Thursday, March 14, 2013

Artifact of the Month - March

March’s Artifact of the Month is a small wooden box with an unfortunately violent history.   The box belonged to Judah Nachemsohn, a Jewish peddler who traveled from Waco, Texas to the Bellevue area in April of 1871. It contained eyeglasses and samples of various lenses, including a pair of eyeglasses from Carter Opticians, located at 322 Texas Street in Shreveport.  This little box has quite the story behind it.

On April 19, 1871, F.M. Braden found an abandoned wagon in the woods about 2 miles from Bellevue, near the Minden Road.  Braden reported his discovery to Richard Welcome Turner and the two men returned to the wagon the following day, where they soon realized a crime had been committed.  Blood was on the wagon and several trunks were broken open.  They followed the wagon tracks and came upon a man’s body.  Several clues hinted at the man’s identity:  a bill of sale for a wagon and two horses from H. Kruse of Waco, TX to John Nachemsohn was found in the man’s coat pocket, a pair of pants in the wagon had the same name, and an accounting cash book in the wagon had “Nachemsohn, Silverstein & Co” written on the cover.  According to the account book, the murdered man carried about four thousand dollars. The Bossier Banner notes that “it is evident the deceased was a peddler, and was killed for his money.”  

The Jewish community in Shreveport took Nachemsohn’s body for burial, and correctly identified the man as Judah Nachemsohn, not John. He was an immigrant from Hamburg.  News from the Waco Register ran in the May 20, 1871 issue of the Bossier Banner: “Mr. Nachemsohn left [Waco] about six weeks ago; after converting all his effects into cash, and took with him, as a companion, a young man named Lamb. He had about him between three and four thousand dollars in specie, and dissolved his copartnership with Messrs. Silverstein & Ettleson (both gentlemen now in [Waco]), and left with the intention of visiting his home in Europe.  Mr. Nachemsohn was a clever gentleman, and a Mason and Odd Fellow in good standing.  Young Lamb, his companion from this place, has not been heard of since he left.”

This is an intriguing mystery and it seems like police had several leads to follow, but that newspaper article was the last mention of Nachemsohn’s murder.  Just like today, the news cycle continued and on May 27, the Fillmore shooting of James McClanahan and James Wooley by D. Charles Mims captured the attention of the Bossier Banner.  Nachemsohn’s unsolved murder was “old news” and Banner readers moved on to the next headlines.  No arrests were ever made and the matter remains a mystery to this day.

This unassuming wooden box tells the story of many men like Judah Nachemsohn.  Hundreds of Jewish peddlers worked throughout the South, traveling through small towns and bringing their goods to the rural population.  Peddlers generally traveled alone and carried cash, so stories of robberies and murders abound. 

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