A Face in the Crowd

"A Summer Reunion 1874-2014"

The Old Aurora Colony Museum’s special summer exhibit titled “A Face in the Crowd: A Summer Reunion” will celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Oregon Pioneer Association’s reunion of 1874.

“It is a good day and it belongs to the pioneers”

So began the speech of William Rees at the 1874 reunion of the newly organized Oregon Pioneers Association held at the Aurora Colony Park.  Nearly 1500 pioneers, almost all of whom had crossed the Oregon Trail, and many of whom had settled on the French Prairie, were treated to patriotic speeches, a performance by the Aurora Colony Brass band and then a sumptuous sausage and ham dinner prepared by the colonists themselves.

Personal and Economic Ties

Dr. Wilhelm Keil, the founder of the Aurora Colony had developed deep personal and economic ties with many of these people who represented a “Who’s-Who” of those Oregon pioneers who founded and stewarded Oregon through statehood and into the 20th century. They gathered together from all parts of their adopted state to celebrate their historic trek, and personal survival, on the Oregon Trail of the 1840s and 1850’s.
Keil was recognized as a man of vision by these other men of vision and thus it was no accident that Keil’s park became the site of the gathering of the pioneer reunion in 1874. 

The Geer Connection

The reunion was timed to recognize the anniversary of the June 15, 1846 treaty which removed Great Britain from Washington and Oregon and opened up that part of the Oregon Territory to unencumbered American settlement. Certainly amongst the pioneers was the family of Ralph C. Geer who joined the 99 wagon train caravan of Captain Joel Palmer and were the first group to use the Barlow Trail arriving at Oregon City on October 17, 1847. 
Through a special loan agreement with the GeerCrest Farm, Geer family artifacts and photographs will be a special exhibit feature.

Cultivating Orchards in the Willamette Valley

The Geer’s brought apple seeds, one bushel of apples and one half bushel of pear seeds with them across the Oregon Trail and Geer took out a donation land claim in the red soils of Waldo Hills in Marion County. Ralph Geer lost no time preparing the land and planting the precious fruit seeds.
Geer met another pioneer nurseryman Henderson Luelling on the Oregon Trail and the two men formed a partnership. R.C. traded root stock grown from his seeds and Luelling supplied the pure string of scions to be grafted. Through this agreement they provided great numbers of cultivated trees and both men eventually profited.
By 1853 Geer was advertising that his nursery “offered 42 varieties of apples, 15 of pear, five of peach and six variations of cherry seedlings” for sale.  He also raised and sold fresh fruit, set out the first hop yard in the vicinity and experimented with merino sheep.

The Site Called Aurora Mills

Among the buyers of these fruit starts in 1847 was John Walker Grim who also planted trees on his farm.  In 1855 Dr. Wilhelm Keil met Grim in Portland and was so impressed by the apples that he inquired about available land in the French Prairie.  This relationship led to Keil’s purchase of the site that became known as Aurora Mills.
In this manner did the French Prairie pioneers prepare the French Prairie for the arrival of Dr. Wilhelm Keil and his Aurora Colony.

Maybe You Know…

one of the faces pictured in the Pioneer Reunion crowd? This photograph has been blown up to 50” by 36” and will be featured as part of the exhibit which continues through September 28th.