Jake Katz: Tragedy in the Family

In my last post I started to tell the story of Jake Katz, the oldest child of Meier Katz and Sprinzchen Jungheim.  Jake was my grandmother’s second cousin. He came to the US as a teenager in 1887 and within ten years had established his own clothing store in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  Working with his younger brother Ike and other members of the extended Katz family, Jake helped to establish a chain of clothing stores in a number of places in Oklahoma by 1910.

He married Sophia Salzenstein in 1901, and they had three children: Albert Jerome, Helen, and Margaret.  All that success, however, was tempered by a terrible tragedy in 1919 when Albert Jerome died during a boxing match at school.

Albert Jerome (who seems to have been known as Jerome) was a student at Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, and, according to several news accounts about the incident, he had gotten into a dispute with another student.  As described in an article from the first page of the November 26, 1919, issue of the Wichita (Kansas) Beacon [see below], the other student had taunted Jerome by calling him a “pussy cat,” and Jerome had requested a “fistic bout” to settle the dispute between them.  According to the article, at the time it was “a practice of the Kemper School’s discipline to permit such bouts between cadets whose disputes cannot be arbitrated.”

The bout was scheduled and witnessed by not only other students but several staff and faculty members of the school.  The newspaper wrote, “Katz, the larger of the boxers, seemed to have the advantage in the first and second rounds. In the third round he staggered and fell on the ground.  He was dead before a physician could be brought.”

Death of Albert Jerome Katz
The Wichita Beacon, November 26, 1919, page 1

Although the initial news reports including the one from the Wichita Beacon above suggested that Jerome had suffered from a weak heart, the family later disputed this conclusion.  The St. Louis Star and Times reported on December 24, 1919 (p. 3) that Jake Katz had written a letter stating that his son had passed a rigorous physical exam before being admitted to the school and had not been sick since he was a child.  He claimed that after the fight there were bruises all over his son’s body and that he had died from injuries sustained in the boxing match.  The newspaper quoted from Jake’s letter claiming that the conduct of the school authorities was “inexcusable and even deceitful in their efforts to silence and shift the responsibility of their crime.”

Death of Albert Jerome Katz 1919
St Louis Star and Times, December 24, 1919, p. 3

The official death certificate for Jerome shows that the authorities concluded that the cause of death was acute dilatation of the heart, defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a disease of the heart muscle, usually starting in your heart’s main pumping chamber (left ventricle). The ventricle stretches and thins (dilates) and can’t pump blood as well as a healthy heart can.”  The American Heart Association asserts that one third of those with the condition inherited it from their parents.  Disease and other causes are also listed, but physical impact from a fight is not among the listed causes.

Alfred Jerome Katz death certificate
Ancestry.com. Web: Missouri, Death Certificates, 1910-1962 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: Missouri Death Certificates. Missouri Secretary of State. http://www.sos.mo.gov/records/archives/archivesdb/deathcertificates/: accessed 24 August 2014.

In fact, the Wichita Beacon article reported that Jerome’s uncle had died from heart disease two years earlier in Kansas City. That was Sophia’s brother Sol Salzenstein, who died of “valvular insufficiency” on February 27, 1918, at age 41:

Sol Salzenstein death certificate
Ancestry.com. Web: Missouri, Death Certificates, 1910-1962 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: Missouri Death Certificates. Missouri Secretary of State. http://www.sos.mo.gov/records/archives/archivesdb/deathcertificates/: accessed 24 August 2014.

The death certificate for Albert, however, also reported that a contributing cause of his death was “fisticuff exercise,” or at least that’s what I think that says.

Although the November 26, 1919, article from the Wichita Beacon shown above had reported that Jake Katz originally wanted to establish a memorial scholarship in his son’s memory at the Kemper School, by December 25, 1919, he had no such intention, according to an article from the December 25, 1919, Mexico (Missouri) Weekly Ledger (p. 1).  According to that article, Jake said, “A better memorial would be to abolish the old and outgrown custom of dueling.”

Report on death of Albert Jerome Katz in the Mexico OK) Weekly Ledger, December 25, 1919, page 1

I couldn’t agree more. It’s hard to imagine something like this being not only allowed, but encouraged by any school today.  At least I hope that’s the case.  Even if Albert Jerome’s death was caused by heart disease, the idea that a school would condone the use of force to settle a name-calling dispute is very disturbing and obviously was extremely upsetting to the family of this young man.

A year after Albert’s death, Jake, Sophia, and their two daughters were living in Stillwater with Sophia’s mother Carrie and her sister Fannie.

Jake Katz and family 1920 census
Year: 1920; Census Place: Stillwater Ward 2, Payne, Oklahoma; Roll: T625_1482; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 190; Image: 875

The family did establish a scholarship in memory of Albert Jerome, but at Oklahoma A & M in Stillwater, not at the military academy where he had died:

I find it interesting how the paper described Albert Jerome’s death—that he was killed in a boxing match, not simply that he died during a boxing match.

Around this time Jake made Sol Frisch a partner in the Stillwater store; Sol was the husband of Jake’s cousin Florence Katz, daughter of Abraham Katz.  Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Life.

Ike Katz, meanwhile, was still living in Pawnee in 1920 with his wife Sophia and running the Katz store in that town.

Ike and Sophia Katz 1920 census
Year: 1920; Census Place: Pawnee, Pawnee, Oklahoma; Roll: T625_1482; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 150; Image: 77

A second tragedy struck the family when Ike Katz died in 1923; he was only 46. According to the family, he left most of his estate to his brother Jake, who used it to acquire land and to expand the family business. Ike’s widow Sophia remarried by 1930 and remained in Pawnee with her second husband, Albert Cohn.

