20 July 2008

Oklahoma: Indian Territory's first Jewish settler

I came across a new (to me) blog called Muskogee History and Genealogy with a posting about the first Jewish settler in Oklahoma's Indian Territory, fur trader Joseph Sondheimer.

Joseph Sondheimer, Fur Trader

According to this blog post, Joseph Sondheimer was the first Jewish settler in Indian Territory. Born on September 22, 1840 in Valkerschlier, Bavaria (Germany), he arrived in the area after the Civil War to trade in animal hides.

A clerk in stores in Baltimore and Pennsylvania, he became a US Army commissary agent during the Civil War, and later began trading in hides from St. Louis.

The best source of animal hides was Indian Territory (because of war destruction). In 1867, he rode through the area, heard about the Cobb brothers store on the Arkansas River, authorized them to purchase hides for him and established agreements with other merchants between Missouri and Texas.

Sondheimer purchased hides from settlers throughout the Cherokee, Creek and northern Choctaw Nations; his home and warehouse were near the Creek Agency, close to the Arkansas River where he shipped the hides downstream and later moved both home and business to the new town of Muskogee.

Hides were among the first commodities shipped by rail from the town.
Two years later, he shipped seven railroad cars filled with cured hides; he was the area's largest hide dealer. Other commodities in which he traded were sending pecans east; hides directly to Leipzig, Germany; wool and other goods. In 1904, after 35 years in business, he was reported to have said:
During fifteen days in the winter of 1881, Sondheimer shipped the following from his large warehouse in Muskogee: 4,500 raccoon, 3,000 skunk, 2,000 opossum and 3,000 pounds of deer hides. Additional pelts shipped on this order included gray fox, beaver, wildcat, wolf, pole cat and otter. The shipment went to dealers in major cities such as Chicago and St. Louis.

"business will be very poor this year - in fact it has been getting worse and worse now for several seasons. It takes a very wild country or a fairly well settled country to make a good fur business. In the very wild country the fur trader depends upon the skins of big game, while after a country has been fairly well settled the fur trader gets more mink, fox and pelts of small animals."
There is more information; click the link above.

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