Kansas Collection Books:  This book was contributed by Gertrude HarrisGo to Contents



CHAPTER VI
"DRY GOODS, GROCERIES, BOOTS AND SHOES"

Now ready, Wulfsohn & Elion, are now ready to show you and your friends the nicest line of Dry Goods, Groceries, Boots, Shoes, Hats, Caps, etc., You ever saw north of the Railroad. They are ready to offer you superior BARGAINS! Everybody come and see the Nobbyist Store!
-- Advertisement, Garfield County Call, September 23, 1887 [1]
Morris Elion and Julius Wulfsohn opened a dry goods store. Isaac Freedman became a dealer in fresh beef. Moses and Abraham Cohn sold hardware, farm implements and groceries. Abraham Cohn had a second store, a meat market, which he sold to Mex Swartzman. Then he had a livery stable. Julius Cohn took over Moses and Abraham Cohn's hardware, implement and groceries business Nathan Goldfarb and Mex Swartzman sold dry goods, groceries, notions, pots, pans, dishes, and furnished broom corn for the fair. Oscar Ittlesohn and Meier Segal went into the dry goods business. 

Things had changed. Cincinnati had withdrawn its support and taken back equipment, implements and clothing, selling them at a sheriff's sale. Yet the Jews at Beersheba were determined to hang on, to live on their claims long enough to own them under the Homestead Act. At least 30 Jewish families remained in the area long enough to receive final receipt and patent to their lands. [2] 

Many went to nearby towns, established businesses and paid for their claims through business profits. However, their businesses fluctuated -- days of feast and days of famine. There were sheriff's sales and several of the Jews felt the sting of anti-Semitism when they were caught up in a county seat war between Ravanna and Eminence, two scrapping little towns scarcely five miles apart. Some Jews took sides. Some tried to conduct business in both towns. But within a few years both communities were ghost towns in a ghost county, and Jews and Gentiles were leaving for bigger places and greener pastures. 

The area around Beersheba was first known as Buffalo Center when Buffalo County was created by the Kansas legislature in 1873. By the 1880s, however, parts of Buffalo County had been annexed into Finney, Foote, Garfield, Gray, Hodgeman and Lane counties. Between 1872 and 1893, the county lines -- and some county names -- were changed eight times. [3] The site of Beersheba, as Kansas counties are now constituted, straddles the Finney-Hodgeman county line. Land records for 1882-1890 show Russian names on sections of homestead claims covering about 30 square miles, the eastern half of the claims in Hodgeman County, the western half in Finney. 

By the late 1870s, the area was known as Bulltown, after the Rev. John Bull, farmer, blacksmith, cheese manufacturer, preacher and grand panjandrum of the neighborhood. In 1879, the area got its first post office, named Mason, after Semer Mason, and it probably was located at Mason's home or store, although the postmaster was Samuel P. Wood, a neighbor of Mason and Bull. [4] 

But John Bull dominated the scene. A native of Canada, he arrived in Buffalo County in 1878, took a claim, and started a church along with a cheese factory. Soon a store was added, then a stable -- thus, the name, Bulltown. John Bull was ranching, farming, preaching, making cheese, selling real estate and doing some merchandising on the side. Bulltown was aptly named -- John Bull constituted the town. But, as Bull later recalled, some of the "perfect ladies" of the community were embarrassed by the name Bulltown. A compromise, Gentleman Cow Town, was tried, but that failed to satisfy the women. Finally, in 1880, the name was formally changed to Cowland, but some people still remembered the vicinity as Buffalo Center. [5] 

In 1885, Bull and Mason decided to make Cowland a specific town. They picked a site about four miles west of Beersheba and laid out and incorporated a new Cowland -- 40 acres of blocks and lots with a reserved central block for a park. The site already had a blacksmith shop, and Bull moved his home, his store and the post office to the new location, made plans for a gristmill and ordered lumber to start a lumber yard. Mason, "as full of faith, hope and charity as a ladies wardrobe is of mystery," opened a real estate office and the two started selling lots and booming the town. [6] 

There was still some talk, however, that even Cowland was not a fitting name for the burgeoning metropolis, and when James Cross suggested Ravenna, the name of his Ohio hometown, no one objected, although when they petitioned the post office for an official change from Cowland to Ravenna, an illiterate clerk got it mixed up and wrote the name Ravanna. Still, no one objected. [7] 

There were more important considerations. There was talk of forming a new county -- Garfield, in honor of the recently martyred president. Bull, Mason and others thought Ravanna would be the obvious county seat. Things were going well -- new stores, new houses, two banks, two newspapers, a restaurant "with good warm meals at all hours between six in the morning until twelve at night." Indeed, within a year of its founding, Ravanna had "18 places of active business with more business houses under contract, 11 of which workmen are engaged in their erection." [8] 

The Ravanna Chieftain, "being established April 30, 1885, at which time the coyote and antelope had their usual freedom in this vicinity," trumpeted its headlines: "Ravanna! -- The Booming Young City -- the Only Important Town on the Pawnee Valley -- A County Seat certain and a Railroad Centre." [9]

No railroad existed within 25 miles. 

