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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



While reviewing the political successes, disappointments and occasional upheavals which have overtaken all of us who have been actively connected with public affairs in Oregon during the past thirty years, I am often reminded of a remark made to me once by President McKinley. It was while in Chicago in October 1899, when he was there to officiate at the laying of the cornerstone of the new Federal Building. He had invited such Governors as had responded to his invitation to be present on that occasion to lunch with him at the Union League Club rooms and while we happened to be alone for a few moments, he said:

“You didn’t expect to be Governor of Oregon when you called at my home that time on your way to Washington with the electoral vote of your State, did you?”

“No,” I replied, “at that time I hoped to be the next collector of Customs at Portland.”

This reference to that contest in which our delegation had “turned-down” my aspirations brought a smile to his face, and he said:

“Well, Governor, these defeats are often victories in disguise — it was so in your case and it was in mine once. You, no doubt, remember that I was a candidate for Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time Tom Reed was elected. I am sure I have never so intensely desired to succeed in my life as I did then and the defeat about destroyed my ambition to continue longer in public life — in fact, I thought it had closed my public career.

“That disappointment was followed, you remember, by my defeat for a re-election to Congress through the gerrymandering of my district by the opposition; but the growing popularity of what was known as the ‘McKinley Tariff Bill’ came to my relief and election to the Governorship of Ohio followed, and then the Presidency.

“It is altogether likely that if I had been elected Speaker of the House I would have remained a member of that body until now, for on account of my defeat I was made chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and by reason of that position was instrumental in framing the tariff law which bore my name. This measure became very popular and had more to do with my election to the Presidency than any other one thing.

“So, as I said, we never know in advance the real value of a defeat — we usually think it will kill at the time, but it is frequently the best kind of medicine. In your case, if you had been appointed collector of customs when you wanted that position, the probability is that you would never have been Governor of Oregon. We poor mortals are not well qualified to read the future or to judge correctly from the appearance of things.”

That last observation by President McKinley to the effect that we should not be too fast in forming our conclusions, recalls an experience I once had while traveling through Missouri. It was in October, 1887, the year in which the question of prohibition was submitted to the people of Oregon as a separate proposition at a special election held in November. About the first of October I made a visit to the Eastern States, but before going had made a few addresses in favor of the proposed amendment.

Among other places I wanted to visit on this trip was the birthplace of my Grandfather Eoff, in Kentucky, from which he had been gone more than fifty years. He was then, of course, an old man and as I started away he asked me to get a bottle of the real Kentucky applejack, such as they made when he was a boy, and to get it, if possible, at the old homestead.

In the course of my wanderings I arrived at the old place down in Pulaski County and found that it was owned by a distant relative who remembered my grandfather well. I slept that night in a room in the hickory log house, nearly a hundred years old, and next day told John Green Eoff of the particular request of my grandfather. “All right,” he said, “we will go right by an old still where we can get just what he wants.”

We walked through the woods, across country, to the station, two miles distant, and on the way came to a small stream on which was a rickety building called a distillery. A bottle holding a pint was procured. It was filled with Kentucky applejack and I put it in an inside pocket of my overcoat.

I stopped in an Illinois town afterward with a cousin who was a pronounced prohibitionist and in discussing the question he gave me a paper containing an article on the subject. As I had not the time then to read it I put the paper in my overcoat pocket.

After I had become settled in my seat, upon leaving St. Louis for home, I became acquainted with a minister from South Carolina who was going to Astoria. After awhile, drifting into a discussion of some religious questions, I discovered that he was a strong believer in future endless punishment, to which I objected. Our friendly argument lasted an hour, much to the interest of the passengers, who were attentive listeners.

The next morning after everybody had been to breakfast some reckless passenger suggested that “to while the time away” the preacher and I engage in another “debate.” Something was said by somebody that brought up the question of prohibition, when it transpired that the minister was opposed to prohibition by law, taking the high ground that any kind of abstinence that is the result of force and not of “moral suasion” is chaff — utterly worthless.

This opened the way to a somewhat heated controversy, in the course of which he made a statement that recalled a point strongly made in the paper which was in my overcoat pocket. So I said:

“My friend, if you will wait a moment I will get a paper from my other coat which plainly shows the fallacy of your proposition.”

The coat was in a vacant seat at the farther end of the car and all the passengers, together with the minister, watched me as I hurried down the aisle to get my paper.

Arriving at the seat, I picked up the coat, by the tail of course, being a man, and that measly bottle of Kentucky applejack dropped to the floor in plain sight of everybody, and instead of sliding at once under the seat, found its place in the very center of the aisle and rolled fully ten feet before it disappeared!

To say that all the passengers roared, fell over their seats, slapped each other on the back and performed like a pack of idiots generally, is but to recount what I would have done had I been a spectator of such a ludicrous happening.

Of course I was greatly embarrassed, being an entire stranger to everybody, but joined in the general laughter, though I am quite sure my effort in the matter had a rather sickly complexion. After the fun had subsided somewhat I began to explain how it was, when the preacher, wiping his eyes on his handkerchief, said:

“Oh, that’s all right; it is usually the case, when you find one of these prohibition cranks, that he has a bottle about his clothes somewhere!” And that ended the discussion.

On another occasion I was returning home from Chicago, when, at a small station in Dakota, the train stopped for a few minutes and all the passengers but myself went out on the platform for a little exercise. I was reading a book and kept my seat. When the passengers re-entered the car as the train started, I observed a young woman who had a seat across from mine turning her hand-satchel wrong side out, rapidly looking under and around her other belongings and appearing to be very much excited. Pretty soon a neighboring woman asked her if she had lost anything. She replied that her purse was missing, containing her ticket from Portland to San Francisco, and fifty dollars in bills. Then others became interested in her misfortune, took the cushions out of both seats, found a porter and had him search under the seats — all without avail.

