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My Trip To Oregon
By Calvin Geer

February 11, 1925

The memories of a man of eighty-seven are embraced in the account of a trip across the plains and mountains from Illinois to Oregon in the spring and summer and early autumn of the year 1847, when the Geers finally arrived in Oregon. Cal Geer, the writer of the narrative, was then a boy of ten. In presenting this, his wording is faithfully employed, believing that to change it in any way would detract from the fascinating portrayal of the story.

Ralph C. Geer, Jr.

[Webmaster's note: In addition, this site also holds Ralph Geer's (Calvin's father) version of their 1847 travel on the Oregon Trail as well as the Oregon Trail diary of Elizabeth Dixon Smith Geer (Ralph Geer's stepmother).

A look upon the portrait of an aged man.
And what might one say of the hope, the plan,
Or what his chosen part,
Or what was in his heart,
What way he strode along the path of life,
What his great joys,
What his sad strife.
Was the road great he trod,
Or did he turn the sod?

There is a time in life when thought
Heeds not tomorrow nor aught
Of today, but harks back to his yesteryear
In memories precious, sweet and dear.
And puts light step upon the path of mimicry
And walks and lives in glorious memory.

Words are futile things
Since thought can soar on lightest wing
Back across the span of flying years
And dwell again in yesteryears.

Calvin Geer


Calvin Geer

In the spring of 1847, my Father and Grandfather and Uncle John Grim had a chronic case of Oregon fever and the only cure was a trip across the plains to that far off country, Oregon.

So my Grandfather corresponded with one Joel Palmer who was getting up a company to cross the plains to Oregon, and agreed to meet him at St. Jo where we were to cross the Missouri river. So they sold the farms and bought ox teams and wagons, two wagons for each family and three yoke of oxen on each wagon. We had some cows and I had one mare that I was to ride. About the first of May we bid good-bye to our neighbors and started for St. Jo.

Our first drive was to Knoxville, and my father was acquainted with a blacksmith and he gave Father a little cannon he made to celebrate a democratic victory. It only weighed sixteen pounds and Father called it the young Democrat and we brought it to Oregon.

The next town that I remember was Quincy where we crossed the Mississippi and was then in Missouri. It was a slave state and we saw lots of darkies everywhere we camped. I remember one camp we made was at a big plantation, the man’s name was Penny and he had lots of slaves, and they came around our camp fires, we had two violinists in our train and they would play nearly every night, the man was very religious and thought a violin was a very wicked thing, but the darkies thought it was fine and danced a little. A darky can't hear music without marking time with his feet.

I don't remember how long it took us to get to St. Jo but we were there in time. We had to wait two or three days before we could cross the river, but when we got across, we were not long in making up the company and start­ing out. We had a hundred wagons, lots of loose stock and we had traveled several days, a week or more, when Cpt. Palmer called a meeting and thought it best to divide the train and elect another Captain, which they did.

We stayed with Cpt. Palmer and the first stream that we came to, that I remember, we camped. There was lots of walnut trees and we picked up walnuts that had layed all winter but they were sound and good.

The next stream was either Blue river or Green river, I don’t remember which one we came to first. I remember we saw lots of Indians and they were camped close to the road. We had to block up the wagon beds to cross the river. The next place I think was Ash Holler. Mother wanted some greens so bad but couldn’t find anything that she thought would do, so she sowed some mustard and years after a lady who crossed the plains told Mother that she got mustard greens at Ash Holler.

I think it was the next day that we were nearing camp when Uncle John Grim's mare came running into the train with the picket flying in the air and stampeded the train that had not formed in the corral. A man ran up to me as I was driving one of our teams and said, “Give me your whip.” He ran ahead of our team and stopped them. I ran off to one side and looked back and could see teams running and an ox fell and broke his leg, one team ran against Father’s wagon and broke a wheel. They finally got them all stopped but didn’t form as good a corral as usual.

