IDAHO HISTORY: The Falk brothers maintained close ties with old country

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANSeptember 1, 2013 

If you were a young man living in a small town in Bavaria in 1862, and you decided to seek your fortune in the faraway Pacific Northwest of the United States, how would you get there?

Nathan Falk, at 15 years of age and facing a journey of more than 7,000 miles, had first to go north to either Hamburg or Bremen, Germany’s principal seaports, where he booked passage on a steamship bound for New York City. Many thousands of Germans arrived in New York by ship in the 1850s and ’60s, and although many stayed there, most moved on to other places.

In New York, Nathan landed at Castle Garden, America’s first official examining and processing center for European immigrants from 1855 until 1890, when Ellis Island took over. He probably contacted a family friend or relative who had settled there earlier, but stayed only briefly before continuing his journey to California. The transcontinental railroad would not be completed until 1869, so Nathan took another ship from New York around Florida and across the Caribbean Sea to Panama, where he took a train across the isthmus to the Pacific side. (The Panama Railroad had been built in the 1850s during the gold rush to California.) He then took a ship north to San Francisco. After a short stay there, he boarded another ship up the coast to the Columbia River and then upstream to Portland. After short stays there and at The Dalles, which he reached by river boat, it was on to Boise City by stagecoach.

Nathan arrived in Boise City in the spring of 1864, only months after the town was started, and got a job as a bookkeeper. With older brother David, he went into business as D. Falk & Bro. They would be joined by brother Sigmund in 1873. Considering the grueling nature of the trip back to Germany, even after transportation facilities improved, it is remarkable that the brothers returned to their homeland as often as they did. David and Nathan first returned to Europe to take brides — David in 1867 when he married Ernestine Weil of Strassburg, and Nathan a year later when he married Rosa Steinmeier of Munich.

On April 24, 1875, the Idaho Statesman described a farewell party for Mr. and Mrs. David Falk and Miss Carrie Cartee, who were leaving soon for Europe, “the Falks to visit friends in Europe and Miss Cartee to engage in study at one of the celebrated places of learning in the Old World.” When they left Boise on May 4 for Kelton, Utah, by stagecoach — where they could board a Union Pacific train to Omaha, and other railroads from there to New York City — the paper said they would be gone for two years. Carrie Cartee, daughter of Lafayette Cartee, prominent nurseryman and former Surveyor General of Idaho, was to study music, French and German. “She will probably go to Miss Valentine’s Protestant Seminary for Young Ladies at Frankfort.”

On Oct. 12, 1893, the Idaho Statesman reported that, “Nathan Falk and family have returned to the city after an absence of 16 months in Germany. Mr. Falk and his wife are overjoyed at reaching home. They say, after all, there is no place like Boise. Mrs. Falk’s health was not improved to the extent her hosts of friends here hoped it would be, but the trip was beneficial to a large degree. Mr. Falk is surprised and delighted at the improvements that have been made in the city during his absence and his faith in the future of the capital is now fixed more firmly than ever. He will at once resume his post at the helm of the large business house of which he is the head.”

In 1903, both David and Nathan Falk died, and younger brother Sigmund left Boise to join the United States Diplomatic Corps in Europe. With wife Carrie and son Lester, he took up residence in Munich as vice consul. He later moved to Vienna, Austria, where he died in 1923.

Rosa, Mrs. Nathan Falk, reportedly in poor health for most of her life and mother of five, died at 82 in 1940, surviving her husband by 37 years. Ernestine, Mrs. David Falk, died in 1932, having survived her husband by 29 years. Both pioneer women lived to see their sons become prominent Boise leaders like their fathers.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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