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.





Jake Katz: Pioneer and Entrepreneur

Now it is time to return to the story of the descendants of Rahel Katzenstein, sister of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein. Rahel had married Jacob Katz, and they had had six children: Blumchen, Moses, Meier, Abraham, Sanchen, and Samuel. Thus far I have focused on the stories of Abraham and Samuel, both of whom came to the US as young men after the Civil War. Now I will turn to Meier Katz and his family.

As I wrote in my last post before we left for Germany, Meier Katz and Sprinzchen Jungheim had six children, five of whom survived to adulthood: Jacob, Aron, Seligmann, Regina, and Karl.  Two of those children—Jacob (“Jake”) and Seligmann (known as  “Isaac” or “Ike” in the US) came to the US as young men about twenty years after their uncles Abraham and Samuel; the other three siblings did not arrive until the 1930s after Hitler came to power.

Karl, Sprinzhchen, Regina, Jacob, Aron, Meier, and Isaac Katz

Jake, the oldest son, has taken on a legendary status in the family’s history.

Jake Katz
Photo found in Stanley Tucker Whitney Houston, Stillwater (Arcadia Publishing 2014), p. 38

According to his 1923 passport application, Jake Katz was born on September 13, 1873, in Jesberg, Germany, and arrived in the United States in August, 1887, when he was not quite fourteen years old.

Jake Katz passport application 1923
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 2232; Volume #: Roll 2232 – Certificates: 273350-273849, 23 Apr 1923-24 Apr 1923

Family lore is that he came to work as a clerk in a dry goods store in Winfield, Kansas, owned by his mother’s brother, Eli Jungheim (spelled Youngheim in the US). Jake is listed in the household of Eli Youngheim in the 1895 Kansas state census:

Jake Katz, 1895 Kansas census
Kansas State Historical Society; Topeka, Kansas; 1895 Kansas Territory Census; Roll: v115_31; Line: 1
Township or Location : Winfield
Source Information
Ancestry.com. Kansas State Census Collection, 1855-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

According to the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Life, Eli Youngheim opened up a dry goods store in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in 1894, and hired Jake to run the store.  The family story is that there was a falling out between Jake and his uncle Eli and that Jake turned to his father’s brother, Samuel Katz, who was then in Omaha, and obtained from him financial backing to start his own store in Stillwater in 1896.

The Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Life provides an overview of the early history of Stillwater:

Settlement in Stillwater, Oklahoma began during the 1889 land run. The first settlers lived in tents pitched next to the creek that gave the town its name and survived on hunted wild game. From these rustic beginnings, Stillwater quickly developed after it was named the seat of Payne County and the site of Oklahoma’s land grant college in 1890. Cotton was the main economic engine of the area, and Stillwater became a commercial and processing center for the cash crop. By the time Eli Youngheim opened a clothing store there in 1894, Stillwater had a water system, public schools, and a downtown filled with commercial buildings. Stillwater never had a formal Jewish congregation, but a small number of Jews have lived in Stillwater since the late 19th century. 

By 1899, Jake was well settled in Stillwater; he became a naturalized citizen there on May 12, 1899.

The Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Life states that Jake’s younger brother Ike joined him in 1898 and helped him run the Stillwater store, which they named Katz Brothers. Ike, who was born Seligmann Katz in 1877, seems to have become Isaac or Ike in the US, arrived in the US on September 8, 1892. Here is his birth record from Jesberg as Seligmann:

Birth record of Seligmann “Ike” Katz
Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg: Standesamt Jesberg Geburtsnebenregister 1877 (HStAMR Best. 920 Nr. 3808) Jesberg 1877, p. 71

He was still using Seligmann when he immigrated:

Ship manifest for Seligmann Katz, 1892
Year: 1892; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 597; Line: 1; Page Number: 10
Ship or Roll Number : Roll 597
Source Information
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

My hunch is that Seligmann was his secular name in Germany, but that his Hebrew name was Isaac.  He seems to have adopted Isaac/Ike as his first name once in the US. According to a ship manifest for a voyage Ike took in August, 1912, he was naturalized in October 9, 1899, in Oklahoma.

Jake was still single as of the time of the 1900 census, but according to the family he married Sophia Salzenstein in 1901. Sophia was the older sister of Mayme Salzenstein, who would later marry Jake’s first cousin Lester Katz, son of Abraham Katz. As I wrote in an earlier post, Wolf Salzenstein, father of Sophia and Mayme, was a German immigrant living in Athens, Illinois, working as a livestock dealer.  His wife Caroline was born in Illinois, as were both Sophia and Mayme.

Jake and Sophia would have three children: Albert Jerome (1903), Helen (1904), and Margaret (1906). In 1910, they were living in Stillwater.

Jake Katz and family 1910 census
Year: 1910; Census Place: Stillwater Ward 2, Payne, Oklahoma; Roll: T624_1269; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 0199; FHL microfilm: 1375282
Enumeration District : 0199
Source Information
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line].

By 1910, Ike Katz also was married.  On May 26, 1909, he married Sophia Weil in New York City.  Sophia was also a German immigrant, born in Freiberg, Germany, which is not far from Jesberg.  According to the family, this was an arranged marriage. In 1910, Ike and Sophia were living in Pawnee, Oklahoma, where Ike had established a second Katz Brothers store.

Ike Katz and family 1910 census
Source Citation
Year: 1910; Census Place: Pawnee Ward 3, Pawnee, Oklahoma; Roll: T624_1268; Page: 22B; Enumeration District: 0181; FHL microfilm: 1375281
Enumeration District : 0181
Source Information
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:

It was around this time that Jake contacted his uncle Abraham, who was still living in Kentucky, and asked him to move to Oklahoma to establish another Katz dry goods store.  As I described in an earlier post, Abraham sent his oldest son, Lester, to Stillwater to work with Jake and explore the prospects of a store in another town in Oklahoma. In 1910, Abraham Katz and his family moved to Sapulpa, Oklahoma, and established another Katz store.

According to the family, in 1917, Ike decided to open a new Katz store in Oilton, Oklahoma.  He asked his cousin Sidney Katz to run it for him. Sidney, who had recently married his wife Eulalia, had been operating a shoe store in Fort Scott, Kansas, in partnership with his brother-in-law Morris Kohlmann, but the business had not been profitable enough, so Sidney decided to accept Ike’s invitation to run a store in Oilton.  Ike remained in Pawnee where on September 12, 1918, he registered for the World War I draft.

Isaac Katz World War I draft registration
Registration State: Oklahoma; Registration County: Pawnee; Roll: 1852068
Draft Card : K
Source Information
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA

The family business was thus thriving in the first two decades of the 20th century, but then Jake and Sophia Katz suffered a terrible loss on October 6, 1919, when Albert Jerome Katz, their son and oldest child, died four days short of his sixteenth birthday.

To be continued…