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Arkansas Ties ... A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That, and a Whole Lot of Arkansas

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Louis Altheimer

 

Col. Louis Altheimer, Empire Builder

God is in history. In 1492, on the same day that Columbus discovered America, King Ferdinand of Spain induced by the Bishop of Spain, Turquometo, a baptized Jew, to sign an edict expelling the Jews from Spain, where they had lived for centuries and were among the most prominent people of this domain, either to embrace Catholicism within ten days or to leave the country under penalty of imprisonment and death.

It is a historical fact that Sanchez, a Spanish Israelite, Columbus' first lieutenant, was the first white man to set his foot upon the American soil, Don Jose Alvers, with his family, gave up home, wealth and rank for his faith, and became a wanderer for years from one country of Europe to another, when he at last found a place of abode and rest granted him by the Grand Elector (Landgraf of Hassen) to settle at the village of Altheim fifteen miles from Frankfort on the Main. About one hundred and fifty years ago the descendents of Don Jose, by government decree, were compelled to relinquish name and to assume a German one, Altheimer. My father was born in Altheim, marrying my mother who lived in Eberstadt near Darmstadt, where I was born in 1850.

As a boy, I read about America "the home of the brave and the land of the free," also a book written by Frederick Gerstacker, a writer and "globe trotter," about his adventures in Arkansas, its great resources and future, all of which made a deep impression on my youthful mind, and I longed then to emigrate to Arkansas. In company with my two cousins on my mother's side, Simon and Jake Bamberger, in my fourteenth year, the former one year older and the latter one year younger, we left south Germany and landed in New York in 1863. Strangers, not speaking English, with limited means we went to Cincinnati. My cousins went to Missouri to their eldest brother, Herman. I selected Indiana, where I worked on a farm a year and a half, and as I lived with a strictly English speaking family I soon learned to speak English.

My cousins about a half a century ago went to Utah, Simon became the coal kind of Utah. Herman, the oldest brother, is connected with the governor in the banking business. The youngest, Jake, is a retired mining millionaire, who spends his winters in Florida or California, and the summers in the Eastern resorts.

In 1865 peace came to our land and I started south for Arkansas. At Cairo, I took a steamer for Napoleon, Arkansas (the town is no more). Passengers on the steamer told me Arkansas was low and swampy. I remained on the steamer and went to Vicksburg and from there to Jackson, Miss., and opened a family grocery store. The ravages of the four years war left the south poor indeed. Many left for Brazil and some for the west, and so in the spring of 1866 I went to Omaha, Nebraska which had about thirty-five hundred people. From there to North Platte, Nebraska, then the end of the Union Pacific railroad. I bought a storehouse , sent for my cousin George, and in partnership with him opened a grocery store. Railroad building was pushed, and the town of Julesburg sprang into existence. My cousin remained and with a portable house and stock of groceries, I went to Julesburg. The rough conditions of the new town did not appeal to me. News came of the future great city at the foot of the Rocky Mountains to be named Cheyenne. With the Engineer Corps who were to lay out the new city and under the protection of General Auger and his troops, with three teams loaded with my portable house and supplies, I arrived in the spring of 1867 at the grounds within three miles of Fort Russell. The town prospered and with my cousin George, we built a new storehouse and had the lumber hauled from Denver, Colorado, one hundred and ten miles distant at one hundred and forty dollars a thousand feet.

Our business prospered, my cousins sold out to me and left. My brother Joseph and my double cousin Ben Altheimer arrived. The former was the father of Ben J. Altheimer, a prominent lawyer of Pine Bluff and now located in Chicago. The latter was at one time quite a prominent merchant at Forrest City, Arkansas, but about forty years ago went to St. Louis and there became engaged in the banking business under the name and style of Altheimer & Rawlings. A few years ago Rawlings died and Ben Altheimer sold out and moved to New York a retired philanthropists, being the father of the "Bundle Day Organizations" existing in nearly every large city for the relief of the poor. He now spends the evening of his life with his daughter. My brother Joseph later became my partner in business in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

