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Jews in the West: A Story of Adventure and Accomplishment

Peter Egill Brownfeld
Fall 2006

“Go West young man, and grow up with this country,” Horace Greeley famously exhorted readers in an editorial in the New York Tribune in 1865. Many Jews heeded his call as they joined thousands of new immigrants and other Americans in building small towns and big cities, starting ranches, stores and mines. The Jewish vignettes in the story of the West often have been lost as Jews frequently traveled without their families or as part of a Jewish community as they established themselves in the new territories. Frequently they quickly blended in by intermarrying. However, in the larger cities, particularly in California, Jews played a decisive role in the communal and political life and in some of the smaller towns they constructed the first solid buildings and commercial establishments.  
The HBO series Deadwood illustrates the activities of a Jew in a small town in the West. Sol Star encounters some anti-Semitism but manages to overcome it and become a successful merchant and politician. Although Star is a fictional character, he is emblematic of many true stories of Jews in the West, perhaps the most famous being the Goldwater family in Arizona. After finding success as merchants, the Goldwaters became leading politicians in Arizona. The story of Jews in the West tracks with the wider saga of America winning the West, but as always, Jews added their own unique flavor with their entrepreneurial skills and other abilities as they made decisive contributions in the establishment of the new communities.  
Unique Experience  
The Jewish experience in the West was unique in many ways, perhaps most importantly because Jews were founding members of new communities rather than newcomers to long-established ones. Another important factor was that Jews were often isolated from their co-religionists. “Jews in the East were numerous, residentially concentrated, and socially separate from the majority population. By contrast, Jews in the West were small in number, geographically dispersed, and extensively integrated within the communities around them,” writes Bruce Phillips in his chapter “The Challenges of Family, Identity, and Affiliations” in the book California Jews.  
It was difficult for Jews and any minority to maintain their identities during the drive west, particularly in the smaller communities. In “Jews on the Frontier: An Account of Jewish Pioneers and Settlers in Early America” by Rabbi I Harold Sharfman, Ray Allen Billington of the Huntington Library writes in the introduction: “The primitive frontiers provided no clergy or teachers as a link with the past, no teachers to keep faith alive, no synagogues for worship, no leisure that would keep the Sabbath holy, no kosher foods necessary in upholding the dietary laws. Instead they hurried the disintegration of traditional practices in two ways. First, most Jews, in common with other minorities, tended to move westward as individuals, thus subjecting themselves to alien pressures and denying themselves the group strength needed to preserve inherited beliefs and practices. Second, men always outnumbered women along the Western fringes. In fact, few Jewish women were among the early frontier pioneers. Marriage beyond the faith was common, and with that marriage a loss of Jewish identity. The lone Jew, denied the companionship of others of his faith and married to a Gentile with little sympathy for his religious beliefs, simply disappeared into the emerging social order. This fate has denied Jewish frontiersmen the recognition they deserve for their role in the conquest of the West. Historians who read the records, unaware that many of the pioneers whose deeds they were chronicling boasted a Jewish ancestry, simply assumed that Jews were concentrated in Eastern cities and played no part on the frontier.”  
Billington continues, “Few histories of the West mention their contributions, even though other minority groups — Negroes and Mexican-Americans, for example — have been given some of the credit they deserve. If a Jew does appear, he is usually an unnamed peddler who supplies the commercial needs of frontier towns or mining camps, but contributes nothing to the settlement process. Nothing could be farther from the truth.”  
Constant Danger  
Danger was never far from the first communities of the West, with Indian attacks common and lawlessness rampant. Noel Pugach, professor of history at the University of New Mexico and director of the New Mexico Jewish History Society’s Jewish Pioneer Video History Project, writes in his 19 May 2006 article in the Forward titled “Adventures in the American Southwest:” The Jewish settlers “lived the adventure, excitement and dangers of the Southwest frontier. Outside of Pueblo, Colo., 5-year-old Clara Goldsmith was kidnapped by Indians and traded back to her anxious father, Henry, for some calico, flour and hickory; teenage Levi Herzstein was gunned down in 1896 by Thomas ‘Black Jack’ Ketchum, New Mexico’s most notorious outlaw at the time; young Charles Solomon was stuffed by his father, Isadore, into a crate to hide him from a band of marauding Apaches. Charles was so frightened that he could not speak for days, and stuttered thereafter. Such was the life of Jewish pioneers in New Mexico and in the surrounding territory.”  
