More Geis Family Tales from Salina and Elsewhere


     My chance reading of David McCullough's 1968 book "The Johnstown Flood" introduced me to Abbie Geis of Salina who drowned in the 1889 flood despite being far from home.  This also brought back imprecise memories of the Geis name that prompted me to ask for help from a classmate who knows just about everyone in Salina, Betty (Harr) Baxter.  She reminded me of Sarabeth Geis who graduated from SHS in '59; I then knew that I had heard her name mentioned by my sister many times.  This photo is of Sarabeth from the 1957 Trail.

     With Betty's help I got in contact with Sarabeth and I was led onto new tracks of information about the Geis family and Salina.  It deserves more than a few paragraphs on the Home page.



   A Google or search on the Geis name immediately leads you into a immense number of families with that name who relationships, if any, may go back an large number of generations and European countries.  I am interested only in the Geis family that had members who came to Salina in the 19th Century.

     A John Geis family of interest here moved from Germany first to Johnstown, PA in 1841.  He seems to have been a successful merchant and by 1871 he had the capital to start a bank...some place.  John Geis chose to create the first bank in Salina (made of brick on Santa Fe Ave.) with one son as vice president (William Rudolph) and another as first cashier (John J., husband of the unlucky Abbie).

     I found this photo of an ad for the bank on  It shows the three Geis men below a photo of Santa Fe Ave. as a busy dirt by-way.  An arrow points to the tall bank building with text saying it's "The First Bank in Salina."  A blizzard ruined the local economy, including the bank, in 1876, so this ad is from before then.

     The item at the bottom of the ad seems to be a blank check drawn on an account at the Geis bank.  In the center is an aerial view of some city (Salina?).  At the bottom is something about "Barthelow Lewis & Co. [illegible] St. Louis, MO".  I don't know if Geis was backed up by a larger bank or what, but it's odd to see a modern abbreviation for Missouri used in 1870s.


     The Salina family members lived in an “enclave” of homes two blocks west of the present-day Oakdale School bracketed by Iron Ave., Front St., Oakdale St., and Johnstown Ave!.  Sarabeth says her own early years were spent growing up on that block and she went to Oakdale Elementary.  I will speculate that the naming of Johnstown Ave. in Salina was a nostalgic look back at where the banker Geis got his start in the U.S.A.





     Meanwhile, in 1889 the massive cleanup after the flood of Johnstown and its surroundings recovered a large number of victims.  They are listed on various web sites and in McCullough's book along with their burial sites.  Abbie Geis' gravestone is shown on the left, giving her age as only 25 years and John J. Geis as her husband.  It notes that she was from Salina, Kansas.


     Today we find a city of 2,500 named Geistown, PA nearly adjacent to Johnstown.  It was settled in 1812 but not incorporated until 1930.  Whether it has anything to do with the Geis family who eventually came to Salina I cannot say -- I just felt like mentioning it.


     Another sidelight that Sarabeth brought to my attention is a family bible that is unlike any other family bible I've heard about.  It was written about in a 2008 Johnstown, PA Tribune Democrat newspaper article.  Here's a condensation of its article. 

     This bible was printed in Cologne, Germany in 1564 only 110 years after the Gutenberg Bible. The book has wooden covers and is bound in wild boar’s skin with type in red and black with woodcut illustrations. The German Imperial Seal adorns the frontispiece.  The Bible is 14 1/2 inches long, 9 1/2 inches wide and 4 1/2 inches thick.

     It is not known how long the Bible was in the possession of the Geis family, but there was a provision that the oldest son of its curator would get possession and in turn pass it on to his oldest son, a responsibility that has continued to the current day.
     We do know that it was in the possession of the grandfather of John Geis, who made an exploratory visit to the U.S. in 1838 and liked it so much that he sent for his whole family, including the woman he intended to marry, Rosina Stein.
     When the family arrived in Johnstown by canal boat in 1841, John’s mother became ill and the intended trip on to Ohio had to be delayed. They were convinced to remain in Johnstown and founded stores here.  Grandpa Geis brought with him the old Bible, among other family treasures.
     A few weeks passed, and one day young John Geis galloped up to the Geis house and told his prospective bride that a priest had arrived in Johnstown and they could be married that afternoon.  Her wedding finery had not been unpacked yet, but John insisted it could be a long time until another priest came to town. Rosina put on a freshly ironed muslin dress, hopped on the horse behind him and rode into town, and they got married.
     Strong in the Catholic faith, the young Geis couple maintained a room in their home for missionary priests when they visited Johnstown. With a big heart and a yearn to help others, especially the poor, Rosina studied medicine at St. Vincent’s Abbey at Beatty, now Latrobe. She treated the poor without charge.
     As for the old Bible, it was given to the couple’s son, William R. Geis, on his 21st birthday.  William married Mary Cantwell and they moved to Salina, Kan., in 1871, taking the Bible with them.  John Geis had established a banking house in Salina, and the Bible remained in a bank vault for a time. After that, it was moved to a marble-top safe in the Geis home.
     The move to Kansas was a godsend for the Bible. Had it remained in Johnstown, it surely would have perished in the 1889 Flood.
     But meanwhile, the nation’s centennial observance arrived in 1876, and the Bible was to play a role in it. It was taken to Philadelphia and placed on display, with two armed guards provided by the federal government.
     The Bible made one more trip east. Edward Geis, William’s oldest son, took it to Washington for the March 4, 1929, inauguration of Kansas Sen. Charles Curtis as vice president [the first VP to ever take an oath of office].  He took his oath on the old Bible in the Senate chamber.  He was vice president to Herbert Hoover, who had defeated Democrat Alfred E. Smith.  [Curtis was also half Indian because his mother was a Kansas Kaw full-blood.]
     Now 444 years old [now 453], the Bible is kept under glass and is still in the custody of the Geis family in Salina.






Here is the cover of the 1564 bible owned by the Geis family for centuries.  It was brought from Germany in 1841.  Thanks go to Jim Geis, Sarabeth's brother, for these photos.


The title begins by announcing it to be a Catholic Bible.  I read that after the Reformation in 1517 the protestants removed from the Old Testament some material that wasn't in the Jewish canon while the Catholics kept it all.  The New Testament was unchanged.


A lot of work went into the ornate drawings; see below for better detail.




Yes, it was published

"in the Year M. D. LXIIII" (1000+500+50+10+4).


My high school German picks out a word here and there but many abbreviations were used to squeeze in long German words, not helping a struggling translator.


But I guess the printer was "D. Johan Dietenberger" and below that is "God be praised" and then my weaknesses and the abbreviations lose me.


Who can read this for me?  Send it in?



        Just for Fun


     You can't tell the players without a score card, so here are this month's players.  Only a few actually are given names, but they are important anyway.


Great-great-great-grandfather, John Geis (merchant, banker).  Germany to Johnstown to Salina

great-great-grandfather, John J. + Abbie (Ludes) Geis, William Rudolph Geis.




Sarabeth Geis (SHS Class of ’59), Jim Geis