But five miles to the west, another town, Eminence, was booming. At first the town was called Creola, then briefly, Cuyler, and finally Eminence. It was the creation of C. J. ("Buffalo") Jones, a founding father of nearby Garden City and something of a western legend, famed for his prowess as a buffalo hunter. Eminence boasted a newspaper, the Garfield County Call, a bank, stores, a lumber yard -- everything Ravanna claimed. Eminence also wanted county seat honors.

The towns hated each other. For five years they battled back and forth. Buffalo Jones called in Dodge City Marshal Bat Masterson with several "fighting deputies" to supervise the county seat election. Ravanna won 467 to 432, but the election was invalidated by the Kansas Supreme Court for fraudulent ballots and voting irregularities. [10]

Ravanna built a court house, but Eminence got the county records. Newspaper editors called each other names, a prominent Ravanna leader had rocks thrown at him in Eminence, [11] fights were common, guns were drawn, but the only loss of life was a horse. "Hands up!" young L. W. Fulton, of Eminence said, when he thought two men from Ravanna had come to Eminence in the dead of night to steal county records. No hands went up, and he shot and killed a horse. He later said his gun had gone off by mistake. [12] Beersheba's Jews were a part of Ravanna's business life within the town's first year. The local newspapers carried advertising and news about them: 

Isaac Freedman: Dealer in Fresh Beef, calls the attention of the citizens of Ravanna that he will visit town daily with nice tender fresh meat and desires a liberal patronage. [13]

Abe Cohn was offered $100 for the lot which he recently purchased of S. Mason with the privilege of removing the building thereon off. He refused the price offered. [14] 

Abe Cohn has started a new meat market in the shop recently vacated by Geo. Youngs. Isaac Freedman of Eminence is running it. [15] 

We omitted to mention that Goldfarb & Swartzman keep some good cooking stoves for sale. [16] 

Goldfarb is having his store room enlarged 4 feet in width and 12 feet in length, giving room for a better display of his great variety of goods. [17] 

Goldfarb & Swartzman furnished the premium broom corn for the fair. [18] 

Isaac Freedman has opened up a meat market in the central room of Ensign & Co.'s establishment. Don't fail to call and see him. [19] 

Goldfarb & Swartzman, Dealers in Dry Goods, Groceries, Notions, Clothing and ladies dress goods, Tin-ware, glass-ware and earthenware, invite the citizens of this and adjoining communities to call and secure the biggest bargains ever offered in this country. You will find us in our new store one door south of Deal's restaurant. [20]

Meanwhile, in Eminence:

Now ready, Wulfsohn & Elion, are now ready to show you and your friends the nicest line of Dry Goods, Groceries, Boots, Shoes, Hats, Caps, etc., You ever saw north of the Railroad. They are ready also to offer you superior BARGAINS! Everybody come and see the Nobbyiest Store! [21]

Eminence Butcher Shop, Isaac Freedman, Prop.; Fresh meat on hand all the time at Garden City prices. [22]

The pride of Ravanna and one of the largest stores in town was G. L. Ensign & Co. G. L. Ensign and Max Lawrence were Jewish businessmen in Lawrence who expanded their interests to include operations in Ravanna and other nearby communities. Lawrence helped finance several Jewish businesses and his name appears on records of several Beersheba land claims. [23]

Ensign, or "Professor Ensign" as he was known in Cimarron, founded his own town, Lorenz, about 15 miles south of Ravanna, and financially backed Moses Cohn who built and ran the general store, G. L Ensign & Co., in Ravanna. [24] The business opened in early 1886, soon enlarged its facilities, but still had merchandise bursting through its walls and windows, handling everything from coal and farm implements to clothing. [25] Its prices astonished the town's other merchants, according to the Chieftain, and a kind of price war developed between Cohn at Ensign & Co. and Ravanna's venerable patriarch and founder, John Bull. [26] 

Ravanna had two Jewish firms -- Cohn's G. L. Ensign & Co. and Goldfarb & Swartzman's general store. The Ensign firm was doing well, but in a price war. Goldfarb & Swartzman had problems of their own, particularly Nathan Goldfarb. He had been involved in a land dispute with his fellow Beersheba Jews, and he finally went to court. 

