The Value of Integrity – Follow the Money – “I”

The Value of Integrity – Follow the Money – “I”

The integrity of the pioneer Jews was not altogether different from other West­ern men, but was perceived by others to be at a much higher level. This, in itself, was quite a feat.

In older Europe, Jewish perceived integrity levels were often considered slightly higher than Roma.

The vision of Shakespeare’s Shylock was alive and strong.

In Eastern post-Colonial America matters were much better.

We were gener­ally becoming accepted as equals.

The few anti-Jewish laws and customs were disappearing at a good rate.

In the Wild West, our perceived integrity level was far above other groups. How do we know this? Just ask non-Jews what they did with their excess gold and silver.


Gold and Silver

The Wild West was a hard currency land. It was not until the closing decades of the 1800’s that paper money became gener­ally accepted.

Gold and silver was the only trusted currency, out­side of basic barter.

But what did pioneers do with their extra gold or silver?

They gave it to a Jew for safekeeping!

The Jewish merchant would hold people’s gold and/or silver without a service charge.

The Western States Jewish History Association discovered this throughout the West.


The First Successful Los Angeles “Banks”

Solomon Lazard, an early Los Angeles pioneer opened a small depository bank in a section of his store in Los Angeles. Many customers were leaving their gold and silver with him for safekeeping. It was not a lending bank. There was no interest paid and no fees charged.

Los Angeles’ first successful bank, the Farmers and Merchants Bank, was started by a mer­chant, Isaias W. Hellman, who also had a safe full of other peoples’ gold and silver.

Later, the great Union Bank began when another Jewish merchant, Kaspare Cohn had bags of other people’s gold in his safe and the State of California passed a law requiring any merchant holding a certain amount of precious metal for others to open a bank.

We thought this was a Los Angeles story, but then discovered that California had done this for a reason: Jewish merchants all over the state were acting as depositories for bullion, and the State Legislature concluded it should be better controlled.

When speaking in Denver, an elderly lady confided to me that as a child in Helena, Montana, her grandfather would talk to the family about all the gold he was holding in his dry goods store.

This experience was repeated all over the West. It was a pattern of behavior. Jewish merchants were considered honest enough to store one’s extra gold & silver. (Always, “follow the money.”)


Pioneer Diaries

In the Gold Country we have prospector’s diaries describing how a seasoned prospector judged a new town.

The savvy prospector would count the number of Jewish merchants that supplied the miners.

Then he would check to see if there was a Jewish assayer in town. “Jewish assayers could be trusted — both with giving honest weights and with judging the quality of the gold or silver.”

Also, a Jewish assayer was usually the best place to store one’s gold while wait­ing for bank representatives to arrive and purchase the prospector’s treasure.

One prospector wrote, “Jewish assayers were so smart that they could study a pouch of gold and state exactly from which mine it had been dug.”

Stories like these are similar all over the West..

When we “follow the money” we discover that Jews were highly trusted in the days of the Wild West.


Next: The Value of  a Knowledge of Jewish History [click here]

from Why the Jews Were So Successful in the Wild West…And How to Tell Their Stories, by David W. Epstein, Isaac Nathan Publishing, 2007.