Family History    Wines

Photography       Books

Amazon Bestsellers

Fifty Years In Oregon

Table of Contents

Site Contents

Home Page

Book Resources

Family History



Wildlife Photos

Wine Tastings
 - Bottled Poetry

Other Pages

About Us

Contact Us

Privacy Policy


Site Map

Affiliate Sites

Powell's Books

Alibris - Books You Thought You'd Never Find - Outdoor Gear

Additional Affiliate Programs

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



Of course it would be impossible to carry on a civil government without a sufficient number of office holders to insure the proper administration of its laws, and, equally of course, civilization would not survive without civil governments — and yet it would be difficult to find a man who has spent the better part of his days in the public service who will not freely declare that he made a great mistake and that he would have pursued a much wiser course had he followed some business pursuit and “left politics alone.” No doubt that, from a financial standpoint, the average man would have fared better had he avoided the political whirlpool and remained in private life, thus disappointing the “muckraker” and contributing to the peace and comfort of his own mind as well as to the mental tranquility of his family.

I know that most of the men who have “passed the chairs” look backward, after an active interest and participation in the turmoil of political warfare — ”warfare” is the proper word — and wonder why it had any attraction for them, why so many have striven to follow the same pathway, usually strewn with an appalling amount of wreckage.

I have often seen a much greater scramble in a convention over the nomination for county commissioner or assessor than for that of sheriff or clerk, — the fact being an evidence that there is a charm about mere officeholding, regardless of the real value of the position, that is irresistible to the ordinary man. To analyze the basis of it leads one to the conclusion that it is founded largely on vanity — and yet all of us, or most of us, must plead guilty to the weakness and it is practically incurable.

Perhaps, however, it is providential, for the reason already indicated, that it would be impossible to sustain a government unless men made such sacrifices as are necessary to administer its laws. The average American is a home-builder, a home-lover, a home-defender, and the safety of the home depends altogether upon a stable and just government.

We have seen that the first American settlers in the Oregon Country did not wait long in the wilderness to which they had come before making provision for a government, though they came from all walks of life and most of them, naturally, were without experience in legislative matters.

But the raw material for the construction of a creditable Legislature was here, and when the necessity for action arrived it found them ready to grapple with the situation. When a Legislature was authorized its members served for one dollar and fifty cents a day, adjourned till after harvest,” reassembled, after their wheat had been garnered, “in the old Methodist church” and did honest service, clad in buckskin trousers and often coatless.

An amusing instance of the difficulties under which the Oregon pioneers discharged their Legislative duties was given a few years ago by ex-Senator James W. Nesmith in an address before the Oregon Pioneer Association.

“As an illustration of the honest and simple directness which pervaded our Legislative proceedings of that day, I will mention that in 1847 I had the honor of a seat in the Legislature of the provisional government. It was my first step on the slippery rungs of the political ladder. The Legislature then consisted of but one House and we sat in the old Methodist church at the Falls. Close by the church Barton Lee had constructed a ten-pin alley to which some of my fellow members were in the habit of resorting to seek relaxation and refreshment after their Legislative toils. I had aspired to the Speakership and had supposed myself sure of the position, but the same uncertainty existed in political matters that I have seen so much of since. Some of my friends “threw off” on me and elected a better man in the person of Dr. Robert Newell — God bless his soul! In the small collection of books at the Falls, known as the Multnomah Library, I found what I had never heard of before — a copy of “Jefferson’s Manual” — and after giving it an evening’s perusal by the light of an armful of pitch knots, I found there was such a thing in parliamentary usage as “the Previous question.”

I had a bill then pending to cut off the southern end of Yamhill and to establish the county of Polk, which measure had violent opposition in the body. One morning, while most of the opponents of my bill were amusing themselves at “horse billiards” in Lee’s ten-pin alley, I called up my bill, and, after making the best argument I could in its favor, I concluded with, “And now, Mr. Speaker, upon this bill I move the previous question.” Newell looked confused, and I was satisfied he had no conception of what I meant; but he rallied, and, looking wise and severe (I have since seen presiding officers at Washington do the same thing), said: “Sit down, sir! Resume your seat! Do you intend to trifle with the Chair, when you know that we passed the previous question two weeks ago? It was the first thing we done!

I got a vote, however, before the “horse billiard” players returned, and Polk County has a legal existence today, notwithstanding the adverse ruling upon a question of parliamentary usage.

Genial, kind-hearted Newell! How many of you recollect his good qualities, and how heartily have you laughed around the campfire at his favorite song, “Love and Sassingers.” I can hear the lugubrious refrain describing how his dulcinea was captured by the butcher’s boy.

“And there sat faithless she
a-frying sassingers for he.”

He has folded his robe about him and lain down to rest among the mountains he loved so well and which have so often echoed the merry tones of his voice.


