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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 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:

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.

Friend Geer:

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 visible.

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 people supposed.

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 Samuel Barlow.


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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