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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



But Oregon is so full of interesting places that one finds a pleasant summer resort at almost every turn. Not only to the snowy peaks and to the beaches do its people go for recreation in the vacation season, but to the heart of its mountain ranges, along its rivers, and to many points in the interior where an elevation of from three to five thousand feet affords a change that is delightful. Even in the Willamette valley, in the midst of a rich and thickly settled agricultural section, are hundreds of groves of native firs and oaks where the heat is never excessive, splendid water abounds and all the pleasures of the mountains and the coast are abundantly supplied by nature.

Indeed, one of the most attractive spots on the Pacific Coast of this character is Gladstone Park, within a mile of Oregon City and ten miles of Portland. It is near the Willamette River and is reached by the main line of the Southern Pacific and by the electric cars from Portland. Here eminent men of the United States, men prominent on the platform in all the professions, lecture annually, and the intellectual treat afforded, together with the pleasures and benefits of an outing, supply all the wants of a large part of the population of that section of Oregon with the minimum of effort and the least sacrifice of the comforts of home life.

I recall a most delightful ten days spent at Gladstone a few years ago when Robert J. Burdette, of Los Angeles, was one of the speakers. His wife and mine were prominently engaged in different lines of work there and the four of us were much together. I had intended to go to Portland some day that week, and my wife suggested to me one morning that I go on that particular day, since she and Mrs. Burdette intended to entertain a score of their lady friends at luncheon. So I went.

When I returned in the afternoon, Burdette said: “Well, young man, you don’t know what you missed by being away today. I dined with twenty women, and not another man was present.”

After my wife had explained that Burdette and I were invited to join the company, but that she had not so understood the arrangement, I said to him: “Well, how did you make it with so many women on your hands and no male assistance?”

“Oh,” he replied, “I was like the fellow who was engaged to the Harrison girl. He met a friend one day and said to him, ‘You want to congratulate me — I am engaged to Ellen Harrison.’ ‘What,’ said his friend, ‘one of those twins? Why, nobody on earth call tell those girls apart — nobody ever did. When you call to see Ellen, how do you manage to tell ‘em apart?’ ‘Why, I don’t try,’ replied the self-satisfied prospective Benedict.”

One afternoon Burdette and I were sitting in front of our tent discussing men and things when we drifted into the pleasant pastime of repeating such quotations as we could recall, humorous and otherwise, in the course of which I said:

“I once read in one of the after-dinner speeches in Tom Reed’s ‘Modern Eloquence’ — I forget who made the speech — this verse, which I thought was particularly good:

A famous American preacher
Said “the hen is a beautiful creature,”
   And the hen just for that
   Laid an egg in his hat
And thus did the Henry Ward Beecher.

At this recitation we both laughed in appreciation of a really good thing. I thought, however, Burdette was a little lame in his manifestation of mirth over the humor of the verse, but I merely said: “That is a very clever thing. I wonder who is the author of it.”

“Well,” said he, with a perceptible degree of embarrassment, “the fact is, I wrote that when I was editor of the Burlington Hawkeye some twenty years ago. Do you like it?”


And Gladstone Park is only one of many resorts. Ashland, in Jackson County, near the California line, has its annual Chatauqua exercises in one of the finest natural groves on the Pacific Coast, on the slopes of the Siskiyou Mountains, which overlook the famous Rogue River valley, famous for its peaches, pears and grapes; Grant’s Pass, cozily situated in the heart of a beautiful chain of mountains on the Rogue River, is a famous resort within itself; Roseburg, located on the historic Umpqua River, has a climate which is unsurpassed any where and its people are prosperous and comfortable; Eugene, the seat of the University of Oregon, has its Coast connections at Siuslaw and its famous, health-giving Mackenzie River resorts back toward Crater Lake; Corvallis, with its popular Agricultural College, a little city which boasts of having “the biggest college and the smallest jail in Oregon,” the “college always being full and the jail empty,” is on the road to Newport on the Yaquina Bay, one of the most popular beach resorts in the State; Albany, with its own Chatauqua and the Calipooia Mountains not far away, full of ozone in the heated season; Salem, the State capital, the most beautiful “home city” to be found anywhere, is within easy reach of Silver Creek Falls, Mehama and other mountain resorts that have been liberally patronized for forty years; Oregon City, the oldest town in Oregon, aside from Astoria, has the famous Willamette River Falls, beautiful, and harnessed to contribute to the comfort of mankind; Portland, known over all America as the City of Roses, destined to become in the near future the largest on the Pacific Coast and itself a summer resort; La Grande, situated in that most attractive gem, the Grand Ronde valley, with its adjacent Blue Mountains and the nearby Hot Lake; Baker City, with its elevation of three thousand five hundred feet, located at the point where Powder River enters the splendid valley of the same name, within a few miles of the Auburn Mountains on the west and those of Eagle Creek on the east always covered with snow; Medical Springs, owned for forty-five years by that prince of pioneers and good fellows, Dunham Wright, where the water boils out of the ground hot enough to cook an egg in four minutes; Pendleton, that inland city noted for the hustle and rustle of its business men, the capital of Umatilla County, which every year produces one per cent of all the wheat raised in the entire United States, namely, five million bushels, which has its Meachem, Wenaha Springs and other delightful mountain resorts such as only the Blue Mountains can boast — all these, gentle reader, and hundreds more, are to be found in Oregon.