Jews who settled West of the Mississippi tended to be risk-takers and adventurers, according to Pugach. “Without being reckless, these young men — indeed many were teenagers — seemed to thrive on the challenges, dangers and isolation of the New Mexico frontier. They saw opportunity, but they were also attracted by the greater personal freedom they found in the territory. Many rode their own horses, their children raised in the saddle.” Commenting particularly on the Jewish experience in New Mexico, Pugach writes that Jews adapted very well to the culture and society. “They spoke Spanish (often before they became fluent in English), and some learned Indian languages. They integrated completely into their local communities and were highly respected.”  
A Jew and the Conquest of Texas  
The story of a Jewish soldier and adventurer in Texas indicates that Jews were present in the earliest days of the American conquest of the West. When Lieutenant Magee, a West Point graduate, was offered command of a joint force of Mexicans and Americans in Louisiana to invade sparsely populated Texas, then-Mexican territory, he wrote to his Jewish West Point classmate Samuel Noah, who was attracted by the adventure and joined Magee. From their camp on the Brazos River, Magee and Noah attacked the Mexican position at Fort Bahia, capturing it on 14 November 1812.  
In Jews on the Frontier, Rabbi I Harold Sharfman writes: “The Spanish forces rallied and counterattacked with a force five times the strength of the garrison. At that critical moment, [now] Colonel Magee sickened and died. Lieutenant Noah assumed command of the rear guard which on April 4, 1813, pursued and routed the Royalist Spaniards in sharp combat near San Antonio. Three days of fighting ensued and Noah triumphantly entered the capital of Texas, forcing the surrender of Governor Salcido with his entire force. Samuel Noah, the uncrowned ruler of Texas then learned of the United States’ declaration of war against Great Britain.” Noah then left Texas to join the American forces in the War of 1812. His gains would be shortlived; after Noah departed, a Mexican force retook San Antonio and squelched the rebellion, including executing San Antonio’s entire male population.  
Three Jews died at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. Six were in General Sam Houston’s relief force, including the surgeons Moses Albert Levy and Isaac Lyons. Seven years later, Henry Castro, a Sepherdic veteran of Napolean’s Grande Armee, immigrated to the U.S., dubbed himself “le comte de Castro,” and eventually became Texas consul general in Paris. Before departing, he talked President Houston into awarding him a land grant in the frontier country beyond San Antonio. Ultimately, he attracted some 5,000 settlers to his colony of “Castroville.”  
The Gold Rush  
Jews played an important role in the Gold Rush, some as prospectors, but more importantly as suppliers to the communities that sprung up almost overnight. Ava F. Kahn writes in her chapter “Joining the Rush” in the book California Jews: “By virtue of their experience in Europe and the Eastern United States as merchants, many young Jews had the knowledge and the skills to supply miners and other town residents with clothing, boots, hats, and other essentials.”  
Kahn tells the story of a Jewish entrepreneur who followed this mold — Emanuel Linoberg, one of Sonora, California’s first non-Mexican settlers. “Linoberg first came to the Sierra Nevada from his native Poland in 1849 at age thirty-one. Sonora, the county seat, was called the Queen of the Southern Mines. Founded in 1848 by Mexicans from the State of Sonora, it was incorporated by American settlers in 1851 after the non-citizen miners’ tax pushed the Mexicans off their claims. Like most Jews in the mining regions, Linoberg was a merchant. The enterprising young man owned the Tiende Mexicano, a large store on the corner of Sonora’s main street. But unlike most, Linoberg was more than a merchant — he owned a mule train to bring in supplies to his store, an entertainment hall, and a gold mine. He also served the medical needs of the miners; with a doctor, he operated a ‘Russian Steam Bath,’ which advertised that it could cure anything from gout to rheumatism.”  
