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Eulogies for Heman Johnson Geer

We recently uncovered several brief biographies for Heman Johnson Geer of the Oregon branch of the Geer family.


This biography of Heman Johnson Geer was published as part of the Illustrated History of Union and Wallowa Counties. 1902. Pages 339, 340.

It is with especial pleasure that we have the privilege to recount, although in brief, the life's career of the prominent and distinguished citizen of Union county whose name appears at the head of this article and who is well known in many sections of the west having been to the front in many scenes of danger and pioneer activity, during a long period of years, while his personality has always been a manifestation of stanch integrity and noble qualities of intrinsic moral worth, coupled with abilities, both market and distinguished.

Heman J. Geer was born to Joseph C. and Mary (Johnson) Geer, on September 23, 1828, in Madison county, Ohio. His parents were farmers of that commonwealth, coming thence from Connecticut in 1817, and in 1840 they left Ohio for Illinois, locating in Knox county, In this latter place our subject completed the education that had been begun in his native state and he also learned the shoemaker's trade while still young. In 1847 the family girded themselves for the long trip across the plains, which in that pioneer day, was attended not only with hardships, but much danger was on every hand. A kind Providence guided their journey and in due time they landed safely in Yam Hill county, Oregon. During the winter of 1847-8 our subject went to Oregon City and wrought at his trade, and in the following spring he went to the Waldo Hills in Marion county and settled on a donation claim; working at his trade at the same time that he held residence on his claim. In 1853 he secured title to the land and then removed to Silverton and started in the nursery business, continuing the same until 1861. Selling out in that year he removed to Salem and went to packing butter and exporting to different points. He handled that year fifty-two thousand pounds. In 1862 he sold his interests and went to the mining district of Caribou, in British Columbia and in the fall of the same year he sold his possessions there and returned, purchasing a stock of woolen goods at Salem, which he took to Auburn, Baker county. He continued there until March 1863, and then he and his partner went to Bannock City in the Boise Basin and put up the first glass front store in that city, bringing their stock thither. The place was afterwards known as Idaho City. He soon sold to his partner and went to mining but after two months at this industry he returned to Salem, whence he went to The Dalles and entered business there. In March 1865, he was found in Canyon City in business and eventually he was interested in placer mining, but a flood came at that time and washed the claims so free from land marks that a new survey was necessary. Mr. Geer became disgusted and sold out and in December, 1866 found his way to Grande Ronde valley, acting there as first deputy sheriff of the county under his brother, Isaiah Geer, who had been appointed sheriff by the legislature of the state. In August 1867, he engaged with the late S. G. French in building the Cove grist mill, remaining until December 23, and then took up forty acres near Cove and opened a nursery, which he continued to operated for eighteen years. He has added to his real estate until he now has one hundred and twenty acres, and he also has sold some. In 1882 he added hops to the nursery business, but although the yield is good and the quality excellent, he has decreased his acreage of this plant until he has discontinued their culture entirely. At the present time Mr. Geer is making a specialty of fruit, having seven hundred cherry trees and two hundred and fifty peach trees, being the only peach orchard in the valley. Mr. Geer is now taking a special interest in raising onion sets, and the industry, although new here, promises good remuneration.

In October, 1848, Mr. Geer married Miss Cynthia A. Eoff, a native of Ohio, and to them were born two children; Theodore T. Geer, the present governor of the state; and Theodosia C., wife of Joseph Janes, warden of the state penitentiary.

In October 1867, Mr. Geer married a second time. Eliza A., daughter of Fred W. and Elizabeth Duncan, old pioneers of Union county of 1864, was the lady becoming his bride. Two children have blessed this union; Judd, fruit inspector for this district, which includes five counties; Blaine, at home. Mrs. Geer was called from her home and family on February 5, 1901, by the relentless hand of death. Mr. Geer is a man that always manifests a proper interest in the affairs of government. In 1877 he was nominated for the state legislature but owing to the fact that the county was strongly Democratic, he was defeated by his opponent, C. M. Jameson. Since 1862 Mr. Geer has been a Mason and he is a charger member of the I.O.O.F. Lodge of Cove. For three terms he has done excellent service on the school board at the request of his fellows.

It is of note, by way of reminiscence, that Mr. Geer did excellent scout service in 1848 under Captain Scott, in the Modoc and Klamath Indian war. The Indians made a raid into the Willamette valley for horses and cattle and two companies of whites were raised quickly to pursue them, and they were successful in capturing the camps of the Indians with all of the stock, but the savages themselves escaped. Mr. Geer has had a long and eventful career in this western region and is a man of great erudition and practical knowledge, and his experience has been of untold benefit to the orchardists and horticulturists of this valley, while his life of uprightness has always been a bright example to all.


