Volume #1, Issue#2, January,
TRACKING LEOPOLD EPHRAIN!
by Fred and Harriet Rochlin
Photo courtesy of Lothar Rosenthal
DURING MY GROWING-UP YEARS, till the 1920'S and 1930's, no one living in my hometown, Nogales, Arizona, had
the last name of Ephraim. It was apparent, however, that someone by that name
had lived in the area and had owned property. The Ephriam Building was, and
still is, located at 114-116 Morley Avenue, one block from the line marking the
Arizona-Sonora border. Ephraim Canyon, pronounced "Eefrim Canyon" by Nogalians,
stretched then, as now, from the northwest corner of town to the Mexican
border, approximately one mile. In addition, the name Ephraim, with the
identifying initial "L," for the first name of Leopold, was regularly listed
with the names of other early settlers at commemorative civic events, or in
occasional newspaper accounts of early days in Nogales.
The Ephraim Building is situated on the town's main
thoroughfare, and the canyon contained the city cemetery, as well as the
historic Camp Stephen D. Little, an American army post located in our border
town when United States-Mexican relations were troubled. Ephraim Canyon was also
a favored site for rabbit-shooting and the collecting of desert flora and fauna.
Though the name was an unquestioned part of the local
scene, I had never heard anyone make a personal reference to the man until I
started to make special inquiry. The older members of my family and their Jewish
friends, most of whom had come to Nogales during World War I or later, knew
nothing about Ephraim. Fortunately, two Nogales old-timers remembered Leopold Ephraim. Diego Ramirez, who is now in his nineties, recalled
that a tent store, "Don Leopoldo's" was located where the Ephraim Building now
stands. The store, according to Ramirez, carried staples., clothing, and
household equipment. l John Clark, the only living Arizona Ranger, had no trouble
recalling Ephraim either. He associated the name with a group of Nogales
enterprises : a general store, a mine, and the first Nogales water company.
"Called himself `the Fat Jew'," the ranger remembered.
label turned out to be one Ephraim had assigned to himself. A business directory
carried an advertisement for Don Leopoldo's in Nogales, with the proprietor
listing himself as "Leopold Ephraim, The Fat Jew." 3 A third personal interview,
by far the most rich in information, came with Lothar Rosenthal, Ephraim's
son-in-law and heir, who now lives in Los Angeles. 4
Newspaper items written during the period and historical
accounts written more recently, added much information. Particularly, a
biography of Leopold Ephraim which appeared in the Nogales Herald during World
War II, as part of a series called "Pioneers of the Border." 5
Accounts agree on Ephraim's activities and travels before
about 1890, but the early dates conflict or are lacking. Born on April 16,
1850, 6 at Chulm, Prussia (now Poland), Ephraim left his birthplace at the age of nineteen, in 1869, to
avoid military service. He first tried his luck in the southern part of the
United States. After working there for several months, he contracted malaria and
was advised to seek a higher and drier climate. The Montana Territory was his
next base of operation. There he bought a team of mules, a wagon and some
merchandise, consisting of clothing and household utensils, and set out as a
While in Montana, Ephraim engaged in his first mining
venture which turned out very well. Then he sold out and came west to San
Francisco. There he established a small restaurant on Market Street and for a
time he prospered. In 1877, all accounts agree, Leopold Ephraim became a
naturalized citizen. During this period he married Miss Jenny Judah. 7 His good
fortune, however, was short-lived. Mrs. Ephraim died. Shortly thereafter,
Leopold suffered business reversals and was left penniless. A stock market crash
and a depression are mentioned as causes of his losses. San Francisco history
records troubled times from 1875 to the end of the decade. In the year of 1875,
a financial panic was experienced in the city, followed by bank failures,
unemployment, drought, and anti-Chinese outbreaks, resulting in what one
historian called the "Discontented Seventies." 8
Impoverished and alone, Ephraim must have been attracted
by rumors of new opportunities in Arizona. During the 1870's, bonanzas were
'struck at Tombstone, the Silver King east of Picket Post Mountain, and in other
parts of Arizona. 9 Coinciding with rich silver strikes, was the coming of the
railroad. On March 20, 1880, the first .train arrived at Tucson. Plans for an
extension of the line south to the Mexican border were quickly underway. The
completion of this railroad resulted in a great increase of immigration,
bringing capital and labor to assist in the development of the vast mineral
resources of the Territory. The United States Census taken in June, 1880, lists
a white population of 40,441 for Arizona. By 1882-83, another 10,000, it was estimated by a western
business directory, were added to the population.10 From all indications,
Ephraim was one of those 10,000 who arrived between 1880 and 1889.
Lacking the cash to pay for a trip by stage., Ephraim
walked most of the way from San Francisco to Tucson. 11 Albert Steinfeld, the proprietor
of a thriving Tucson business befriended Ephraim, extending credit and
merchandise to him, and advised hire to head south for the border. 12 When
Ephraim arrived in Nogales, which was then called Isaacson, he had barely enough
money to pay for the freight on one of the two boxes of merchandise. A few sales
soon provided the cash to pay the freight on the second one.