Politics and Civil Affairs  
Linoberg also became active in politics and civic affairs. Kahn writes that this was not unusual: “Jews in mining towns were not isolated from the outside world. They contributed money for the relief of the Jewish community after Sacramento floods, for support for the poor Jews of Jerusalem, and for building synagogues in the larger towns. Most gained their knowledge of the outside world from letters from family members and from the California and national Jewish newspapers.”  
Though some Jews in these towns were Reform and others Orthodox, most of the Jewish communities were too small to support more than one congregation. Linoberg strongly advocated Reform Judaism, writing to Reform leader Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise in Cincinnati, “I fully approve of your advocacy of Reform. Orthodox suited time past, but reform suits times of progress.”  
As the Gold Rush slowed down, Jews could no longer make a living as merchants and miners and they began to leave the small towns. Kahn writes, “Jewish worship ended in many of the mining towns in the late 1870s and 1880s, when the congregations disbanded as their members left for other places. Most Jews made their way to the growing, cosmopolitan San Francisco. Others continued to look for new opportunities in the mining regions of Nevada, Colorado, and Alaska, as well as in the burgeoning communities along the Northwest Coast and commercial centers of the Southwest.”  
Commercial Matters  
Writing in 1876, B.E. Lloyd observed in his book Lights and Shades in San Francisco: “In commercial matters (the Jews) are the leaders ... The clothing trade — here as elsewhere — is monopolized by them, and the principal dry good houses and crockery and jewelry establishments belong to the Jews. In the manufacturing industries they have control of the shoe and soap factories, and of the woolen mills ... They have also largely interested themselves in the grain trade of the coast and the Alaskan fur trade.”  
In A History of the Jews in America, Howard M. Sachar writes: “Levi Strauss arrived in San Francisco by ship in 1853 ... Still a teenager, he gambled his savings on a bale of cloth and boat ticket for California. Upon reaching the West Coast, he sold off most of his stock to a group of transient miners within hours of disembarking. The men paid him in gold dust, but it did not escape the young Strauss that their trousers were all but worn away. A bolt of tenting canvas remained in his pack. On an inspiration, he had a local tailor fashion the cloth into a dozen pairs of trousers. These, too, he instantly sold to the prospectors. Word of the durable new canvas clothing spread rapidly and Strauss was deluged with orders. Hereupon he sent an urgent letter to his brothers in the East, requesting them to ‘buy all the canvas and duck you can find.’ Within a few years the Strauss brothers and brothers-in-law had settled in San Francisco and combined their savings and the firm of Levi Strauss & Co. was turning out rugged work clothes from their factory on Battery Street. By the 1880s, with the added innovation of copper-riveted pockets and blue denim cloth, ‘Levi’s’ had become a part of Western folklore.’”  
After San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake, the Hellmans, owners of the Wells Fargo Bank and the Lilienthals and Steinharts, owners of the Anglo-California Bank, helped finance the city’s reconstruction.  
Cementing Communities  
Jews were to be found throughout the west in its early days. A Polish immigrant Fred Salomon, became an early Colorado business leader. His holdings included a general store, a brewery, a sugarbeet company and Denver’s first pipe-water company. After serving as president of the Denver Board of Trade and a director of the First National Bank of Denver, Salomon accepted appointment as treasurer of the Colorado Territory.  
Jews who became mayors of western towns and cities in the late 19th century were numerous. They included Henry Jacobs and H.L. Frank in Butte, Montana; Charles Nimrod and Moses Alexander in Boise, Idaho; Abraham Frank in Yuma, Arizona; Emil Ganz in Phoenix; Wolfe Londoner in Denver; Samuel Friendly in Eugene, Oregon; Will Spiegelberg in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Henry Jaffa in Albuquerque.  
