Leopold Ephraim
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Volume #1, Issue#2, January, 1969

by Fred and Harriet Rochlin


Leopold Ephraim
circa 1880

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. 2 The 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 peddler.

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 activities:

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 Sonora. 18

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. 19 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 $100,000.

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 the Southwest.

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.

21. Ibid.

22. Sisk, "Pioneers of the Border," op. cit.

23. Ibid.

24. Sisk, "Views and Interviews," op. cit.