The next day we put most of the load in one wagon and left three men to fix the wheel and four horses to bring the wagon on, they did not overtake us until nearly the next morning. They had a long hill to go down but it was dark and they did not think of a hill but it was more of a hill than they thought and the team had to run, and they ran a mile on the bottom before they could stop. That was in the Bear River country, but the wagon was fixed and everything ready for the next day. When we got in to the buffalo country we could see buffalo heads and the emigrants would write on them and set them up beside the road so we could hear from the trains ahead of us and our company would write to the trains back of us.

One man in our company was hunting for the company and we had fresh meat, every few days. His name was Post. He and uncle John Grim started out after some buffalo and rode quite a distance in the hills and as Post had a fine mare, she could outrun a buffalo. He ran up to a big one and jumped off his mare and shot it and they skinned out as much as they could carry on their horses. After they started back, they discovered that they were lost and did not know which way to go. Father fired the little canon and Uncle Grim said it was at their backs. He said that is the young Democrat and turn­ed around. He said they would fire it again, and when they fired it again they were riding right toward it, and did not get in until after midnight, but we had buffalo meat for breakfast, and wasn't it good!

Cpt. Palmer told us when we got in the buffalo country there would be places where there was no wood and we would have to burn buffalo chips. The women said they could never cook with them but when we had traveled several days in that part of the country we could see the women out gathering up aprons full of buffalo chips and they made a good fire. We were traveling up Platte River. I think we were in the Pawnee or Sioux nation and we got some buffalo robes off them and I got a pair of moccasins made of buffalo hide with the fur on the inside, they were the finest things I ever had. While we were in that nation they formed across the road and were sitting down. There were quite a lot of them and Cpt Palmer ordered the train to halt and the men to take their guns and they drove up within a hundred yards of them. The old Chief got up and threw up his hands to show he had no arms and Cpt. Palmer done the same. They walked up together and the Indians wanted one dollar a wagon for crossing their country. Palmer told the Chief we were not going to stop in their country but that we were going to the big water, so the Chief lit his pipe and gave it three puffs and handed it to Cpt. Palmer who did the same and the Chief motioned his hands and the Indians were gone in less than no time.

We were traveling up Flat River. I remember that we traveled one whole day in sight of chimly rock and camped opposite it that night. Several of the men and some of the girls started to go out to it, but only one man got there. R.V. Short, I think got to it but did not get back until after dark.

We had to cross Platte River and Cpt. Palmer told them when they started in to keep moving or they would not get through, as it was quite sandy. It was not deep and we had no trouble.

The next place that I remember was Independance Rock and we were there… [Note: one line of text was lost.] Stars and Stripes and fired the little cannon and then we camped on Sweet Water. At one of the crossings one boy got his leg broke, but he got along pretty well as they set it and he got well before we got through.

I don't remember where we crossed the Snake River the first time, but I remember we came to Salmon Falls and there were lots of Indians there fishing and we got some salmon from them. They had lots of dried salmon and would come up to us and say “me one shirt, you two salmon swap” and cross their hands.

I think there was another falls on Snake River called American Falls. After we crossed the river we drove one day and the next day turned off to the right of the road to a spring where there was fine clover and we layed by one day to rest the teams and do some washing. They had a dance and the ground got so wet that they called it the swamp dance. I think that was where Cpt. Palmer's horses were stolen by the Indians. I think three men started after them, but the company took part of the load out of Palmer's wagon, put a yoke of Oxen on his wagon and went on. The men tracked and found them tied in the willows a long ways from camp, but they did not see any Indians.

