Oregon Pioneer Biographies


THE STORY OF DR. WILLIAM GEIGER

(given to S. B. Huston)

 

I was born at Angelica, Allegany county, New York, Sept. 15, 1816.I grew up there and attended a private academy in my native town.We moved to Oakville, Monroe county, Michigan, about 40 miles west of Detroit, in 1833.I remained there until 1837, when I went to Quincy, Illinois.I went by steamer to Cleveland, Ohio, by canal boat from there to Portsmouth, on the Ohio river, thence by steamboat to St. Louis, thence in a small boat to Quincy. 

I was compelled to stop over at Maysville, Kentucky, on account of the overloaded condition of the steamer.While there I met Jerome Clement, an old playmate from New York.The journey from Michigan to Quincy, Illinois took about four weeks.

I went to school at the Mission Institute, situated about five miles from Quincy.The president and proprietor of the school was Dr. Nelson, author of "Nelson on Infidelity."I left Quincy in April, 1838, in company with a schoolmate by the name of Benson, intending to cross the plains that year.

We were accompanied to St. Louis by Judge Snow of Quincy, a capitalist of that place.We remained at St. Louis two weeks, and went from there by steamboat to Westport, Mo.While at St. Louis, Elkanah Walker and wife and Cornelius Rogers passed through on their way to Oregon, and I became acquainted with them at that time.

 They were coming with the outfit of the American Fur company, which had sent a pirogue loaded with provisions to meet them at the mission on the Kaw river, about 120 miles west of Westport.

 My friend Benson came with me to Westport, also the Rev. Mr. Renshaw.We bought our outfit at Westport and started for the mission on the Kaw, hoping the catch the American Fur company's outfit before it left there.The pirogue, however, had arrived at the mission earlier than it was expected, and Mr. Walker, Mr. Eels and company came through with the agents of the American Fur Company.

 Before leaving Westport I had met the Rev. Harvey Clark and Rev. Mr. Allen, a graduate of Oberlin, as was Renshaw.They were both independent missionaries and Congregationalists.Clark and Renshaw went to the mission with us, expecting to go through that year.

Allen was to stay at Westport and take care of the women, and two of us were to return and meet them the next year.Our guide was John Gray, a quarter Iroquois Indian.He insisted that it was too dangerous to attempt the journey that year with so small a party on account of the Sioux and Pawnee Indians.We, therefore, returned to Westport.

Mr. Clark and wife taught a private school at Independence, Mo. until the next spring.Renshaw, Allen and Benson returned to Quincy.I taught school in what was known as the Higgins and Gregg neighborhood about 15 miles up the river and 10 miles from the river.Mrs. Melinda Hoover, (the mother of Mrs. Benton Killin of Portland, Oregon), and her brothers and sisters went to school to me there.Her name was Melinda Cave.Her father was a minister, but had never enjoyed the advantages of an education.He took lessons in grammar from me, and learned very rapidly.

I received $3 per pupil quarterly for teaching school, and I had from 25 to 50 pupils.The settlers built the schoolhouse after I was employed.It was a log house, with one log left out for a window.

It was heated by a fireplace, so large as to occupy almost one entire end of the building.While teaching there I shot many wild turkeys.They were often so fat that their breasts would split open when they fell out of the trees.

Walker and Eels became well known and were prominently identified with the settlements of Oregon.William H. Gray afterward wrote a history of Oregon.He had been out here before with Whitman and Parker. (No, not Parker; Parker was two years ahead of Gray.)He (Gray) went back for a wife and more missionaries.

In religion he was a Presbyterian.The Rev. Mr. Smith settled 50 miles from Spaldings.Cornelius Rogers settled first at Spaldings and then at Whitmans.He learned the Indian languages more rapidly than any of the pioneers although I acquired the Nez Perce language without much trouble.He came to the Willamette valley about 1840 and in Sept. of 1842 married Satira Leslie, a daughter of Rev. David Leslie, one of the Methodist missionaries who lived at the mission opposite what is now known as Wheatland.

Mr. Rogers acted as interpreter for Dr. White, the Indian sub-agent and was drowned at Oregon City with his wife and small sister.(Feb. 4, 1843).They went over the falls.Dr. White jumped ashore first and by so doing pushed the boat into the stream.There was an Indian in the boat who jumped and went ashore under the water.The affair was witnessed by Mrs. Abernethy (wife of George Abernethy who became Oregon's last and only provisional governor.)This (the beginning of Abernethy's term) was in 1845.

