Stanley, Jerry. 1998. Frontier
merchants: Lionel and Barron Jacobs and the Jewish pioneers who settled
the West. New
York: Crown Publishers. ISBN: 0517800195.
Stanley begins this book with a short yet informative introduction that
gives young readers an overview of the gold rush in the Old West.
This background information reminds readers about the players in this
drama that they already know, such as the prospectors, Indians, and
women in search of husbands. Stanley then informs readers that
another crucial character in the Old West has often been
overlooked. He invites his readers to "Imagine him on almost any
frontier wearing a businessman's hat, a pocket watch, and a suit in
need of cleaning. There he was, bouncing up and down in a wagon
carrying canned goods, coffee, whiskey, and flour and choking on the
dust kicked up by his team of mules. He never received the fame
of the mountain man or the Indian fighter, but in his own way he was a
hero in the settlement of the West, for without him settlement wouldn't
have been possible." (Stanley, pp.2-3) The book then begins to
Lionel and Barron Jacobs, adventurous Jewish brothers who, in
partnership with their father, set out to become frontier merchants in
Tucson in 1867. They started out with a dry goods store and
eventually opened the first successful bank in Tucson, AZ.
Stanley uses the life of two brothers and a short time frame in the
history of an Old West town to paint a very thorough picture of life in
those times. Along with the gritty and tough story of this town,
this story also touches on issues that face every generation, such as
race, religion, and entrepreneurship. In a very straightforward style,
the reader sees the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Old West.
The story of how the bank was started is a good example of this.
"But when we approached Mr. Safford and Mr. Toole and made our
proposal," Barron wrote, "it was made clear to us that the venture was
purely a white concern, excluding Jews and Mexicans."
(Stanley, p.76) But when the bank does get underway, it does turn
be a diverse partnership. "They were joined by four close friends
who had been customers for years and who also had an eye for
profit. They were E. B. Gage, owner of the Grand Central Mine in
Tombstone; Pinckney Tully, a Hispanic and co-owner of Tully &
Ochoa, the third-largest merchandising firm in Tucson; Phillip Smith,
ownder of the Vulture Mine in central Arizona; and A. Lazard, the
Jewish lawyer who had sold his store to the brothers in 1872."
Using both primary and secondary sources, Barron Jacobs' many letters
to his father in San Francisco form the backbone for the story, and
black and white pictures courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society and
extensive secondary research round out Stanley's portrait of this
frontier town. His bibliographic note (Stanley, p.95) is well
into sections that correspond to the different facets of the book, such
as resources on the role of Jews in gold rush California, information
on transportation of goods and people in the West, and information on
Jewish merchants and bankers in the West. The final paragraph
thanks both the University of Arizona and the Arizona Historical
Society for access to Barron Jacob's original letters.
Bush calls Stanley's narrative "brisk yet rich in detail in
theme." Certainly, the story moves quickly, and this makes for a
quick and interesting read. This book would also work well as a
resource in a history or sociology class.