Jews often brought a certain sense of order to what could be a very fluid environment. Towns sprung up around mines or were just dusty crossroads close to ranching settlements. Although Jews were involved in both of these economic pursuits, they also often played the leading role in commerce. In his chapter “The Challenges of Family, Identity, and Affiliations” in the book California Jews, Bruce Phillips writes, “The economic endeavors of Jewish merchants brought order and stability to the frontier in several ways. The brick buildings they erected created a sense of permanence in towns filled with easily conflagratable wooden structures. Their creation of local banking systems contributed to California’s economic growth. And in the absence of a formal banking system in remote frontier settlements, Jewish merchants often provided it.”  
Leading Merchants  
Phillips continues, “As the leading merchants in town, Jews were the most likely to stay to help those towns grow. When Jewish businesses began to flourish the owners found they had no reason to leave. As permanent citizens they began to think of government as a tool for community growth. They organized chambers of commerce, expanded the school systems, and pushed for roads, railroads, and federal subsidies to advance their towns’ interests. Railroad access was a necessity for growth and prosperity in the far West. Rail lines were the link to eastern population and markets that would bring prosperity to the towns they came through, and Jews were among the leading negotiators to bring the railroads to their towns.”  
Phillips offers the example of Solomon Lazard, I.W. Heilman, and Harris Newmark who were honored by their fellow citizens for helping bring the railroad to Los Angeles. They served as part of the delegation that drove the golden spike that joined the westward and eastward tracks of the Southern Pacific.  
As Jews pushed for their civic interests, they began to play leadership roles in political life. Phillips writes, “Realizing their economic stake in the political stability of the growing communities of the West, Jews, like other merchants, became prominent in local politics early on. Los Angeles Jews organized a local militia that kept order before there was a formal police force. Emigrant Jews came from Europe with civic as well as business experience, and were an important part of a proto-government of the frontier. Jews had come from communities in Europe that were well structured and democratically governed, giving them governance skills in the same way that many had arrived with mercantile skills. Jewish merchants typically ran the local post office. Because they were both stable and accomplished record keepers, Jews were often called upon to keep track of land and mining claims.”  
The Goldwaters  
There have been many prominent Jewish politicians from the West, but presidential candidate and Senator Barry Goldwater is probably the most famous. His family’s history is emblematic of many such stories of economic success leading to civic and political contributions.  
Barry Goldwater’s grandfather Michael and great uncle Joseph left their parents and twenty siblings in Konin, Poland. Other members of the family emigrated to Australia and Africa. Barry Goldwater commented, “Well, they left Poland, I guess, for the same reason all Polish Jews left — they wanted to be free from the Russians.”  
Originally named Goldwasser, Michael and Joseph changed their names to Goldwater in England before traveling by boat to America in 1852. After landing in New York, the brothers decided to make their way to California. They traveled by steamer to the Isthmus of Panama, which they crossed before catching another steamer to San Francisco. From there they established a business in the mining camp in Sonora, where a number of Jewish merchants and miners were already living. Unable to afford a merchandising operation, they started a saloon. Michael was joined by his wife Sarah and their two children shortly thereafter. When they “came to Sonora she was not in the least happy with the business her husband had chosen and was more disturbed when she learned that over the bar someone else was running a house of prostitution,” writes Abe Chanin in “The Goldwaters: An Arizona Story and A Jewish History As Well: The Contributions of a Pioneer Family on the Southwestern Frontier,” an article published by the Leona G. and David Bloom Southwest Jewish Archives at the University of Arizona.  
Move to Arizona  
The Goldwaters did not find success in Sonora, nor did they succeed in various other commercial enterprises until they moved to Arizona. The Goldwaters started a freighting business moving goods down the Colorado River to Prescott, then the capital of Arizona, which received territorial status in 1863. Prescott would become the center of the Goldwater commercial empire.  
Chanin writes, “The empire building did not come easily. On the rough wagon trails across the desert, Indians often attacked freighters. On one freighting trip, the Goldwater brothers and [their partner] Dr. Jones were heading back to the river from Prescott when they were attacked by Mohave Apaches. Doc Jones and Mike were in the lead buggy and Joe was in another buggy just behind them. The Indians began firing and one bullet cut through the doctor’s hat, and two shots drilled holes in Mike’s hat. Joe was not as fortunate. He was hit in the lower back and another ball lodged in his shoulder. The Indians were driven from their ambush of the Goldwater party by ranchers who had come on the battle scene. Dr. Jones worked on Joe, treating him until the party arrived at a military camp where a surgeon was found. For years Joe carried on his watch chain the ball Dr. Jones had taken from his back.”  
