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CHAPTER VII
MONTEFIORE: "NO WATER HERE"

The means of the emigrants and the means of the society were inadequate to the great difficulties.
-- Michael Heilprin, American Hebrew, April 8, 1887 [1]
It seemed only fitting. The Montefiore Agricultural Aid Society of New York sponsored a Kansas colony in 1884, the year of Sir Moses Montefiore's 100th birthday. Sir Moses, a Jewish statesman, had been particularly active in helping Jews escape from Russia to the United States and had championed the cause of suffering Jews throughout the world. Michael Heilprin, the society's chairman, suggested it would be appropriate to name its new Kansas colony Moses Montefiore.

The colony was located in the southwestern corner of Pratt County in a neighborhood called Mount Nebo. [2] The site would have been approximately six to eight miles south and a mile east of the present community of Cullison.

The colony consisted of about 15 young families with children. Most of them arrived in March, 1884, and wasted no time in breaking ground and sowing wheat. With the money from the sponsoring society, they hired laborers and were able to gather their first harvest by autumn. When the world celebrated Sir Moses' 101st birthday the following year, the colonists sent him a letter of congratulations describing their Kansas homes and their achievements. They also included some of the wheat from their first harvest. [3] 

The Mount Nebo community in which the Montefiore colony was located had its first white settlers by the late 1870s. A post office was opened there in 1879 and there was a small general store nearby. By the time the Jews arrived, Mount Nebo constituted an active community. 4 The neighboring farmers were skeptical of the Montefiore Jews, particularly at first, figuring they were land speculators who would stay awhile, find the best land and sell it at a profit. However, as the Jews made their autumn harvest it seemed to their neighbors that they had come to stay. Their conununity also included their own schoolhouse and sod synagogue. [5]

But it did not last. There was little or no rain during the colony's first year. Underground water was particularly difficult to find. The colonists were digging deep wells -- 30, 40 feet, yet not striking water. Only four of the families had successful wells. A neighbor, a Mount Nebo resident, put a "No water here" sign on his well to discourage travelers and others in the community from taking what little water he had left. [7] 

There was little timber and it had to be purchased when needed. With little timber, little water, no money and dim prospects for a good crop, the colony disbanded. "The means of the emigrants and the means of the society were inadequate to the great difficulties," Heilprin wrote in the American Hebrew, April 8, 1887. "The land had to be sold, and the colonists, broken up, took their departure, some coming East to the Alliance colony (in New Jersey) and the rest joining Lasker. " [8] Lasker was about 30 miles west of Montefiore in Ford County south of Ford City.

Many of the Montefiore colonists left Pratt County in 1885. Not all left, however, and some were still living in the Mount Nebo community as late as the turn of the century. The 1885 census listed the Jacob Borovik, Jacob Gentzler, Jacob Glossberg, Moses Wishnievsky, W. Pesockendge, Joseph Dordoff and Moses Dvorkin families in the vicinity. [9] Pratt County land records list patents given to Hyman Ziskind, Markus Persakhovitch, Moses Dvorkin, Richard and Frederick Kubisch, Israel Medjewsky, Leon Waldman, Israel Dantoff, Jacob Glossberg and Louis Anowsky families in 1902. [10] The colonists who moved from Montefiore to Lasker did so in 1886.

Regardless, Heilprin listed the colony's demise as 1885. [11] Ironically, in late 1885 the situation improved. Montefiore colonists were selling out, returning East or continuing west to Lasker, but Pratt County was receiving rain. The Pratt County Press reported in early April:

We took a drive out in the country south of town last Sunday and the more we see of it the better we like it. The country in the vicinity of Mt. Nebo especially, it seems to us, cannot be excelled in any state. The wheat, so far as we could see and hear, is not all as hurt as some time ago reported. Everybody seems happy. [12]
Four months later, in the summer, a correspondent from Mount Nebo wrote to the newspaper reporting that the same person who had earlier in the year put a "No water here" sign on his well "now has an unlimited supply of water." Further, a Mount Nebo farmer had grown a sweet potato weighing four pounds. In characteristic boomer exaggeration, the correspondent concluded, "Mount Nebo country takes the cake for crops of all kinds." [13]

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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