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Gering family spent their lives in the shadow of Dome Rock

February 18, 2019 GMT

This is the first in a series of stories about the History of the Scotts Bluff National Monument, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2019.

GERING — Dome Rock is the easiest of the five named rocks to locate that make up the Scotts Bluff National Monument. It sits alone, to the east side of the rest of the bluff, but it has been a great source of comfort for generations of one family who live in its southern shadow.

In the pages of a family scrapbook, there are stories of the Gerings and their descendants. The stories often mention Martin Gering and the person’s relationship to him. The stories also reveal how many of these family members spent their life in the shadow of Dome Rock.

On March 7, 1934, Charles Gering, grandson of Martin Gering, namesake founder of the city, received 160 acres of farm land on the south side of Dome Rock. Gering was a late homesteader. His piece of land was not considered desirable at the time because early settlers thought it didn’t have any water access.

Gering purchased another 80 acres on Sept. 20, 1960. Lisa Betz-Marquez, great-granddaughter of Charles Gering, sifts through the legal documents trying to determine how much land Gering had and when it was purchased.

“It gets confusing because my grandfather farmed them and when he saved up enough money, he bought land next door and farmed it, too,” she said. “So the original lines are blurred.”

The original homestead included a part of Dome Rock as well as land east and south of it. In the early part of the 20th century, many people attempted to climb Dome Rock. It was a sort of right of passage for the young men in the area, especially for Betz-Marquez’s relatives.

The climb to the top was not an easy one. Early climbers installed ropes that would assist would-be thrill seekers.

“Cleo (Gering) told me there were little signs up there that read, ‘Welcome, sucker,’” she said.

A flag was placed on top at one point with an offer for a reward if anyone could bring it down. One local newspaper claimed the climb was as dangerous as Mont Blanc in Europe.

As Betz-Marquez turns the pages in the family scrapbook, she stops at an undated news article. It was reported that on May 3, two unidentified persons were seen climbing Dome Rock. An updated article revealed that Ronny Sylvester, 20, and James Russell, 23, were the two climbers. Sylvester, Betz-Marquez’s first cousin once removed, did not get past the second tier of the rock, while Russell gave up 12 feet from the top because of the wind. Russell reported seeing the “Welcome, sucker” sign and that he “never saw a sign that spoke more truth than this one.”

Betz-Marquez’s grandfather, Cleo Gering, made it to the top. Sylvester and Russell were determined to go again.

“The next time, we’ll wear spiked shoes and carry a pick and rope,” Russell told the newspaper.

Eventually, a law made climbing any of the five named rocks at the Scotts Bluff National Monument illegal.

“The reasoning was that if someone got stuck, it could be dangerous for everyone involved,” she said.

Between 1970 and 1979, the government took roughly 80 acres of land to be used as part of the Scotts Bluff National Monument. At one time, Charles Gering owned half of Dome Rock and the National Park Service owned the other half. About 40 acres was purchased from Gering by the Oregon Trail Museum Association for $2,000.

Another 55 acres was later purchased during a time when the Department of the Interior took land from private land owners through the process of condemnation to expand the boundaries of national parks.

“There was so much pushback that they discontinued the practice,” she said.

Her great-grandmother Pansy Gering, Charlie’s wife, sold her part of the farm in the late 1980s to Lester and Gloria Thompson, who live on the property today and farm her acres.

Betz-Marquez holds no ill will toward the monument, but can understand why her grandfather resented the acquisition of land until the day he died.

“It wasn’t land that was just sitting there,” she said. “They had a corral and an entire cattle operation nestled in the hills.”

Cleo Gering began raising his registered beef shorthorn herd with an initial purchase in 1948. He took his shorthorns to the National Western Stock Show in Denver. Soon, Cleo and his Valley View Farm were known in the industry for prized shorthorns.

She has never understood, however, why her family’s land was chosen and not others who were farming in the same area. Today, the family still owns several acres of prairie on the southern side of Dome Rock.

While there are some unanswered questions about the parcels that included bits of Dome Rock, Betz-Marquez understands its importance and is sure it is looked after.

“I feel now, as long as the monument will take care of it, that’s what is important,” she said. “There’s a guarantee of taking care of that land.”

Dome Rock has always been the family touchstone. It has always reminded them of home.

“I don’t think the family would have called it sacred,” Betz-Marquez said. “But when I lived far away, when I thought of home, it was Dome Rock.”

Dome Rock has also been a protector to the family. They have never lost a field of crops due to hail.

“All the storms that come skip over us,” she said. “They hit the monument and move in some way.”

The Gerings have always been proud of Dome Rock. It has had such an impact on the family that, when Charles Gering died, Dome Rock was mentioned in his obituary.

“Dome Rock has always been a part of the family,” she said. “It is like a family member.”

Betz-Marquez has written a poem about the rock. She and her husband Frank Marquez can also see the south bluff of the monument from their kitchen window, a welcome sight no matter the weather. They are in the process of purchasing the property from Betz-Marquez’s mother, Nina Betz, who grew up on the farm.

“I think of Dome Rock as this grand dame at a party,” she said. “She’s majestic, presiding over the party, even though she’s all alone and off by herself.”