It was in the spring of 1839 at Westport, Mo. that I first met the Rev. J. S. Griffin.I went back to where I had been teaching to get my things.We went to Independence and saw the Clarks, who were still teaching there.Clark and Griffin had known each other at Oberlin.We arranged that Clark was to come to California the next year with a colony.It was also arranged that I was to go through and meet them and we were then to decide which was the best place to locate the colony.

Griffin and his wife and I came in the immigration of 1839. Mr. and Mrs. Munger were in that party.Munger died and Mrs. Munger afterward became Mrs. Henry Buxton, Sr.(Buxton was a prominent pioneer of Washington county, Oregon.

We had no trouble with the Indians whatever.When we arrived at Fort Hall, Johnson and I, with old Dick Williams, came on ahead of the party.At Boise we met Joe Gale (member of the first Oregon provisional government executive committee), Jim Warfield and others.Johnson and I came on together to Whitman's place (mission), and thence to The Dalles.

At The Dalles we were overtaken by a mountaineer named Sutton, who came with us.Sutton was acquainted with G. W. Ebberts, who was known as the Black Squire.He lived at that time about three miles south of Champoeg.We arrived at the house of Tom Hubbard, near where Hubbard now stands, on September 13, 1839, two days before my birthday.

While there I met the Rev. Leslie, from the Methodist Mission. He came over to see us.After staying with Hubbard two or three days we went across the prairie to the mission on the river bank.

Leslie, Johnson and I rode down to where Oregon City now stands and took a skiff to (Fort) Vancouver.Leslie introduced us to Sir James Douglas, Dr. Barclay and Dr. Tolmie.They feasted us in great style and altogether treated us as kindly and as hospitably as any one could ask. 

There was a boat belonging to the Hudson's Bay company which was to start for the Sandwich Islands in a few days, and Johnson took passage on her.Johnson was a highly educated man.He was raised in Philadelphia.He had been engaged to a young lady in that city, but she had thrown him overboard and married a bookbinder by the name of Diamond,who had gone to Honolulu to bind books for the American Board missionaries there.  

They were printing books in the native language.Johnson wanted to see his former sweetheart once more, and this was his principal object in crossing the plains.

After staying at the Sandwich Islands, he went to Acapulco, Mexico, and from there tramped across the country and was arrested and kept in a Mexican jail for a while, but finally managed to go to New Orleans, 'broke' and almost naked.He met there an old acquaintance from whom he got some money, and went to St. Louis, where Dr. Whitman met him while on his famous trip to the east.

I got these facts from Dr. Whitman, but never heard of Johnson again.He was a very companionable man, and I should like very much to know his subsequent history.I suppose I never shall.Mr. Griffin did not like him for some reason.Mrs. Griffin had known Johnson for a long time.

I taught the Indian school at the Methodist mission during the winter of 1839-40.I started to California on a sailing vessel that brought reinforcements to Jason Lee in the spring of 1840. (The Lausanne).We stopped at the Russian settlement at Bodega Bay.As the Russians would not allow anyone to leave by land unless they started north, I went on to (the site of) San Francisco, but the authorities refused to allow me to land because I had no passport.I went on the Honolulu where I stayed about eight months.I taught school there seven months of the time at $30 per month.

While at Honolulu I became acquainted with Mr. Diamond and his wife.She was a fine looking woman.I asked Diamond if he knew Johnson and he said that he did.I expressed the opinion that Johnson was a fine man, but Diamond did not appear to think very much of him.While I was in Honolulu, the United States man-of-war Vincennes was in the harbor, also the Peacock and the schooner Flying Fish.I became well acquainted with the officers, especially with Captain (Charles) Wilkes and Lieutenant Hudson, of the Peacock.

I left Honolulu in February, 1841, and came to Monterey (Cal.) on the American ship Lausanne.I had procured a passport at Honolulu for Monterey.I went in a coaster to (the site of) San Francisco, which was then a small place.  