Isaacson, about 1882, the probable year of Ephraim's
arrival, consisted of little more than a few adobe houses. 13 But the town was
growing daily. Railroad construction gangs were active in the area and new
settlers arrived almost every day. Within a few months, Ephraim unhitched his
peddler's wagon and set up the tent store remembered by Ramirez. All accounts
agree that the tent store prospered. The proprietor slept on a cot in the store
to protect the merchandise from marauding Indians. He set sacks of grain, flour,
and sugar around the walls of the tent as a buffer against Indian arrows, and
on several occasions found arrows in the sacks, this being the Apaches' way of
showing resentment against the white intruders. 14
How long Ephraim ran the store is impossible to say.
According to his son-in-law, the Ephraim Building was completed on the site of
the tent store in 1905, and was run as a general merchandise store for several
years. When the business was sold, the building was leased as a saloon. But from
all indications, Ephraim had been involved in other enterprises for some years
before he sold the store.
Two events were certain to have occurred before 1900: he
had brought his father from Europe to Nogales to live, and he was deeply
involved in a lucrative silver mine west of town. Gumpricht Ephraim, Leopold's
father, lived with his son and ran an assay shop on the site where the Ville de
Paris Department Store now stands alongside the international border. A
photograph extant, shows Ephraim senior as a bearded and yarmulked old
gentleman. How long he lived in Nogales or when he actually arrived is not
recorded. But in 1897, the old man fell ill and was taken to San Francisco by
his son for medical treatment. There he died and was buried.
A newspaper article of the period tells of Ephraim's
successful mining activities:
According to the Times, L. Ephraim, formerly one of the
heaviest merchants of Nogales, Arizona, but who has for the past few years
devoted his time, capital and energies to mining, has been in El Paso for the
past week having some 80 tons of ore treated at the E1 Paso smelter. Mr. Ephraim
is the principal stockholder and is manager of E1 Promonterio Mining Company,
owning four claims in the Tumacacori groups of mines 25 miles southwest of
Nogales and 8 miles west of the boundary line between Arizona and Sonora.
Judging by the government assay of his ore, he has got a bonanza of incalculable
value, as these assays show an average return of 326 ounces of silver to the ton
and 49 per cent lead while the quantity in sight is simply enormous. 15
Another newspaper article discussed Ephraim's mining
L. Ephraim drove in this morning from his Promonterio mine
and will remain a few days in town. He has just completed his road from Nogales
to "El Promonterio" and it is one of the best mountain roads anywhere in the
Southwest. It is from 12 feet to 30 feet wide with easy grades, and will facilitate the transportation of ore and machinery between
Nogales and the mine. 16
And on July 10, 1897, the same newspaper mentioned,
"Promonterio, one of the biggest silver mines in Sonora..."
At the height of his mining activities, Ephraim had a
working force of 300 men, mostly Chinese. 17 Superintendent of the mine for two
and one-half years was another Nogales pioneer, A. M. Peck. In an unpublished
manuscript recording his experiences on the border, Peck tells of "El Promonterio" and locates Ephraim's mines ten miles from Planchas de Plata in
As mining profits accrued, Ephraim diversified with real
estate holdings. He bought hundreds of acres in the north-west section of
Nogales, the Ephraim Canyon area. The Ephraim Building was completed in 1905.
Located on valuable business property, it is still owned by his heirs.. The
building occupied by the Arizona Optical Company, in the 300 block of Morley
Avenue, was also a part of Ephraim's holdings. 20
Ephraim's next undertaking was the development of the first
Nogales Water Company. The water supply for Nogales before the water system was
developed was derived from wells in and outside of town. Hanson R. Sisk tells of
the founding of the water company as follows:
About 60 years or more ago a Nogales businessman by the
name of Leopold Ephraim dug a large well on the out-skirts of the city on the
present Tucson highway, and ran water lines to the homes in Nogales. It was the
city's first water works. The business was purchased by the city, after bonds
were voted, in 1911 and this led to the present city water system with wells dug
underneath the Santa Cruz River and a large water main connecting local water
lines with the new wells. 21
Snapshot taken in 1901, in front of the office of the
Nogales Water Company The
Mexican in the picture seems
to have been a very proud
friend of Leopold.
The completion of the line was marked with a civic
celebration in which Ephraim was honored. 22 Though the city soon wanted to buy
the water company, they could not float a bond issue at first, since the town
was so undeveloped that no one would buy the bonds. It was not until February
12, 1912, that the sale was consummated for the sum of $60,000. This is an
interesting figure since the amount of the capital stock on May 14, 1898, was
In 1909, when he was fifty-nine years old, Ephraim
returned to Europe for a visit. In Berlin, he met a childhood sweetheart, Franzisca Rosenthal, and married her. Back in Nogales, he and the new Mrs.
