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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.

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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 scenery of Oregon in its grandeur and beauty is unsurpassed in America, and therefore in the world. This is true largely because of the gigantic scale upon which Nature had done its work here. A waterfall with a descent of ten feet cannot compare in. beauty with the one in the same stream two miles further down, which drops a sheer hundred feet without a break. This is a country of magnificent distances and the Almighty has spread with lavish hand the materials for glorious Nature pictures which elsewhere are found to be but suggestions of what “might have been.” To be permitted to spend a lifetime in Oregon is in itself a generous dispensation of Providence for which the favored one should give thanks through all eternity.

The majestic rivers, the snow-capped mountains, the magnificent forests, the adjacent Pacific, the fertile soil, the wonderfully pleasant climate, the pure water — all these combine to account for, if not to justify, the remark of an old Yamhill County farmer who, somewhat skeptically inclined, said to me a year ago, apropos of the hereafter:

“At any rate, rather than take any chances, if I had my choice, I would be perfectly willing to live always and pay taxes in Yamhill County.”

I would not be guilty of extravagance in describing anything in Oregon, but it must be said that Portland is the most beautifully situated city in the United States. None other compares with it. It occupies the center of a picture which has Mt. Hood in the foreground, its perpetually snow-covered peak towering to the clouds; the inspiring Cascade Range, mantled with its unbroken wealth of pine and Douglas fir, to the south; the “beautiful Willamette” at its feet and the lordly Columbia, bearing its tremendous volume of clear waters gathered from all the historic Northwestern Territory, sweeping by on its way to the waiting sea — these combined constitute a wealth of beauty which all the gold of all the world, if so applied, could not create for any other city.

And yet kind Nature, with prodigal hand, performed this act of unparalleled generosity thousands of years before the coming of the white man, countless ages, for aught we know, before the son of Pharaoh’s daughter was discovered hidden in the mazes of the kindly bulrushes!

For instance, Portland has a park on the Heights within the municipal limits, which contains all the wild and romantic scenery one could find in a two-days’ journey into the heart of the Cascade Mountains. In this park are preserved all the native trees, shrubs and flowers which abound here in such profusion — all at an elevation of a thousand feet above the city proper. The wealth of the earth, if devoted to the purpose, could not reproduce this for Chicago, New York or Baltimore, for instance.

And there stands Mt. Hood, one of the grandest peaks in the world, but fifty miles away, to which tourists from Portland now go and return in automobiles in a day, and to climb to the summit of which is a treat so great that no American can afford to die without enjoying it. And shall I describe what it means to compass this great feat?

The summer of 1900 was passing along rapidly, as summers have a way of doing, especially as you get older, and a bunch of us had not yet decided where we would spend our vacation. For several years we had formed a company each summer and shared the expenses and joys of an outing, first going to the seaside, then to the mountains, until we were quite familiar with most of the resorts which make Oregon famous for grand scenery, bracing air and the purest of water.

One day Colonel S. C. Spencer, Judge Advocate General on my staff, suggested that there seemed nothing the matter with joining the Mazamas and climbing Mt. Hood. And it proved a popular suggestion, since upon inquiry it was discovered that none of us had ever made that wonderful ascent, though all had been talking of it for years. Glowing accounts of what such a trip involved in the way of difficulties and hair-breadth escapes were familiar to us, for daring men and women had been accomplishing this marvelous feat for years and arousing a feeling of envy among their less fortunate and courageous friends by recounting their experiences, their hearers plainly revealing more or less skepticism as the narrative proceeded.

In fact, for several years those who had ascended Mt. Hood had been regarded as lineal descendants of Ananias, the evidence of which appeared in cumulative proportions as their accounts of what they saw and did were given with increasing enthusiasm and fluency.

So we started with Mt. Hood and the summit thereof as our destination, accompanied by expectations unbounded and a fund of grit which knew no limit. If you have never climbed a snow-capped extinct volcano, towering twelve thousand feet above the level of the sea, and “viewed the landscape o’er,” you have never yet taken a vacation worth telling about or remembering five minutes after it was over.

We left Portland, under the leadership of Colonel Hawkins, who had already made the climb several times, on the morning of the first of August. We made an even dozen, four of the party being women. These ladies insisted that, being the wives of four of the men, they had the right not only to test their powers of endurance, but to prove the veracity of some of their acquaintances who had preceded them in this wonderful climb to dizzy heights far above the clouds.

