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Selected Letters of Abraham and Fanny Glassman: 1874-1886

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June 15, 1874
Ogden, Utah Territory

Dearest Sarah,

America at last! Abie laughs at me when I say such things—he teases me that this is only the Silver Land—the Golden Land is California—but he still fairly puffs with pride when I express my admiration for the country. This is proper America, Sarah, not like home. You have never seen such mountains!

Abie assures me that I will become less charmed with mountains, and yet he indulges me and rented a buggy that we might go up into Ogden Canyon before we leave for Salt Lake City. The canyon is tall and narrow—there is barely room for the road next to the river—and we stopped for our picnic under a grand, long waterfall stagger-stepping down the opposite wall. We were well back from the spray, and yet the air was so cold! And nearly electric, Sarah—it made me giddy to feel it!

We are boarding at the Lester House Hotel with Mr. and Mrs. Cohen while Abie arranges freighting for the goods he bought in New York. There are several Jewish families here in Ogden. Many have people in Salt Lake City, since most shops here are second or third branches of the main concern in Salt Lake. Tateh and Mameh will be pleased to know that Mrs. Cohen introduced me to a Mr. Jacob Klipstein of Oettingen, who was very kind and who sends his greetings to them. 

Ogden is being built as I write—even five years on after the railroad, half the town is still roofed in canvas, and the bustle in the streets rivals New York. And yet just outside of town there is nothing but open, empty land and the mountains soaring above.

You will think me quite silly, but this morning I woke early and walked clear away from town to watch the sun rise over the mountains. It is as Mr. Carvalho wrote, when he rode out alone to witness his first prairie sunrise: my heart beat fast with anxiety, overwhelmed in the face of stupendous creation, my thoughts carried away into the impenetrable future!

But unlike poor Mr. Carvalho, I had a living being present to share in my admiration! For my dear husband had come to find me! He did not chide me for foolishness, nor for walking out without him, but stood with me until the sun was clear of the mountain and all lay stark in its glare. Everything is stronger and grander here, Sarah, even the very sun itself.

Tomorrow we leave for Salt Lake. I already miss you terribly—is it strange to want one’s sister on one’s bridal trip? But I would show you these mountains, Sarah!

Take good care of Mameh and Tateh and the little ones for me,

Ever your loving sister,
Fanny

****

June 19, 1874
Salt Lake City, Utah Territory

Dearest Sarah,

You will be shocked to hear that I am a Gentile! Fear not, as I am as I ever was: we will celebrate Shabbos with the congregation here, which Abie says will be our last opportunity for a proper service for some time. It is only that Mormons refer to all who are not of their own faith as Gentiles. Even Jews! So here in the heart of Mormon country, I am called Gentile. I am as scandalized as you are.

Abie's brother Sol has come into town to greet us—he and his wife keep a store in Stockton, which is a mining town just to the south of the Great Salt Lake. Sol's wife, Anna, has stayed in Stockton with the store and children, but sent me a very kind welcome through her husband. It has been years since the brothers have seen each other, and Sol has many stories about their days in California and here in Utah with General Connor. He takes great delight in trying to shock me, I think!

Salt Lake City is by turns civilized and wild: women wear Paris hats and cattle are driven through the street. All the Mormon-owned shops have signs six feet tall above their marquees proclaiming the shop's holiness to the Lord and its membership in the Zion's Mercantile Cooperative Institution. The Church also owns a chain of stores—also called ZCMI—which is spreading all through Utah. They are quite prosperous, and several Church-owned factories here supply them with goods.

Abie caught me watching the construction of the newest ZCMI store on Main Street—already it is clear that it will be impressively grand—and assured me that our own Emporium is on the very edge of Mormon country, and thus is at no risk from the ZCMI stores. Not only is Pioche a mining town—and thus a "gentile" town—but Congress went so far as to move the Nevada line to ensure that Pioche was governed by miners instead of Mormons! (Abie laughed then and confessed that no one governs Pioche. There may be more to Mrs. Cohen's stories about Pioche—she was v. distressed he is bringing me there!—than he will admit to me.)

When we leave here, we will take the train to Provo, and then the stage south to Cedar City and west to Pioche. It may be some while before I have time to properly write again—we will be traveling long days, and then I expect to be busy learning the store—but I will write as soon as I can, and you will never be far from my thoughts.

Ever yours,
Fanny

****

November 4, 1874
Pioche, Nevada

Dearest Sarah,

Forgive me for not writing sooner—we have been so busy since arriving in Pioche. (Which is now our home! It still feels very strange to write that. And yet not so strange at all.)

