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Culbertson's S. E. Solomon

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sam and Emma Solomon with their grandchildren. Courtesy photo
Samuel Edward Solomon (1859-1941) was born in Pennsylvania. His family had come from Werra, Germany, in the shadow of the ancient castle of Wartburg, where Martin Luther had been concealed while he translated the Bible into the common language of the German people.

Sam Solomon grew to manhood in Pennsylvania. As his first job, he taught school until he was 25. In 1884, with his wife, Emma, and a young family, Sam moved west to Culbertson, Nebraska, where he bought the Culbertson Sun, which he published until 1888. At that time he sold the paper and went into the real estate and loan business with a Mr. Wheeler, who at the time was the Hitchcock County Attorney. After two years Solomon bought out Wheeler's interest in the business.

In the early 1900s Sam Solomon also had the dealership for DeLavelle Milk separators, and successfully sold these machines to farmers throughout Southwestern Nebraska. The farmers embraced the new machines as a way to increase the family income with a few dairy cows. Mr. Solomon was a successful real estate man, but he acknowledged that it was his commissions from the separator sales that provided needed capital for buying large tracts of farmland in the Culbertson area. He became one of the leaders in the early irrigation projects of the area, and was a forward thinker in the various community projects.

Sam Solomon was noted for the large number of German families (mainly from the Volga River Valley in Russia) that he sponsored to come to Southwestern Nebraska. He would bring these families to Culbertson by train and put them up in the local hotel. Then he would treat them to a big fried chicken picnic, and later take them into the countryside, via buggy, for a tour of farms in the Frenchman River Valley. The fine black loam soil was something these hardworking German farmers related to, and Mr. Solomon worked with them to rent land with the prospect of owning their own farms. In the years that followed, Mr. Solomon's faith in these farmers was justified, and until the end of his days Mr. Solomon visited these farmers on a regular basis and took pride in their success.

In 1910 Sam Solomon moved his family to Omaha, so as to expose his children to better educational opportunities -- and to tap into the real estate ventures of the big city. The educational opportunities were realized for his children, but Sam also received a quite painful education himself, explaining, "Don't think you know city real estate just because you have been successful in country real estate."

In the 1920s Solomon sold his Omaha holdings and headed west for new opportunities in California. Sam was more successful in his business dealings in California, especially in the North Hollywood area of Los Angeles. But the financial crash of 1929 disillusioned Sam on California real estate (as well as the great number of "phonies" that he felt resided in California). He sold all his California holdings, except his home in Glendale, which Mrs. Solomon loved -- she had a green thumb and liked being able to garden most of the year, and most of all liked being near her children and grandchildren, who had settled in Southern California. In later years she spent half the year in California, while Sam traveled back and forth to Nebraska.

In the early years of Solomon's real estate business he had been quite aggressive in leveraging his holdings. While he was sometimes wildly successful, the ups and downs of the market took their toll and he sometimes lost a great deal. By the late 20s he had learned his lesson and when the 1929 stock market crash occurred, followed by the Great Depression, Sam Solomon could say that he did not owe anyone one dime, and could take pride in the fact that he owned some 10 farms in the Culbertson area -- free and clear.

Through the dusty 30s Sam Solomon, now in his 70s, became obsessed with water. He gave talks and wrote articles pointing out the fact that water was the "most precious commodity to mankind." He sponsored the first irrigation ditch west of Hastings. He lobbied in the US Senate (through Senator Norris) for the creation of irrigation districts and the building of Federal Dams for the purpose of irrigation. At the time of his death, in 1941, he was working alongside McCook's Harry Strunk for the creation of the Nebraska/Kansas/Colorado dams that finally came into being at the end of World War II.

Mr. Solomon was a conservative man, a generous man, with good habits, but he had two weaknesses -- big black cigars and new, fast cars, both of which his wife frowned upon. It was said that if a car passed him on the highway he immediately traded in his old car in favor of the model car that had passed him -- or a better one.

Mr. Solomon was still driving into his late 70s, probably longer than he should have been driving, and his cars began collecting many dents. Against his will, his children finally took his keys away. This put a stop to Mr. Solomon's driving himself on his regular trips to visit his German farmers, but certainly did not stop the trips themselves. Mr. Solomon merely hired a driver and continued his regular visits up and down the Frenchman Valley and his frequent trips to McCook for coffee with his old friends. He also solved the problem of the black cigars ...

Sam Solomon was always a well-respected, likeable fellow, fun to be around and a fellow known to have a good sense of humor -- not above playing practical jokes on his grandchildren and his special friends. In May of 1915 Sam and three of his friends, D. Yule Dorwart and Clint Hamilton, who had an insurance agency in McCook, and Joseph S. McBrayer decided that smoking was bad for their health and agreed that all of them should curtail their habit. It might have been enough that the four of them could encourage one another in their endeavor, but that would have been too easy. Instead, the four friends entered into a legal contract, which called for "the parties involved" not to smoke for eight months, until the 4th of January 1916. From the contract, "Whereas Clint Hamilton, D.Y. Dorwart, and J.S McBrayer feel they cannot consistently live up to their said agreement, it is agreed that from this date, until the 4th day of January 1916, the parties to this agreement may each smoke two cigars between the hours of 6 and 10 p.m. And it is further agreed and expressly understood and the essence of this contract that the parties hereto are not to use tobacco in any other form, that is to say they are not to chew tobacco at any time, or of any kind. Any member of this contract violating any of the terms of this agreement hereby binds himself and agrees to pay the sum of $30 to the other three members of this contract." The contract was signed by each of the participants.

Apparently, before the ink was dry on the contract there were second thoughts, leading to a P.S. added to the contract, "It is agreed that J.S. McBrayer is not to smoke at any time, but may chew as much as he desires and that he will comply with all the terms mentioned in the contract." This postscript to the contract was signed again by J.S. McBrayer.

Sam Solomon was a gentleman of quality, fiercely patriotic, and wise. When Franklin Roosevelt came into the White House, in 1932, Mr. Solomon, a lifelong Republican, praised the President for his work in establishing the welfare programs and work programs to get the economy moving forward once again, but in a letter he expressed his concerns, "...but I'm afraid as time goes by, the government will go too far with giveaways, particularly as a means to get elected."

Sam Solomon died in Culbertson in September 1941. He was 82 years old.

Source: Unpublished Solomon family manuscripts

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I farmed for Sam's decendents and had the pleasure of talking to his family often. One lady, over 100 years old, I farmed for told me how she came to McCook via train with her father and were met by Sam with a buck board. Sam took them northwest of Culbertson to 320 acres of grass that her father bought. I farmed that rich dryland wheat ground for her. Her father came every year to be met by Sam and purchase land.

Sam's daughter owned land on the Blackwood Creek that I also farmed. We visited her in California and had a great time with a wonderful person. both these ladies provided me with much local past history. Sam met my Grandparents from Russia in 1913 and they farmed his land for several years.

-- Posted by Kid Kokamo on Mon, Sep 17, 2012, at 12:59 PM

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Days Gone By