Deadwood's Jewish Pioneers
You never know what treasures a visitor might discover in a new place—perhaps even a lost world. In the Deadwood of 1959, echoes of the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1876 still reverberated. Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok were legendary. Wild Bill had been shot in any one of the many saloons lining Main Street. But noticing a grocery storefront lettered with the clearly Jewish name of Goldberg was a bit startling. A little inquiry revealed that the Goldberg Grocery had retained its name, but grocer Jacob Goldberg was long gone. Other Jewish names inscribed on cornices of structures dating back to the 1800s were clues that led to a compelling journey into a forgotten corner of the Jewish American past. Who were these Jews? Where had they come from and how did they get here? How did they make a living, and what did they contribute? What were their challenges? How and where did they practice their religion? Was there antisemitism? Where did they all go, and what did they leave behind? Gleaning from library archives, combing through on-line indexes, straining to read microfilmed historical newspapers, collecting articles and photographs, interviewing descendants and anyone with a memory -- gathering their stories became Ann Stanton's passion. Beyond Deadwood and sister city Lead, the hills and prairies and Badlands held stories of Jews who traveled by shank’s mare, steamship and stagecoach, many with only dreams in their pockets. These were not the gunslingers. They were stalwart, adventurous, pioneering people, facing challenges to health, life, and property. For the earliest arrivals, the Custer Massacre of 1876 stirred up increased hostility toward white intruders into Indian territory. The threat of attack made travel dangerous and put settlements at risk. Everything about this scene was a gamble. In fact, there had once been a significant Jewish population, but there was no single source where one might go to learn about them. The more Stanton dug, the more she found. The newspapers, due to the legal necessity of publishing mining claims, were among the first businesses to start operating. Hungry for copy, they printed stagecoach arrivals and departures, birth and death announcements, and social events such as fancy teas. Columns of print gushed about weddings and hotel openings. Business closings in observance of religious holidays were worthy of publication. There were ample advertisements for goods and services, provisions for sale at Goldberg’s grocery, Victrolas at Sol Star’s hardware store, and a variety of merchandise available at the many Jewish-owned shops. Invested in their communities, the Jewish people helped govern, establish infrastructure, develop communications, and improve transportation. People and places come to life in Stanton's writing. Despite the challenges, despite the gamble, they were willing to risk everything to take part in the opening of a new frontier, prepared to turn the dust beneath their boots into a grand opportunity. They brought their families and their customs, and they helped turn this remote Wild West outpost into a stable civilization. In this far-off corner of the Diaspora, there was a forgotten Jewish world. Their legacy was too valuable to allow to evaporate, and a reminder that there are valuable stories everywhere worth keeping. This book fills an essential gap in the history of the American West, and should be part of any public or private library’s collection of Jewish American history.