The country here is not as grand as that about Ogden or Salt Lake City – the mountains are low and scrubby, and studded with pyramids of mining tailings – but the very air smells of sage, and pink and white sweet peas bloom on the hillsides. All day and night, we can hear the steam hoists roaring above us on Treasure Hill. Pioche is twice the size of Ogden, and yet we are v. remote here, far from the railroad, Carson City, and Salt Lake City. Railroads are being built—although the builders go bankrupt frequently enough that no one knows when the first will reach us—but freight wagons and stagecoaches enter and leave town at an astonishing rate. There is a fine new courthouse here, stone and two stories tall and quite appropriate for the County seat. The building of it was a local scandal: it should have cost $16,000, but when the profiteers had finished, it cost $80,000! (It will cost far more before the debt is paid, I am told.)

Abie's Emporium is neat and handsome—with a real roof, not just canvas—and does steady business. We have two small rooms at the back to ourselves. Samuel, the young Bavarian man who worked the store with Abie prior to my coming, has gone to Virginia City to begin a shop of his own, leaving us on our own here. Mining knows neither night nor day, so we open the store at eight and often don't close until midnight—there is hardly time to think of anything else! The exception is Shabbos eve, when Abie is very firm about urging customers out of the door so that we may have our dinner. (But needs must open again on Saturday morning.)

Abie treats me kindly, and I am very well. Take good care of Mameh and Tateh for me, and write soon.

Ever your loving sister,
Fanny

 

Sister, the other pages are for you to share with Mameh and Tateh—this is for you alone, because I would not have them worry. I will write small, and I trust that you are clever enough to swap the pages so that they do not realize you have held one back!

Mrs. Cohen in Ogden was full of stories about Pioche—desperadoes and gunslingers far beyond the reach of the law! Abie was cross with her for trying to scare me so, although he was never so rude as to show her. I only laughed at her stories.

But my very first week here, there was a hanging—oh, it was a horrible thing, and I will not write of it. A dispute in one of the saloons, resulting in the murder of two men. All of Main Street is saloons, nearly, at least two dozen, although I still have not climbed to the far end of the street, so there may yet be more closer to Treasure Hill. Abie is quite protective that I do not go out alone in the evening, nor will he let me have the combination for the safe. Not because he does not trust me, but so that no one could have reason to harm me for it. (Oh, I make that sound so much worse than it is. But please know that the trouble is never here—it is in the saloons or out at the mines—and he has taught me to use both pistols and a shotgun. Yet he is shy about leaving me in the store alone. Oft-times I think he worries more than he need to.)

Last Sunday Abie and I walked above the town, near to the cemetery. He tried to steer us away, the dear man, but I wished to see. Such a young town—barely five years old!—and yet so many graves. Many were mining accidents, yes, but there is a whole section set aside for murder victims, and another two rows at the opposite end for their murderers, so that their bodies may not lie alongside each other. Abie tried to comfort me that it is better now, that the claims are better established and the mine bosses no longer hire assassins alongside the miners, but it only grieved me worse. There are ledger sheets in which these men's deaths were balanced—balanced!—against silver.

I was very sober for the rest of the day (and am still so now, as I write). When we opened the shop I could not stop looking at the customers—miners all, purchasing necessities on their one day off—and wondering how they came to be here, and who, if anyone, they left at home. And how much silver they would value their lives to be worth. I nearly shudder to touch our own account books.

And Abie! He and his brother were once miners, or tried to be, when they first came West. Sol told me all kinds of ridiculous stories, but Abie does not speak of it much, only to say that Sol wanted to see the elephant, and Abie wouldn't let him come alone. (You would never think that Abie was the younger, to hear him talk.) It is a saying out here, about the elephant—everyone comes West because they are very excited to see an elephant, but then the elephant is ill and starving and so pathetic that one wishes one had never wanted to see it at all. But then Abie sees my face—such talk makes me sober—and tries to distract me by saying that he has far better than elephants now, which he may look at whenever he likes. (By which he means me, of course. I do not know whether to be more pleased or annoyed when he says such things!)

Oh, this has become more pensive than I intended. I will send it anyway. Please do not worry, I am quite well, and only missing you very much. Do tell me how you are getting on, and give me all the news. Hug Mameh and Tateh tight for me, and all the little ones, too, Fanny

****

December 25, 1874
Pioche, Nevada

Dearest Sarah,

There is no point to opening the shop on Christmas day, and so I find myself with extra time to write to you. As a surprise, Abie took me to the Canton Cafe for lunch, which is the only establishment that is open today, besides the saloons. Mr. Wong was a gracious host—he solemnly promised us that he used no pork in our meal—and the food was strange, but quite delicious!

Abie has been full of such surprises these past weeks, even shutting the store one evening to take me to the opera house. Two weeks ago, without my knowledge, Abie accepted in trade a strange little fossilized animal—the miners sometimes find them in the hills—and solemnly presented it to me after the store closed, apologizing only that he could not find a mastodon for me! I told him I would not have a mastodon, for they are too much like elephants. (Sarah, he has been reading Mr. Carvalho's book! Solely as a kindness to me, I think, although I daresay he has enjoyed it, however much he twits Colonel Fremont for attempting to cross the Rockies mid-winter. He asked me the other day if he has been a disappointment to me—Abie, not Colonel Fremont—in that he has never asked me to eat horse or porcupine! As if I would wish to eat porcupine! Mr. Carvalho said it was quite revolting, as white as pork. But I told Abie that yes, the West has been a great disappointment to me, and he has promised me a porcupine forthwith.)

