Nick Kotz, Crusading Journalist and Author, has died at 87

Mr. Kotz won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing unsafe conditions in meatpacking plants. He also wrote about hunger in America and the politics of the B-1 bomber.

His articles about conditions in meatpacking plants “helped insure the passage of the Federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967,” according to the judges who awarded him the Pulitzer Prize.
His articles about conditions in meatpacking plants “helped insure the passage of the Federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967,” according to the judges who awarded him the Pulitzer Prize.Credit…Jack Kotz

Nick Kotz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author who exposed health hazards in the nation’s slaughterhouses, the gamut of hunger in America and the politics behind the Pentagon’s B-1 bomber, died on April 26 in Broad Run, Va. He was 87.

His wife, Mary Lynn Kotz, an author, said he died in an accident on his cattle farm after he had mistakenly left his 2006 Mercedes in neutral as he tried to retrieve a package from the back seat. The car struck him as it rolled backward.

Mr. Kotz was a Washington correspondent for The Des Moines Register and its sister paper The Minneapolis Tribune when he wrote a series of articles in the mid-1960s on the unsanitary and unsafe conditions in meatpacking plants He found that many plants were not subject to federal inspection because they were not engaged in interstate commerce.

The series brought him the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1968. In their citation, the Pulitzer judges said that Mr. Kotz’s articles had “helped insure the passage of the Federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967,” which extended federal standards to all manufacturers.

His series evoked Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel “The Jungle,” which dramatized horrific conditions among immigrant workers in Chicago’s stockyards and abattoirs. When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation in 1967, he was joined at the White House by Mr. Kotz and Mr. Sinclair, who was 89 at the time. (He died the following year.)

When the Pulitzer Prize was announced, the consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who had collaborated in publicizing Mr. Kotz’s findings, said Mr. Kotz’s articles were “a classic performance of objectivity, timeliness, stamina and thorough coverage” that demonstrated “how investigative journalism can break through the elaborate obstructions to information flow on the part of both government and industry.”

Mr. Kotz was a national investigative reporter for The Washington Post from 1970 to 1973 covering civil rights and organized labor. He later contributed to The New York Times Magazine and other publications.

His books include “Let Them Eat Promises: The Politics of Hunger in America” (1971); “A Passion for Equality: George A. Wiley and the Movement” (1977), which he wrote with his wife; “Wild Blue Yonder: Money, Politics, and the B-1 Bomber” (1988); and “Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws that Changed America” (2006).

Reviewing “Let Them Eat Promises” in The New York Times, the critic John Leonard wrote that Mr. Kotz “paints an appalling picture of political persiflage, bureaucratic ineptitude and moral obtuseness.”

In addition to the Pulitzer, Mr. Kotz won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism, the National Magazine Award for public service and the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Washington correspondence. At his death he was completing a memoir about his writing career.

Nick Kotz was born Nathan Kallison Lasser on Sept. 16, 1932, in San Antonio to Benjamin and Tibe (Kallison) Lasser. His father handled advertising for the family farm supply business. After his parents divorced when he was an infant, he was brought up by his mother and maternal grandparents. His mother later headed a real estate company.

In 1945, she married Dr. Jacob Kotz, and the family lived in Washington, where Nick, as he was known, graduated from the private St. Albans School.

After graduating from Dartmouth in 1955 with a degree in history and international relations, he was awarded a James B. Reynolds Scholarship to the London School of Economics. When a friend recommended that he take a class in contemporary American literature there, he decided to become a writer.

Mr. Kotz served as a lieutenant in the Marines in Japan before he was hired as a reporter by The Des Moines Register in 1958. He had chosen The Register from a list of midsize newspapers recommended by his mentor, D.B. Hardeman, an assistant to Sam Rayburn, the Texas Democrat who was speaker of the House.

While working in Des Moines, he encountered a fellow journalist, Mary Lynn Booth, at a party as she was preparing to leave for a magazine job in New York. After they met, she decided to remain in Des Moines. They married in 1960.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Kotz is survived by a son, Jack, and a grandson, Nathan.

In his latest book, “The Harness Maker’s Dream: Nathan Kallison and the Rise of South Texas” (2013), Mr. Kotz wrote about his grandfather, a Jewish refugee who fled Ukraine in 1890 and built a ranch and the largest farm supply business in the American Southwest.

“As a veteran journalist and historian, I only now have become fully aware that the most important history of our country is not found in the grand events of wars and presidencies,” Mr. Kotz wrote, “but rather in the everyday lives of our citizens, how they worked hard to support their families; how they coped with hardships, discrimination and human tragedy; and how they contributed to their own communities and nation.”

New York Times Obituary

Nick Kotz


As a reporter for the Washington Post and the Des Moines Register, and in six pathbreaking books, Nick Kotz won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, the National Magazine Award, two Robert F. Kennedy Awards, and eight other renowned prizes. Among his works are exposés of government corruption and studies of national defense, civil rights, social, justice, and labor unions.