She explained that, just before going out on the platform she had put her purse on the seat by the side of her hat, and that when she returned it was gone. At this point the conductor asked her if anybody remained in the car while she was out, and she said, pointing to me:

“Yes, that man was here all the time, I think.”

At this the conductor turned to me and, with a look that plainly said, “You must be the man,” inquired if I had seen anybody in the car while the passengers were out. I told him I had not, that I had been busily engaged reading a book, and that, of course, some one might have come in without being seen by me. While this was taking place all the passengers were looking directly at me, quite sure, doubtless, that I had “swiped” the lady’s purse; and I realized that I was the very picture of guilt. Thus cornered, with all appearances dead against me, I felt like jumping out of the window, which was raised, but concluded to wait a little longer before doing anything so rash.

A little sceptical of the woman’s story, the conductor again asked her if she was sure she had left the purse on the seat. She repeated her asseveration that she had done so. At this the crowd again turned their accusing looks toward me and I was just ready to give myself up when a brakeman entered the car, carrying a purse in his hand, and asked if anybody had lost it, explaining that he saw it drop from a woman’s hand, or belt, as the train was about to start from the last station and had picked it up.

This timely entrance of the brakeman saved my life, covered the face of the young woman with blushes, brought from her an oft-repeated apology and made her the butt of many a joke between there and Portland.

She and I became quite chatty after that, but I still felt somewhat hurt over the affair until, just as we were entering the Portland city limits, she confidentially told me that she was not going to the Philippines to teach school, as she had informed all of us several times, but that she was going to meet her sweetheart who had been over there a year — they were both from Illinois — and that they were to be married immediately after her arrival.

After that confession I of course fully understood the cause of her rattled state of mind and looked upon her with the utmost pity, knowing that her complete recovery was but a matter of a few days — and miles.


During four years of the last ten I was interested in a daily newspaper, serving in that more or less hazardous capacity of editor, and as everybody knows there is no calling followed by man more full of annoyances, especially when the literary and the business ends of the establishment are combined, and more especially if it is a paper which permits its country subscribers to pay when they get ready.

The incident I am about to relate occurred when I had charge of the Pendleton Daily Tribune. When I entered upon this work the paper had delinquent subscribers not only all over Umatilla County but in all parts of eastern Oregon, many of them being in arrears for five years.

One of the first things to do, I decided, was to send out notices to these individuals informing them of the state of affairs — that printers had to live, that the cost of living was high, that white paper had to be paid for, that “it cost money to run a daily paper,” and that, in short, something must be done, and that as the Tribune had been sent to them for five years without any pay, it was not asking too much to request a remittance — sell a calf or a peck of potatoes — any thing — but pay up, if you please!

Everybody who knows anything about the newspaper business, that is, the kind of newspaper business of which I am speaking, understands that the subscriber who becomes delinquent for one and two years always feels that he has been personally insulted if he is asked to settle the bill. The exceptions to this are so rare as to be unworthy of mention.

About a month after I had sent out these polite reminders, a rough-looking old customer came in the office and without vouchsafing a greeting to anybody, said: “Here, I want to pay up and stop my Weekly Tribune.”

I looked around, and there stood a man with as forbidding a countenance as one would seldom see outside a jail. His face was smoky, his hair evidently had not been combed for a month (and then slighted), his whiskers long, tangled and one-sided, collar unfastened, and his general appearance that of a Bad Man from the Head of the Creek! His manner of addressing me made me angry, for that had been a hard day anyway. There had not been one response out of every ten sent out to the delinquents, and four out of five of those who paid up ordered the paper stopped. There had been two dozen phone calls that morning asking why the paper had not been delivered — if it happened again they would have it stopped and take the sheet down the street instead; a linotypist had given notice that he intended to quit, and there was no other in town, and the bookkeeper was sick that day — the result of which was that I was in no humor to coddle the freak who stood at the counter wanting to pay up and stop his paper.

So I said: “All right, sir.”

The fact was I was almost glad he was going to stop it. I felt that I didn’t want to have such an unprepossessing old duffer taking so good a paper as the Tribune and I wasn’t going to bandy words with him. I found his account, told him how much it was and he paid it. I could see he was eyeing me very closely, but I knew he was doing so hoping to pick a quarrel — wanted to shoot me, doubtless — and I would not thus humor such a dastardly galoot. Patience had ceased to be a virtue and I would assert myself.

As the man folded up the receipt, he said: “Wouldn’t you like to know why I stopped my paper?’.

This was just the chance I wanted, so I hotly said: “No, sir, I would not give a whoop in the great hereafter to know why you stopped it. I don’t care.”

 “Well, then, I’ll tell you anyhow. A neighbor of mine takes your daily, which I see once in a while, and I like it so well that I thought I’d stop the weekly and take the daily. I want to pay for it a year in advance — if you’ll let me!’

Honesty compels me to admit that I felt so very mean and contemptible over the manner in which I had treated the old fellow that I could not bring myself to apologize for it, for to have suddenly changed my demeanor would not have looked well; so I let it go at that, preferring he should think me so deeply immersed in thought connected with my editorial duties that it was a case of pure absent-mindedness. I became better acquainted with him after that and found he was a really fine man who lived on a splendid ranch up about Cabbage Hill somewhere.

Oh, yes, President McKinley was right in his remark that it is not always safe to judge from outward appearances.


Next Chapter - Geer climbs Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.


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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