The following extract from an address delivered by Mrs. Sarelia Griffith Miller before the annual gathering of the Oregon Native Sons and Daughters a few years ago narrates an incident, which, aside from its ludicrousness, illustrates how our people lived under pioneer conditions:

A dear, sweet old lady, Mrs. Buck, of Oregon City, told me the following incident in her own life: “We were living,” said she, “not far from where Portland now stands; our home was as good and as well furnished as any of the homes in those times. It happened that two officers from an English vessel just arrived from Fort Vancouver had been hunting, and night overtook them near our house. They came and asked for a night’s lodging. We told them that we were not prepared to make them comfortable, but would make a bed on the floor if they could accept that. They thanked us and said that they were glad to find a house to sleep in and not be obliged to stay in the woods all night.

“Well, we had supper, and we sat around the big, bright fire talking until quite late, for both the gentle men were cultured Englishmen and splendid conversationalists and we enjoyed the talk. Finally, we all retired for the night, they to their pallet on the floor, and husband and I to a little room which opened off this room where our visitors were. Our houses did not have doubled plastered walls and partitions in those days, but very thin boards with quite wide cracks between. One could easily hear from one room to the other every word spoken — in fact, it was most impossible not to hear. About the time they were getting into bed, I heard one of them say, ‘I wish I had a night-cap.’ I thought I had better get up and give him one of mine, or, perhaps, both gentlemen would like to have night-caps. But my caps were so plain, and these were such aristocratic looking gentle men, that I did not like to offer them. He said nothing more, and I concluded he had gone to sleep. By and by, it seemed to me about half an hour afterwards, I heard him say, ‘Rae, are you awake?’ and the answer, ‘Yes.’ Then the first voice again, ‘I can never go to sleep without a night-cap.’ And the reply, ‘Neither can I.’

“I waited no longer,” said the dear old lady; “I took two of my night-caps, made of white muslin with strings to tie under the chin, and going to the door put my hand through and said, ‘Gentlemen, here are two night-caps; they are plain and rather small, but perhaps you can use them.’ I heard a faint sound of suppressed laughter, then in an instant the house resounded with the hearty laughing of those gentlemen, who finally managed to tell me that my nightcaps were not the kind they wanted.”


Among the men who participated prominently in the affairs of Oregon in the early days and who was an intimate and personal friend of Robert Newell — he who decided that the previous question “had been passed two weeks ago” — was J. J. Murphy, who during the last fifteen years of his life was clerk of the State Supreme Court. Murphy was very influential with the people of French Prairie, where his home had been when a young man, and had served the people of Marion County as sheriff, clerk, and for a term or two in the Legislature. He had also been Mayor of Salem. He was well past seventy years of age when death claimed him, but he will be remembered by his host of friends as a boy to the last in buoyancy and cheerfulness and keen humor. Advancing age impaired his health, though he “died in the harness,” but after a chat with him one always felt the better for it.

While the Legislature was in session in January, 1901, Judge Wolverton, of the Supreme Court, gave a little dinner to a few invited guests at his home. During the progress of the meal we were discussing some of the bills which had been introduced in the Legislature, and among them one which proposed to levy a pretty stiff tax on dogs, from the consideration of which we drifted into a general argument as to the dog.

“I have always had a warm spot in my heart for dogs,” said Murphy, who, with his wife, was among the guests, “but Mrs. Murphy will have nothing to do with them. I remember that on the day we were married, after the ceremony had been concluded and we were left alone, I suggested to her that, inasmuch as I would be compelled on account of my business to be away from home much of the time, I had better get a dog to keep her company. I had not before discussed dogs with her, there always being other subjects at hand that occupied my attention, so I was naturally surprised to hear her say she disliked dogs very much and that she would prefer no company at all to that of a dog.

“Of course I wanted to be agreeable, especially then, so I dropped the subject. But the next day I ventured it again, doing so by degrees and diplomatically, but her answer was the same — she could get along very well without any company at all, if necessary, at such times as I could not be at home, so again I let the matter drop.

“The next day I thought I would see if, under the benign influence of married life,. she had not conquered her antipathy to dogs, but I had not proceeded nearly so far as the day before, when she said:

“‘Now, it’s no use to speak of getting a dog any more, for I positively will not have one around the house — not under any circumstances.’ So, finding her mind unchanged, I dropped the question permanently and we finally compromised the matter and didn’t get a dog at all!”


Next Chapter - Geer is reminded by President McKinley and several personal recollections not to pre-judge based on initial presumptions.


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:


TheRagens Home Page   Family History   Recommended Book Lists   Wine Tastings and Recommendations   Wildlife Photos   Feedback and
Site Registration


Amazon Logo
by title by author