This biography of Heman Johnson Geer was published as part of the Illustrated History of Union and Wallowa Counties. 1889 History of Pacific Northwest -
Oregon and Washington, Volume II, Pages 333, 334.

The name of Geer is so well known in our state that the following account of the father of T. T. Geer of the Waldo hills will be of interest to all. This now venerable pioneer was born in Ohio in1828, removing with his parents to Illinois in 1840. In 1847 he crossed the plains to Oregon with General Palmer's train. The large company forestalled trouble with the Indians. Peter Hall, who stopped with Whitman at Walla Walla was the only one who experienced any disaster. The crossing of the Cascade Mountains by the Barlow Road proved the worst of their trials.

After reaching Oregon, Heman stopped at Oregon City, and engaged in the boot and shoe business; while the father located at Butteville, Marion County. In 1848 he young man abandoned "city" life and located a claim in the Waldo hills, marrying Miss Cynthia Eoff. In 1849 he was prevented from completing the journey to California, by men returning with the report that the mines were "worked out." From 1854 to 1861 he was in the nursery business at Silverton, and the next year in business at Salem, going thence to the Caribou mines in 1862, thence to Auburn, Oregon, and from this point with his goods to Bannack City. In 1864 he mined on the John Day river. Having separated from his first wife he made Union county his home, serving as deputy sheriff under his brother Isaiah Geer, of the newly organized Union county. In 1867 he located a fruit farm at the Cove, and formed the acquaintance of and married Miss Annie E. Duncan. He has two hundred acres of very fertile land, with an orchard of sixteen acres, and eight acres in hops, - the only hop ranch in the country at present.

As a member of Captain English's company of Oregon Rangers in 1848, Mr. Geer was of much service in recovering property stolen by Indians from the settlers of the Willamette valley. He has ever been able and efficient in public matters. According to the longevity of the Geer family, Heman J. bids fair to live to see his four-score years and perhaps more, as he seems as buoyant and vigorous as a man of forty. That the above prediction may prove true is the sincere wish of his numerous friends.


This biography of Heman Johnson Geer was published as part of the Illustrated History of Union and Wallowa Counties. The Centennial History Of Oregon, Vol. III Gaston, Pages 727-728.

Conspicuous among the earlier pioneers of Oregon was Heman J. Geer, who with his father's family settled in this state in 1847. The father spent the remainder of his days here on a farm, which he took up as government land at Butteville, near Champoeg. Heman J. Geer settled in Union county, and his last days were spent on a donation claim which he took up near Cove, passing away in 1904. He was the father of T. T. Geer, one of the governors of Oregon, also of Judd Geer, who for many years has been state fruit inspector. He was one of the first nurserymen in eastern Oregon and conducted a very successful business. Heman J. Geer was born in Zeno, Ohio, in 1828, and died in Oregon in 1904. He was a son of Joel Geer, a native of Connecticut, and of old colonial stock, representatives of the family still living in that state. The father removed to Ohio at an early day, being a pioneer of that state. Later he removed to Illinois in pioneer days and resided there for eight years, settling in Illinois at the time Harrison and Tyler were running for the office of president. In 1847 the family removed to Oregon, joining a wagon train composed of one hundred teams under Captain Palmer. The journey was made without any molestation by the Indians or any difficulty worthy of note, and the father settled at Butteville, near Champoeg, where he took up a donation claim upon which he remained the rest of his life, pursuing the vocation of farming.

Heman J. Geer received a good education in the schools of Ohio and Illinois and remained under the parental roof until after he attained his majority. In 1864 he settled in Canyon City where for two years he followed the business of mining. Then, after spending two years there, he removed to Cove where he took up government land, and with the exception of two years spent in Walla Walla made his home near Cove, which remained his place of residence until his death.

Mr. Geer was married in young manhood to Miss Eliza Duncan, whose parents were among the earliest settlers of the state, coming here in 1864. She passed away February 5, 1901, aged sixty-two years. In the family of Mr. and Mrs. Geer were four children: T. T., the eldest, who was at one time governor of Oregon; Theodosia, now Mrs. Joseph Jaynes; Judd; and Blaine, who is now living in Walla Walla, Washington. Mr. Geer was always a stanch republican, and took an active interest in the political affairs of the day. He was appointed deputy sheriff in 1866 under his brother, Isaiah Geer, the first sheriff of Union county. The county at that time comprised a good deal more territory than it does at present and within its boundaries were many adventurers, miners of doubtful antecedents and desperados, making the sheriff's duties by no means a holiday affair. His tenure of office continued for more than a year and in the performance of his duties he was never found wanting.


