Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West

Harriet and Fred Rochlin
Trade paperback
Price: $19.95



In the late-1970s I was fully engaged in researching and writing articles about Jewish pioneering in California, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico. By then, Fred was avidly collecting photographs and doing interviews with Southwestern Jewish pioneers or their descendants. At the suggestion of my then agent, Richard Kahlenberg, I wrote a book proposal for an illustrated social history on Jewish pioneering in the Arizona Territory, and added twenty of the distinctive images Fred had gathered. Soon after, Richard called to report our proposed book was just right for Don Ackland, Los Angeles publisher of the glossy Rosebud Books, "Publications of Special Interest, Regional and Guide Books, Pictorial and Art Publications." We dined with Don, attended his wedding, and according to my file, received a spec sheet that listed our book as: 8" x 10", 256 pages, 175 half tones, bibliography, index, et al. Delivery Spring, 1982, 15,000 copies.

In 1980, I accompanied Fred, a health facilities architect, to a conference in Boston. While there, I called Robie Macauley, a senior editor at Houghton Mifflin, whom I' d met as an attendee at a week-long conference on creative writing. His speedy response was: "Your proposal for the history book on Jews in the West is on my desk. Come to my office, I want to talk to you." We leafed through the articles and photographs, I augmenting the visuals with more recent tidbits. He eventually asked how I felt about widening the geographical scope to include the entire Far West, to do a book with Houghton Mifflin as publisher, and Rosebud as co-producer. I confessed, it sounded great to me, but I'd have talk to Fred and Ackland. My letter to Robie dated 12/7/1980, reads: "I agree to the need to expand the geographic scope and wonder why we didn't think of that." I also noted that I was preparing an outline suitable for the proposal Ackland was writing.

Neither my memory nor my files reveal when and why Rosebud was replaced by Knapp Press as co-producer. What I did know was that Houghton Mifflin was an old and prestigious publisher with a reputation for fine Western history; Robie was senior editor on the project; Knapp produced beautiful, high quality books, and had hired the skilled and cultivated Pamela Mosher, formerly with Rosebud, to serve as local editor. Our task was to give our outstanding teammates the richest stories, the most distinctive photographs, along with two-page spreads that established on sight that Jews had helped transform the region, and were themselves transformed. The book was released in hard cover in September 1984 and went through ten printings in trade paper, totaling 47,500 copies.  In December 2010, after twenty-six years in print at Houghton Mifflin, the rights reverted to the author.

In 2014, Pioneer Jews was re-issued in an Authors Guild edition by iUniverse. Several valuable new features were added, including updated contact information for 64 of the 219 period photographs and newly-obtained facts about the image on page 172 of a semi-nude woman long misidentified as Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, 47-year companion of Wyatt Earp.


Gleaned from early histories, public records, interviews, diaries, letters, reminiscences, and images, this study profiles Jewish men and women who pioneered in the Far West between 1598 and 1912. On the developing frontier, they acquired new skills as merchants, bankers, freighters, miners, town-builders, ranchers, farmers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, and officeholders. In sprouting cities and small towns, they established Jewish benevolent societies, burial grounds, synagogues, and temples. Some achieved prominence: Levi Strauss, David Belasco, Albert Michelson, Frances Jacobs, Adolph Sutro, Otto Mears, Josephine Earp, Gertrude Stein, and Alice Toklas. Others established dynasties: Goldwater, Zeckendorf, Fleishhacker, Schwabacher, Hellman, Ilfeld, Auerbach, and Newmark. Wealthy, middle-class, poor, traditionalist, reformer, and renegade, they helped transform the newly American West, and in the process, were themselves transformed.


"This is social history at its best--entertaining, engaging and filled with little-known information about famous and not so famous Jewish pioneers." - San Francisco Chronicle

"The Jewish immigrant experience may conjure up visions of the Lower East Side, but in fact thousands of Jews were living in the mining towns, ranches and trading posts of the American West in 1880. There were Jewish 49ers in California, Jewish members of the Tombstone Ariz. Fire Department, a Jewish mayor of Tucson, Jewish cowboys, and even a Jew who fought at the Alamo." - The New York Times Book Review ("New & Noteworthy Paperbacks")

"Crammed with 180 illustrations, the book, by devoting no more than a page or so to even the best-known names, manages to paint a broad canvas of not just Jewish pioneers, but the entire westward movement." - Los Angeles Times

"Built on some 20 years' research, the Rochlins' book is riveting, at once a dramatic story and a mind-broadening journey into the past." - Publishers Weekly

"American Jewish history in a fresh, Far Western light unpreoccupied by traditional themes...and closer to expressions of ethnic frontier pride. The surprise is that it's a legitimate approach." - Starred Kirkus Reviews

"Pioneer Jews is a wonderful compilation of history, anecdotes and even gossip. It is a detailed chronology of Jewish experience and influence in the American West, and it beckons to Western history buffs and Jews alike." - The Arizona Daily Star

"Very readable....Divided into eight sections, and with a strong bibliography, the book provides many items of interest, and is sure to provoke further study." - The Jerusalem Post

"The Rochlin book Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West is a delightful work. The illustrations are particularly beautiful. Future historians of Jewry will rise up and call Harriet and Fred Rochlin blessed." - Dr. Jacob Marcus, Director, American Jewish Archives

"An impressive accomplishment, a carefully researched, elegantly published, and handsomely illustrated social history of the Jews in the Far West. In an entertaining and ingenious way, this provocative book captures the liberating spirit of the regional frontier experiences of one of the nation's oldest minorities as it daringly sweeps from the 16th century to the threshold of our own time." - Dr. Moses Rischin, Director, Western Jewish History Center, Judah Magnes Museum

Product Description

iUniverse (January 24, 2014)
Trade paperback, $19.95
244 pages (black and white photos and illustrations throughout) 
Plus preface, introduction, bibliography, index, and courtesy line updates