Learning About the First Jews in New Mexico
by Gail Jamin

hen the diminutive 86-year-old lady strode confidently off the plane at the Albuquerque airport this past November, and greeted me with a firm and friendly handshake, I knew I was in for an interesting few days.

Dorothy Shipman flew in from Boise, Idaho, to share with me, for the benefit of the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society (NMJHS), her memories of her grandmother (Clara Goldsmith Bowman Weil), grandfather (Nathan Weil) and great-grandfather (Henry Goldsmith), some of the earliest Jewish settlers in Colorado and New Mexico.

Bringing stories of the Goldsmith, Weil and Bowman families, Shipman has added to the knowledge the NMJHS has been collecting through its ìJewish Pioneer Oral History Video Archiveî project.

She told us great-grandpa Henry and his brother Abe came to the U.S. from Bavaria in the 1850s and eventually settled in Colorado. Her grandmother Clara Goldsmith was the first Jewish female born in Denver, and Clara's mother's death (at the time of Clara's birth) and burial was the first Jewish ceremony conducted in Denver. When the railroad claimed most of their farm in Colorado, Abe Goldsmith and his wife moved to New Mexico, taking with them his young niece Clara. An influential man in the area, Abe was instrumental in the establishment of Temple Montefiore in Las Vegas. Shipman's stor-ies of summers spent at her grandfather Weil's ranch in Ocate, NM as the "spoiled only granddaughter" were delightful.

All this makes me wish I knew more about


my own grandparents' history, two of whom came to the U.S. from Russia, one from Austria and one from Finland. Perhaps it was this lack of knowledge about my own family that led me to volunteer to help the NMJHS in its quest to enhance and expand its archives on the history of the first Jews to settle in New Mexico.

Thirteen volunteers came together this past January under the guidance of the project's Advisory Committee. University of New Mexico professors Noel Pugach and Durwood Ball and historian Henry Tobias shared with us some history of the Southwest, of New Mexico and Jewish immigration in the mid to late 1800s to give us some background on our subjects and the times in which they lived. We learned how and where to research our pioneer families' backgrounds and were taught how to conduct oral interviews by Rose Diaz, an Oral Historian at UNM. Finally, this spring the volunteers where assigned a family to research and off we went!

It has been great fun to meet and talk with the descendants of those pioneers. While many of our interviews have been completed there is still more work to be done to prepare the information we gathered for inclusion in the permanent archives of the NMJHS in Santa Fe and at the University of New Mexico. And, we have learned there are far more than the original 20 families we started out with who had a major influence on New Mexico's growth and development.

Who knows what fascinating information has yet to be gleaned from the descendants of these brave pioneers who came to a foreign land to build a better life for themselves and their families?

Home | Membership | Current Events | Comments | Archive | Geneology
Mission Statement | Links | Newsletter