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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



Taken all in all, Oregon, considering that it is situated on the western verge of the continent, has had a most interesting, almost romantic, history. The very difficulty by which it was reached in the early days made it doubly attractive to the adventuresome spirit which dominated the men who took possession of it sixty and seventy years ago. As I approach the point where this work must be drawn to a close, I realize what an abundance of material there is relating to many prominent men who wrought here in those days which I have not touched upon at all. It is a “far cry” from the present “Oregon System” of choosing public officers to the manner of controlling a Legislature in the “days of ‘49,” when the first territorial lawmaking body met at Oregon City, then the capital. Nothing has been said of Jacob Conser, Samuel Parker, John Grim, H. N. V. Holmes, “Bob” Kinney, A. J. Hembree, Wesley Shannon, Nathaniel Ford — all members of that body — or of Fred Waymire, James McBride, Ralph Wilcox, Ben Simpson and others who were members of the next Legislature, all men of force, character and patriotic impulses, the salt of the earth.

One of the prominent men in Oregon for many years in its formative period was Benjamin Simpson, who bears the distinction of being the only man in the history of the State who has served in the Legislature from four different counties. He was a member of the House in 1850 from Clackamas County, from Marion County in 1851, and again in 1852; in 1853 he was a member of the council from Marion County, and served a single term. In 1862 he had located in Polk County, and apparently from force of habit went to the Legislature from that subdivision of the State. In 1872 he was elected from Benton County, thus establishing a record that stands alone in this State. A few months before his death, which occurred in Portland in the summer of 1910 at the advanced age of ninety-two years, he told me a number of incidents of his early experience in Oregon public life. As to his election to the Legislature from Benton County in 1872, he said:

“One of the most amusing incidents connected with my public life happened in the election in June, 1872. I had been living for a number of years in Salem, but in that year was engaged in building a schooner over at Yaquina Bay. I had taken a twenty-two thousand dollar contract and was employing a large number of men. I was there myself practically all the time and when the campaign opened I conceived the idea of going to the Legislature. I had no trouble in getting the nomination, but at once the Democrats got busy in an effort to defeat me on the ground that I was a carpetbagger, an importation, etc. From the day of my nomination the campaign was red-hot and it kept myself and friends busy explaining that under the laws of Oregon I was, under the circumstances, a citizen of Benton County and that, further, I was there engaged in developing its maritime resources and that, in my judgment, Yaquina Bay was destined to become one of the greatest seaports on the Pacific Coast, etc.

“But this, argument had no effect toward lessening the bitterness of the Democratic campaign, and I found myself in the midst of the fight of my life. I voted at Yaquina and the next day went over the mountains to Corvallis, where the results of the election were being received. I arrived there late in the afternoon and saw a large crowd of men standing in front of the courthouse. When I had reached a point two blocks away I was recognized, and one of my most enthusiastic supporters and workers started toward me and shouted at the very top of his voice: ‘Hurrah, Ben; hurry up. You’re elected by sixty majority, and if you had really been a resident of the county you would have beat ‘em by at least four hundred.’

“Of course the joke was on me, but I had won the election all right and it was only one of the incidents in the game of politics.

“In 1849 I took an active part in bringing out Samuel R. Thurston for Congress. I wanted to beat Jim Nesmith, who concluded that he would like to represent the new territory at Washington, and Thurston was the best timber we had to do it with, I thought. He was nominated and elected and on the morning he was going to start away a crowd of us had gathered on the bank of the Willamette at Oregon City. Thurston lived just across the river in Linn City, which at that early day was a serious rival of both Oregon City and Portland. I had a store and sawmill at Clackamas, another ambitious and promising town on the Willamette at the mouth of the Clackamas River. The day before Thurston had been down to my store and bought a bottle of vinegar. I furnished the bottle and he promised to return it the next morning as he started to Washington. We had not stood long on the bank of the river watching for him when he appeared and went down toward the bank to take the ferry-boat. There was a woman there also, with an umbrella in her hand, and when Thurston started to board the boat we could see that the two began a vigorous conversation, attended by a series of gestures which indicated a decided difference of opinion. The argument didn’t last long, however, for the woman began to hunt for Thurston’s solar plexus with the point of her umbrella, and a broadside sent his hat to grass, while the Congressman-elect grabbed her wrists and held her until her ire subsided and he was allowed to depart in peace.

