A STORY OF PIONEER SPIRIT AND SURVIVAL
JEWS OF THE WILD WEST
The film may have been silent, but the impact was that of a loud bang. “The Great Train Robbery,” known as the first American Western, would prove to be one of the most influential films in cinema. The year was 1903 and tales of the Wild West were quickly spreading throughout the world. In the film, Broncho Billy Anderson plays a rough and tumble bandit. His role as the first on-screen cowboy became so iconic that he was immortalized on a US stamp, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is honored in the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma. Fun fact? Broncho Bill was actually named Max Aronson and the son of Jewish New Yorkers.
Western Jewish pioneers, those of the silver screen and real life, are a largely forgotten chapter in US History. And yet, they played a definitive and often colorful role shaping the expansion of the United States. Pioneer Jews came to North America primarily in three waves: first were the Sephardic Jews fleeing the Mexican Inquisition during the1570s, followed by the German Jews of the 1830s and, last, the Eastern European Jews of the 1880s. There were nationally known names such as Levi Strauss, Samsonite founder Jesse Shwayder and the Guggenheim family, who built their great fortunes through grit and determination in California and Colorado. And there were also lesser-known characters such as Solomon Bibo, a Prussian immigrant, who became the only non-Native American tribal leader in New Mexico and Solomon Carvalho, a Sephardic painter and photographer who spent the mid-1800s documenting the territories of Kansas, Colorado and Utah. Wyatt Earp’s wife, Josephine Marcus Earp, was a Jewish dancer whose beauty is rumored to have triggered the fight at the OK Corral. And by the end of the 19th Century nearly every notorious Wild West town, including Deadwood and Tombstone, had a Jewish mayor.
The wagon trains that moved westward with Jewish families traveled for the same reason as many settlers: opportunity. Religious persecution and poverty in Europe forced thousands of Jewish immigrants to search for a better life in America. The anti-Semitism and tenements found in New York City, however, did not offer the respite many Jews were seeking. By 1912, it is estimated over 100,000 Jews had migrated to the Wild West. They put down roots and, today, many of their descendants are entrepreneurial and philanthropic leaders in the West. They epitomize the important legacy of immigration in America.
“Jews of the Wild West” is a feature length documentary. The independent film is produced by Electric Yolk Media and directed by award-winning filmmaker Amanda Kinsey. Through on-camera interviews, archival footage and images, the film will preserve this dynamic chapter of Jewish history and the role it played in shaping the United States. The film is expected to be completed in 2020. Once finished, it will be submitted to film festivals with the intention of being picked up for nationwide distribution.
"Jews of the Wild West" is directed by Amanda Kinsey. Amanda is an independent filmmaker, five-time Emmy Award winning producer and fourth-generation photojournalist. Prior to founding her own production company, Electric Yolk Media in 2013, she spent over a decade writing and producing for NBC News. During that time, she was also awarded with several Edward R. Murrow Awards, National Headliner Awards and a Gracie Allen Award.
In 2010, Amanda won an Emmy for her Today Show story “The Fighting Grossmans” about a Jewish American family with eight soldier sons in WWII. Her most recent productions are an hour long documentary for PBS’s “Treasures of New York” and a docuseries for VICE Sports.
Amanda recently relocated from Brooklyn to Denver with her family. Her passion for the Wild West is personal. Amanda's grandmother was born in Denver and once jumped out of an airplane for $100, her great-grandparents ran a photography studio in Butte, Montana at the turn of the 19th Century and her great-great-grandfather owned a San Francisco saloon during the California Gold Rush.
A documentary is as much about storytellers as it is stories. We have been lucky enough to interview some incredible people with ties to this period of history. Follow this slideshow for more background on the film’s interviewees so far. We are currently focused on Colorado and plan to continue with interviews throughout the Western United States soon.
"Jews of the Wild West" is an independent documentary currently in production. If you would like to help finance this film, we would very much appreciate your support. This project is educational and not-for-profit.
If you have a relevant family story from this era, please reach out to us. Some of the best discoveries come from boxes forgotten and tales passed down by generations. We love interesting history.