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Nick Kotz Interview on Texas radio

April 6, 2014 @ 6:00 am - 7:00 am

The interview will air Sunday, April 6 at 6am on KISS, KONO, KTKX and KKYX and at 6:30am on Y100 and KSMG. It will also be posted to the KONO web site, www.kono1011.com (click on the AUDIO/VIDEO tab on the home page, then click on KONO Public Affairs and you’ll be on the page that has the interviews). Nick Kotz will appear on “San Antonio Digest” on KCYY-FM.


April 6, 2014
6:00 am - 7:00 am
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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 industry. For those interested in Russia, or the coming of Russian immigrants to the United States, reading this book and the resources it contains in the back matter, will stir thoughts of possibilities for a generation that may have been silent about its origins.  If the immigrants were like the Kallisons, they were too busy surviving and thriving to talk about a painful past. Drawn to this book initially because it is set in San Antonio and because Texas ranching has always fascinated me, I became even more intrigued after learning the author of the book is Nathan Kallison’s grandson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and award-winning author, Nick Kotz. For those interested in, or in the midst of, writing a family memoir or history, I recommend reading this book as an example of what can be done and what resources to consult.  In an Author’s Note, Nick Kotz shares some of the difficulties he encountered.  For example, neither Nathan nor his wife kept diaries, so the emotional explorations in the book are a bit muted until later generations shed light on them. This book is well-written and documented.  It was a pleasure to read.  Definitely a keeper for one’s library. Laura D. Sanders is an editor and writer who resides in Austin and has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas for several years.  She currently has two books in process: a memoir of her Acadian ancestors journey from Nova Scotia to New Orleans, and a Christian romance novel.  She is a member of the Editorial Freelance Association and enjoys bringing out the best in others’ writing.  Website: www.lauradsanders.com http://writersleagueoftexas.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/members-review-3/

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 KUT.org web site: http://kut.org/post/renowned-texas-journalist-shares-family-history-harness-makers-dream


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 http://tpr.org/programs/texas-matters 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.

Nick Kotz – Tamale Festival at Pearl

If you're San Antonio today head over to the Tamales at Pearl Festival. Nick Kotz will be there from 3-5. Grab lunch and learn how Nathan Kallison escaped from Russia and built a new life in the Great State of Texas! It's free and open to the public.  Click here for more information.

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 the ranch is part of the sprawling South Texas state park known as the Government Canyon Wildlife and Natural Area. At the beginning of Chapter 14 of this book, the conflict between these two generous, community-minded Jewish families–the Kallisons of San Antonio and the Prices of San Diego–comes to light, but to recognize it, you need to know that Sol Price was the founder of Fed-Mart, in which he pioneered a mass merchandising concept that he later brought to fruition with Price Clubs, which since have been merged into Costco’s. You should also know that Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, freely admits that he got his inspiration for his big-box, discount stores from everything that Sol Price was doing. Writes Kotz: “Perry Kallison had first glimpsed the dawn of a new era in 1954, the day he attended the grand opening of Fed-Mart, a different kind of department store. Thousands had gathered for the festive evening event in front of the nearly block-long store at Military Road and Zarzamora Street in San Antonio.  As the crowd surged into the store, giant searchlights lit the sky like those at a Hollywood movie premier (sic).  In the postwar era, the giant new discounter was promising that its Family Saving Centers would ‘save you money on just about everything for your family, your home, and your car.’  Flanked by four of his department managers from Kallison’s store, Perry carefully checked the prices on the displays of leading brand names in furniture, appliances, clothing and sporting goods equipment.  He was stunned.” In that Sol Price was saving money for the consumers, even more money than they could save at Kallison’s, you’d have to say that Price was doing a service.  He was a force for progress in the retailing world, a force which Perry Kallison recognized, but to which Perry, set in his ways, just couldn’t adapt.  This was a big difference between Perry and his father, Nathan, the harness maker, who in the early 20th century saw automobiles become increasingly popular and realized that he needed to find some other way to make money besides harness-making. The truth be known, brothers Perry and Morris had become too complacent in their status as the second-generation owners of a famous store and ranch.  Morris had turned his attention to downtown real estate and to being a kingmaker in municipal politics.  Perry had transformed what originally was an extended commercial to promote the store into a popular, home-spun “Trading Post” radio program in which he gained celebrity as the dispenser of advice about conservation, sermons on good ol’ fashioned, kindly American values, and purveyor of tidbits about his listeners’ personal accomplishments. The third generations of Kallisons, college educated, tried to convince the brothers that the sprawling store needed to adopt modern accounting methods, and eliminate outdated departments, but the youngsters were brushed aside.  Eventually Kallison’s Big Country Store, a landmark for a half-century, went under. So, the Kallisons’ undoing as a retailing family was not only Sol Price’s fault, but, to a large extent, their own as well. Nevertheless, you can’t help but feel a measure of regret, especially after reading Kotz’s account of the empire built up by his grandfather Nathan and the generosity of his uncles Perry and Morris. Besides being moving forces in many of San Antonio’s civic and Jewish charities, the Kallisons also helped Israel establish a mohair industry (based on Angora goats raised in Texas). They also were early friends and supporters of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who as a young congressman from Texas was a supporter of federal programs to bring the benefits of electricity to rural ranchers — the Kallisons’ best customers. What makes Kotz’s book rise above a family memoir is that he skillfully weaves into it nearly a century of social and political history of the United States. In addition to an extensive section on LBJ, I counted references to nine other U.S. Presidents dating back to Theodore Roosevelt. Kotz, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, won fame his exposé about unsanitary conditions in meat packing houses.  Given his roots in the cattle industry, his reportage may be construed as yet another example of the Kallisons’ philanthropic legacy. By Donald H. Harrison Monday, December 02, 2013 Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via donald.harrison@sdjewishworld.com