His kindness has been so deliberate, I fear he has noticed how lonely I feel here. It seems silly to complain of loneliness with people in and out of the Emporium all day! And yet there are few women in town—and fewer whom I may associate with—and I grow tired of the rough custom. Sometimes Mr. Schoenberg from the Raymond and Ely mine joins us for Shabbos dinner—or Mr. Selig, if he is in town—but there are no others. I miss you and everyone terribly, and I do long for the time when Abie and I can sell the Emporium—or hand it off to a younger partner—and move to a place that is more sociable.

But for Abie's sake, I shall try harder to be happy here. He is a good man and the Emporium is doing well, and as tired as I grow of the steam hoists and the grit that makes its way into everything, there are still days when the sun comes over the mountains and everything is grand and new again.

Your loving sister,
Fanny

****

November 20, 1875
Pioche, Nevada

Dearest Sarah,

Things have been very grim here these past three weeks, but now all has come right!

Do you remember my writing about Sam, who worked here in the Emporium for several years before I came? He kept the store while Abie went back East, and then used his share to go open his own shop in Virginia City. Virginia City is the oldest and richest silver strike in Nevada, clear on the other side of the state, near to California, and quite the gay town, they say. When Sam was preparing to leave, Abie went on for days about young men with no common sense and a thirst for adventure. It was all quite ridiculous: if Sam lacked common sense, Abie would never have left the Emporium in his charge while he was in New York! And setting up a respectable shop in Virginia City is not at all the same thing as prospecting, which Abie and Sol were doing when they were Sam's age! (Abie grumbles that he wasn't chasing gold, he was chasing Sol, and that young men should listen carefully so that mistakes needn't be made twice.) But Sam mostly laughed at Abie's grousing, he was so proud to be going off on his own at last. I believe Abie was proud of him, too, and he gave Sam a letter of introduction to Mr. and Mrs. Rosenbaum, who are wholesalers he knows there.

But three weeks ago we received news that Virginia City had a terrible fire. Abie went white when we got the news, and sent several telegrams to Virginia City. It is all a terrible confusion there, as you might imagine. We were only able to discover that Sam's store had burned with the rest—the entire business district went up—but when Abie finally reached Mr. and Mrs. Rosenbaum, they had no news of Sam. Abie put advertisements in all the newspapers, and I swear he would have gone to Virginia City himself, if he hadn't been so worried about leaving me in the store alone. As it was, he was distracted and short with me—not at all like his usual self, but I don't hold it against him because I know he was sick with worry—and Abie spent so much time haunting the telegraph office that Mr. Murray took to greeting us, whenever he saw us, with whatever news he had last heard from Virginia City.

But yesterday, who should show up at the Emporium but Sam! I confess that I screamed a little in surprise when I saw him. He looked ever so tired and shamefaced. Abie came straightaway out front to see what was the matter, and such embracing! And no little scolding, too! I closed up shop as soon as I was able. It seems that Sam lost everything in the fire—all his capital had been sunk into the store and merchandise—and he had come to beg for his job back. (Silly boy! As if Abie would turn him away!)

This morning, Sam took me aside during a lull to apologize to me for making us worry so. He hadn't wanted to borrow money for a telegram, not when he didn't know what his prospects were, and confesses that he had been too embarrassed about losing the store so quickly to think how the silence would look to Abie. It seems their second year in Pioche all of Main Street here burned, including the Emporium, and several hundred kegs of powder exploded in another store. Sam and Abie were passing buckets when the powder blew, and the explosion burst clean through the stone walls of its building and killed several dozen people in the brigade line. (No wonder Abie's hands shook so when we first received the news from Virginia City! And of course Mr. Murray at the telegraph office knew that it was more than just Sam being missing, and yet he never told me. I am very cross with him.)

But now Sam and Abie are out in the shop together—Abie is teasing him about adventure-hungry young men with no common sense, and Sam is being ever so bashful about it—which gives me a minute by myself to write!

Give all my love to Mameh and Tateh and the little ones,

Your loving sister,
Fanny

****

April 26, 1876
Pioche, Nevada

Dear Sarah,

We are moving to Dixie! That is what the Mormons call the southern part of Utah—it is so warm that they tried to grow cotton, before they had to give it up. There is a new silver strike there, not so far on the other side of the state line, and all of Pioche is in an uproar over it.

(Abie is teasing me that everyone else is going to the new strike for the silver, but that we are going for the porcupines!)

Sam and Abie have hired some ex-miners and are packing the Emporium as I write. Not merely its contents, but the building itself! Lumber is dear here, and what with the mines failing, many freighters were standing empty, and so freight went cheap. Thus the entire building is coming with us.

I shall write as soon as I know where you should reply, but in the meanwhile, ever yours,

Fanny