Ephraim made their home in his house on Crawford Street, near the old Chenoweth
residence, at the corner of Sonoita and Crawford Streets. The climate and
altitude of Nogales, however, proved unsatisfactory for the recent Berlin
resident, and the late Dr. A. H. Noon, a personal friend, advised the Ephraims
to move to a lower altitude.
While his wife went ahead and awaited him in Los Angeles,
Ephraim remained in Nogales long enough to settle his affairs. Ramon Vasquez, a
friend and business associate, was placed in charge of Ephraim's Nogales
holdings. Ephraim gave the city of Nogales many acres of land to be used for the
city cemetery. El Promonterio Mine was sold to Canadian buyers. The mine was
finally confiscated by the Mexican government. 23
A daughter, Ruth, was born to the couple in Los Angeles in
1910. The family settled on a sixteen-acre orange ranch in Rivera, a suburb of
Los Angeles, and there they lived for many years. Some adventures still remained
to Leopold Ephraim and his family. They made frequent trips to Europe and in
1914, at the beginning of World War I, Ephraim, his wife and daughter, were at
the spa in Karlsbad, Czechoslovakia. Due to the war, they were detained there
for approximately three years, and only by exerting the most strenuous
efforts did they manage to get back to America in 1917, just before the United
States entered World War I.
Leopold Ephraim died on August 10, 1923, and is buried at
the Home of Peace Cemetery, Los Angeles. Franzisca Ephraim lived until June 4,
1944, and was buried at her husband's side. Their daughter Ruth married Lothar
Rosenthal in Los Angeles in 1933. She died in 1946, leaving no children.
No mere passer-through, Ephraim spent approximately thirty
years in Nogales during the period when the Arizona-Sonora border town was first
being established. His energies focused on activities that established from the
town's resources, enterprises of lasting benefit to the community. He had
buildings constructed, developed a lucrative mine, and built a road to serve
it. He gave many acres of his property to the city to use as a cemetery. He
organized the water system that today serves the town. His Nogales biographer,
Hanson R. Sisk, summarized his career with the following statement:
Leopold Ephraim was a man of fine character. He made
business decisions with great caution. He was charitable, had a keen sense of
humor and sympathized with those who were less fortunate because he himself had
once drunk the dregs of poverty. 24
About the Authors (1969)
Fred Rochlin is researching and writing biographical
sketches of Jewish families of Santa Cruz County, Arizona and Sonora, Mexico.
He is himself a native of Nogales, Arizona, a town founded by a Jew. Situated in
territory annexed to the United States in 1854 as part of the Gadsden Purchase,
the town was not settled until plans for a railroad joining the two countries
stimulated interest. Jacob Isaacson, a peddler from Tucson, Arizona,
established the town in 1880, and for a short time the settlement bore his name.
Builders of the railroads and early settlers, including Leopold Ephraim, the
subject of this article, soon followed. Today, Nogales is a thriving border
community, best known as the port of entry between the United States and Mexico
on the Pan-American Highway. Harriet, a writer, is Mrs. Fred Rochlin.
1. Diego Ramirez, interview, April 18, 1967.
2. John Clark, interview, January 4, 1968.
3. "El Paso-Arizona Business Directory," The Gazetteer
Publishing Company, Denver, Colorado, circa 1890. Humorous advertisements seemed
to be popular at that time. Mark Lully, another Nogales Jewish pioneer, labeled
him-self "The Wandering Jew."
4. Lothar Rosenthal, interview, June 20, 1968.
5. Hanson R. Sisk, "Pioneers of the Border," p. 15;
"Leopold Ephraim, Pioneer Business Man," Nogales Herald, circa 1944.
6. Ibid., Rosenthal, op. cit., gives Ephraim's year of
birth as 1859, and the headstone at Home of Peace Cemetery, Los Angeles, gives
1861 as the year of his birth.
7. Rosenthal, op. cit.
8. Robert Glass Cleland, HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA.
9. Odie B. Faulk, LAND OF MANY FRONTIERS The History of
10. "McKenney's Business Directory of the principal towns
of Central and Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Colorado and
Kansas, 1882‑83," p. 265.
11. Sisk, op. cit.
12. Rosenthal, op. cit. Mr. Rosenthal believed that Ephraim
had met Steinfeld in Montana.
13. Sisk, op. cit., states that Ephraim was on hand for the
completion and dedication of the railroad line linking the United States and
Mexico, October, 1882.
14. Sisk. op. cit.
15. Tombstone Epitaph, 1893.
16. The Nogales Border Vidette, November 13, 1896.
17. Sisk, op. cit. and Rosenthal, op. cit.
18. A. M. Peck, "Memory of a Man," ms.
19. Rosenthal, op. cit.
20. Hanson R. Sisk, "Views and Interviews," Nogales Herald,
June 5, 1965.
22. Sisk, "Pioneers of the Border," op. cit.
24. Sisk, "Views and Interviews," op. cit.