Leading to Mt. Hood from Portland is a good road winding through the beautiful foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the ridges covered by a dense growth of towering firs two hundred feet high, while far below, like silver threads, wind the Zigzag and the Bull Run, both fresh from the melting snows.

Several of our party rode bicycles to within six miles of the point where the first approach to Mt. Hood takes on a more rapid ascent, but the team easily reached Government Camp on the evening of the second day.

After a day’s rest, clad in bloomers — that is, some of us — nailed shoes, sunbonnets and alpine stocks, we started for the summit on the morning of August 4 at three-thirty o’clock. After a climb of two miles, laborious in the extreme on account of the lightness of the atmosphere, we emerged from the timber and encountered the first snow. But counteracting this was the indescribable sensation of exhilaration experienced on finding one’s self away above all the surrounding country. At the snow line we were probably six thousand feet above sea level, with another six thousand feet, much of it almost perpendicular, frowning upon us like a monster which was at once alluring and beautiful. The snow was just yielding enough to take the imprint of our feet and in single file the toiling company followed the guide. Not more than two dozen yards was it possible to climb without resting for breath, but with a perseverance that was as necessary as muscle the ascent was steadily pursued.

Half-way to the summit we came to “Crater Rock,” a half-acre on which the snow never lies because of the heat. On this we took our luncheon, but found it impossible to sit at all, or to stand long in one place. From a yawning gulf nearby sulphuric fumes were constantly issuing, rendering the sandwiches and pickles more or less suggestive of experiences which might follow on account of possible stomach disturbances — but they were good and appreciated.

From Crater Rock the climb was “fierce.” Steeper and steeper became the ridges of drifts, resembling huge house tops with but a width of two feet upon which to walk, while below us the precipitous sides seemed to offer a fascination for a toboggan slide which would have carried us to certain death. And these narrow, snowy ridges were themselves almost on end, thus adding to the extreme danger attending every move.

At last, when within a thousand feet of the summit, we came to the great Crevasse, which runs along the side of Old Hood for a half-mile and which can be plainly seen a hundred miles away. It looked like some huge scar which might have been inflicted during the awful upheaval which attended its creation in the distant ages past.

At this point we were compelled to creep westward a quarter of a mile until we found a narrow place where we could cross in safety, after which we proceeded to make the last ascent, which was little less than perpendicular. With a hatchet our guide cut footholds in the icy front, and with our alpenstocks we then rose cautiously from step to step, the while holding to the side of the mountain — for in this perilous situation it was impossible to stand upright, so appalling was it to look off from the mountain into distant space. Instinctively one clings to the mountainside in a leaning attitude — all the time wondering why such a trip was undertaken anyway.

At last we reached the summit and were standing on the highest square foot of the most beautiful snow capped peak in America. No word-painter can adequately describe the grandeur of the scene which greets the eye of the beholder from this point — literally standing in the skies and on solid ground. No mere listener or reader will ever understand what it means to stand on the summit of Mt. Hood. It was of such a sight as this that Moses doubtless dreamed, but which he never saw.

In full view were Mts. Adams, St. Helens, Rainier, Jefferson, The Three Sisters and two or three others farther south which we were unable to name. A heavy sea of clouds had settled over all the country to the west and partly to the north, through which beautiful Helens had succeeded in thrusting the very tip of her shining peak, reflecting the glory of the declining sun; it seemed but a stone’s throwaway, but it was far below us. Adams was more successful, as farther to the north the clouds seemed less dense, and its proud contour stood out unobstructed against the clearing skies.

To the south and west the view was beautiful beyond description. The sea of fog extended well to the Pacific Ocean, and in its undulating silvery whiteness, tinged delicately with color, one could easily see in imagination the veritable ocean, frozen to solidity by the sudden gripping of King Winter.