The Hudson's Bay company had a double log house.There was also a combined saloon and billiard hall, and a hotel partly finished, and there were about 100 people there.At least half of them were transients.I remained there only a short time.I went across the bay opposite to the mouth of a small creek, where I got a bull and a boatload of cows and took them up the (Sacramento) river to Sutter's Fort, where I remained till the spring of 1842, but heard nothing of Mr. Clark.

I surveyed Captain Sutter's claim for him.I had charge of the fort while he was gone to Monterey for supplies.He had a lot of hard-drinking, rough men around him.They complained that I would not let them have whiskey while he was gone.

Sutter was a hard drinker himself.He had been an officer in the Swiss army, and had left a wife and children in Switzerland. He gave me for my services three square miles of land which was situated in the forks of the Yuba and Feather rivers.

In the spring of 1842 I traded everything I had to Sutter for horses and mules and started for the states.I got as far as Bear river, and I was willing to go on by the southern route, via Bents' Fort, but most of the party refused to go unless we went the northern route.

I refused to do this and left the party and went to the head of Salt Lake and from there to Fort Hall.In the party going to Fort Hall were Campbell, Childs and Hopper, a young Englishman, and Swinger.When we got to Fort Hall we met Medorem Crawford, Dr. Elijah White and two women, mother and daughter,Mr. Penny and wife, her sister and child, Trask (for whom Trask river was named afterward), and a widow he afterward married.

I came down to the (Willamette) valley in August, 1842.When Johnson left for the Sandwich Islands, I loaned him a small amount of money.He bought a writing desk for me at Honolulu and sent it back by the Hudson's Bay company.I found it awaiting me at (Fort) Vancouver on my return.This desk I still have.**

I sold quite a number of my horses and mules to the immigrants of 1842.The balance I brought down to the valley with me.I made my home for a while with Alvin T. Smith, near Forest Grove.In October I had a letter from Dr. Whitman, asking me to come and take charge of his mission while he went east.I started on November 2nd, 1842.Whitman had gone when I arrived there.I was nearly three weeks on the road.Thomas Otchins traveled with me a portion, if not all, the way.I remained in charge of the mission until Whitman returned.***

 A short time prior to the arrival of the immigration of 1843, some of Mr. Spalding's family (at the branch mission at Lapwai of Whitman) had sent an Indian out to meet the immigration and ask Dr. Whitman to come and attend to the sick.He left Sticcas, an Indian (Cayuse chief), to pilot the immigrants and himself turned off to come by Spalding's.The sick ones were much better before he arrived.He and I rode together, then, down to the mission, and I turned things over to him.After remaining a few days, I came back down to the (Willamette) valley.

I first selected a claim where Salem now stands, but I gave it up to satisfy the Methodist people who wanted it or part of it.I then took my (donation land) claim near Forest Grove, which I still own.When I went to Whitman's place, I arranged with Mr. Smith to take charge of my horses and mules."

 

END OF INTERVIEW

** This desk is now in the museum at Pacific University, Forest Grove, Ore.

*** In an Indian uprising Dr. Whitman and family and all white people were later killed at the Whitman mission.

 

An article by Fred Lockley in the Portland Journal about Dr. Wm. Geiger. 

William Geiger had been appointed as missionary to the Oregon Indians by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.When they notified him that the money was not forthcoming to make the trip he started out on horseback on his own account.He taught school at the Methodist mission near Salem in 1840, went down to Monterey and from there to Honolulu.Returning to California in 1841, he secured work as a surveyor for General Sutter.After putting in a year in California he returned to the Pacific Northwest and taught school at the Whitman mission during the absence of Dr. Whitman and A. L. Lovejoy on their famous winter trip to the east.In the fall of 1843 Mr. Geiger took up a claim near Forest Grove and lived there for the next 58 years, dying June 16, 1901--at age 84.

(From an article by S. A. Clarke in the Oregonian - Nov. 28, 1886)

Sutter's Fort (now Sacramento) was the place where all Americans and Europeans collected.Sutter had 200,000 acres, nearly all of upper Sacramento valley, a (Spanish-Mexican) grant for locating a colony.

 Dr. Geiger surveyed Sutter's principality there nearly two years; earned cattle and a league (nine sections, nearly 6000 acres), where the Feather and Yuba rivers meet.Here was where the richest gold mines were found 16 years later.


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Contributed by Robert H. Geiger

Last updatedSaturday, 01-Mar-2014 16:58:04 MST.