Henry Goerger / Johan Heinrich Görger
The following, written in 1966 by Edd Goerger, of Barney, North Dakota, was from stories told by his Grandfather Edward, his father, John Bernard (Barney), and uncles and aunts. Henry Goerger was Edd's Great-Grandfather.
Many of the tales have been disproven or corrected, but the story makes interested reading.
In 1814 a child, born in Germany and named Henry Goerger, grew up at his family home. At the age of 12 years he decided to make it on his own. He went to Hamburg, Germany, and got a job at the docks. He was assigned to help load ships.
After several weeks he got the idea to go to America. He planned it well. As most of the cargo was packed in large barrels, he saw to it that an empty barrel was in the hold of a ship going to New York. He hid in it for three days, then a sailor spotted him while he was out looking for food. He begged the sailor not to report him to the Captain. So an agreement was made. He was to do the sailor's work in return for food. When in New York Harbor, the sailors smuggled him through customs and into the crowded streets. There they left him to go on his own.
The next episode we know about him is in 1842. He and two of his neighbors rode horseback from their farms in southern Illinois to Chicago to help organize the first Union stockyards. It was a three-day ride, one way.
In Illinois he had lots of cattle. He raised them to two years of age, and then "broke" them for plow and wagon.
In about 1850 Henry took 8 oxen, two wagons, two plows and full equipment, with hired men, and left for St. Louis to join up with Col. Wingate to go to California for gold. Henry's family didn't like it very much. There were two boys, Will and Edward, and two girls who stayed home to do the farming.
Henry's trip by wagon train went fine for a few weeks. Then the word came that rich deposits of gold were to be found in the Columbia River basin in Oregon. About half the wagon train decided to go to Oregon, including Henry. All went fine until about two more days of travel to the supposed gold field when the small train was hijacked and everything was taken away from them. Then they walked to the supposed gold field but found no gold.
They made their way to Seattle and got jobs on a freighter boat to San Francisco. After a year they managed to get in touch with the rest of their original wagon train. They worked there in California for some time but having no equipment the late-comers didn't do too well. It was said that the group that went directly to California did very well for three or four years. So after some time of working without equipment and unable to buy any, Henry and a few other victims of the Oregon disaster decided to walk back to Illinois.
They got a job of scouting for a wagon train that was returning to St. Louis. When in the mountains, about two days ahead of the wagon train, they got caught in a blizzard and would have perished but for the Piute Indians. The Indians found two of them, including Henry. They took them to their camp and nursed them back to health. After six months the pair left the Indians and made their way back to St. Louis.
Henry returned home to Illinois where he found that his farm was not in very good shape. The family reunited, worked hard for several years and accumulated some more livestock. But the energetic Henry could not stay put. Gold was his goal. He was now crowding 50 years of age and thought he would give it one more try.
He packed up another four oxen and complete outfit and left again, this time straight for California. Grandma [Catherine] this time was very despondent. No one could get along with her. The Civil War was brewing and the boys didn't have enough equipment to operate the farm properly. They became discouraged after a year or so. The two girls then induced Bill to take them to East St. Louis to a relative. They got jobs on a river boat where the girls and Bill worked their way to East St. Louis.
Henry's venture to California the second trip was much better. He returned to Illinois with his oxen and wagon... and gold! The story goes that Catherine held him at bay with the shotgun (as was normal in those days of the Civil War; anyone near the North-South border was pretty jittery). She demanded the gold. He slung a bag of it to her. After examining it the gun barrel went up.
"Got any more?" she asked.
"Yep." He slung another bag at her.
By now she thought that the wagon must be full of gold so they talked it over and made up. How much gold he really had no one knows.
It is said that while in St. Louis he had a brooch made for her that looked like the side of a rock. She wore it on all occasions. Whatever became of it, no one knows.
About that time the Homestead Acts were declared in Minnesota. Their son Ed got them to take up a homestead south of St. Cloud, near a village now known as St. Augusta. They must have had some gold left because they had a house of sawed lumber while the rest of the houses were built of logs. It was here that Henry and Catherine lived out their lives.
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