The Chieftain's report of the dispute had a ring of anti-Semitism to it, referring to the Beersheba settlers as the "Jew tribe," and although Goldfarb was Jewish, the newspaper accused his fellow Jews of lies and trying "to beat Goldfarb out of what little he has." The Chieftain reported:

Mr. Goldfarb, of the firm of Goldfarb and Swartzman, went before justice of the peace Benton and swore out a warrant for the arrest of one, Mrs. Misorck, who he accused of pulling up trees on his tree claim. 

It seems that in a trouble amongst the Jew tribe three or four years ago, Mr. Goldfarb was told that a majority of the tribe were going to try to beat him out of what little he had. Since then they have been molesting him and his property to a great extent, such as running off his horses, crippling his stock, cutting his trees, etc. Then when a certain party in this town found out that Goldfarb had had Mrs. Misorck arrested he filed a contest on Goldfarb's timber claim, swearing that the land was not cultivated and had not the required number of trees growing, according to law. It seems that Goldfarb expected such actions and had a couple of gentlemen to go and count the trees on the claim. These gentlemen say they counted over seven hundred growing trees on the claim. It looks as if some one deeply interested has sworn to a few lies. If they have, they ought to be given a dose of Kansas law. The woman was discharged at the trial last Monday, the plaintiff failing to prove the charge. [27]

Although the Chieftain supported Goldfarb, the resultant publicity and talk around the town was bad for the Jewish community. Anti-Semitism was in the air. The town's business leaders were not as friendly as had once been the case.

Three months later, Moses Cohn moved his Ensign & Co. store to Eminence. Other Jews also moved there including Julius Wulfsohn and Meier Segal, but Isaac Freedman had been the first to choose Eminence, establishing his meat business there and then expanding to Ravanna.

But the Ensign business failed to thrive in Eminence and was only there a few months before it was returned to Ravanna. At Ravanna, the Chieftain predicted the loss of Ensign & Co., "the only dry goods store in that town," would devastate Eminence, [28] but the Eminence newspaper, the Call, charged that the store's return to Ravanna was an exception to the rule, that anti-Semitism in Ravanna had led to the firm's leaving Ravanna in the first place and that most of the Jews were coming to Eminence. The Call editorialized:

"We want to get rid of the d----d Christ killers, any how" is the way Ravanna talked about the Jews in April. Now she would like to give them some mortgaged lots to get them to return. In losing them, Ravanna lost the most industrious and best citizens she had and their foresight is too shrewd and sense of honor too great to ever return to the hand that drove them hence. [29]

The newspaper later added that the return of the Ensign business to Ravanna had been expected and that other stores would take its place in Eminence.

Cohn's store is being moved to Ravanna this week. This has been expected for some time, owing, to the fact that Mr. Cohn who bought the store of Ensign & Co. is a Ravanna man, lives there and has never been anything else. The Cohns are the only Jews that will leave us and even while they go, Morris and Julius Wulfsohn, two of the most popular and business-like young men of their number, are opening up a larger and better stock of goods in the Patscheck building. Isaac Freedman is preparing to move his family to town and reopen his meat market and Oscar Ittelson, Meyer Segal and others are pushing right ahead in Eminence the same as of yore. The Cohns may leave but the big majority of the Jews will never go back to the town that drove them hence with a curse. They stand by Eminence. [30]

But life did not go well for Ensign & Co. Three months after returning to Ravanna, the business failed. The firm's property, whose owners were listed as "G. L. Ensign, Moses Cohn and Abe Cohn," was sold at a sheriff's sale, January 27, 1888. [31]

Mex Swartzman bought the building and its merchandise, but later there was a dispute as to whether the store's merchandise should have been included as a part of the sale. Three nights later, Ensign came in from Cimarron, and joined by F. A. Hutto, a Ravanna attorney, and A. F. Enos, postmaster and editor of the local Democratic newspaper, the Kansas Sod House, they broke into Swartzman's store and tried to get the merchandise back. They were arrested. The Chieftain reported:

