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Nogales Pioneer Leopold Ephraim

Leopold Ephraim and friend and business associate Ramon Vasquez.

Leopold Ephraim and friend and business associate Ramon Vasquez.

Leopold Ephraim, born in Chulm, Prussia (now Poland) on April 16, 1850, left Europe for America in 1869 to avoid military service for Russia.

For a time he worked in the southern United States, but he contracted malaria and was advised to seek a drier climate. He headed west and in Montana bought a wagon, a mule team and, with a load of clothing and household utensils, set out as a peddler.

In 1877, he became a naturalized citizen and married Jenny Judah. She died soon after their marriage. Ephraim’s business did well for a time, but then failed during a stock market crash.

He traveled to San Francisco, which was experiencing bank failures, unemployment, drought and anti-Chinese sentiment. In San Francisco, he suffered such a severe financial disaster that he was left without even a horse. He walked most of the way from San Francisco to Arizona, where he had heard about opportunities at the mining operations at Tombstone and Globe.

He ended up in Tucson, where he found an old friend, Albert Steinfeld, who grubstaked him with merchandise and a stagecoach ride to Nogales. He stopped in Tubac and opened a store, which prospered, but Apache raiders made living conditions dangerous. He slept on a cot in a tent, which he surrounded with sacks of grain, flour and sugar to deflect Apache arrows.

He moved on to Nogales, then known as Isaacson, where he set up a tent store and again prospered. He did well enough to bring his father, Gumpricht Ephraim, from the old country to live with him. His father set up an assay shop near the international border. In 1897, the old man fell ill and was taken to San Francisco, where he died.

In 1905, Ephraim built the Ephraim building on his tent site at 114 Morley Avenue, just one block from the U.S.-Mexico border. He invested in mining properties in Sonora, Mexico and owned four claims near Tumacacori on the U.S. side of the border.

At one time, his El Promontorio mine in Sonora produced so much silver that he employed a work force of 300 men, mostly Chinese. The Tombstone Epitaph described his road to the mine as one of the best mountain roads in the Southwest. He sold the mine to Canadian interests and it was confiscated during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1915.

Ephraim bought hundreds of acres of land in the northwest section of Nogales. He donated some of it in what is known as Ephraim Canyon to the city of Nogales to found a public cemetery. Ephraim Canyon also was the location of Camp Stephen D. Little, an American Army post during the Mexican Revolution.

In 1909, Ephraim at age 59 went to Germany for a visit. There he met his childhood sweetheart, Franzisca Rosenthal, and they were married. Upon their return to Nogales, they made their home on Crawford Street.

Franzisca had respiratory troubles, and Dr. A.H. Noon advised the couple to move to a lower altitude. They chose Los Angeles. Franzisca went ahead and waited for Leopold while he concluded his business interests in Arizona and Mexico.

Ramon Vasquez, the friend and business associate shown in the accompanying photograph, was put in charge of Ephraim’s Nogales holdings.

Ephraim had developed the first water company in Nogales. He dug a large well and ran water lines to Nogales homes. Just before Arizona became a state, Nogales incorporated and decided to buy the water company. However, the town was so poor that no one would buy bonds to facilitate the sale. Finally on Feb. 12, 1912, two days before Arizona became a state, private financiers were found and the sale was completed for $60,000.

Leopold Ephraim died on Aug. 10, 1923, and is buried in Los Angeles. His wife died in 1946. Nogales newspaperman Hanson R. Sisk wrote of Ephraim:

“[He] was a man of fine character. He made business decisions with great caution. He was charitable, had a keen sense of humor and sympathized with those who were less fortunate because he himself had once drunk from the dregs of poverty.”

 — Jane Eppinga. Photograph from the Rochlin Collection of Western Jewish archives in the Pimeria Alta Historical Society, courtesy of Abe Chanin.

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