MembersThe Jews of the Wild West

Ever hear the story of the mohel (Jew who performs circumcisions) who rode around on horseback in the Wild West while Indians collected scalps?

By David Lazarus |
JEWISH GUNSLINGERS
JEWISH GUNSLINGERS The first Jewish mayor of Tucson, Arizona, Charles Strauss, and his son in 1883 Photo: Creative Commons

Probably not, as very little is told of the Jewish population in the American West during those days. But records show that Dr. John Eisner, a mohel, rode around performing 169 circumcisions in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska from 1887 to 1905.

A survey in 1878 found that of the 230,257 Jews who then lived in the United States, 21,465 settled in 11 western states and territories.

One key source of Jewish life in the Wild West comes from Flora Spiegelberg, a Jewess who kept a diary about life out on the range. Flora and her husband Willie settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she founded a school for Jewish children. Willie became the town’s first mayor in 1884.

“When we arrived,” writes Spiegelberg, “some 200 cowboys who had just returned from a roundup and were naturally armed to the teeth, rose as one man and, doffing their sombreros, bellowed their greetings and cheered me until the very rafters shook. ‘Hello, lady, glad to see you,’ they shouted, and they really meant it,...

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