Quite an excitement was caused last evening by the arrest of A. F. Enos, G. L. Ensign and F. A. Hutto for burglary in attempting to take a stock of goods from Mex Swartzman's store which Ensign claimed was purchased with company property. Mr. Swartzman, however, claims to have purchased them and it is open to doubt whether they had been purchased with company property or not. The preliminary trial takes place this afternoon at I o'clock. Apparently, the receiver bit off more than he can well chew. [32]

A second sheriff's sale of Ensign merchandise, taken on a warrant for taxes, took place March 8, a little more than a month later, and a third sale, May 2, disposed of additional Ravanna property owned by Ensign and the Cohn brothers. [33] Goldfarb & Swartzman continued their respective businesses in Ravanna. Julius Cohn separated himself from Ensign & Co. and established his own business at a new location "into the room south of Young's meat market." [34]

But Ensign, having suffered through three sheriff's sales and an arrest, stayed in Cimarron. Moses and Abraham Cohn remained in Ravanna, and Abraham opened a livery stable. But they were getting restless. The newspapers chronicled their travels.

Rabbi Edelhertz and his family moved into downtown Eminence. Ravanna was losing ground to Eminence. The Eminence Call rubbed salt in the wounds. "Mrs. E. G. Hogan and Mrs. F. A. Hutto from Ravanna were in town Wednesday trading with the best merchants in Garfield County -- Wulfsohn & Elion." [35]

Not all the news about the Jews in the Ravanna and Eminence newspapers concerned their business ventures. The newspapers ran articles about Jewish immigration, Jews in Eastern cities, and regularly called attention to Jewish religious holidays. The Ravanna Chieftain reported the engagement and later marriage of Moses Cohn to Emma Ittelson, [36] and the Call at Eminence reported the marriage of Julius Wulfsohn and Sallie Swartzman, going beyond the particulars of the wedding to complement them. Wulfsohn, the Call said, "is highly respected by all who know him, and is recognized as one of the most honorable men to deal with in the city and does a large business." His bride, Miss Swartzman, the newspaper noted, was "well liked by all the young people in town." The Call congratulated the couple and wished them "a happy and prosperous life together." [37]

Without a doubt, the Beersheba Jews were welcomed by their Gentile neighbors when they first arrived there in 1882. They were fellow pioneers in a new and different land. Gentiles and Jews shared and socialized. A. J. Myers remembered that he attended Jewish dances and weddings. [38] Semer Mason, John Bull and leading Gentile citizens of the neighborhood helped the Jews at numerous times. The Jews were permitted to bury their dead at both the Ravanna and Eminence cemeteries. [39] The local newspapers included them in the news and gave their businesses and stores favorable mention in their news columns. But prejudice existed. Although the Eminence Call obviously had a vested interest in attracting Jewish merchants away from Ravanna, its news items, if they can be believed, documented instances of anti-Semitism. In addition to its comments when Cohn's Ensign store left Eminence to return to Ravanna, the Call reported a particularly vicious incident in its July 27, 1888 issue. 

A Jew that owns a large tract of land near Ravanna attempted to drive a herd of cattle off his land one day last week which were being herded by a couple of boys. The boys refused to go and the Jew undertook to force them to drive the cattle off, when one of the boys threw a rope over the Jew, which was fastened to the horn of his saddle, and drug him around the prairie as fast as the horse could run until the Jews was about ready to pass in his checks, when they took the rope off, left him laying where they stopped, and went to Ravanna and reported what they had done. The Jew is in a critical condition and both boys are under arrest and stand a good show of serving time behind bars. [40] 

But by 1890 it was all but over, Ravanna and Eminence were dwindling. In 1897, Garfield County had a population of at least 2,600. Both Ravanna and Eminence claimed populations of more than 1,000. Ravanna, on occasion, would crow it had at least 3,000. But by 1890, the county's population was 894. [41]

In the years of the county seat struggle, many of the Jews had made improvements on the land claims, bought relinquishments of more claims, mortgaged their properties to establish businesses, and when times became difficult they lost some of the same properties because of delinquent taxes. However, they were not alone. In 1890, Garfield County's delinquent tax list "filled 13 columns in small type." [42] 

Even when Garfield County's population was less than 1,000, Ravanna and Eminence were squabbling over which was the county seat. The Kansas Supreme Court, apparently tired of the controversy, authorized a survey which indicated the county only had 430-1/2 square miles. It was not a true county; in Kansas, 432 square miles was the minimum for a county. On March 7, 1893, Garfield County was officially dissolved. Nobody cared -- by then its population was down to 546. [43] 