The sensation resulting from standing on the summit of one of these giant peaks is difficult of description, for it puts one out of all touch with the natural. Nature has not provided for this sort of thing. It was never intended that one should not see at least some object on a level with himself and not far away; but here one looks straight ahead and the first obstruction is Mt. Jefferson, fifty miles to the south. The effect on the mind and nerves as you stand in such an uncanny place is to destroy the law of harmony, or of proportion, by which we are surrounded every day. We never see trees, for instance, that are a thousand feet high and four inches in diameter, nor any a foot high and ten feet in diameter. All things are in proportion. But as you stand at an altitude of twelve thousand feet above the level of the sea, with everything save a few rods square on which you stand dropping away from you at an angle of forty-five degrees (and much of it faster), and, as you look straight ahead of you on a level, the nearest object, save one or two, is beyond the sight of mortal man, you will get your first conception of the mystery of creation — of time and eternity!



Although we made the ascent of Mt. Hood on August 4 and arrived there in the middle of the afternoon, it was so cold that within five minutes after reaching the top icicles had formed on the mustaches of several of the men.

But the descent of the mountain was a continuous round of fun. After the perilous climb down to the Crevasse, more dangerous by far than the ascent, the successive snowfields were descended by a decidedly novel process. The distance it required nine hours to climb was descended easily in three. Here is where the primitive toboggan slide is found most useful. Every well-regulated Mazama provides himself, or herself, as the case may be, with a gunny-sack, or piece of carpet, or oil-cloth, or any other article supposed to be waterproof (but which the event proves is never so), and seated on the aforesaid article, the alpenstock gripped under one arm, with one end in the snow, to be used both as a rudder and a brake, the start is made and the bottom of that particular slope is reached in ten seconds, no matter how far it may be.

This is possible for the reason that in the afternoon the snow is so soft that your tracks are from two to four inches deep, and you cannot be possibly injured, no matter how swiftly you go nor in what position you find yourself at the end of the slide. You always start in a sitting posture, with your feet in front, of course, but no man with a reputation as a prophet would risk it by guaranteeing the position in which he would arrive at the terminus of the slide.

These fields vary from two to five hundred feet in length, but, no matter what the distance, you get to the bottom in ten seconds — not necessarily “right side up with care,” but you will “arrive” amid the shouts of your companions as you lie buried in a snowdrift, always unhurt. The first slider breaks a path about four inches deep and as wide as that part of the body used for that purpose, and the next one, of course, taking the same route, makes the trip in much less time than his — or her — predecessor, the result of which is frequently a mix up or a collision which adds to the gaiety of the occasion.

Two years after this, in July, 1902, my wife and I joined the Mazamas in the climb of Mt. Adams, fifty miles north of the Columbia River in Washington. Adams is said to be two thousand feet higher than Hood, but the ascent is much easier, being mainly a matter of physical endurance. Falling behind the other members of the party, who appeared to be bent on making speed records, my wife and I happened to fall in with C. E. Rusk, who was spending his summer on and around that mountain, and he kindly offered to guide us to the summit. Mr. Rusk afterward headed a party that visited Mt. McKinley — in 1910 — and fully exploded the claim of Dr. Cook that he had planted an American flag on the summit of that great northern peak by his graphic description in the Pacific Monthly.

Upon reaching the very top of this magnificent mountain, our guide led the way to the edge of a snowbank from which there is a sheer perpendicular fall of five thousand feet. From this point we looked, one at a time, into the awful depths below to the celebrated Klickitat glacier. The guide told us that in the month of August it is common for large sections of this snow to “let go,” and as it rushes through space with terrific velocity it can be heard through the surrounding country, causing reverberations resembling a thunderstorm. For this reason the Indians call Adams “Thunder Mountain.” When these sections, weighing hundreds of tons each, strike the rocks below, snow spray is thrown into the air for hundreds of feet in every direction.

As we stood on this precipice listening to the description of the playful antics in which it sometimes indulges, we remembered that August was not far away and concluded that it was much safer to admire Mt. Hood, in the opposite direction.

One of the interesting discoveries I made as I stood on the summit of Mt. Adams was that a straight line drawn from there to Mt. Jefferson, two hundred and fifty miles away, would strike the eastern slopes of Hood half-way to its summit, so nearly do these three monarchs of the Cascade Range stand in line with one another.

