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



CHAPTER X
TOURO AND LEESER: "OUR RUSSIAN FRIENDS"

We are scarce of rain, and if it will keep back a little longer it will be very hard for us new starters. We have organized a Home Protection Association in our colony with our Christian neighbors, and we will soon have a post office by the name, "Touro." Among our colonists, and with our Christian neighbors there is Sholem, peace.

-- Jacob Warschawski, American Hebrew, June 4, 1886 [1]
Jacob Warschawski was a printer, a good printer, one of the best. Within a few months at Touro, he was working for the Kearny County Advocate, which praised him in its columns, and later for the Sentinel in Garden City, 35 miles southeast. [2]

Warschawski had learned the trade in Russia. Then, when he came to America in 1883, he had taken work at the American Hebrew in New York City, learned English, saved his money, and after three years he was ready to come to Kansas. He and his father and about a dozen other families left New York and headed west in early 1886. [3]

They signed for their claims at the land office in Garden City where only months before the registrar of the office, H. P. Myton, had resigned after being wounded in a gunfight and nearly killing his assailant. The Russians pressed on west, 25 miles, to Lakin, by covered wagons over a trail that only weeks before had been almost obliterated with the bodies of frozen cattle. Arriving at their claims, 12 miles north of Lakin they found Myton was the owner of adjoining property. They tried to build their first sod house, but a blizzard hit, a mule went berserk and made a hole in it large enough to let in a good size snow drift. Once into the summer, a vicious storm smashed their sod houses, then turned into a tornado and almost destroyed Lakin. Then there was a drought. [4]

"We are scarce of rain," Warschawski wrote back to his American Hebrew friends. But they had planted crops and were hoping for the best. Further, he said, "among our colonists and with our Christian neighbors there is Sholem (peace)." [5]

The settlers named their communities after two prominent United States Jewish leaders. Judah Touro (1775-1854), of New Orleans, had willed his entire fortune to synagogues, schools, hospitals and orphan homes. A large portion of his estate had gone to build homes for the poor in Jerusalem under the direction of Sir Moses Montefiore. Isaac Leeser (1806-1868), rabbi of Philadelphia's Mikveh Israel congregation, had published textbooks, translations of the Bible and prayerbook, and was editor of the Occident magazine which championed the cause of Jews in America in the mid-1800S. [6]

The Kansas colonies, Touro and Leeser, were begun in early 1886. The first, Touro, was the larger and its farms were scattered over an area of about nine square miles in North Central Kearny County. To the east, about 10 to 12 miles, was the smaller community of Leeser in Finney County with some of its settlers also living in Kearny. [7] A number of the colonies' families were related and the two were close enough that they were, in effect, almost one community.

North of Lakin, there was a land rush in late 1885 which extended in 1887. The Touro colonists were in the midst of it, arriving on their claims March 20, 1886. It was several weeks before they could erect their sod houses, but eventually three were put together and their first crops were planted. They wrote to the American Hebrew in June, 1886, "Our land is as good as any land in Kansas State." [8]

The colonists planted corn, millet, sorghum and garden vegetables, made plans for a post office and helped organize a Home Protection Association with their Gentile neighbors. Once the planting was complete, however, it was a matter of waiting for rain, and the colonists and their neighbors discussed running an irrigation ditch into the area from the Arkansas River about 15 miles to the south.

In the meantime, they had to make do with wells for personal use. In that area of Western Kansas, water usually was not struck for at least 100 feet, sometimes it meant going as deep as 200 feet. It was the talk of the county when a farmer at Oanica, a village a mile or two from Touro, struck water at 54 feet. [9]

Most wells were deep, time consuming, costly and few people could afford them; consequently, they shared. Hauling water around the area was a vital part of the day. Francis Pierce, a pioneer in the area, remembered that one of the commonest sights on the prairie was a wagon or sled with several barrels covered with burlap sacks which kept the water from splashing." Another settler, Frank Bopp, commented, "You could never realize how much water a flock of chickens could drink until you had hauled it many weary miles and watched it disappear almost like magic when given to the fowls." [10]