Some of the Jews remained in the area, but many moved farther away. They were reported living in Denver, Seattle, Wichita, and several returned to Kansas City. Moses Ratner eventually moved to Wichita. His grandson, Payne, became governor of Kansas, serving from 1938-42. [44]

Lipman Goldman and Milton Terte were in Kansas City by 1898 and were listed in city directories as clothiers. Goldman's son, Fred, who was born in Cimarron, was the first Jew to serve as president of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. He was also the chairman of the first fund-raising campaign of the Jewish Welfare Federation of Kansas City. Terte eventually became president of Kansas City's Keneseth Israel Congregation, and his son, Ben, was the first Jew to be appointed to the Circuit Court of Jackson (Missouri) County. [45] 

Others of the Beersheba Jews moved to closer communities. They were reported in Kalvesta, Larned, Dodge City and Garden City. The Beersheba superintendent, Joseph Baum, eventually went into business with the Cohn brothers, operating a large livery stable in Cimarron. [46] 

In the late 1880s, Garden City was a focal point for Jews from several of the Russian emigrant communities-Beersheba, Touro and Leeser. Lipman Goldman, while a trustee of the Beersheba colony, conducted services in Garden City on Jewish holidays, holding them in the Congregational Church. [47]

Sam Schulman, who owned a hardware store and pioneered irrigation in the Arkansas River valley near Garden City, had moved there from the Touro community. Samuel Teitelbaum, a real estate developer, was a German Jew who had moved to Garden City in 1883 from Vincennes, Indiana. Early in 1884, his wife, Sarah, died suddenly from a heart attack. She was the first to be buried that April in a Jewish cemetery established at her death on family land northwest of Garden City, [48] a few miles from the Jewish settlement of Leeser.

But no Jew was better known in Garden City than Laza Toper -- "Old Tope."

He was born Laza Danski in 1829 in Russia and forced into the military as an eight-year-old, serving as a child soldier, then eventually as an adult, fighting in campaigns in Asia and Europe until he was 36. He deserted the army, wandered through Europe until he sailed for America in 1880 with a new name, "L. Toper," and a wife. [49] 

He arrived at Beersheba late in the 1880s, homesteaded along the Pawnee Creek, lived on the land long enough to own it, and then sold it for $2.25 an acre, moving in 1892 to Garden City where he became a junk dealer. 

His wife died when she was 72. Toper, then 92, conducted her funeral -- a Jewish service -- in place of a rabbi, and she was buried in the Jewish cemetery. He then sold his home and set out for a visit to his old home in Russia. Denied admission into Russia, he traveled throughout Europe, into Palestine, and finally returned to Garden City "with new stories to tell about his travels." [50] 

On his 104th birthday, May 29, 1933, he was the oldest known resident of Kansas, but was hospitalized with an infection that would kill him exactly a month later. His friends brought a radio to the hospital so he could hear a program the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) had done on his life. He received an avalanche of birthday cards from people throughout the world and many of his Garden City friends visited to pay their respects. "He was very cheerful and recognized his old friends." [51]

Toper was known in Garden City as a story-teller, punctuating them with his familiar phrase, "By golly!" Yet people knew his stories were true. In his last days in the hospital, the Garden City Sentinel reported, "It was rather hard for him to talk plain enough to make people understand. But those who (knew) him could understand when he uttered his familiar 'By golly!'" 

When word of his death was released, "a feeling of remorse and regret surged through the breasts of many Garden City people who had known Tope for many years," the newspaper continued. "Toper was a remarkable man in many respects.... He did not make enemies and always attended to his own business. He was a friend to everyone." [53] 

He was buried beside his wife in the Jewish Cemetery northwest of Garden City. 

Toper outlived Ravanna and Eminence. 

By 1910, Ravanna was down to abandoned buildings, a one-room school and a post office housed in one of the hotels that once had been the pride of the community. Eminence had a population of 92. [54] 

All that remains of Eminence is a cemetery and a stone building that has been turned into a truck and bus repair business. The crumbling ruins of its courthouse and school and an abandoned cemetery mark the site of Ravanna. Nothing is left of Beersheba. No Jewish people live in the area.


Digitized and composed in HTML for the Kansas Collection by Tod Roberts,
with permission of Gertrude Harris, widow of the author, December 2001.
NOTE: Numbers in brackets refer to footnotes for this text; footnotes
are numbered separately by chapter and published at the end of the work.

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