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The Harness Maker's Dream

Nathan Kallison and the Rise of South Texas

Nick Kotz

Publication Year: 2013

Both historical study and ancestral narrative, The Harness Maker’s Dream follows the story of Ukrainian immigrant Nathan Kallison’s journey to the United States in search of a brighter future. At the turn of the twentieth century, over two million Jews emigrated from Czarist Russia and Eastern Europe to escape anti-Semitic law. Seventeen-year-old Kallison and his brothers were among those brave enough to escape persecution and pursue a life of freedom by leaving their homeland in 1890. Faced with the challenges of learning English and earning wages as a harness maker, Kallison struggles to adapt to his new environment.

Kallison moves to San Antonio, Texas, where he finds success by founding one of the largest farm and ranch supply businesses in south Texas and eventually running one of the region’s most innovative ranches. Despite enormous changes in environment and lifestyle, Nathan Kallison and his beloved wife Anna manage to maintain their cultural heritage by raising their children in the Jewish faith, teaching them that family values and a strong sense of character are more important than any worldly achievement.

The son of Nathan Kallison's daughter Tibe, author Nick Kotz provides a moving account of his ancestors’ search for the American dream. Kotz’s work has received recognition by the Texas Jewish Historical Society for eloquently depicting the reality of life for Jewish immigrants in Texas during this time and delineating their significant contributions to society. Kotz’s insight into the life of this inspiring individual will prompt readers to consider their own connections to America’s immigrant past and recognize the beauty of our nation’s diverse history.

Published by: TCU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-ii


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pp. iii

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Mary L. Volcansek

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pp. v

THE CENTER FOR TEXAS STUDIES at TCU was delighted when approached about partnering with the TCU Press to publish Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nick Katz's outstanding story of an immigrant's move to and life in Texas in the early twentieth century. The Center's mission is to celebrate all that makes Texas distinctive. Nathan Kallison is among the distinguished...

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pp. 1-3

IN THE DARK OF NIGHT, Nathan Kallison embraced his widowed mother and, for the last time, slipped away from their village in Czarist Russia. At the age of seventeen, he was heading out alone-first by foot, then oxcart, and finally on a train over thirteen hundred miles of hostile land-to board a ship in the German port of Bremen. That journey...

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One: To Freedom

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pp. 5-15

AT SEVENTEEN, Nathan Kallison faced stark choices as a Jew living in Imperial Russia. Forced conscription into the army would condemn him to years of privation and hard labor in Siberia. If he stayed in his small village of Ladyzhinka, he risked death in a wave of anti-Semitic violence sanctioned by Czar Alexander III and executed by his brutal...

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Two: Chicago

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pp. 17-35

WHEN NATHAN ARRIVED in Chicago in 1890, he saw young boys playing games in the street, riding bicycles, walking beside a mighty lakeshore with girls at their side. Steamy in summer, frigid in winter with fierce winds propelling pedestrians down snowy streets, the city had a pace, a quickening rhythm unlike any he had ever...

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Three: Deep in the Heart

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pp. 37-53

NATHAN AND ANNA, with two small children in their arms, stepped off the KATY Flyer onto the wooden platform of the San Antonio railroad depot; household belongings and harness-making equipment would follow in a freight car. In 1899, their decision to move to Texas was a bold gamble: the culture in which they would plant...

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Four: The Land

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pp. 55-64

FROM HIS FIRST DAYS in San Antonio, Nathan was curious to see the countryside surrounding the city, the land on which his customers lived and worked. Cowboys wearing dusty broad-brimmed hats, boots, and spurs rode into town to hitch their horses in front of his shop. He learned the rhythms of their strange...

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Five: Tradition!

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pp. 65-88

ON SATURDAY MORNINGS in the early years, Anna Kallison would walk out of her Mission Street home to shop or run errands, often with her young children at her heels. She would visit the small neighborhood grocers and dry goods stores or head to Market Square where fruit and vegetable vendors from farms around the city sold their produce from horse-drawn wagons...