The Russians had excellent relations with their Gentile neighbors and the area newspapers invariably called them "our Russian friends." Those relations were strained somewhat when within a year of their arrival they were involved in a county seat war, but even those hostilities were mild. The colonists bought supplies at Lakin, some worked extra jobs at Garden City, and since neither Touro nor Leeser had a synagogue they tried to be in Garden City for holy days where they could participate in religious services with other Jews. The local newspapers gave them regular attention:

The feast of the Passover, so closely observed by the Jewish people ended Tuesday, after a continuance of seven days. They eat unleavened bread, which contains nothing but flour and water. Even salt is not allowed to be used. It is in remembrance of the departure of the Hebrews from Egypt. The house is thoroughly cleansed, and the dishes, knives and forks used during the year are thoroughly cleansed and new ones used instead. [11]

Our friend Warschawski of Colony Touro, from section 29, was in to see us Thursday, and reports a good rain in his neighborhood Wednesday night. [12]

S. Schulman, one of our Russian friends from the colony recently located north of us, gave us a call on Tuesday last, and we find that he is an intelligent printer, but has taken a claim with his countrymen, to follow agricultural pursuits in this highly favored land. [13]

S. Schulman, Mr. Herbst and Jacob Warschawski were down from Touro Thursday after three loads of coal, which they got of W. H. Waterman. [14]

Jacob Warschawski was in the city from near Myton, Friday. [15]

Jacob Warschawski's mother and brother arrived from New York, Friday, and went out to his claim near Myton. [16]

Sol Mogilevitch, from up in township 22, gave us a call Thursday. He was down buying seed and will put in some broom corn with other crops. [17]

Barnet Zatulonsky, of 22-36, was in town on Monday and gave us a very encouraging report of his six acres of wheat. It was heading up finely and promises a generous yield. Our Russian friend has set a good example to his neighbors. He sowed the seed and is waiting patiently for the harvest. A good way. "He that regardeth the clouds shall not reap." [18]

Jacob Adler and Morris Lazarovic, two of our Russian democratic friends of near Oanica called Thursday, while in Lakin, to have a mistake corrected in their land notices which we are glad to say was not our fault. We are always pleased to meet our friends and want to get acquainted with every man, woman and child in the county. [19]

David Warschawski, our venerable old Russian friend from the north part of the county, informs us that they had heavy rains in his neighborhood on Sunday night last, and corn and other crops will now get through in good shape. [20]

Sol Mogilevitch, from north of town, was in to see us Monday. [21]

But it would not have been Western Kansas in the 1880s without a county seat war. By late 1886, it was apparent that the area had a population that would sustain a county government. A new county, Kearny, would be created, and elections would be held for county seat honors.

Lakin, the oldest settlement in the area, was determined to be county seat. So was Hartland, a booming little community about 10 miles southwest of Lakin. But the population center of the county -- and its geographical center -- were north of Lakin in the area of Touro. Consequently, a succession of communities, all within one to three miles of Touro, sprung up as county seat contenders. The settlers in the area realized in order to win the prize they would have to unite and support one of the communities against Hartland and Lakin. It took some time, but as the History of Kearny County relates:

Hoover, 1886, gave way to North Kearny, 1886. North Kearny gave way to Chantilly, 1887. Myton gave way to Chantilly, May 1887. Chantilly gave way to Omaha, May 1888. [22]

None of the towns lasted more than a year or two.