The Goldwaters thrived in Prescott despite fires and robberies and expanded their stores throughout the territory, with outlets in La Paz, Ehrenberg, Prescott, Parker, Seymour, Lynx Creek, Phoenix, Bisbee, Fairbank, Contention, Tombstone, Benson and Critenden. All of the Goldwater stores are now shuttered and some of the towns no longer exist as the mining enterprises shut down.  
Meet Every Need  
Commenting on his family’s business, Barry Goldwater said, “In the early days our family tried to meet every need of their communities. ... At first our store took pride in supplying most of the clothing, household, food, farm and industrial needs of pioneer towns. A customer could be completely outfitted at Goldwaters — from cradle to grave. There are pages in old company ledgers that actually relate the sale of baby wear and hardware for coffins on the same day. We sold everything the prospector needed from drill bits and black powder to demijohns of whiskey. We stocked groceries and stock feed, shoes and hats; furniture from Austria and herrings from Holland; horseshoes and horse collars; we had lamps and rugs for the front parlor, spices and soap for the kitchen, and anything needed for the outhouse. Goldwaters was a complete store.”  
Goldwater became a household name in Arizona and retained a strong commercial presence in Arizona until 1962 when the business was sold to Associated Dry Goods Corporation of New York. The Goldwaters were also politically active, and Barry’s Uncle Morris served as mayor of Prescott for 22 years. Barry reports that it was from him that he first learned about politics. Barry started his political career as a member of the Phoenix city council and then would become a Senator and the unsuccessful Republican candidate for president in 1964.  
Wyatt Earp  
Even Wyatt Earp, the famous Western sheriff, had a strong Jewish connection. Though not Jewish himself, he married Josephine Sarah Marcus, a Jewish girl born in Brooklyn to German immigrants. They lived together in Tombstone, Arizona, as well as in Nome, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Wyatt Earp played a major role in the shootout at the OK Corral and other dramatic incidents. When he died in 1929, his wife buried him in the Marcus family plot in a Jewish cemetery near San Francisco.  
Integration Affected Political Outlook  
Ava F. Kahn and Marc Dollinger argue in the introduction to California Jews that the Jews of the West, and California in particular, developed a political outlook distinct from that of East Coast Jews. Because of their rapid integration and almost immediate access to political power, California Jews were more likely to adopt the political mores of their Christian neighbors rather than have a unique Jewish outlook. Another key factor that they cite is that most Jewish pioneers in the West had already spent time away from their homelands, having lived elsewhere in the United States or in Great Britain or South America. By contrast, many East Coast Jews were more direct arrivals from Eastern Europe. As a result, those that came to the West integrated quicker. They write “California Jews often migrated during a community’s early settlement and were not seen as interlopers.”  
Kahn and Dollinger continue, “When Jews first arrived during the Gold Rush, they began to establish their own and specially California Jewish culture. Jews arriving in San Francisco experienced little anti-Semitism and enjoyed almost immediate access to power. Southern California Jews, though few, helped establish the motion picture industry, one of the greatest and longest-lasting Jewish contributions to the American cultural scene. The cultural environment encouraged California Jews to follow paths distinct from their Eastern coreligionists, defying many assumptions about the American Jewish experience. Jews in California tended to vote Republican while East Coast Jews were Democrats.”  
Helping Build the West  
It is important to remember the story of the Jews of the West, so that individual Jews in small towns such as Emanuel Linoberg or Wyatt Earp’s wife are not forgotten. Adventurous, entrepreneurial Jews helped build the West, contributing not only their economic talents in building small towns and huge industries, but also playing a major role in constructing the region’s civic and political life. Finally, the West offered Jews the ability to be present during the establishment of these communities, and thus avoiding being called outsiders. Instead, Jews founded these communities, often as the most important citizen in town, running the store and post office or serving as the mayor, congressman or senator.

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