Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pioneer Jews' had a role in how the West was won

Yiddish and Cherokee is an unusual combination of languages, but my grandparents, Abe and Goldie Winnerman spoke both. It was the result of living in Cherokee Indian Territory beginning in 1900 where they opened the New York General Store in what would become Oklahoma. After statehood in 1907, they remained in business in Stilwell until 1917. My impression had always been that they were quite unique. Then in 2005 in Santa Fe, I happened upon an exhibit called "Jewish Pioneers in New Mexico 1812-1917." It was fascinating to see a photo of a covered wagon with the back modified to serve as a traveling bimah, to read diaries of Jewish frontier life and to learn that Jews were miners, cattle ranchers and explorers. Until 1984 the question of what part Jews had played in settling the West was usually met with another question: Where there any? Then Harriet and Fred Rochlin of Los Angeles published "Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West." They had begun work on the volume in the 1960s as they investigated their family's genealogy. In 1886, the acclaimed American Western artist Charles M. Russell was managing a herd of thousands of cattle for Louis Kaufman. During a disastrous spell of winter weather Kaufman inquired about the livestock. The grim answer arrived in the form of a Russell painting titled "Waiting for a Chinook," meaning a warm wind that would melt the snow. The scene, which depicts a thin, starving steer being circled by coyotes, helped establish Russell's career and remains one of his most noted works...more

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