I remember we came to the Boise River near where Boise is now. There was an old French trader living there with the Indians. I don't remember much about the road from there until we got to the Three Islands on Snake River. The day we got there was a long drive without water. We came to a road that turned to the right down a canyon and it went to Snake River, so George Dimick and I took a coffee pot and started down that road to get some water, but it was farther than we thought. We got to the river and got a drink and a man hollered to us from across the river and wanted to know if our train coming there. We told him they were going to the Three Islands, so he told us we could follow a trail up the river and it would take us to the Three Islands. So we started up the river and it was getting late. When we got to where we could look down on the valley we could see some firelight. George wanted to turn back, he thought it was Indians, but I said we could go on and see. When we got near enough we could see the covered wagon, and it was Cpt. Palmer. He had gone on and was camped. He came out when we rode up and he says where did you come from. We told him how we went down the road that went to the ferry and followed the trail to the Three Islands. He sent his man out with our horses and the girl got us something to eat. He said that the train would not get in until midnight. One of our men was drown, he went swimming and got into one of the whirlpools, they got an Indian to try to get him but he swam out to where he had went down and came back and told how it had happened. He said it would be five or six days before he would come out.

We had to hitch six yoke of oxen on a wagon and men would go on each side to keep them straight, but we got across that day. The next day we went near where Ontario is now, from there we went to the Hot Springs where Vale is now. From there we went across to Willow Creek and crossed the hills to Burnt River where Huntington is now. We went up Burnt River quite aways and then crossed into a valley where Baker City is now. From there we went over into Grand Round Valley and we thought it was a beautiful country and some of the company had a notion to stop there but finally went on. We crossed the valley and started up the Blue Mountains. I remember we camped at what was called Lee’s encampment. It is called Mecham now, and Cpt. Palmer told us it was the summit of the Blue Mountains. From there we went down to the upper Yumatilla River and then we crossed a range of hills to what they called Lower Yumatilla. I think that is where Pendleton is now. We laid by there one day for the folks to do their washing. Marcus Whitman met us there. He had been to the Willamette Valley and he gave us a little talk that night and told us what we could expect when we got to the Cascade Mountains. He had come through there. It was the Barlow road, the first road that was ever built across the Cascades.

From Yumatilla we went over in to John Day and from there we went to the Dechutes and where we had to cork two wagon beds, and ferry that stream. We had to take the wagons to pieces and it took all day to cross, and it took a­nother day to put them together. Then we took the stock down the river and they swam over. The first day they sent me and George Dimick up on the hill to herd the stock. There was a spring up there where the stock could get water, and we were there all day without anything to eat. We got a few coke cherries. They never came to relieve us until after sundown and it was dark before we got to the river, but they pulled us over. Mother and Mrs. Dimick were worrying about us as they did not know where we were. When the wagons were all put together we started for the Tye Valley.

I don’t remember much about the road or how long it took us to go to the Tye Valley but when we got there we were near the Cascade Mountains. The next morning we started into the mountains and it commenced to rain and the roads were awful with mud. The rainy season had set in and the emigration ahead of us had cut the roads up until our wagons would go down to the hubs. When we got to Laurel Hill it was terrible. They would drag trees to the hind end to hold the wagons and that plowed up the ground. I think that was where Uncle Cary met us and he saw how it was and rushed out to the valley to fetch in some fresh cattle and put one yoke on each wagon and then we made better time. We was in the mountains fourteen days and only had two messes of bread.

We had some dry peas that we got from the Indians at Grand Round and mother had saved the bacon rinds and she would cook the peas and season them with the bacon rinds and they were pretty good. We lost all of our cows at or near Laurel Hill, The company found a steer that had been lost out and was full of grass and they killed him and we ate it and called it good.

We traveled every day but only made a few miles a day. We finally got through and when we got to Oregon City we could not get any flour as the Emigration ahead of us had taken all of the flour and the French from French Prairie had not brought down their wheat. Mother had a little sheet iron stove and she traded it to the Hudson Bay Store for three hundred pounds of shorts and a keg of molasses, We had pancakes and ‘lasses for supper and they were good enough to set before a King. Father only had three bits when we got to Oregon City. That was the financial standing of the Geer family at that time and I think they have just about held their own ever since.