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 Moines Register. As a result, “The Harness Maker's Dream” is a richly detailed and movingly told story of the rise and transformation of a family that for over a half century made leading contributions to the development of retail merchandising for regional farm and ranch families, real estate development downtown, cattle ranching in South Texas and local philanthropy. The book is all the more remarkable for the fact that Kotz candidly admits in an afterword he initially knew little of the family history. He was extremely fortunate, he writes, to make connections with long-lost relatives via his own Internet research who helped him fill in significant gaps in the family history, even conveying cellphone photos of tombstones found in a family cemetery in Chicago. Kotz also freely credits Dr. Char Miller, formerly a professor at Trinity University now serving as the W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College, with suggesting he write this history. No doubt Miller, well known for his own essays chronicling the development of San Antonio businesses with significant impact upon land and water, would be pleased this book is as much about the development of San Antonio and its rural environs over the first seven decades of the 20th century as it is a history of the Kallison family. There is no doubt, from the record Kotz lays out, that Nathan Kallison was a force of nature. So, too, was his wife Anna, also a Jewish immigrant whom he met after escaping from czarist persecution in his native Ladyzhinka, Russia, and landing in Chicago with only his knowledge of harness making to help him earn a living. Kotz very eloquently describes their rapid rise to affluence and prominence in the Temple Beth-El community, and San Antonio civic life, after arriving in San Antonio in 1899 with very little in their pockets. Kallison created a successful business model with the first store in San Antonio crafting handmade harnesses and saddles. In telling the story of their business ups and downs, Kotz fleshes out Nathan's and Anna's driving personalities, as well as the dramatically varied characters of their children, including Morris, Pauline, Bertha (known as “Tibe”), Perry and Frances. In recounting this family saga, Kotz can astonish the reader both by his capacity for describing the development of the Jewish community in San Antonio and his candor in revealing the family conflicts and management problems that, after decades of smashing success, tragically brought all the Kallison enterprises to financial ruin in the 1960s amid the rise of suburban shopping centers and big-box stores. In the midst of that saga, though, Kotz also sketches evocative scenes of street and civic life in early central San Antonio, of life during the Depression and the great drought of the 1950s on the Kallison Ranch, which Nathan and Perry developed (now part of Government Canyon State Natural Area), of Perry's adventures as a beloved radio show host for many years, of their loyalty to their customers during hard times and the creative advertising techniques they employed to build their business. Kotz does not shrink, either, from recounting the local social conflicts, including the pecan shellers' strike of 1938 and the Ku Klux Klan's burning of a cross in front of the Jorrie family's furniture store in 1955, which affected the Kallisons, their Jewish friends and the community as a whole. A treasure trove of wonderful family photographs depicting family members over the decades — at the store, the ranch, in civic activities — and of Kallison properties in their heyday, plus an extensive index, bibliography and footnotes, round out this story. So, too, do Kotz's concluding reflections on how the family has been transformed over time: successful, professional descendants. At a time when many Americans question the value immigrants bring to our country, “The Harness Maker's Dream” amply demonstrates how such families can thrive, survive apparent failure and continue to enrich our communities.
By Ed Conroy, For the Express-News : November 14, 2013 : Updated: November 15, 2013 4:56pm
Ed Conroy is a San Antonio writer. Reach him at econroy53@gmail.com. Nick Kotz discusses and signs copies of “The Harness Maker's Dream” from 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Twig Book Shop at the Pearl Brewery.

