27 August 2009

South Dakota: Deadwood's Jewish community

South Dakota's Jewish history was featured in the Jerusalem Post, and I've added a few more sources for those fascinated by Jewish pioneer history.

From 1876-1900, the general population was about 5,000, with only a few hundred Jews among them, but they owned more than 30% of downtown businesses. In 1999, the town's Adams Museum & House hosted an exhibit, "An Unbroken Chain: Deadwood's Jewish Legacy."

In 1878, British Jewish immigrant Paul Rewman opened the town's first phone service in the red brick Telephone Co. Building.

The JPost story was titled "Gold(bergs) in them thar hills."
Deadwood was established in 1876 during the Black Hills gold rush. The Jewish population of Deadwood, which numbered in the hundreds at its peak, was drawn to the lawless frontier less for the chance to strike it rich on the gold claims (though Jewish prospectors undoubtedly tried their luck with everyone else) and more for the auxiliary services they could provide the growing town. Such was their success that about one-third of all the early buildings on Main Street were owned or occupied by Jewish merchants. These were mostly traditional Jewish enterprises such as dry goods or those related to clothing.
The Gold Rush-era Main Street burned in an 1879 fire. Today it is more like Disney than Deadwood, with a host of gaming halls, photographers, souvenir and candy shops.

Jewish Deadwood begins with Mount Moriah cemetery - Boot Hill. About 2 million tourists a year vist the cemetery to see the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, but Jewish citizens are also buried there. On the graveyard gate are three metal circles; one bears a Magen David (Jewish star).

Established in either 1877 or 1878, Mount Moriah replaced a smaller cemetery situated further down the hill. On August 28, 1892, the Hebrew Cemetery Association purchased a section in the new cemetery for Jewish burials for the sum of $200. Hebrew Hill, as the Jewish area was called locally, is located at the top right-hand side of the cemetery and is accessible via a pathway marked "Jerusalem," which is most likely a Masonic, rather than a Jewish, reference.
More than 80 Deadwood Jews are buried on Hebrew Hill, also known as Mount Zion. They include the town's wealthiest man, Harris Franklin (Finkelstein), who made his fortune in liquor and mining. His son Nathan was the town's second Jewish mayor.

In 1840, Bavarian immigrant Solomon Star, then 10, arrived in town after first living with relatives in Ohio and Montana. In 1876, he was elected to Deadwood's first city council and served 10 terms as mayor. However, he's buried in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Colman family arrived from Germany in spring 1877. The next year, Nathan Colman (Kugelmann) was appointed justice of the peace, until his 1906 death. He also served as the Jewish lay leader and officiated at the first Black Hills Jewish wedding, when Rebecca Reubens and David Holzman married in November 1879.

The Colmans' tobacco and grocery store burned in the 1879 fire. Four children died of diptheria and other diseases and, in 1894, another fire burned their home and store. The story of Blanche Colman shows the determination of these pioneer families. Born in 1884, she finished high school in town and worked in Washington DC for a state congressman, returning home to take a law office job. She never attended college but studied on her own, and in 1911 was admitted to the state bar - the first female lawyer in the state. She died at 94 in Deadwood in 1978.

The story discusses three markers in town placed following a collaboration between the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission and the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation. Other Jewish sites include the Masonic Temple where they prayed and commercial buildings bearing the names Goldberg, Rosenthal, Bloom and Levinson.

The local Reform congregation in Rapid City (Synagogue of the Hills) uses the Deadwood Torah which arrived in 1886 from Koenigsburg, Germany. Each Yom Kippur, the names of Blanche Colman and her sister Theresa are read.

Read the complete story at the link above. Here are more sources:

- Read The Forward's 2007 story on Deadwood. A reader's comment on the Forward story claims that, in 1892, the community invited Rabbi Yehuda Michele Zeleznick to be their rabbi, that he was ordained by the famous Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of Kovno/Kaunas, Lithuania, and that Zeleznick spent some years in Deadwood before relocating to Chicago.

- Here's yet another source for more details about Sol Star and Deadwood, written by Lew Holzman. The story appeared in the JGS of Los Angeles Roots-Key journal.


  1. We're an online distributor of Landstroms Black Hills Gold jewelry, so we are very connected to The Hills and this is so very interesting to hear, and valuable to know. Thank you.

  2. My great grandmother, Fredricka Lowenberg was born in Konigsberg, Germany in April 1865, the daughter of a Rabbi. When she moved to Deadwood in 1886, her father wanted her to have a Torah but a woman was not allowed to carry it so he sent it with her and another couple. She was married in 1888 in Deadwood to Benjamin K. Blumenthal. They had 8 children, the oldest was my Grandmother, Sarah (Blumenthal) Margolin, who was born in 1889. In 1920 she married a Jewish travelling salesman, Sam Margolin (born in Kapulia, Russia). This Torah was kept in their basement in Deadwood and brought upstairs once a year for Yom Kippur.
    The Blumenthals are buried in the cemetary, as are Sam & Sarah Margolin and their son, Hugh, who died of polio in 1933 just short of his 9th birthday.
    There is a lot of other information in a book entitled: "The history of Lawrence County" (no longer in publication).

  3. Schelli--
    A book about the Jews of Deadwood, written by Ann Stanton of Rapid City, SD, is being published this month by Arcadia.
    I had two branches of my family in Deadwood -- the Hattenbach brothers, who ran a grocery on Sherman St. after their claim didn't work out as well as they hoped, and Nathan Kugelmann/Colman.
    The Hattenbachs brought the first smelter to Deadwood.
    Look forward to seeing you in DC this summer!
    Marion Hattenbach Bernstein

  4. The information about Rabbi Zeleznick was published in some kind of publication from Chicago's Hebrew Theological College, perhaps an ad journal, in the 1940's. There's a page of tribute to Rabbi Zeleznick, perhaps itself a kind of ad, that mentions his time in Deadwood, beginning in 1892. A Chicago Tribune obit claims he was in Chicago beginning in 1877, so perhaps his time in Deadwood was in between two longer stints in Chicago.

  5. The information about Rabbi Zeleznick comes from a page in a Hebrew Theological College ad book/journal from the 1940's. Rabbi Zeleznick was a rabbi in Chicago after his time in Deadwood, and perhaps also before, according to a Chicago Tribune obit from 1933.