The next morning we drove over on Moleba Prairie and camped, the next morn­ing Grandfather and Uncle John Grim left us. John Grim went on to French Prairie and Grandfather went to Butteville where Uncle Fred lived. We started for the Waldo Hills where Mother’s Uncle David Culver had settled. The first night we camped all alone on or near Butte Creek and the next day we crossed the Abiqua. In the morning, we drove up to a house where a man by the name of Brown lived and he told us where David Culver lived and told us how to go to get there. We crossed Silver and Brush Creek and came to another little creek and camped. Next morning, we drove to Drift Creek and Brown told us that after we crossed Drift Creek and got on the hill in the open ground to go east between Drift Creek and another little creek and we would pass a house and keep up the ridge and we would see the Culver cabin on a little hill. We drove up to it, but there was nobody there. We unyoked the cattle and made ourselves at home and the old oxen was filling themselves with the big bunch grass that waved like a grain field. I remember my Good Old Mother stood in the cabin door looking across the little valley toward Drift Creek. It was as fine a landscape as the eye could wish to see and she said we are happy now we have found the promised land, and she never gave up but what the Waldo Hills was one of the finest places on God's green footstool.

Now we have crossed the planes from Knox County, Illinois to Marion County, Oregon, the fever is broke and so are we.

And now as I have plenty of paper I will tell you how we wintered in the little cabin. There was no floor in the cabin, just a few clapboards laying on the sleepers, but there was a fireplace and Mother could bake pancakes and we could eat lots of them. Uncle David was not at home but we made ourselves at home just the same.

The next morning, father got on the mare and struck out to see if we had any neighbors and he met Lorenzo Byrd, he told Father v/here Uncle David was. He was on French Prairie thrashing grain with a flail to get wheat for bread for winter. Byrd said that the lumber was at his cabin to floor the cabin we were in, but Father went on and found John Hunt. He had stopped at a spring and was building a cabin. He crossed the plains, but was ahead of us.

Father went on to Powell’s and on over to Dan Waldo’s and the next morning he hitched up two yoke of oxen and we went over to Byrd’s cabin and got lumber on the wagon. He told me to drive the team home and he would go around the hill and see if he could kill a deer. I started across the prairie and got over half way and all at once I broke down in my back. I stopped the oxen and crawled up on the wagon and I could not raise up. I hollered to the oxen but they would feed along and go so slow. Mother heard me hollering and she saw me on the wagon and she came down and drove them up to the house and carried me in and layed me on the bed and unyoked the oxen. Father soon and he wasn’t long laying the floor as the lumber was wide and we had no nails, just laid it down loose. The next day he filled up a little trunk with needles, buttons, thread and a little cloth that we had brought with us as he thought that we could not get anything of the kind in this country. He took 2 yoke of oxen and the wagon and started out. He was gone one or two nights and when he came back the wagon was loaded with potatoes and turnips and cabbage and he had traded for a beef steer and his trunk wasn't half empty. The Geer’s never went hungry since that. The next day he drove up the steer and killed it. We didn't have salt enough to salt it all down but we dried most of it, and it was fine.

I was down with rheumatism and was not able to feed myself for six weeks but a man told Father to take some white fir boughs and put them in a tub and get me in a chair and put blankets around me and pour hot water on them and it would relieve the pain, and it did. They done that every day for quite awhile and I got so I could walk but was crippled for a long while.

That was a fine winter, no snow, and the grass was green and our cattle was seal fat before spring. Father was over to Dan Waldo’s and he told Father to plant his nursery on his place as he had a piece of ground that was in fine fix, so Father planted the apple seeds there and they came up in the spring and grew fine. I think it was in February that Father got a plow and broke some ground on Drift Creek and put in some wheat and it grew fine. He built a bridge across the creek and then he turned the stock across the creek and they could get back and he did not have to fence it.