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 did they grow their harness shop into the largest farm and ranch supply business in the Southwest? How did a Jewish merchant become a path-breaking Texas rancher? I had plenty of opportunities to ask those questions and many others.  Yet I knew more about Sam Houston and his victory in the Texas War of Independence from Mexico than I did about my own grandparents’ escape from a different revolution in Russia. I have discovered that my lack of knowledge about my forbearers is not an unusual phenomenon. Like the Kallisons, millions of American families have poorly documented and preserved their past—a loss for the families themselves and for a wiser understanding of our nation’s history.  With the Internet and digitization of so many primary source documents, unearthing your family’s past now is possible even for amateurs with limited computer skills. Key to the exploration of my roots was a Google search of the Kallison name followed by a letter-writing campaign to those who shared it. Of the 100 letters sent, several bore fruit. One distant cousin provided a family history tracing a common ancestor to the tiny Ukrainian village of Ladyzhinka. Googling that town name led me to the Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago where photographs on headstones revealed identities of unknown ancestors in our family photos: my grandfather’s older and younger brothers, Jacob and Samuel Kallison and their mother Dina Elloff Kallison. Using ancestry.com and fold3.com (formerly footnotes.com), I accessed ships’ logs, census documents, military records, marriage and death certificates, fifty years of city directories, and even high school and college yearbooks. Those primary sources yielded invaluable information about my grandfather, his extended family and the world in which they lived. The census documents alone were a treasure trove of information. Beyond names, addresses, ages, occupations, income, immigration information, and citizenship status, they revealed who could read and write in English, who suffkotz coverered the loss of a child, who had servants or took in boarders, even who owned a radio in the early 20th century. At Newspaperarchives.com, I found a story on published poll tax lists noting that Nathan Kallison was among those who paid for the “right” to vote in Texas in 1911. Spanning decades, I found hundreds of ads for the Kallison’s downtown store and their Bexar County ranch showing the growth of the family’s dual enterprise. Even the local society pages yielded important minutiae from the everyday lives of Nathan and Anna Kallison and their four children: Parties attended; piano recital pieces; debating team topics; roles in school plays; membership in religious, charitable, and community organizations. Together, they gave me a unique picture of who the Kallisons were and what they valued. For anyone interested in delving into their own family’s past, agencies at all levels of government are digitizing records. It surprised me to discover that in 1927, during Prohibition, the U.S. government indicted my grandfather and Uncle Morris Kallison for violating laws against the production, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages. I read the court transcript and looked at the photographic evidence against them using digitized National Archives records. I also easily accessed Bexar County, Texas’s amazing collection of online files. Among the land records, licenses, and agreements, I found the 1902 contract for the first parcel of land purchased by my grandparents–who as Jews were denied that right in the Russia of their youth. My grandfather signed his name in Hebrew script; my grandmother, with an “x.” I now realize that the most important history of our country is not found in the grand events of wars and presidencies, 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. There has never been a better time to research your own family’s past. That is the story only you can tell. Nick Kotz’s book The Harness Maker's Dream: Nathan Kallison and the Rise of South Texas was published recently. Kotz has received the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, the National Magazine Award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award, among others.

