LEIPSIC — When the 4-year-old boy poured gas in the kitchen stove of an Ottawa home, blowing him back against a wall and setting the room ablaze, his uncle came to the rescue, pulling the boy to safety and earning a spot atop the front page of the next day’s Lima Daily News.
The uncle, whose “eyebrows were singed from his face and nearly all the hair on his head” burned off, was sitting on the ground with a “broad smile despite his injuries” when help arrived, the News reported on Jan. 25, 1915.
The uncle, Jack Geyer, was no stranger to the newspapers of the time, although his name usually appeared in a different context, as it had several days earlier in the News. “’One of the best bouts ever witnessed in Lima,’ was the verdict of 1,200 fans at the Auditorium last night, when Gabe Gulart, the big Milwaukee boiler maker, earned a popular decision over ‘Denver Jack’ Geyer in 10 rounds of genuine milling which kept the big house highly enthused,” wrote a no less enthused reporter on Jan. 21, 1915.
Geyer did a lot of “genuine milling” as a professional boxer, suffering broken jaws, broken hands and lacerated kidneys in fights that occasionally went 20 rounds, making it understandable he’d be unfazed by singed eyebrows.
During a more-than-15-year career, he mixed it up with the likes of Ed “Gunboat” Smith, Carl Morris, Frank Moran and George “One Round” Davis, who lasted just over two rounds, total, in a pair of bouts with Geyer. And, like almost any promising white heavyweight during black heavyweight Jack Johnson’s seven-year-reign over the division, Geyer was considered a “white hope.” Geyer never got a fight with Johnson although he served as his sparring partner in 1910 and fought, and defeated, several fighters who did fight Johnson, including Smith.
Geyer was born John Lewis Geyer Jan. 11, 1884 (some sources give his birth as Oct. 23, 1883) in Leipsic to Charles Godfrey and Hulda Myers Geyer. In his book “’Denver’ Jack Geyer, The Boxer: His Multi-faceted life,” Max Geyer, the son of Denver Jack’s half-brother, Kenneth, wrote that Jack was one of four children his father would have with Hulda, who died in 1887. He remarried in 1892 and had seven children with his new wife, Nellie Might.
“All of the boys learned to box, and the story goes that Godfrey (Jack’s father went by his middle name) hung a heavy (power) bag from the ceiling in the stairway, and each son had to give the bag his best shot on his way to and from his upstairs bedroom.”
According to Max Geyer, Jack’s father was always looking to strike it rich. In 1871, he traveled to Kansas to hunt buffalo to provide meat for railroad workers and, in 1897, when Jack was in his early teens, Godfrey was lured to Alaska for the gold rush, returning after a year to Leipsic and a steady job on the Nickel Plate Road.
Geyer inherited his father’s urge to be somewhere else and initially, like his father, headed west. After his 1905 marriage to Cora Gore, he settled in Oklahoma. At some point Geyer won the amateur boxing championship in Denver, Colorado, and took up his professional career as “Denver” Jack Geyer around 1909.
In May 1910, about a week before Geyer was to fight “Gunboat” Smith in Oakland, California, his wife died. Geyer got the news as he stepped out of the ring after a sparring session with Johnson. “The big fellow was prostrated at the news,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported on May 17, 1910, “as it took him entirely unawares, as when he left her at Alva, Oklahoma, she was in the best of health.” Geyer lost the fight, but would beat Smith the next two times he faced him. Geyer also would marry two more times and father four children in all.
After more than a dozen bouts in the West, Geyer, who found himself anointed a new white hope, headed to New York City in late 1911 for a bout against Carl Morris, a former white hope. Newspapers described Morris, who weighed 235 pounds to Geyer’s 205 pounds, as the “ponderous Oklahoman.” The fight was stopped in the ninth round with Morris declared the winner but, as the New Castle (Pennsylvania) News noted Nov. 12, 1911, “they might have fought until morning and Morris would never have put his man down.”
Geyer spent the next year fighting mainly in Oakland and San Francisco against the likes of Frank Moran and “Soldier” Elder before returning east in late 1913. On Jan. 17, 1914, the Oakland Tribune took a parting shot at Geyer and his checkered ring record. “Denver Jack Geyer, the heavyweight whom local fans will doubtless remember, is still getting by,” the Tribune boxing columnist wrote. “He knocked out One Round Davis the other night in Buffalo and took only a half round to do it. Out here the fans wouldn’t bet on Jack to beat an egg.”
Geyer got better reviews in his hometown. In his book, Max Geyer noted, “It was well known that whenever Jack was close enough to Leipsic, Ohio, and his schedule permitted, he would drop by the Geyer homestead to spend time with his father, to whom he was devoted.” Geyer always drew a crowd to “see their hometown wonder boy” on these visits, which often included boxing exhibitions in a barn on the Geyer property, Max Geyer noted.
Beginning in 1915, Geyer spent a lot of time close to home, fighting in Lima, Cincinnati, Holgate, Defiance and Troy as well as in Buffalo, New York, and Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. In the Shenandoah fight in November 1915, Battling Levinksky defeated Geyer, “badly injuring his face,” according to the News.
Although still an active, though not quite as active, boxer, Geyer took a job as a Columbus policeman in 1917, a job he held until 1919. An April 20, 1919, story in the New Castle News noted that “Jack Geyer, Columbus policeman, and at one time numbered among the prominent heavyweights” was a sparring partner and trainer for Jack Dempsey.
Geyer, who had graduated from the Columbus Chiropractic College in 1922, fought his last professional bout in 1925, losing to Andy “Butch” Carr by knockout in an April 27, fight in Toledo. Geyer was 42 years old.
After operating Geyer’s Health Camp in the Columbus area for several years, Geyer in 1931 accepted a job as a personal bodyguard for Tom Mix. Mix, the star of more than 200 early Westerns, traveled with the Sells-Floto Circus and later his own western show during the 1930s.
In 1936, Geyer was hired as a plant security guard for the Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Michigan. He stayed with Ford until his retirement in 1951. Geyer died Jan. 27, 1953, in Detroit, where he’s buried in Grand Lawn Cemetery.
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.