Thus, within four years Jake Katz had lost his son and his brother.  In August 1926, his sixteen year old nephew Jack Katz came to live with Jake and his family in Stillwater.  Jack was the son of Jake’s brother Aron, who was still living in Jesberg.  Jack was following in Jake’s footsteps in many ways—coming to the US as a teenager to help an uncle in his dry goods business. In 1930, Jack was living with Jake and his family and working in the Stillwater store:

Jake Katz and family 1930 census
Year: 1930; Census Place: Stillwater, Payne, Oklahoma; Roll: 1925; Page: 34A; Enumeration District: 0029; FHL microfilm: 2341659

Jake’s daughter Helen married Alfred Goldman on February 26, 1930.  Alfred was an Oklahoma native, born in 1894 to Michael Goldman, an immigrant from Lithuania, and Hortense Dreyfus, who was born in France. After they married, Alfred and Helen settled in Oklahoma City, where Alfred and his brother Sylvan were in the grocery business.  A year later Sylvan would marry Helen’s sister Margaret.

Helen Katz and Alfred Goldman marriage record
Ancestry.com. Oklahoma, County Marriages, 1890-1995 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.
Original data: Marriage Records. Oklahoma Marriages. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, UT.

Margaret Katz and Sylvan Goldman marriage record
Ancestry.com. Oklahoma, County Marriages, 1890-1995 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.
Original data: Marriage Records. Oklahoma Marriages. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, UT.

Jake and his daughters suffered another terrible loss when Sophie Salzenstein Katz died on October 17, 1930.  She was 58 years old.

Meanwhile, the Katz family back in Jesberg, Germany was facing its own crisis with the rise of Hitler and Nazism during the 1930s. Jake would play an important role in rescuing the family back home in Jesberg.





43 thoughts on “Jake Katz: Tragedy in the Family

  1. wow…I am constantly amazed by the paper trail you are able to find and follow. While an extremely sad ending how wonderful it had been documented. I think the ‘fighting’ to settle disputes continued for many years in schools all over. In fact it seems when I was in high school they were still putting the boxing gloves on for boys to duke it out….ugh

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess if it happened when I was in school, I was oblivious. I mean—kids had fights, but not arranged and condoned and supervised and witnessed by faculty members.

      Thanks as always for your feedback!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh man, that is awful. If he had died from that heart problem that some young males die from during sports (initials start with M is all I remember), it might be more plausible, but it doesn’t sound like that. and the previous bruises sound very odd. I hope he wasn’t facing bullying that he was trying to handle himself and that there were more people than his opponent (and the silent institution backing it all) involved.


  3. I was on the wrestling team in high school and college. However I never cared much for boxing. I just did not want to get my nose broke. It is very clear that the boxing match should have been stopped well before the 3rd round. Seems to me a lack of proper supervision. I am surprised that the family did not try to sue. Sounds like they had a good case.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Although I am not a boxing fan, I do understand it as a sport among men with supervision and training. But that’s as a sport—not as a fight to settle a name-calling dispute between two teenage boys who were angry with each other.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I could not agree with you more. Sadly This was and for some people still a way to settle silly disputes. Yes this still happens as I have seen it in my few years walking this earth.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, it sure does. Some of it is unfortunately inherent in human nature. But as civilized people, should be by now be able to resolve disputes without harming or killing each other? So very sad.


  4. I went to the Missouri Digital Heritage (I’ve used it often and it is my second favorite site for death records after WVCulture) to zoom in on the pdf. I agree with “exercise” but it doesn’t look like enough letters to get “fisticuff” out of the first word.
    Good for his parents for establishing the scholarship and NOT for the school where the tragedy happened.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jake and Sophia’s only son:( My father told me Albert was a victim of hazing. He was a handsome young man. Cousin Jerome had a photo of him. I will try to locate it. Thank you for your work in preserving family history.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh Amy! This is so terrible. I can’t imagine having a child die in this way. I think it would be nearly impossible to forgive the school officials. It sounds like Jake was able to move on from the tragedy though. I’m so interested to hear about his efforts to rescue his family from Germany! I’m guessing that is up next?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, Amy, this post just kept getting more sad and more sad. To lose a child and then have to deal with school policies and rules and a total lack of regard for the family. Inexcusable to say the least. Seems as though these two boys should not have been allowed to fight in the first place. How tragic.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Karen. When I read and then write about these people, I try to imagine being in their shoes. It helps me see them as people, not just names and dates.

        Liked by 1 person

      • This is where blogging and reliving some history will have such value for posterity. I fear my children will never know my grandparents and those before them, and that is sad, but if I can somehow bring my ancestors to life–even crotchety Orah Myrtle–my job will have been well done. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, that’s what got me started. Realizing that my grandson might not even know my parents (although he’s now seven and they’re still alive, so he knows them well as does his three year old brother).


  8. Amy, The news coverage adds to the immediacy I felt when reading about Albert Jerome’s death. It is a very sad indication of affairs when the kind of bullying that existed at the time of Albert’s death is still in existence today. I’m reminded of when I went to school, the fights after school took place away from the school. I never witnessed one but the verbal abuse and threats went on during school hours. Nothing was ever done to deal with the matter that threats and abusive speech should be considered a matter for the Dean. What I found disturbing is that the Academy where Albert went permitted the match to take place as a way to resolve a dispute. And today hazing takes place on campus. If no one is hurt or dies it continues as a part of what some consider a tradition.


  9. After the collapse of our family business I was state educated, but in my early years I attended a private school. The practice of boxing to settle disputes was in being at that relatively recent time (about 1955, I think). It was conducted under supervision with gloves and Marquis of Queensbury rules, but it was boxing nonetheless: I would have been about eight or nine years old.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: The Legacy of Jake Katz: One More Family Rescued and a Remarkable Life | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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