Touro got its post office in November, 1886, [23] but it was named Myton. Myton, however, relinquished the post office to Chantilly. Chantilly was, by far, the largest of the communities and at the height of the county seat war it may have had a population approximating 200. The Touro Jews were for Chantilly -- it was their town, it was literally in their back yards. If the county seat came to Chantilly, it would be good news for them. At least two of the colonists bought lots in Chantilly and went into business there. At Chantilly, the Coyote announced:

Lots 11 and 12 in block 8, on Main Street, were purchased by Messrs. Barnard Zatulonsky and Morris Lazarovic last Monday who have dug cellars on them over which they will erect business houses as soon as the lumber can be put on the ground. [24]

And two weeks later:

Barney Zatulonsky is having the lumber for his store building hauled this week. [25]

The Warschawski family strongly supported Chantilly. The town was booming, all the Russians would vote for it as the county seat.

But Chantilly lost. Chantilly attorneys charged fraud on the part of Lakin, but they could not prove it, and the courts officially gave the county seat to Lakin -- at least for a couple of years.

Lakin boasted of its victory and one of its newspapers, the Pioneer Democrat ran a satirical obituary on the death of Chantilly and announced the town's funeral. The newspaper took a potshot at Jacob Warschawski, dubbing him a "reverend" and referred to the Russian colonists as among Chantilly's pallbearers. At Chantilly's funeral, the newspaper said, "C. J. Jones (a Chantilly businessman), her father-in-law, and Rev. Warschawski will deliver the funeral address with their usual gall. The pallbearers, some of the leading lights of the north, with one hundred Russians ... will proceed to their prospective homes as soon as the moon is sufficiently hidden in darkness. [26]

Two years later, 1879, another election was held and Hartland won. In 1894, the court house burned down in Hartland and the county seat was moved back to Lakin.

But the Jews had lost interest. Almost everyone around Chantilly lost interest after the town's 1887 defeat. Jacob Warschawski worked as a printer at the Advocate in Lakin, and then at the Sentinel in Garden City. Barnet Zatulonsky and Morris Lazarovic lost their store in Chantilly when the town died. Zatulonsky moved back to New York, but within a year he had returned to Kansas. The Coyote welcomed him back:

Barney Zatulonsky who owns a valuable farm north two miles, arrived here last week from New York City where he has been spending the winter. Barney has many friends in North Kearny who are glad to see him return and once more become one of the settlers. [27]
On May 16, 1888, within two weeks of his return, Zatulonsky had gone to Garden City "on business." [28] There were no further mentions of local Jews in the Kearny County newspapers.

Sam Schulman moved to Garden City. Schulman was born in Russia in 1860 and had been taught as a tinner and plumber. He came to New York in 1880, filed a homestead claim at Touro in 1886, but spent much of his time in Garden City. At Touro's demise, he returned to Garden City full-time where he worked with L. H. Dale installing Garden City's first water system. He later opened a plumbing business, then an implement and hardware store.

Before the centrifugal pump, Schulman invented a plunger irrigation pump that was used with windmills. When centrifugal pumps came into use, he developed a method of perforating well casings so that pumps worked more efficiently. He was known as a pioneer in the development of irrigation and pumping systems and was a leading Garden City businessman. He died May 8, 1947 at the age of 86. [29] Eventually part of his estate went to Temple Beth Sholom in Topeka, Kansas. [30]

At Touro, rain -- or a lack of rain -- had made the difference. When it rained, everybody was happy.

"Praise God from whom all blessings flow!" the Pumpkin Husker, a pen name for the Kearny County Advocate's area correspondent, wrote after several months of drought in 1887. The Husker rhapsodized, "Numerous fine rains have visited western Kansas and the farmers are filled with inexpressible joy." In the same issue, the newspaper noted that Sol Mogilevich, "one of our Russian agriculturists," had pronounced the situation truly urozi! -- "the recent rains will make good crops." [31]

But the failure of Chantilly's county seat bid was followed by a serious drought in 1888. The land was dry, crops were poor, the economy was depressed. Many settlers left the area the following year when lands were opened for settlement in Central Oklahoma.

Sod houses and dugouts were abandoned in Touro and Leeser and left to crumble. More substantial buildings were moved. The Jews left the Touro and Leeser areas and never returned. By 1890, they were gone.


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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