The Union Pacific railroad heading for California established a new town at Green River, Utah. Many people left Cheyenne, and as I was getting tired of the nomadic life, coupled with severe winter snow storms in a treeless country, and the unsettled conditions of frontier life, I concluded to go back to the Sunny South. In the meantime, I learned of so many good reports of Arkansas and after I visited my parents across the waters and with my young bride after arriving in New York, we went to Memphis, where we took the steamer Thomas H. Allen, under the command of Reese Pritchard, for the Arkansas River. The state had no railroads in 1869 except a piece of road from Little Rock to Devall's Bluff. Upon arriving at Pine Bluff, then a village of about 1,000 inhabitants, the river bank was lined with people welcoming the boat and its passengers. It seems the whole town had turned out. Our ticket destination was Little Rock and we remained on the boat and came to the "City of Roses." We took in the town, but the hearty welcome extended to us at Pine Bluff made such an impression upon us that we decided to return, and we made Pine Bluff our home. We prospered in the mercantile business, realizing that a great future was in store for the town and the county, and with my brother Joseph we invested in lands, which were selling at any price. We began to clear lands and put into cultivation. In 1892, we divided our holdings and in 1904 I had cleared, directly and indirectly, about 12,000 acres.

In that year, I induced my son and present partner, Maurice L., to withdraw from the law firm of Welch, Altheimer, & Young at St. Louis, Mo., and to come back to Arkansas and take charge of the office and financial part of my planting interest.

In 1882 the Cotton Belt railroad entered Arkansas. In 1884 the town of Altheimer sprang into existence, and in 1886, I promoted the Altheimer branch of the Cotton Belt railroad to Little Rock, which was built in 1888. I was at the apex of my ambition. I had 6,600 acres in a high state of cultivation, but the great overflow from Arkansas river (we had no levees then) in June 1904, destroyed most of my crops. Still undaunted by the previous year's loss, I planted a bigger crop but as providence would have it, it rained and rained, and crops were short and so was the price of cotton. I commenced to sell farm after farm for about the price improvements cost. Lands had no friends, and buyers were scarce. But how wonderfully conditions have changed. Levees were built, canals were dug, new highways were constructed, cotton boomed, and prosperity came into Arkansas, Jefferson being the banner cotton county in the state. Lands advanced in value. To prove, about 25 years ago a tract of land near Altheimer, called the Hall estate, of 1,110 acres sold for about $10 an acre. Last month the owner, Dr. D.C. Walt of this city, was offered for one-half of it $110,000 and refused.

Yes, Arkansas, I always claimed, is the greatest and most resourceful state in the Union. With it's broad and fertile acres producing a cotton known the world over for its long, strong, and silky fiber; its rice, corn, wheat, oats, and alfalfa cannot be beat; its angora goats in north Arkansas; its apple orchards, and vineyards, and its Elberta peaches, strawberries, and pears; its poultry and dairy industry, the latter coming fast to the front; truck farming, Irish and sweet potato raising yet in its infancy and with a great future in store; its minerals, zinc, lead, bauxite, manganese, fuller's earth, sandstone, granite, onyx, and marble deposits inexhaustible. Arkansas has more running streams than any other state. Fish of all species abound in her waters. Has many health resorts. Hot Springs is known the world over for its hot, curative water. I could go on and tell of many other resources yet asleep, waiting for capital to be developed. I must not forget to speak of the Pike county diamond fields, and the White river pearls. Last, but not least, Arkansas has the most beautiful women in the world, and I thank my good star that I selected Arkansas for those who come after me to live in. Arkansas has been kind to me. My life's work is here. My dearest ones are here and some of my dear ones sleep in Arkansas soil, where I want to be buried.

It has always been my desire to live in Little Rock, and about fifteen years ago, I moved here. The city was then a "sleeping giant" and it has since made wonderful forward strides beyond anyone's expectations. We have now one hundred thousand people, and I sincerely believe before we arrive 1950, Little Rock will have a population of a quarter million.

With my son and partner, Maurice L., we started nine years ago the Altheimer Dry Goods Company on a side street, Sixth and Center. The street today is one of the busiest thoroughfares of the city. At the beginning our storeroom was 20x90 feet. Today, we front 100 feet in the Arcade, 175 on Center, 100 on Sixth, in all 350 feet of show windows. We have seventy employees. Our annual sales are five times what they were the first year. Being out of the high rent district, catering to the wants of the people and giving satisfaction to the public, proves our success. We also are interested with W.J. Clary in our Planting and Altheimer Supply Company Store at Altheimer. The firm of Altheimer, Osborne, & Clary, at Humphrey, Arkansas is doing a large mercantile business. My son is president of the Twin City Bank, and its success speaks for itself. Let us be thankful to him on high for his many blessings showered on the state of Arkansas, and its people, and for the generations to come after us.

Louis Altheimer

Maurice L. Altheimer

* Arkansas Gazette - 1919