Note: This website also holds the detailed recollections of Heman's brother, Ralph Carey Geer and his nephew, Calvin Geer, and of his stepmother, Elizabeth Dixon Smith Geer, of their trips along the Oregon Trail in 1847.

Additional background on the Geer family's emigration as part of the westward expansion during the 'manifest destiny' period can be found in T.T. Geer's Autobiography: Fifty Years In Oregon. Specifically:

bullet Chapters 1 and 2 describe the Geer family history and the tale of Joseph Carey Geer's trip along the Oregon Trail in 1847.
bullet Chapter 3 describes the trail westward taken by T.T. Geer's other grandfather, John Eoff.
bullet Chapters 18 and 19 contain the diary of Elizabeth Dixon Smith, my grandmother's grandmother who traveled across the Oregon Trail in 1847.
bullet Chapter 20 provides the text of an address that James W. Nesmith delivered in 1876 to the Oregon Pioneer Association which offers some additional perspective on traveling along the Oregon Trail.

I have also found some information on the Palmer wagon train including a full list of the pioneers in his company. Captain Joel Palmer went to Oregon first in 1845 with a company from Independence. He kept a journal of his travels then and during his return to the East in 1846, at which time he had it published. Few of the copies ordered were completed by the time he was ready to set out for Oregon again in 1847, but it later became widely used. Palmer recruited a large number of people to join his company in 1847. These included the Ralph C. Geer family, the John W. Grim family, the Graham and Collard families and Christopher Taylor. Robert Crouch Kinney and his brother Samuel also stated in later years that they came with the Palmer Company, although Robert Kinney's name is also listed among those in the train of Capt. Jordan Sawyer.

A number of Geers - children, spouses, and some grandchildren - made the journey in 1847 as shown in the table below:

Joseph Carey Geer, Sr. (1795-1881)
m'd 1817 Mary Johnston Geer
m'd 1849 Elizabeth Dixon Smith Geer
m'd 1856 Mary Strong Geer

Children of Joseph and Mary Geer Grandchildren of Joseph and Mary Geer
Ralph Carey Geer (1816-1895)
m'd 1837 Mary Catherine Willard
Calvin Geer (1837-1930)
  - m'd 1858 Ellen Sylvania Leonard
Florinda Geer (1839-1870)
  - m'd 1854 Timothy Woodbridge Davenport
Samantha Geer (1842-1929)
  - m'd 1858 Phillip Bowers
LeGrande Byington (1845-1909)
  - m'd 1870 Egletine DeHart
Frances Emeline Geer (1821-1897)
m'd 1843 John W. Grim
Lois Grim (1844- )
Louis Grim (1844- )
Byron J. Grim (1846-1938)
Martha Grim (1847- )
Heman Johnson Geer, (1828-1903)
m'd 1848 Cynthia Ann Eoff
T. T Geer
Mary Geer (1830-1899)
m'd 1848 Robert Valentine Short
Elizabeth Geer (1833 - 1855)  
Juliette Geer (1834- )  
Iantha Geer (1836- )
m'd 1852 John Kruse
George T. Geer (-)  
Isaiah Geer ( - )  
George W. Geer ( - )
m'd 1838 Margaret McRae
Adelia Geer ( - )


For other information on the Geer family, check out the following resources on these pages:

bulletFifty Years In Oregon holds the first two chapters of the book published by T.T. Geer, a past governor of Oregon. The book includes a family tree going back to England in the 1600s.
bullet Elizabeth Dixon Smith Geer, Joseph Carey Geer's second wife, wrote a diary of her trip along the Oregon Trail in 1847. Includes a letter from Joseph Carey Geer. (Published from Fifty Years In Oregon.)
bullet Ralph Carey Geer, Joseph's son and Calvin's father, provides his recollections of his 1847 emigration along the Oregon Trail.
bulletMy Trip To Oregon As I Remember It is a letter written by Calvin Geer (in 1927) to his descendants describing his journey along the Oregon Trail across the United States in 1847.

A transcribed interview with my grandmother, Florence Gradon Ragen from September, 1982.


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