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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
EXPERIENCES, OBSERVATIONS, AND COMMENTARIES UPON MEN, MEASURES, AND CUSTOMS IN PIONEER DAYS AND LATER TIMES

BY T. T. Geer, formerly Governor of Oregon, and one of her native sons

 

CHAPTER III

Ever since Oregon was admitted into the Union, more than fifty-two years ago the date being February 14, 1859 its people have been noted for their conservatism, for their tendency to accept existing conditions until some gilt-edged testimony has been presented that a change will not only be safe and accompanied by a guaranteed improvement, but that there will be a rock-ribbed assurance that its cost shall be restricted within reasonable bounds. The pioneers found a new country here, practically as the hands of its Maker had left it some millions of years before though most of them held tenaciously to the literal construction of the Genesis account. They had taken possession of it, had made it what it was; it was good enough for them, and, therefore, for anybody else. They were isolated from all the rest of the world, had few or no wants that could not be supplied by a requisition upon their own resources, and, in short, were living the simple life in its most approved form.

For these reasons the people of Oregon, as contrasted with those of California, for instance, have been regarded as being "slow," and, largely for the same reason, the State bas been in a measure retarded in its development from every point of view. But this has been neither a discredit nor a distinct loss. The pioneers of Oregon, those who came here during the first ten years of its settlement, were not in any sense adventurers. Largely drawn from the Mississippi Valley States, mostly farmers, they bad in view the acquisition of lands, and intended to pursue their former vocations in their new homes. They were people of some material substance or they could not have afforded the expense of such a journey, and they were men and women of stamina or they would not have attempted, and succeeded, in overcoming the unparalleled difficulties which beset them upon every hand.

As contrasted with this fact, the earliest settlers of California were drawn thither by the discovery of gold in the fall of 1848 and, as was natural, the footloose, those without marital or other ties, the reckless and daring, went there by the thousands and every nation under heaven was represented. There was nothing that bound them to the country; they were not and did not intend to become landholders, and since an overwhelming majority of them failed to find gold in such quantities as they had expected as is the history of mining camps the world over a large number of them became turbulent, careless of consequences, and created a condition which in many cases called for the shortcut to justice and the inauguration of law and order by way of the Vigilance Committee.

There was never anything of this character to mar the early history of Oregon, for the reason which I have outlined. Our people settled down to the cultivation of the soil at once and to the erection of homes. Indeed, it has been said that thousands went to California during the first years of its occupancy by Americans and "settled down there because they couldn't settle up where they came from." But while all this had its objections and presented many difficult problems for solution, it had its compensations in the fact that the more serious minded men were driven to seek other vocations than mining, and the development of California's wonderful natural resources followed ''as night the day." The very activity of the disappointed men 'who flocked to the mines in that section in 49 and 50 turned them into business channels, and the result is seen in the great accomplishments of today, agriculturally, horticulturally and commercially. The heterogeneousness of its early population provided it with the material for merchants, bankers, sailors, steamboat men, miners, farmers, stock-raisers, etc., and as a consequence its development has been so marvelous as to win, deservedly, the admiration of the world.

All this was not to be a part of the early history of Oregon, however, notwithstanding its boundless natural resources. It has come since, and the dawn of its second birth is just breaking in this good year of 1911. The retarding of its development has in a sense been a blessing for the generations yet to come, since its future looms large before it. Its pioneers were farmers who upon arriving here resumed their former vocation partly, of course, for the reason that there was nothing else to do. It is not far from the fact perhaps it is the fact to say that fully nine-tenths of the people who came here during the first ten years of the migration to the "Oregon Country" came directly from the four States of Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and' Indiana, and it is likely that three-fourths of these were from the first two named.

It is extremely interesting to note the general course of westward immigration. Most of the early settlers in Missouri came from either Kentucky or Tennessee and the ancestors of these largely from Virginia or the Carolinas. The Ohioans came from Pennsylvania and New York, a few from the New England States, while southern Illinois and Indiana in their early settlement were recruited from Kentucky. My grandfather on my mother's side, John Leonard Eoff, typifies in his career the average Southerner of the last century who was dominated by the human instinct to continue to the westward. He was born in Pulaski County, Kentucky, July 2, 1812. His father, John Eoff, was born near Wheeling, Virginia, in 1777. He was brought to Point Lick, Kentucky, by his parents in 1780, and in 1801 moved to Pulaski County, where he lived until his death, January 24, 1867, aged ninety years.

That part of Kentucky where he chose to spend his life is one of the poorest regions to be found in Uncle Sam's domain, no matter where you might search, if you except a Western desert. Of course at that time much of the beautiful and fertile hill land, now known as Blue Grass section, was unoccupied, but it afforded little attraction to the first adventurers west of the Blue Ridge and Cumberland ranges, since they were mountaineers and cared little for homes where deer were not easily found and bear could not be had by the mere setting of traps.

It was in a country such as this that my grandfather was born and in which he remained until he was twenty years of age. Hundreds of times when a child I have sat by his fireside and listened to his narration of boyhood experiences how until he was grown he never owned a pair of "store shoes" to be worn except on Sundays, and how his only daytime raiment, until he was big enough to go "sparking," was a tow shirt made by his mother. By dint of hard work, early and late, the stingy soil was persuaded to yield sufficient corn for "dodgers," which supplied the family with bread, and meat was derived from the slaying of deer, bear and wild hogs. Tame hogs were not known, and if they had been there was nothing to feed them on. The "razorbacks" could live on the "mast" which fell in liberal quantities from the abounding oaks, chestnuts and hickory trees.

