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An early Jewish pioneer in Oklahoma, Joseph Sondheimer built one of the most successful businesses in the American Southwest and became one of the earliest merchants in Muskogee. He was born on September 22, 1840, in Bavaria. When Sondheimer was twelve years of age, his family immigrated to Maryland. He moved to St. Louis, Missouri before the Civil War, and during the conflict he organized commissaries for Union soldiers. In 1867 he established a hide, fur, and pecan business, locating "depots," or distributing and shipping points, along the old military road that led from Kansas through the Indian Territory to Texas. One of the larger trading points existed at the future site of Muskogee, in the Creek Nation, although Sondheimer's headquarters remained St. Louis.

In 1866 he had married Johanna Sondheimer (her maiden name), and the couple had two sons, Alexander and Samuel, who survived childhood. In 1872, as the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (MK&T) Railway laid tracks through the Creek Nation, Sondheimer moved his family to Muskogee and made the town his base. As the general solicitor for the MK&T during its construction in Texas, he not only created advanced freight business for the railroad, but purchased large shipments of furs and hides, elevating his regional commercial reputation. In the winter of 1885-86 he shipped eleven boxcar loads of pecans. In 1892 the Muskogee Phoenix reported that Sondheimer handled four-fifths of the hides and furs produced in Indian Territory. He shipped goods throughout the nation and around the world. Sondheimer frequently sent large amounts of deerskins to Germany, approximately ten thousand pounds in 1883 and six thousand pounds in 1892.

An early town booster for Muskogee and a member of the chamber of commerce, Sondheimer invested in the First National Bank, the Oklahoma and Cherokee Central Railroad, and other businesses and improvements in northeastern Oklahoma. He was a member of Congregation Beth Ahaba in Muskogee and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Joseph Sondheimer died on July 10, 1913, in Muskogee and was buried in Mount Sinai Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. His sons carried on the family businesses.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: John D. Benedict, Muskogee and Northeastern Oklahoma, Vol. 2 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922). Grant Foreman, Muskogee: The Biography of an Oklahoma Town (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). Muskogee (Oklahoma) Phoenix, 11 July 1913. Henry J. Tobias, The Jews in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).

Larry O'Dell

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