I’ve known various members of the Helmville Geary family for decades. Irish literally to their core, they wear the map of Ireland on their faces and in their hearts.
This Helmville tribe is a blend of County Cork and County Limerick, the Fogartys and the Gearys. This original ancestor was a miner, who came to this country sometime in the 1850s, before making his way to what would become the Treasure State.
Dick Geary, a fourth-generation Helmville rancher spent years as a columnist for the Missoulian. His great-grandfather Mike started the Geary Brothers Ranch, a ranch that Dick loved for his whole life and managed for some years.
He first started out penning columns for weekly newspapers in his neck of the woods – the Silver State Post, Phillipsburg Mail and Blackfoot Valley Dispatch.
Geary, 74, died last year and his family and friends gathered all 368 columns together in a self-published, 625-page, 2-pound book big enough to be the weight the back of your truck needs in a Montana snowstorm.
Sparse words, a voice all his own, and a deep understanding of the ranching heritage he was born into and fully embraced all make Geary’s columns a joy to read.
Eventually, he was “discovered” by the Missoulian and wrote a weekly column for the paper for almost six years.
It’s a volume of page after page of ruminations about haying in Helmville in the 1940s, ranch cats, the Lawrence Welk Hour, calving, Irish families, beaverslides, fence repair, blizzards and pickup trucks. Then more pages reflecting on his time with the Peace Corps in Brazil as an ag extension agent. Then pages more of just plain Dick Geary “Reflections.”
And yes, on page 486, he understatedly jokes of himself as a renaissance man in company with all of Montana’s “other” famous writers.
How did this column come about?
According to Kim Briggeman, retired veteran Missoulian reporter, the Missoulian subscribed to all the local weeklies and “I saw his column in the Silver State Post. Our dads knew each other, had gone to high school together in Deer Lodge.
“I had no idea about his writing, and I ran into him at the Helmville Rodeo. Even then, he wasn’t happy about his writing. He was reticent to put himself out there. I went to our editor, Sherry Devlin, and said ‘this is a good, hometown column.’ “
And that was the beginning of a love affair between Missoula and Dick Geary and Helmville.
“Richard Geary ... And That’s All I Know” ... The Collected Columns of Dick Geary 2013-2020” is for sale on Amazon for $15.
This book is being carried by Missoula’s Fact and Fiction, and his sister Joyce has sold – so far – 500 copies out of her own Missoula home. As of this writing, his family had had no luck having it carried by Bozeman’s Country Bookshelf or Vargo’s.
In his matter-fact way, Geary managed to lay out his heart. These columns are Dick and the day-to-day of ranching, not the John Wayne-in-a-sunset view of western life.
Briggeman added, “Everything he wrote is kind. Not a word you hear much when talking about columnists’ work.”
His sister Elaine told me once that he was a “real” cowboy. Not the romanticized Marlboro Man movie version that some young men have of ranch work – until they actually have to calve in a snowstorm, or do fence repair in a snowstorm, or figure out a way to get another season out of a baler that saw its best days more than 20 years ago, or ride a horse that isn’t interested in having you aboard.
He was the cowboy that would have seamlessly fit into a ranch of a century ago.
“We got so much positive feedback,” Briggeman continued. “To read him is to know him. His face is out of the Old West. That sideways Irish twinkle.” It was a salute to his talent that Missoula, which doesn’t exactly skew agricultural, ate up Geary’s columns.
He also was brave enough to personally tackle a subject taboo on so many levels – sexual abuse by the local priest. It was in a June 6, 2015, Missoulian column where he wrote about being sexually assaulted as a little boy by the Rev. Leonard Spraycar, an Anaconda native.
Spraycar died in 1984. He was one of dozens of Western Diocese priests that the diocese would eventually settle legal claims against, including Geary’s. Of the dozens of priests listed on a Diocesan website as sex offenders, five served in the Helmville parish. It makes one wonder if the Church has it in for Helmville ...
He noted wryly in his column (“Priest,” page 501) that the diocesan abuse settlement was enough for a used car.
He also wrote about another heartbreak – working for the Grant Creek Ranch, owned by Denny Washington. His family tells me he loved that job more than any other he had in his life, but he got crossways with a couple other employees and lost the beloved job (page 585).
Here’s what amazon.com has to say about the book:
“Dick Geary was a man of many facets; rancher, paratrooper, Peace Corps volunteer, ag extension agent in Brazil, trained audiologist, recovered alcoholic, misanthrope, cynic, and yet somehow a trusting believer.”
An Amazon review by reader Bruce Bair, who was in the Peace Corps with Geary, states, “This book is like the ranch he was brought up on, greater than its parts. The voice is unsurpassed. Dusty, acerbic, erudite on many subjects (when he strayed from ranching, especially practical ones, disgusted at the state of humanity, kind and patient with all animals, master of bathos.
“I’ll make a plea at the end of this to editors and publishers, journalists and just plain readers. Don’t miss this book. It’s an American Classic if there ever was one. It could be read as the definitive ranch novel, the definitive ranch history, a study of interpersonal ranch dynamics, a monumental bitch weather and so on. Dick took every ranch cliche I have ever read and made literature.”
Dick, I could not have said it better myself.
Speaking of the Peace Corps – Geary was a Helmville rancher who spoke fluent Portuguese because of his time in Brazil. He almost died in Brazil, too. One of weeklies he wrote for realized it hadn’t received a column from him in weeks and called his family. Turns out, he was deathly ill, had all his money stolen and was at death’s door. His sister Joyce got on the phone with the U.S. Embassy to obtain an emergency visa. Friends in Missoula created a GoFundMe page and raised thousands of dollars to get him back home. All in a couple of days.
In case you haven’t figured out how “unique” Geary and his family are, he has another sibling in Missoula who recently had a local badger move into his home. It lived under his stove until it was ready to move on.
His sister Elaine once told me that she thought all her brother wanted out of life was “just … to matter.” I’ve been watching this family for decades and I think he just wanted his daddy to love him.
Karen E. Davis is a staff writer for the Belgrade News.