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.

[caption id="attachment_93" align="alignleft" width="150"]The Kallison’s storefront, seen here in the 1930s, was a fixture in downtown San Antonio. It catered to ranchers and farmers. The Kallison’s storefront, seen here in the 1930s, was a fixture in downtown San Antonio. It catered to ranchers and farmers.[/caption] tz, 81, whose legal name is Nathan Kallison Kotz, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for stories about unsanitary conditions in meat-packing plants. He’s also the author of the 2005 book “Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws that Changed America” and the 1989 book “Wild Blue Yonder: Money, Politics, and the B-1 Bomber.” He and his wife live in Virginia and raise cattle. On Sunday, Kotz will share the podium with author Margaret Talbot on the topic “In Context: Finding Your Place in History.” Talbot has written “The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father’s Twentieth Century.” Her father, Lyle Talbot, was a Hollywood B-movie actor who worked into his 80s. Kotz spent the first 12 years of his life living with his mother, Tibe, in the same house as his grandfather and grandmother, Anna. He says he was a smart aleck about history. He would tell his family all about Texas history and world wars, never realizing that his grandparents had lived that history. He never asked them about it. Nathan Kallison is shown here in 1927 on his ranch, which has become part of the Government Canyon State Natural Area. Nathan Kallison is shown here in 1927 on his ranch, which has become part of the Government Canyon State Natural Area. [caption id="attachment_112" align="alignleft" width="150"]Nathan Kallison is shown here in 1927 on his ranch, which has become part of the Government Canyon State Natural Area. Nathan Kallison is shown here in 1927 on his ranch, which has become part of the Government Canyon State Natural Area.[/caption] Then former Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioner Katherine Armstrong suggested that he do a story on Texas ranches, knowing that Kotz had spent time on his grandfather’s ranch, which is now part of Government Canyon State Natural Area, northwest of San Antonio. He began some initial research and then wrote to as many Kallisons as he could find for additional family information. He was able to discover which city in what is now the Ukraine his family was from and learned that the last Jews in that town were killed after Nazis invaded. Cousins shared family stories, but Nathan, Anna and their children didn’t keep diaries or business records, and some early family photos weren’t labeled. Kotz learned how much family research could now be done online. “I couldn’t have done the book without it,” he says. He found his families’ business transactions in Bexar County, and he discovered on newspaperarchives.com that he could find papers that mentioned his family in the early 20th century, including parties the family attended and mentions of the store. He learned about his grandfather’s ability to adapt to industry change as cars and trucks replaced horses. Nathan Kallison foresaw the cotton bust and used research at Texas A&M to grow wheat and flax in addition to raising cattle. Kotz also learned about other family members. Anna was a partner in the running of the store and a firm presence on her four children. Uncle Morris took over the running of the store and like his father bought up buildings downtown in what became the Kallison Block. Uncle Perry became a radio personality on KTSA and the voice of Texas ranchers and farmers. His mother became active in social justice projects, and Aunt Pauline also was active in the community. As much as Kotz’s grandfather adapted and changed with the ranching and farming industry, his uncles got caught behind the times. Perry’s beloved Polled Hereford cattle went from the “it” breed to being out-marketed by Angus. Uncle Morris clung onto the downtown location of Kallison’s while other stores moved to the suburbs. The store eventually closed in 1967 and the cattle sold off that same year. What Kotz realized is this wasn’t just the story of his family. “When I was doing the book and we were doing the final editing a few months back, I began to see that the larger story was sitting right there,” he says It was an immigrant story; of making it during tough economic times; of life before, during and after world wars; of the plight of Texas ranchers and farmers, of the suburbanization of a community and the death of downtown; of a growing Jewish community in the South and anti-Semitism. It was a Texas story and an American story. “It was all things I knew, but didn’t know.” He became in awe of his family members and didn’t like any one of them less.” I came away with appreciation of the shoulders I stand upon and a much, much deeper of the immigrant experience,” he says. “I have an appreciation of what my grandfather did and how I benefited from it.” By Nicole Villalpando Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013