The neighbors wanted Father to teach a school, and Mr. Parker told Father that if he would come down to his place they would build a house for us to live in. We went down, they built a log cabin about twelve feet from their cabin and roofed them over together and then went a mile south, on the Hendrick’s place and built a log school house. I drove the oxen to haul the logs up out of the woods and while the men would lay them up, others were cutting more logs and they built the house in one day. The next day they made boards and covered it and then went down to Capt. English’s mill to get lumber to floor it and got slabs to make seats. They had to make long benches, bored holes in the walls and layed a wide board for a writing desk and then it was ready for the school. So on Monday morning, Father took up the first district school ever taught in Marion County and he had something like thirty scholars. Some came from Rowel Prairie and over by Waldo’s and would come on horseback and stake out their horses on fine grass. When the school was near out in the fall we moved back up to the Culver cabin so Father could see to his crop and we walk­ed from there to school.

For about two weeks after school was out we thrashed out the grain and had enough wheat for bread. As we had left one wagon at Oregon City, Father and I took three yoke of oxen and started to Oregon City. Father wanted to see Parker so we drove down there, and Parker wanted to sell Father his place. He said it was a fine place for his nursery and offered it to Father for 640 dollars and gave him all the time he wanted to pay for it. So Father bought it and when we got to Oregon City he filed on it and then we came home and when Father told Mother what he had done she said good, I always wanted that place. We moved down and Mother was so happy and Father went to work and fixed up some ground for the nursery and that winter he moved the trees from Waldo’s and started the nursery and called the place Fruit Farm.

That winter a man came there and wanted to teach school and they hired him and he was to board with the scholars. So Flora and Mant and I went to school that winter and I thought I was laying the foundation for my future greatness, but it never has materialized.


Now here it is Neva, but I am ashamed to send it to you. Hope you can make it all out, but if you can’t when I get home I will help you out. It seems like a jumbled-up mess.

Hope you are getting along fine after the hard winter. We are having fine weather here and the garden is growing fine. Had a mess of peas and radishes and the lettuce is grown fine. Will tell you the rest when I get home.

With kind regards to all from,

Your Old Father
Cal Geer
Feb. 11, 1925


Note: This is a copy of a letter written by Calvin Geer when he was 87 years old. This website also holds the recollections of Calvin's father, Ralph Carey Geer, and of Ralph's stepmother, Elizabeth Dixon Smith Geer, of their trips on the Oregon Trail.

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. This book can often be located in used bookstores through Alibris which consolidates availability across hundreds of used book stores across the United States. 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
Theodore T. Geer (1851-1924)
  - m'd 1870 Nancy Batte
    (Maude, Theodosia, Frederick)
  - m'd 1898 Isabelle Trullinger
Mary Geer (1830-1899)
m'd 1848 Robert Valentine Short
Elizabeth Geer (1833 - 1902)
m'd 1855 ??? Sandborn
m'd 18?? ??? Switzer
m'd 18?? ??? Switzer
m'd 18?? James Kent
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 ( - )

I am interested in your perspective on what you found to be interesting within these recollections. If you could please send me feedback, I would be grateful.  Thank you.


There are many other excellent books that are of general interest about the Oregon Trail. The ones listed here are only a few of the best:


The Discovery of the Oregon Trail: Robert Stuart's Narratives of His Overland Trip Eastward from Astoria in 1812-13; Robert Stuart

bullet The Oregon Trail; Francis Parkman
bullet The Oregon Trail: Yesterday and Today: A Brief History and Pictorial Journal Along the Wagon Tracks of Pioneers; William E. Hill
bullet The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-60; John D. Unruh, Jr.
bullet Traveling the Oregon Trail; Julie Fanselow

A Pioneer's Search for an Ideal Home; Phoebe Goodell Judson, Susan Armitage

bullet Terrible Trail: The Meek Cutoff, 1845; Keith Clark and Lowell Tiller
[Note: Out of print but usually available used via Marketplace or Powell's Books.)

Other interesting books on the Oregon Trail from include:

For more information on the Geer Family, visit the Geer Family website. Return to the Ragen's family history

Links To Other Oregon Trail Diaries and Information

bullet Oregon Pioneers - Emigrant Diaries and Journals
bullet Oregon Pioneers - Emigrant Rosters
bullet Overland Trails Diaries
bullet Oregon Trail Archive
bullet Oregon-California Trails Association


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