As we were behind the main party of the climbers, it was well toward sundown when we began the descent. When halfway down the mountain Rusk proposed that he leave us and go toward his own camp. As we could see our own far below in the timber line, my wife and I agreed that he had done his full duty by us and he went his way. We would not have risked this, except that our party had “left their mark” as they descended and we thought it an easy matter to follow that; but it was much farther than it looked and it began to get dark while we were yet far up the mountain. We took the toboggan method, of course, on all the slopes, but upon reaching the head of one of them we had our first real “blown-in-the-bottle” scare. The top of this incline was so steep that we could not see the landing-place. Our party had plainly gone down, but as its face was oval and the bottom was out of view, we had no proof that they had not all been killed. We were really staggered at the situation. There was no time to hunt another route, which besides would have been dangerous with our inexperience. Then, too, it was getting dusk and we were obliged to proceed. Finally I said, “Well, here goes,” and, seating myself in the “chute” left by the sliders who had gone down, I told my wife not to wait too long before following me. Then I let go.

Now, I have often read about the expression “flying through space,” but this was my first experience. Fifty others had preceded me in that narrow track, each making the surface harder and smoother. By the time we arrived the air was below the freezing point and it was like going down an inclined icicle. It was, perhaps, three hundred feet to the bottom, and if I had been racing against greased lightning my competitor would have been shut out by fully half that distance. At the bottom of the slope was a level bench, as there is at the bottom of all of them, and into a bank of snow I went feet first to a distance of at least five yards. I had been a second and a half in transit and, finding myself entirely unhurt and the sensation so genuinely delightful, being devoid of danger, I lay there shouting at the top of my voice to my wife that it was safe — that she should “come on.”

I had made no effort to extricate myself, so great was my enjoyment of the discovery that I was not hurt, when suddenly I heard a voice above me in the greatest imaginable excitement calling to me:

“Get out of the way! Get out of the way!”

At once I knew what was coming — it was one hundred and ninety pounds of wife traveling in my unvacated orbit and due to arrive at once — which it did — and the concussion was sufficient to have sensibly jarred any object less firmly attached to the earth than Mt. Adams itself. This impact sent me ten feet farther into the snowbank, but as it was very soft, and as it was a family affair anyway, an immediate reconciliation took place. It was several minutes, however, before either of us tried to come to the surface. My wife afterwards explained her sudden descent by saying she was too terrified to remain alone even a minute.

It was dark when we reached camp and we found the party much alarmed for our safety, but as “all’s well that ends well” we counted it one of our most interesting experiences.

As we reached the first summit in our climb, which is eight hundred feet below the highest point, we met the main party returning. A photographer, who was a member of the party, requested that my wife and I “sit” for a picture, which we did. A reproduction of the photograph, with Mr. Rusk near by, will be found in these pages. We were provided with sunbonnets which afford the best of protection against the intense rays of the sun which, reflected on the dazzling whiteness of the snow, cause painful sunburn.

Does it pay to climb to the summit of one of our snow-capped mountains? It does. To live above the clouds, if but for a moment, is worth all the effort it requires. While we were admiring the lofty summit of Hood, directly south of us one hundred miles, the clouds slowly moved to the eastward and completely obscured the sunshine from the Trout Lake valley, fifteen miles away. We were several hundred feet above the clouds, and since they remained some distance off the mountain, we were able to see under as well as over them. The effect of this sudden transformation was beautiful beyond the power of words to describe. It seemed like one continuous cloud to the western horizon, and one could well fancy the ocean, while in one of its half-turbulent moods, frozen into a sea of ice, its undulating surface reflecting the rays of the declining sun in all the gorgeous colors of an ultra-developed rainbow. And, looking under this mid-afternoon interloper, every hamlet in the Trout Lake valley could be plainly seen, with the lake to the west — all with the appearance of moonlight shadows, so exceedingly dark did they appear by contrast with the unusual brightness surrounding the entranced beholder.

Such visions as these, with the inspiration they afford, never gladden the eye of the languid citizen who believes that the effort of mountain climbing is greater than the returns justify. Truly, a trip to the summit of one of our grand, snow-covered mountain peaks in the Northwest furnishes an experience well worth the trouble and hardships it involves. The sum total is a combination of sport, exercise and information, a quicker and stronger circulation, an added appreciation of the blessings of life and increased love for and devotion to the Creator whose miracles do continually hedge us about.


Next Chapter - Musings on the parks and natural beauty within Oregon State.


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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