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Beersheba | Hanston
One of seven attempts to start a Jewish agricultural colony in Kansas was in Hodgeman, then Garfield, County. Beersheba was the first and probably the most successful of the colonies, even though it lasted only a few years.
The Jews who came to Kansas were Russian refugees, and they were not really accepted by the Jews who were already in the United States. The United States Jews felt embarrassed by these refugees who spoke Yiddish. "The United Jewish Charities of Rochester denounced them as a 'bane to the country and a curse to the Jews.' The Rochester UJC continued that they had 'earned an enviable reputation in the United States, but this has been undermined by the influx of thousands who are not ripe for the enjoyment of liberty and equal rights and all who mean well for the Jewish name should prevent them (as) much as possible from coming to America.'"
Two men who were East European Jewish immigrants came to southwest Kansas in June 1882 to look for land on which to begin a colony. Julius Cohen and a Mr. Goldfarb claimed a homestead about 22 miles from Cimarron, and they were the ones who took care of all legal matters for the colony.
The colony of Beersheba was located north of Cimarron and a few miles northeast of Kalvesta. Located on Pawnee Creek, there was no lumber available and the settlers arrived to find sod buildings.
The Hebrew Union Agricultural Society was formed by sympathizers to the cause. Rabbi Isaac M. Wise appealed to the Cincinnati community to provide funds to send the Jewish refugees to Beersheba. Once the funds were raised, Charles K. Davis and Leo Wise, the rabbi's son, led the contingent of settlers to Kansas. Twenty-four Jewish families left Cincinnati on July 26, 1882, to begin a new life in Kansas. When they arrived in Kansas City by train, the merchants, hotels, and railroad agents took advantage of the group's situation. They were charged more for their rooms and food, as well as supplies. By August 6, 1882, the colonists were in Cimarron, and on the 11th, they left for Beersheba with their supplies.
By January 1883, there were 80 people who had settled in the area. A synagogue and a schoolhouse, both made of sod, had been built so that they could continue to worship and to educate their children.
These settlers had never been farmers, and the colony did not do as well as it had been hoped. The Hebrew Union Agricultural Society sent a man named Joseph Baum to Beersheba to supervise the colony in the fall of 1882. Baum, with his experience as a farmer, was to advise the colonists in the ways of farming, but he was also able to take items away if the farmer didn't do well.
The colonists did not get along with Baum and by 1884, many of them had given up farming and started working for the railroad. Those that remained farmers leased parts of their land to a company that was promoting cattle trails. The HUAS was very angry that the farmers did this, and Baum was ordered to take away all the farming implements. The settlers, who had thought the implements had been given to them permanently, found out that they were given to them on a loan basis.
By 1890, the experiment of a Jewish agricultural colony had failed. Many of the colonists left Beersheba to become merchants in the nearby towns of Ravanna and Eminence. Others returned to Kansas City and St. Louis.
Jewish Colonies in Kansas set up by Agricultural Aid SocietiesBeersheba (Hodgeman) | Gilead (Comanche) | Hebron (Barber) | Lasker (Ford) | Leeser (Finney) | Montefiore (Pratt) | Touro (Kearny)
Harris, L. David. "Lest We Forget Beersheba". The Wichitan, February 1981.
Fitzgerald, Daniel. "Ghost Towns of Kansas". Vol. 3. Daniel Fitzgerald. 1982.
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