when his death was announced some four months later as having
occurred suddenly at Washington, it was not at all surprising to those who were
his companions during his last vacation.
Next Chapter -
Notes on various pioneers, including Benjamin Simpson, Samuel Thurston, 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: