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Fifty Years In Oregon

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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



On these closing lines my pen lingers. Leaning back in my chair, with hands clasped behind my head, I look backward over a busy life of fifty years, and in rapid succession there passes before my memory’s vision a long line of men and women whom I have known, and who during that time have joined the caravan that moves on to the Great Beyond. Many of them were actively engaged in the ordinary pursuits of life, near neighbors in the different portions of dear old Oregon in which I have lived, pursuing their daily vocations in an unpretentious way, but contributing to the up-building of their communities and to the betterment of mankind. I have spent forty-five years of my life in my native county of Marion, ten in Union, two in Umatilla, and three in Multnomah. In each of these I have made a host of acquaintances — and friends, I trust; beside which I have campaigned in every county in the State, in most of them several times — all of which has given me a personal acquaintanceship throughout the State equaled, perhaps, by no other man. After all these years of striving, meeting with successes and disappointments, starting when a child without friends or assistance, save such as I could win by personal effort, and finally reaching a position of trust and honor bestowed by the people upon eleven men only in more than fifty years of Statehood, I am passing toward the downward slope of life, along with my fellows, with no regret and without malice toward a single individual on earth. A few have done me great injustice, but that rests between them and their Maker. I cannot afford to spoil a single moment of my life by the retention of malice or a spirit of hatred.

I could wish, if to do so were not idle, that I had been born yesterday and had a life of eighty years of health vouchsafed me in which to be a witness of the marvelous development of this country. From the tallow candle era to that of electric lights is a “far cry,” and yet I have seen the change. I remember the first mower ever brought to the Willamette valley — imported by William J. Herren of Salem. I recall the first self-rake reaper, and, after that, the Marsh harvester, which carried two men who did the binding. Afterward came the self-binders, using wire, which were burned in the fields in many States by men who claimed they were the work of the devil, intended to deprive workingmen of that employment upon which they depended for the support of their families! Then came the telephone, enabling men to transact a thousand times more business each day than was previously possible. The Oregon pioneers were six months crossing the plains with their ox teams; now it is a common report that some man has “flown” from France to England, and the trip to Chicago from New York is patterned after the manner of the birds of the air — it is made “as the crow flies.” The Oregon pioneers have lived through this era of rapid development until today the State enjoys all the advantages to be found in Ohio or Vermont.

And what shall be the future of this Oregon of ours? What development shall it see? The character of its soil and climate is so varied that the seeker after a new home can surely be satisfied with some section of it. If he wishes to enter the ranks of the stock-raiser, he can find what he wants on the plains of eastern or southeastern Oregon and in the foothills adjoining; if his inclination be towards fruit raising, there is splendid land adapted to that purpose in practically every part of the State, east, west, north or south; if he is looking for a country where he can gratify his wish to become a dairyman, he can be accommodated anywhere in western Oregon or along the Coast counties from the Washington line to the northern boundary of California, — not to speak of opportunities equally good in many parts of eastern Oregon; if he be a fisherman, he can locate almost anywhere along the Pacific Coast and find what he is seeking; if he be a miner, there are several counties where millions of gold yet remain to be unearthed; if a lumberman, here he will find the best body of standing timber, and the largest in area at this time remaining untouched, in the United States; and if he be a retired capitalist, desiring to spend his remaining days in the enjoyment of an equable climate the year round, here he will find ideal conditions arranged by thoughtful nature.


The first word of this book was written March 12 and I am closing this chapter on August 8. With other duties demanding my attention much of the time, it has been a summer pleasantly employed. The composition of the book has naturally recalled many experiences which I had partly forgotten, and I have, in a certain sense, re-lived my life in memory. Pleasures and sorrows have alternately flitted by with kaleidoscopic rapidity, but I have dwelt lightly upon the latter, since a busy world cares little for the personal troubles of any man. The narrative would be imperfect, however, if I did not record the death of my first wife, the mother of my children, October 13, 1898. It occurred in Omaha, where we were attending the Exposition, our objective point being a visit to her old home in Missouri, which she had not seen since leaving it in 1864. She had been an invalid for ten years, but it was thought she was strong enough to make the journey. An asthmatic attack, however, together with the change of climate, was more than her weakened condition could withstand and, two thousand miles from the children she loved so devotedly, and with no blood relative present save a sister, her spirit was called away to that fairer land whose existence she never doubted.

In May, 1907, my second great sorrow came in the death of my oldest daughter, after a brief illness. She was a lovely woman who had everything to live for — a devoted husband, a legion of friends a beautiful home.

To this affliction, I cannot become reconciled by any sort of reasoning that places the responsibility on a “visitation of Divine Providence.” This daughter was the child who corresponded with me regularly, and for fifteen years we had written to each other giving the day upon, which we heard the first mourning dove, in whose doleful call we felt a strange mutual pleasure.

On a bright May morning, as the rising sun gave new life and promise to the bountiful earth, while smiling and talking to those she loved so well, and while I held her hand, her spirit took its flight. In an instant she was a comforting memory only.

Her lifeless remains were taken back to the home of her early childhood and young womanhood — to the beautiful Waldo Hills; and while the birds were singing their songs in the glad sunlight, and the doves were cooing their mournful refrains in the nearby trees under which she had played during so many hours of her happy childhood, her mortal remains were laid away until the resurrection morn. The world has since, in a measure, seemed a lonely place, but the severance of such a tie and countless millions have experienced it — illustrates how little, after all, we understand the miracle of Life or the mystery of Death.

Believing that it is not good for man to live alone, on June 14, 1900, I was married to Miss Isabelle Trullinger, of Astoria, the daughter of an Oregon pioneer of 1848. Her father, John C. Trullinger, was one of the first men to engage extensively in the manufacture of lumber in Astoria — in 1875 — and was a member of the Legislature in 1893 from Clatsop County; mention of him has already been made in these pages. He was a very enterprising man, establishing the first electric light plant in that city and afterward purchasing the gas plant. His father, Daniel Trullinger, was a minister in the Christian Church, was a neighbor of my Grandfather Eoff in Iowa, and arrived in Oregon in October, 1848, just in time to perform the marriage ceremony for my father and mother.

The eleven years succeeding June 14, 1900, have constituted a continuous season of domestic bliss — a honeymoon which shows no sign of termination. Every moment of our married life has been ideal, largely because the other member of this firm has measured up to every qualification of an ideal wife; and, since she does not know I am paying her this deserved tribute, I will dare to say that, she being fully six feet in height, I often declare my appreciation of her many good qualities by saying that an experience of eleven years of married life has shown her to be all wool and two yards long.”

And may I prove to be worthy of her while life lasts!


In reviewing my fifty years in Oregon — fifty years of strenuous activity — I often wonder, after the manner of most men who have reached sixty years, if I could have spent them to better advantage. Looking backward, I think I could, and yet — again like most other men — at each turn in my affairs I did what seemed best at the time and, realizing that regrets are useless, I cast them aside and look hopefully to the future.

There are few men who do not frankly regret they did not follow some other calling than that which they chose. At this moment I recall a passage in a splendid address delivered by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction of New York in the “Hall of Congress” at the St. Louis Exposition. The substance of it was as follows:

A boy who had lived on a farm all his life was taken to a city for the first time by his father when he was ten years old. While there he saw a messenger boy dressed in a uniform, and when he went home he was miserable because he envied that city boy and thought he would give anything to exchange places with him.

That night that messenger boy, after he went to bed, was very miserable because he wanted to be a clerk in a store, for he had a chum who had such a position, and he was filled with envy.

But that clerk was miserable as he closed his day’s work, for he envied the merchant for whom he worked — he had a carriage and fine team and rode about the city a great deal.

And that night the merchant lost two hours’ sleep worrying because he wanted to be a banker — one of his best friends was a banker and he had a mighty fine time every day.

And that very night the banker was in his office late at night trying to “keep tab” on his business and was miserable as he went home because he wanted to be a big trust magnate, whose wealth was so enormous that he was not obliged to look after details — he wanted to be a multi-millionaire.

But that night there was one of the largest steel manufacturers in the city, an intimate acquaintance of the banker, who was worth a dozen millions, and he was vainly endeavoring to get some sleep as he worried over “a thousand and one things” which demanded his attention and, satiated with all the pleasures that wealth could supply, he thought he would give it all, and ten times more, if he had it, to be a barefoot boy and back on the farm again!

It is quite common to hear a man who has reached the age of fifty years say, “How time flies! It seems but yesterday since I was a boy”; but, though the days and weeks appear to pass quickly, when I forget the intervening years, it seems that it might be a century since those days in the Waldo Hills when my sister and I played in the log cabin on the Donation Land Claim, and I rescued the family spoon from under the kitchen floor as a daily task.

As I approach the last few paragraphs of this book, the writing of which has occupied most of my time for five months, and during which my mind has largely dwelt upon the men I have known, the things I have done, the different places in which I have lived, my association with other people — all, of course, in the past — it is but natural at this moment that my entire life should rise before me as a composite picture. In the foreground and background stand out prominently the beloved Waldo Hills in Marion County, than which, as the beholder stands on one of the highest knolls on the Waldo homestead, no prettier panorama is presented in all the magnificent stretches in American scenery.

As before related, my father moved from his home in that section in 1855, and in all his changes in life, though he never lived elsewhere than in Oregon, he never saw the place again for nearly fifty years, In September, 1902, he was visiting me in Salem, and while talking over old times referred to this fact. Indeed, though I had always known where the farm was, having spent most of my life within five miles of it, I never knew precisely where our old house stood.

The result of this conversation was that L. B. Geer, a cousin, proposed that we drive out the next Sunday and, with the assistance of Abner Lewis, a farmer who had lived on an adjoining farm all these years, determine just how far my father’s memory was in accordance with the fact.

This we did. After walking across Lewis’s field, we came in sight of a broad creek bottom on the opposite side of which had once been my father’s cabin — just at the beginning of the ascending slope. Here we all stopped. After studying the scene presented, my father said:

“Well, over there where that bunch of willows is growing there must be a spring, and there was a spring, and a mighty good one, a few yards from the house,”

Lewis said he was right — that it was the identical spring — and we walked around to it — a half-mile.

Arriving there, Lewis asked my father to locate the exact spot where the house once stood. The land was all in cultivation to the very edge of the willows by the spring, and as the field was fallow that summer, a dense growth of fern covered the ground. My first effort was to find, if I could, a piece of broken dish, for there never was an abandoned building spot on earth where, even fifty years afterward, there could not be found pieces of broken dishes — always blue dishes, at that.

My search was rewarded by the discovery of three such souvenirs, which I sent afterward to my mother in California. In a letter received in return she expressed her joy at the present and easily recalled, as any woman could, the cups and saucers which my father had bought in Oregon City at the time of their wedding, in October, 1848!

While I was prowling around in the fern I was also looking for some broken bricks, for they are as sure to be found where an old residence has formerly stood as are broken dishes. Soon I found a brickbat, some three inches in diameter, and, with my foot covering it, I said: “Father, did you have any brick in the old house?”

“No,” he replied, very promptly, “no brick.”

But after a moment he said: “Oh, yes, we did, too. Yes, I remember that I borrowed a yoke of oxen and a wagon of Dan Waldo and drove to the King Hibbard place and got a hundred brick which I had helped make the year before — brick that he gave me because they were burnt too hard to sell well. Yes, come to think of it, I had a hundred brick.”

He was standing by me at the time, and after he had recalled the incident I said, lifting my foot from the piece it covered: “Does this look like one of them?”

Upon seeing it, he picked it up eagerly, and seemed as glad to see it and held it as fondly as if it had been a nugget from a gold mine.

Further search discovered about forty whole bricks in the briars that had grown around the willows, which had evidently been thrown there by the man who originally cleared the land. I brought one of them home with me and have it now as an invaluable keepsake — a reminder of the days of “auld lang syne.”

We then went to the spring — one of the splendid sort that abounds in the Waldo Hills — and after all but my father had lain down, full length, on the ground and partaken of its sparkling water, I said: “Now, father, it is your turn.”

But he objected, saying he was too old to get in that position for a drink. We insisted upon it, however, finally taking him and laughingly forcing him to his knees, when he stretched out in the old — fashioned way and drank heartily. When he had risen, I asked him if it tasted natural, and he said: “Yes, it does. That’s mighty good water, but fifty years is a long time between drinks, isn’t it?”

Many times since I have rejoiced that we made that trip to the old place, for within less than a year afterward my father passed away.


The pioneers of the Waldo Hills have organized an association which meets annually in June in a beautiful oak grove on the farm of John Hunt, where in reminiscent vein the old times are rehearsed and old associations renewed.

I attended their meeting a year or two ago, driving out from Salem with L. H. McMahon, a well-known attorney of the capital and a friend of long standing. Naturally, we were called upon for short talks and, to my misfortune, I was named first. In order to open the way well, I proceeded to apologize to the people, with all of whom we were well acquainted, for corning out with McMahon, explaining that there seemed no other way at hand, told a humorous story or two at the expense of the lawyers, and turned my attention to the memory of the Waldo Hills pioneers who had passed away, speaking briefly of their virtues and devotion to the new country they had found in the Great West. I mentioned several of them by name, and closed by paying a tribute to the memory of my uncle, Ralph C. Geer, as a man esteemed by all his acquaintances, noted for his enterprise and hospitality, etc.

McMahon followed with a running fire of humor, applied locally, which was generally appreciated, and then turned his batteries toward me in this wise:

“Mr. Geer has dwelt in an entertaining manner upon the character of many of our departed pioneers, all of whom you knew and all of whom I knew, as a boy and a man. I especially appreciated what he said of Uncle Ralph Geer. He was a fine man, a great help to this section of the State and a man who initiated many valuable business enterprises. But do you know, when I recall his many good qualities, I am impressed with the notion that the Geer family is like a good hill of potatoes — the best part of it is under the ground!”

In my twenty years’ public speaking in Oregon, upon all possible subjects and occasions, I have experienced a thousand instances of give-and-take repartee, sometimes holding my own and often getting the worst of it, but this retort of McMahon’s was as good as I ever “met up” with.


As I lay down my pen, ready once more to turn my face to the future, I instinctively pause and listen for the voices of the departed pioneers, whose lives were given largely that the younger generation might have homes in peace and plenty in a laud favored of God. Added and growing responsibilities are leaving their stooped forms and settling upon us who have followed in their footsteps. The magnitude of the gift in a measure lightens the burden and the performance of duty only is required to make our State a land, so far as a mere human habitation may ever become, where

Rocks and hills and brooks and vales
With milk and honey flow.


End of Book


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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