And, then, there is Astoria, at the mouth of the majestic Columbia, six miles wide at this point affording a full view out to the sea, with nothing to interfere with one’s looking directly into the heart of the Flowery Kingdom save the limitations of one’s visual powers. Astoria, where the most extensive fisheries on the Pacific Coast are located and where each year more than one million dollars’ worth of the famous Chinook salmon is caught, packed and shipped to the waiting markets of every civilized country on earth. And Seaside, Gearhart, Ocean Park, Tillamook, the last a most prosperous section of the State where everybody is a dairyman or woman — and where hard times have never been known; Coos Bay, a delightful, and also most promising and enterprising, section of the State, rich in resources and as yet in the infancy of its development; Klamath Falls, Lakeview, Burns, Ontario, Prineville and all the new towns of central Oregon, which is just now beginning its industrial life through the impetus of two new lines of railroads projected into it — these afford an attraction and opportunity to hundreds of thousands of people who, for the lack of them, are leading sordid and discontented lives elsewhere.

In all this vast section I have named — and I have frequently visited every portion of it — there are no extremes of climate, either of heat or cold. In all my life I have seen neither a cyclone nor a thunderstorm such as Eastern people have described to me. I have never known a case of sunstroke nor seen a person with the ague.

For forty years “Uncle Charley” Benson was one of the best known farmers in Marion County. He was a typical pioneer, a famous hunter, and nobody ever saw him wearing a coat or vest. After having lived in Oregon for thirty years he visited one summer his sister in Iowa, whom he had not seen since she was a small girl. Upon his arrival at her home, when bedtime arrived, explaining that they were liable at any time to be visited by a cyclone, she showed him the “cyclone cellar” — a dug-out affair near by. She also told him that, if he heard them calling in the night, to understand at once what was the matter and make a “bee line” for the cellar.

He said upon his return home that, after sweltering, totally devoid of any clothing, until one o’clock in the morning on account of the almost unbearably oppressive heat, he had fallen asleep when a loud shouting downstairs awoke him. Frightened out of his wits, he went down three steps at a time, intending to go to the cellar. It was very dark, however, and being a stranger, he lost his way and landed in a cistern, made by scooping out the surface of the ground for a few yards square, in which rainwater was caught and saved for domestic uses. By this time the storm had broken in all its fury and “Uncle Charley,” being afraid to change his location, remained in the water up to his chin, squatted down like a bullfrog, with his head only protruding.

It was all over in twenty minutes, and the family, discovering that “Uncle Charley” was not in the cellar, decided he had not awakened. They were not much alarmed, since it proved to be merely an ordinary “blow.” When the family reunion occurred at the close of the disturbance, and “Uncle Charley,” tapping at the front door, had related his experience and explained his mistake — his sister in the meantime bringing his clothing to him — he said he had had enough; that he was more than delighted to have seen his folks again, that they had talked over all the matters of interest, he guessed, and that he would start back to Oregon the next day.

And he did!


Oregon has an area of ninety-five thousand square miles, with a population of less than three-quarters of a million. If it had as many people as Massachusetts, according to landed area, its population would be at least thirty million — and there is no comparison between the two States in the matters of natural, agricultural and other resources. Our greatest need is people — of the right sort. These we are getting, by degrees, and never so rapidly as now, as conditions here are becoming better known in the Eastern States, and even in foreign countries. We have depended upon private enterprise altogether for the dissemination of the attractions which Oregon presents to the home-seeker, the State never having engaged in advertising its own advantages to the home-builder or the capitalist.

The Legislature did, indeed, a few years ago authorize the appointment by the Governor of a Board of Immigration, but as it appropriated no money with which to prosecute its duties, it fell by the wayside. I recall that in selecting its five members I afterward discovered that they were all Republicans. This, of course, was unintentional, and as the appointees had not yet been announced, I wrote to William M. Colvig, of Jacksonville, that I was desirous of appointing him on the new Board of Immigration, principally because I was hunting for a good Democrat who would not shirk the responsibilities of the position. Colvig, besides being a very able lawyer, is a born wag, and in his reply of acceptance said:

“With pleasure I will accept your appointment and will so far try to fulfill your expectations of me that within two years I hope to secure the immigration of five thousand Missouri Democrats, not only because they would make splendid citizens, but, if possible, I want to change the political complexion of this black Republican State.”

The joke was finally on Colvig, however, for the stand the Democratic Party soon afterward took on the question of expansion caused him to become a Republican on national questions, and his threatened inroad on the Missouri Democracy was never carried into effect.


Next Chapter - Geer ends his book with a few notes on his second wife and his father's ultimate return to their original homestead.


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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