Historians also recently praised The Harness Maker’s Dream for its eloquent depiction of early Jewish immigrants’ lives in Texas, and their later significant impacts on society, culture, and the economy. It received a 2015 San Antonio Conservation Society Publication Award and was a Texas Institute of Letters finalist for the Carr P. Collins Award for nonfiction.

A Marine Corps veteran, educated at Dartmouth College and the London School of Economics, Kotz and his wife, author Mary Lynn Kotz, live on a cattle farm in Broad Run, Virginia.

The Dallas Morning New’s GuideLive Review of The Harness Maker’s Dream:

As a child in San Antonio in the 1930s and ’40s, Nick Kotz lived with his grandfather Nathan, who ran a large farm supply store and a cattle-breeding ranch. But as he recounts in The Harness Maker’s Dream, he never thought to ask “Papa” Kallison during their many hours together about his early life, about where he was born and grew up.


Read full review:


Bootleggers in the Family? (Who knew!)

bootleggerWith the help of documents from the National Archives, Nick Kotz uncorked secrets bottled in his family’s past. Here is the photographic “evidence” in the government’s prohibition case against his Russian-born grandfather Nathan Kallison: hooch-making supplies for sale in the Kallison Block Building (June 1927). The verdict: Not guilty!  Did the feds target immigrant shopkeepers rather than crack down on major league bootleggers? Read more about the case on page 101 in The Harness Maker’s Dream: Nathan Kallison and the Rise of South Texas.

On May 14th at 7 pm at the National Archives, Nick Kotz will moderate a panel The National of Immigrants: How they Have Shaped America featuring Steve V. Roberts, New York Times bestselling author of From Every End of the Earth: 13 Families and the New Lives They Made in America, and Sanford J. Ungar, President of Goucher College and author of Fresh Blood: The New American Immigrants. For details go to  or view the Archives Calendar of Events at  This program is free and open to the public.


San Antonio Conservation Society Award

San Antonio Conservatoin Society_1 The San Antonio Conservation Society honored Nick Kotz with a 2015 Publication Award for The Harness Maker's Dream: Nathan Kallison and the Rise of South Texas (TCU Press, 2013). The Society’s Publication Awards, which take place every other year, publicly recognize the authors of the best recently published books on Texas history. SACS 2015 Publication Award Recipients   

Texas Institute of Letters announces that The Harness Maker’s Dream is a finalist for their Carr P. Collins Award for Nonfiction.

TILThe Texas Institute of Letters has announced that The Harness Maker's Dream is a finalist for their Carr P. Collins Award for Nonfiction.

The awards are for works appearing during calendar year 2013. The Institute was founded in 1936 to recognize literary achievement and to promote interest in Texas literature. Authors must have lived in Texas for at least two years or their works must relate to the state. Texas Institute of Letters Website

Writers’ League of Texas Review

Read Laura D. Sanders'  review of the THE HARNESS MAKER’S DREAM on Writers' League of Texas web site. 10_1899_Kallison-Family-in-Chicago-Standing_Nathan-(left),-Anna-(right),--Seated_Dina-Kallison-(center),-Pauline-(left),-Morris-(right)I stand in awe of the Kallison family.  From surviving pogroms against Jews in Russia, to moving around the world to the U.S. and then surviving one of the longest Texas droughts (seven years) with their ranch and farm/ranch store intact, this family had an incredible ability to roll with life’s punches and come up standing.  In the process they insisted on helping their neighbors at every possible turn, as well as serving the wider community, the city of San Antonio, the cattle and horse industries of Texas, and even the United States, leaving a legacy in many areas. For those interested in the history of Texas ranching and farming, the Kallisons’ story is a microcosm of the best that can be done, and the factors that contributed to the downturn of the [...]

Renowned Texas Journalist Shares Family History in ‘The Harness Maker’s Dream’

Kotz tells KUT's David Brown, host of the forthcoming daily news show Texas Standard, the story of how  Nathan Kallison escaped the Cossacks in Russia to the ghettos of Chicago where he became a harness maker."The automobile was starting to roll on the streets of Chicago," Kotz says. "[Nathan Kallison] had vision, and he saw if there were harnesses and saddles that were still going to be used any place, Texas was the best place to go." And Texas is where Nathan Kallison went. Listen to their interview in the Soundcloud player above or on the web site:


Nick Kotz speaks about The Harness Maker’s Dream and the Kallison family of San Antonio with David Martin Davies, Producer and Host of TEXAS MATTERS.  Learn more about the program at and tune in the weekend of January 4 to listen to the interview. TEXAS MATTERS is a Texas Public Radio broadcast that airs on 30 stations across the state Fridays at 3:30 pm, Saturdays at 6:30 am, and Sundays at9:30 pm CT

News 4 San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO - Author Nick Kotz discusses his book titled: The Harness Maker's Dream Nathan Kallison & the Rise of South Texas. The book is about the Kallison family and their journey escaping anti-Semitic laws in Europe, and finding a new home in Texas. Kotz will be at the The Twig Book Shop (306 Pearl Pkwy, San Antonio) on Dec. 6, 5-7pm, and during the Tamale Festival on Dec. 7, 3-5pm.

The remarkable clash of 2 Jewish retail titans

SAN DIEGO–I suppose the thing that makes me the saddest about The Harness Maker’s Dream is that the “villain” in this excellent-reading story about the Kallison family empire in San Antonio, Texas, was a man that so many of us San Diegans admire: Sol Price, although he is not mentioned by name in this family memoir by journalist Nick Kotz. Sol Price and his son Robert are among the merchant philanthropists of whom we Jews are most proud in San Diego, just as many Jews of San Antonio revere the memories of Nathan Kallison and his sons Morris and Perry.  From what was initially a harness maker’s store, Nathan expanded his enterprise into Kallison’s Big Country Store, and then, so he could understand his customers better and sell them products he could personally recommend, he purchased and developed Kallison Ranch where he raised Texas Polled Hereford cattle. Today [...]

Washington Times Book Review

Jewish ranchers, Jewish cowboys — in Texas?  OK, Jewish cowboys did exist, but it would be a stretch to exaggerate their number. However, in the late 19th century and through most of the 20th century, there were definitely Jewish ranches, small, medium and large, in Texas, as this intriguing book illustrates.  Read more...  

Immigrant’s life burnished by determination

The old statue of a wiry-bodied cowboy in leather chaps, vest, boots and hat, holding his saddle in his right hand, with six-shooter hanging from his left hip, still stands atop the former Kallison's store on South Flores Street, just south of the Plaza de Armas. That image, immortalized on the cover of Nick Kotz's fascinating new history of the pioneering Russian Jewish merchant-rancher Nathan Kallison and his remarkable family, is an appropriate symbol for the entire Kallison family enterprise, once a dynamic civic presence but now faded from prominence. Adopted as a teenager by Jacob Kotz, M.D., of Washington, D.C., upon his mother Tibe's second marriage, Nick Kotz brings to this book the great advantage of being Nathan Kallison's grandson. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of six other books who has written for the Washington Post and Des [...]

Back Story: A Pulitzer-Winning Journalist Examines His Own Family

After many years as a journalist—investigating presidents, congressmen, and labor union officials, examining the military-industrial complex, civil rights and social justice issues—I never imagined that the most challenging and rewarding story would be about my own family. Growing up in San Antonio, I knew little about my Kallison grandparents in whose home my mother and I lived for the first twelve years of my life.  They were two of 23 million men, women and children—two million of them Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe—who surged into the United States from 1880 through 1920—and they rarely spoke of their pasts. Why hadn’t I asked them about their early lives: Where in Russia were they born? What was it like living as Jews under the autocratic thumb of an oppressive czar? How did they escape from Russia? Why did they come to Texas? How [...]

The Jewish Russian harness maker who brought Texas ranching into the 20th century Austin American-Statesman

In the new “The Harness Maker’s Dream,” Nick Kotz writes about his grandfather, Nathan Kallison, a notable San Antonio merchant and rancher.

The story echoes that of many Jewish immigrants at that time. A 17-year-old boy with the skills to turn leather into horse harnesses comes to America in 1890 to escape the Cossacks. But Kallison’s story takes a turn. Within four years, he opens his own store in Chicago’s Jewish West Side. Nine years in, he has moved to San Antonio to open up a store that would cater to ranchers and farmers throughout South Central Texas. Within 20 years, he buys a ranch and the family helps champion the Polled Hereford breed of cattle. He revolutionizes ranching and farming when cattle drives were coming to an end and droughts were common.

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About The Harness Maker’s Dream


Releasing Fall 2013

ISBN: 978-0-87565-567-3

Both historical study and ancestral narrative, The Harness Maker’s Dream follows the story of Ukrainian immigrant Nathan Kallison’s journey to the United States in search of a brighter future. At the turn of the twentieth century, over two million Jews emigrated from Czarist Russia and Eastern Europe to escape anti-Semitic law. Seventeen-year-old Kallison and his brothers were among those brave enough to escape persecution and pursue a life of freedom by leaving their homeland in 1890. Faced with the challenges of learning English and earning wages as a harness maker, Kallison struggles to adapt to his new environment.

Kallison moves to San Antonio, Texas, where he finds success by founding one of the largest farm and ranch supply businesses in south Texas and eventually running one of the region’s most innovative ranches. Despite enormous changes in environment and lifestyle, Nathan Kallison and his beloved wife Anna manage to maintain their cultural heritage by raising their children in the Jewish faith, teaching them that family values and a strong sense of character are more important than any worldly achievement.
The son of Nathan Kallison’s daughter Tibe, author Nick Kotz provides a moving account of his ancestors’ search for the American dream. Kotz’s work has received recognition by the Texas Jewish Historical Society for eloquently depicting the reality of life for Jewish immigrants in Texas during this time and delineating their significant contributions to society. Kotz’s insight into the life of this inspiring individual will prompt readers to consider their own connections to America’s immigrant past and recognize the beauty of our nation’s diverse history