Biographical sketch of Martin Gering
Excerpted from “Tales of Pioneer Days - In North Platte Valley” by A.B. Wood)
No one, so far as known, has ever attempted to bring together any connected story of the man whose name this city bears – Martin Gering. The writer doesnot feel he is equipped to dojustice to the man or to make his sturdy characteristics stand out in the light we feel his memory is entitled to have recorded, but from what material we have and what a rather intimate personal contact for 15 or 20 years of his life yielded we now shall do our best.
To the “tireless” energy of the man, perhaps as much as to the work of that other man who stood out in early history, Oscar Gardner, the present city of Gering can trace its success in becoming and remaining a permanent spot on the map of western Nebraska. We have elsewhere given Mr. Gardner credit for the idea of a town at this location. We now shall seek to show that the survival of the town of Gering resulted in large part from the prideful purpose and personal energy of Martin Gering. He was of that type which never knows defeat.
Martin Gehring (note the spelling) was born in Germany (birth dates of 1830 or 1832 or 1838) where he lived until about 1858. A brother lived in Pennsylvania and in that year sent Martin funds with which to come to America. Martin arrived in America a mere boy and lived with his brother at Susquehanna, Pennsylvania until the civil war began. Arriving in America, he, as had his brother, changed the name to the easier spelling of “Gering”.Young Martin could not speak a word of English then.
When volunteers were called for he enlisted and served as a sergeant in Co. M of the 4th Pennsylvania cavalry company of volunteers, coming out of the service with two fixed mental fundamentals: one that he was every moment that I knew him one of the most intensely patriotic Americans I have ever known, and the other that he was as “black” a republican as ever lived – a phase which never faltered.
In this connection, a little anecdote has lived in the traditions of this valley which illustrates it. When it came time to incorporate Gering as a village, a little conference was called to name the men who should be the first village trustees. Some present, and I was there, suggested that we should not make it a political matter, and to this Mr. Gering promptly agreed, adding, “No, let’s don’t have any bolitics, just pick out five goot republications and let it go at that.”
The first location in the west where our information has found him, was at Omaha, where he was said to have operated a saloon. The west was still a frontier then and Omaha probably yet something of a frontier town. Martin had the pioneering instinct. Just how he went there is not known, but his next location was still on the frontier, at Westerville, where everything still was being freighted at that time from Grand Island, 75 miles distant. Martin Gering was distinctly of the pioneering type.
At Westerville in Custer County, where there was yet no town, with about $6,000 in cash, he filed on land – a homestead and a preemption – and invested his money in about 2,000 head of sheep. Storms lost him his herd except about 200 head, it being a phenomenally hard winter. Jim Westervelt, who was a resident there at the time, says that Mrs. Gering decided she could not stand it any longer and wanted to go back to Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, where they had operated a hotel, livery barn and saloon before coming west.
The determination of Martin was manifested. He said, “No, I’m going to stay mit, but no more . . . sheep.” He moved into the town just starting at Westerville, their farmhouse being moved six miles, and Mr. Gering started a hardware, furniture and implement store. He prospered and in due time had a 50 x 50 two story building and in this building the store and a hotel were conducted. Young Jim Westervelt worked there, choring around and doing odd work in hotel and store. Mrs. Gering returned from Pennsylvania, finding that she didn’t like it there after all.
The Burlington railroad came through about that time and missed Westerville. Martin gradually sold out at Westerville and went over to Broken Bow, where he started in the hardware and implement business at the northeast corner of the public square. He also branched out with a store at Cozad, where he was living when the idea of a town at Gering came up.
His first share in the Gering townsite plan was not a large factor, in fact he was but a minor stockholder, but when the name of the proposed town was changed, his interest quickened. He liked to be important, and that little piece of strategy on the part of Gardner, Garlock and others in the town scheme probably had a lot to do with his removal here in due time.
He first came to Gering in May 1887, about a month or so after the post office was established. The opportunity to have his memory perpetuated no doubt appealed to him. He had sent a little advance stock of implements and hardware here to be handled by a firm to be called Gering & Gardner. His stepson, Edson Gering, whose name really was Robinson, was to work there. Martin’s May visit here, however, enraptured him with the North Platte Valley and it was but a short time until he had arranged for the building of a log house (afterward sold to the writer and for many years the printing office and post office) and came here to put his shoulder to the wheel of progress.
No man was ever more loyal. He had both determination and energy. Along with them he had a keen business ability and was a born trader.
Countless stories of Martin Gering could be told. Although a thorough gentleman and something of a dandy, never appearing except dressed spic and span, he forgot himself in his customary way, when at a mixed affair just after he had returned from a trip back to the old country some lady talking about his sea voyage asked him, “Mr. Gering, were you sick both ways?” He replied, without the least embarrassment, “No, I yust womit.”
In spite of the semi-rough language he used once in a while, Martin Gering, although speaking with a German accent, was a fluent talker, save that when he became excited or indignant he would talk so fast that he would run out of breath and almost gasp the closing phrases of his long sentences. He was accused, as are all successful men, of being a sort of Shylock, but those who knew him best believed him to be a kindly man at heart. In many business transactions he did take cognizance of the circumstances and made allowances for hard luck, and he was inclined to be dictatorial, but not more so than the trait shows itself in the normal German character, having little patience with those who stood up to him bluntly disagreeing.
Martin Gering was the originator of the plan to offer Scotts Bluff County a free bridge on condition the county seat was located at Gering. He kept his word, and he steered the job through, not forgetting to induce farmers along the hills to get out a good share of the logs for the piling as a contribution. He was a smooth easy talker, highly persuasive. In 1888, some of us accompanied him on a visit to the county commissioners at Sidney where he talked them into putting up $500 in cash and sent a piledriver over to make a crossing over the south hills, something all of us had regarded as a wild goose chase. That was in August, and the road, such as it was, was finished before snowfall, for he took charge of the job and pushed it through, again with donations of piles he wheedled from hill landowners.
In 1889, when the townsite company had the talking point of a county and a county seat, Mr. Gering took a trip back to Pennsylvania and sold dozens of lots in Gering to former acquaintances there. Few, if any of them, ever came out here, and few, if any of them, ever sold their lots, although many of them paid taxes for years. For some reason he sold all of them in the south half of town where water was then hard to get, and the town did all its growing northward. Perhaps that was why he sold them there, for he knew no one had up to that time struck water south of the old main street.
Martin Gering was also a builder. He probably instigated the Sayre-Gering brick block plan, and the building of the old Commercial hotel, two of the earliest substantial buildings. He erected the first frame residence and later on built a trio of residences in the north part of town, climaxing it with the most pretentious residence of all which used to stand south of the old courthouse block. This was after his second marriage. His wife, a very fine woman, sickened and died, and later on he wed the lady who had been her nurse, Mrs. Josephine Dooley Logan. Josephine had been the wife of John E. Logan, pioneer cowboy and horse fancier and county clerk of Banner County. She was the daughter of A. J. Dooley, pioneer settler in the Ashford territory, the Dooley home then being in the canyon about where the game park dam and lake are located.
The new Mrs. Gering had espoused the cause of Christian Science and was also one who had a yearning for larger places, apparently. At any rate, it was probably she who prevailed upon Mr. Gering to remove to Washington, DC, where he spent his declining years and where he died and was interred in Arlington cemetery – a spot set apart for veterans of the civil war.
It has always been my own opinion that this change was not a welcome one to Martin Gering. Even though the years had not been good to him physically, he had when he left Gering, ample energy and public spirit to have continued active for years and to have added to his genuine service to the town in which he took such personal pride.