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Six: War, Peace, and Prosperity

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pp. 89-107

IN 1914 NATHAN, ANNA, and their fellow Eastern European immigrants learned that the Old World could never be left behind. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated on June 28, World War I ignited in Europe. The Kallisons' concerns were about Jewish victims left behind and caught in the crossfire...

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Seven: The Great Depression

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pp. 109-135

THE STOCK MARKET CRASHED on "Black Tuesday," October 29, 1929, just after Texas had come through a stunning decade of rising prosperity. Its citizenry had grown by nearly 25 percent, to a total of 5,824,000. A bumper crop of cotton had been sold, and the twin economic pillars of agriculture and oil were thriving. On the Edwards...

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Eight: The Ol' Trader

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pp. 137-149

WHILE PAULINE AND TIBE were seeking their independence in Chicago, Morris traveled to New York, where he bought a souvenir newspaper announcing "Morris Kallison Buys Brooklyn Bridge"-a joking reference to his dream of owning a real estate empire. But Perry-so committed to the store and the ranch, as well as to education, civic involvement...

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Nine: World War II: The Texas Home Front

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pp. 151-166

SERGEANT YORK was playing downtown at the Texas Theater that Sunday afternoon. Ten-year-old Jack Kallison and his eight-year-old cousin Nathan were watching the actor Gary Cooper as the famous World War I hero-the kind of soldier they wanted to be if they only had a war. When the movie ended, the boys walked out onto the sidewalk to find people scurrying about, passing...

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Ten: The Best Years

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pp. 167-180

WITH THE NEW POSTWAR America open for business again, Morris and Perry Kallison's ambitions now grew broader than Nathan had ever envisioned. In the euphoria created by the parallel victories over Germany and Japan, and after four years of unparalleled sacrifice on faraway battlefields...

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Eleven: The Brothers Kallison

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pp. 181-198

A STRANGER COMING IN to Kallison's would never guess that Morris and Perry were brothers. Aside from their sevenyear difference in age and their great disparity in appearance- broad-shouldered Morris with his dark eyes and shock of black hair; blue-eyed Perry, shorter and balding-the brothers' interests were as wide apart as their personalities...

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Twelve: All in the Family

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pp. 199-213

DURING THE DEPRESSION and throughout World War II, the Kallisons prospered. In the spacious-- but not grand -- fieldstone homes with wide grassy lawns Nathan had built in Olmos Park, their lives were comfortable; their lifestyles, although considered "upper middle class;' were never ostentatious. The Kallison...

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Thirteen: No Business for Sissies

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pp. 215-235

CLOUDS OF DUST spread out in every direction from the dirt roads leading into the Kallison Ranch. Hundreds of pickup trucks, new postwar station wagons, sedans, and surplus jeeps drove up on that sunny Sunday afternoon carrying farmers, ranchers, rural neighbors, and city dwellers from all over South Texas. A line several miles...

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Fourteen: Changing Times

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pp. 237-251

FROM THE GREAT SOCIAL protests that brought civil rights laws for minorities, opened doors for women to rise and break "glass ceilings," and mobilized a generation against the war in faraway Vietnam, the times were-as the song went-"a' changin'." Across America, the 1960s will be remembered as both turbulent and transformational...

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pp. 253-255

NATHAN AND ANNA KALLISON'S accomplishments were not confined within the bricks and mortar of their store nor the barbed-wire fences of their ranch. Their legacy of hard work, solidarity, faith, love of family and country, respect for the land, and compassion for their fellow human beings...

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Author's Note: The Questions We Never Asked

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pp. 257-265

AT DAY BREA K, my grandfather and I would walk together across the white sand beach and then, hand in hand, wade into the gentle surf of the Gulf of Mexico. Dressed in his scratchy woolen two-piece swimming suit, he would splash the salty water all over his face and body, an exercise he found invigorating....

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pp. 267-270

MY GRATITUDE to those who contributed to this book begins with loving appreciation for my wife Mary Lynn Kotz, who has wisely, skillfully, and tirelessly edited every book and magazine article I have written over many decades-as well as scores of newspaper stories. She has taught me that the events of...


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pp. 271-284


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pp. 285-315

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 316-320


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pp. 321-337

Image Plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9780875655932
E-ISBN-10: 0875655939
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875655673

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013