Saturday, December 14, 2013


An epic story of what grit, determination and courage can accomplish plus an account of the early development of Texas are all found in the meticulously researched The Harness Maker’s Dream by Pulitzer Prize winner Nick Kotz.  The tale is all the more powerful because it is the true story of Kotz’s grandfather, Nathan Kallison.

At the age of 17 young Nathan fled his native Ukrainian village barely escaping death in the pogroms, the killing of Jewish men, women, and children that swept across his country.  He had heard rumors of opportunities in America but it would to a treacherous journey to reach there.  He was finally able to board a ship as one of a thousand third-class passengers on a vessel built to hold perhaps 250.  He endured eleven and a half days in steerage with almost uneatable food and almost no sanitation.  Nonetheless, he “only marveled that his escape, thus far, was a miracle.”

Like many other Jewish immigrants he found a home in a Chicago ghetto.  He worked there for four years, fortunate to have a trade - harness making, and then he opened his own shop.  It is also where he met Anna Letwin who would become his wife and the mother of their four children.   Eventually they became distressed by the thought of raising their family in the unsalutary  atmosphere of the ghetto, and decided to go West.   They made their home in San Antonio

Always honest and hardworking Nathan was to have a sought after harness making business when he had been in this country for only 15 years.   In addition to his congeniality and excellent work Nathan also had the wisdom to diversify - he noticed that when men came to his shop for saddles and harnesses their wives would go elsewhere for family needs such as clothing and furniture.  Thus was born Kallison’s Big Country Store.  Anna worked by his side and their family became an upstanding part of their community and temple.

Still, Nathan had one more dream which he fulfilled - he purchased property and became a pioneer rancher.  Surely, this was unique among Jewish immigrants.  Kotz continues his story with the lives of Nathan’s sons Morris and Perry as well as what the future held for the extended Kallison family.

The Harness Maker’s Dream is history brought to life in wonderfully written swiftly moving prose.  You’ll remember this family long after you’ve finished the last page.


- Gail Cooke

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