, Muskogee, OK

September 8, 2013

Fur trader Sondheimer left lasting legacy

By Jonita Mullins
Three Rivers History

— The Sondheimer family was one of the first to settle in the new town of Muskogee in 1872. The family patriarch, Joseph Sondheimer, had conducted business with the Indians in the area for several years before the railroad started creating towns along its line.

Sondheimer, a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria, arrived in the United States in 1852, when he was 12. He had come to the “land of promise” alone, but he quickly located family friends in Baltimore and moved in with them. He learned the mercantile trade and tramped about the Midwest as a peddler. He settled in St. Louis just before the Civil War.

In 1866, Sondheimer secured a trade permit from the Secretary of the Interior to do business in Indian Territory. Traveling on a large white horse, Sondheimer developed a trade circuit throughout the territory, purchasing furs and hides for cash. He carried gold coins in his saddlebag, but remarkably, at a time when outlaws roamed freely, he never was robbed.

Eventually Sondheimer built several warehouses along the Texas Road where he would store the furs he bought until he could ship them by boat back east. He had plants at Creek Agency and Fort Davis and later at Wagoner and Muskogee.

In 1872, Sondheimer requested permission to settle in Indian Territory and bring his family there. He planned to build a home near the old Fort Davis site north of Muskogee because the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad had plans to put a depot here. When the depot was placed further south, giving birth to Muskogee was born, Sondheimer moved his family there instead.

Sondheimer had plants at both ends of Second Street in Muskogee — one near Fondulac where Arrowhead Mall stands today and one at Okmulgee, where the Federal Building is. Sondheimer’s business, carried on by his sons, Alexander and Samuel, continued in Muskogee until 1942.

The Sondheimers were very involved in Muskogee’s civic activities and were great supporters of the town. Joseph Sondheimer supported the Beth Ahaba congregation, and a stained glass window in the temple is inlaid with his name and date of death. Samuel Sondheimer was on the board of directors of the First National Bank.

But it was Alexander Sondheimer who perhaps left the most lasting legacy to Muskogee. He and his wife, Eudora, were killed in an accident while traveling in Europe in 1923. They generously bequeathed funds to several Muskogee institutions including the YMCA, the YWCA, the Boy Scouts of America, United Charities (an early version of the United Way), the Presbyterian Church (her congregation) and Beth Ahaba (his congregation). The legacy of the Sondheimer family is very visible in Muskogee today.

Reach Jonita Mullins at