“The melee furnished our party a deal of fun and when he arrived on our side of the river Thurston explained that he and his antagonist had had some differences (I have now forgotten what the trouble was about), and he added, ‘Ben, in the scuffle I dropped your bottle and it broke in a thousand pieces.’ He offered to pay for it. bottles of any kind in those days being worth money, but I told him to let it go as the fun was worth the price of a full-sized demijohn.”

Samuel R. Thurston, of whom Simpson speaks in the foregoing incident, was a prominent figure in the early territorial days, being the first delegate to Congress after the establishment of the territorial government. He was born in Maine, in 1816, was a graduate of Bowdoin College, and came to Oregon from Iowa across the plains in 1847. After his election to Congress, in 1849, he went to Washington, served one term and on his way home died at sea between Panama and Acapulco. His remains were buried at the latter place at the time, but a few years afterward, the territorial legislature having appropriated money for the purpose, they were exhumed and re-interred in the Odd Fellow’s Cemetery at Salem. The State has since erected a monument over his grave, on which are these words:

“Here rests Oregon’s first delegate; a man of genius and learning, a lawyer and statesman; his Christian virtues equaled by his wide philanthropy. His public acts were his best eulogium.”

Thurston was a very popular man, proof of which permeates the early records of Oregon history; but not the least conclusive is the fact that nearly every boy born in the territory in 1850 or 1851 has Thurston for either his front or middle name; among the latter the writer of these lines is duly registered.


One of the best known of the early pioneers was Samuel K. Barlow, who crossed the plains in 1845. Arriving at The Dalles and finding that those who had preceded him had made the remainder of the journey to the Willamette valley by rafting their belongings down the Columbia River, he decided it was time somebody built a wagon road across the Cascades. The result was the making of what was for fifty years known as the Barlow road, over which, late in the season, he and his companions reached their destination.

Barlow settled on a beautiful small prairie just south of Oregon City which to this day is known as “Barlow’s Prairie.” He came from Indiana and after a few years began to yearn for the walnut trees with which he had been familiar in that State. Walnut trees do not grow indigenously in Oregon, but when transplanted thrive fully as well as in the Mississippi Valley. To gratify his longing for walnut trees in his new home he arranged with Thurston, before his departure for Washington, to bring back with him a bushel of walnuts which he would write his people in Indiana to send to the national capital before his return. This was done and they were aboard the vessel when Thurston died. This event unsettled the ordinary course of things and Barlow’s walnuts were not heard of — or from — in fact, he had no assurance that Thurston had started with them. After a couple of months, however, he received word from an agent in Portland that there was a bag of something there which apparently belonged to him and that there was a charge of fifty dollars on it — for freight.

Barlow at once wrote the agent that he would never pay such an outrageous price for the walnuts and that he could keep them for his debt — that if he was going to be robbed, he wanted it to be a first-class job! But, in describing the circumstance afterward, he said the more he thought the matter over the more unreconciled he was to the fact that only fifty miles away there was a bushel of real old Indiana walnuts — right from his old home — and after a week of unrest he went to Portland, paid the fifty dollars freight bill on his bushel of walnuts and went home, happy, he said, notwithstanding the robbery!

But it proved a good financial investment, after all, for he planted the nuts the following fall, nearly all of them grew, and they did so remarkably well that within two years he had sold fully a hundred of them at one dollar each and had enough left to line the roadway lead ing from his handsome residence to the public highway. Today the beautiful archway formed by the intertwining branches of those walnut trees, now sixty-five years old, is admired by passengers on the Southern Pacific Railroad as the train stops at the “Barlow” station; but not many of the thousands of people, even Oregonians, who have commented on their beauty, are aware of their Indiana origin or the part Samuel R. Thurston had in the original transfer.

Several of the beautiful walnuts to be seen on the streets of Salem, and in other parts of the State, were obtained sixty years ago from the Barlow importation from Hoosierdom.


Next Chapter - Oregon pioneers were often creative in the ways in which they handled civil service and civil obligations.


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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