Amid these surroundings my grandfather lived and grew to manhood without the advantages of even a district school. There were no schools in that part of Kentucky in those days, either public or private. With his four brothers he hoed corn and tobacco, made rails and took an active part in the simple neighborhood gatherings, husking-bees and singing schools. Even then the Kentucky girls were beautiful to look upon, and the young man who could carry off the laurels at the wrestling bouts was likely to be the "catch" in the community and in the contest for this distinction my grandfather was near the head of the race.

He would probably have remained a resident of his native State during the whole of his long life if it had not been for the attraction of a neighbor's daughter, Mary Ann Routen, who, with the aid of Cupid, carried him off his feet at the age of twenty years. While in that state of mind there could be no peace or happiness or rest or delay, especially the latter, until the two souls with but a single thought should be merged into two hearts that beat as one. But an obstacle at once arose, and, as some philosopher has remarked, the main objection one has to an obstacle is that it is always in the way. The girl's parents were opposed to the marriage, as parents are prone to be at times; but this interposition, like many another of its kind, proved to be no barrier at all. Neither of them was of age and the laws of Kentucky sternly forbade the marriage of mere children. Other young people before them, meeting with the same absurd hindrance to the realization of love's young dream, had found balm through a trip to Indiana, which had a code of matrimonial laws with whose terms compliance was easy.

So, one dark night in January 1833, my grandfather's brother George, five years his senior, appeared at the home of neighbor Routen soon after bedtime with a good Kentucky saddle horse, equipped with a side-saddle, and, as luck would have it, Miss Mary Ann was at the front gate suitably garbed for a long journey. Without any unnecessary commotion the two were soon galloping across the woods; and, as strange things so often happen in groups, they had not gone more than a mile when they came across my grandfather at the forks of the road, astride a four year-old charger, apparently in a listening attitude. Seeing things had turned out that way, the three of them rode toward the North Star as rapidly as their steeds could travel and within a few days crossed the Ohio River into Indiana. Here circumstances were favorable to a matrimonial alliance and John Leonard Eoff was married to Mary Ann Routen. And they lived together ever afterwards happily, until my grandmother died in 1890 at the age of seventy-six. My grandfather passed away in January 1899, at the age of eighty-six years and six months.

My grandparents lived the first two years of their married life in Indiana, moved to McCoupin County, Illinois, in 1835, and in March 1841, moved to Burlington, Iowa, crossing the Mississippi River at that point, as I have heard my grandfather describe hundreds of times, on the first day of March on the ice with his team and wagon. Here he worked at teaming for two years, after which, in 1843, he removed to Davis County, near the Missouri line, and acquired a piece of land. By this time there were five children in the family and the making of a home as well as a living on the wild prairie was a task which, with the limited means at hand in those days, was calculated to bring dismay to the stoutest hearts. But my grandfather was an unusually industrious man, and by persistent application and the strictest economy on the part of the family he had within three years a little farm in cultivation and a comfortable log house plentifully furnished with the real necessaries of life.

But, when absent at church one Sunday in the spring of 1846, his house caught fire and before the arrival of the nearest neighbor everything was consumed. Nothing was left but a pile of smouldering ashes of all his personal effects. He had only his team, his land and his family.

It was at this time that the talk about the Oregon country was spreading everywhere and this disaster left my grandfather in the mood to "move on." Devoting the remainder of the year to the preparation for another westward journey, in the spring of 1847 he joined the great caravan which assembled at Independence, Missouri, and arrived in Oregon in October of that year. In Iowa, he had been a near neighbor of Captain L. N. English, who had come to Oregon in 1845 and had located on the beautiful Howell's prairie, in Marion County, where he erected a grist- and sawmill among the first in the territory of Oregon. In January 1841, George Eoff, brother of my grandfather, had married Nancy English, a niece of Captain English, and they were a part of the company of which my grandparents were members. Knowing they were en route, Captain English met them at the western foot of the Cascade Mountains with fresh provisions and piloted them to his home. Uncle George Eoff secured a section of land in the fall of 1848, situated on the first upland slope south of Howell's prairie in the Waldo Hills, while my grandfather at the same time bought the squatter's right to a section of land which comprised the extreme southern end of that prairie. To this he afterward added a quarter section and here he lived until his death. It was his home for more than fifty-one years.

I have thus traced somewhat in detail the careers of both my grandfathers, one purpose being to leave in permanent form a record of their lives and another being to illustrate in their wanderings the general tendency of the American people, as they began to leave the shores of the Atlantic in quest of a newer region the unconquered and mysterious West. The best that was to be had in the country where they lived was not good enough as long as there was a probability of a better one beyond. But, after all, restlessness is the mainspring which moves us onward to progress, and however much a feeling of content is desirable, from many points of view, it must be admitted that the contented man is not likely to forge ahead in an attack upon the existing order of things, without which assault though we may call such a man an agitator and a crank we would probably still be wearing the skins of wild animals for clothing, if, indeed, we should be wearing any at all, and expressing our thoughts in the mysterious gibberish of the spectacular monkey.

 

Next Chapter - The history, from a settler's perspective, of the United States' acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase and the subsequent westwards expansion to the Oregon territory.

 

The members of the Eoff Family that made the journey along the Oregon Trail in 1847 included:

John Leonard Eoff (1812-1899)
    - m'd 1833 Mary Ann Routen ( -1890)
    - Cynthia Ann Eoff (1833-1909): m'd 1848 Heman J. Geer
    - Mary Emily Eoff (1841-1847)
    - Nancy Elizabeth Eoff (1843-1847)
    - James Fleming Eoff (1845-1889)

George Eoff (1807-1890)
    - m'd 1841 Nancy C. English (1820-1900)

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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