The Impact of the Frontier On a Jewish Family: The Bibos
by Floyd S. Fierman
Originally published in print by the Southwest Jewish Archives, Fall 1988.
THE BIBOS OF NEW MEXICO
By Floyd S. Fierman
Early in my desire to ferret out the record of the Jewish people in the American Southwest I wrote to a family in Bemalillo, New Mexico. I wrote to the Seligmans. On August 22, 1950, I received the following letter:
Replying to yours of August 14th. regret very much to state, that I am not in possession of any early letters or early documents, nor am I in a position to give you the information you ask for, as I am a comparative newcomer here, settling here early in the year 1899. I do not know of any one to whom I could refer you to, the real old timers have all gone to their maker, the last one of them, Mr. Mike Mendell passed away 3 months ago, at the age of 93.
A second letter to the Seligmans brought the following reply:
November 27, 1950
I wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter of November 7, which arrived while I was away from Albuquerque. I will turn your letter over to the elders of my family who will furnish you with the information requested.
Very truly yours,
SELIGMAN AND SACKETT
A third letter from the courteous Seligmans informed me:
Feburary 1st, 1951
Thornton Seligman of Albuquerque handed me your letter of November 7th. As stated to you in my letter of August 22nd, we are really not what you would call old timers, having settled here in the early days of 1900 and do not have in our possession any early letters or documents of historical value. Would suggest, that you write Dr. Staab, c/o Louis McRae, 600 North 1st St., Albuquerque. He is about 70 years old and a son of one of the first families to settle in N.M. He does not practice any more and has plenty of time to look into matters such as these and I am sure, he will be able to give you the information you desire.
I pursued the Dr. Staab lead and that plus additional research developed into a study of the Staab family published by New Mexico State University in 1983 (Rio Grande History Number 13).
But it was not until Rabbi David Shor of Albuquerque connected me with Arthur Bibo that I was able to follow the Bibo track which led me to the Seligmans.
In the course of subsequent meetings with Arthur Bibo I soon learned that he had much to relate to me. He exhibited an educated background and his weathered appearance told me that he was just as much at home on a saddle as he was on the seat of an automobile. "I like," he told me "to feel the rhythm of a horse's; hoofs as they strike the ground." Arthur with his western cut suit and cowboy boots was no phony. He was a valid horseman. This western rider because of his family's relationship with one of the Indian tribes of New Mexico, the Acoma Indians, inherited an affinity for them and the Acomas trusted him. Consequently he was contracted by them, victims of land encroachment, to be an expert witness in litigation with other tribes and with the United States Government over land ownership. The contract had an unwritten part to it: Arthur also wanted to defend the Bibo name that he thought, and rightly so, had been maligned in the Federal Government's Indian records.
Arthur and his sister, Irma Bibo Floersheim, both possessed a sense of the importance of their life activities in New Mexico and this story has emerged in two studies. One about the Bibos1 and the other about the Floersheim.2 These two studies were enriched by Arthur's contribution.
Buried deep in Arthur's subconscious was a desire to record the family's role in the development of territorial New Mexico. By 1969, Arthur, after much searching composed a study of the Bibo family and their collateral relatives and because of my interest he generously sent me a copy, one of a number of copies that he had laboriously assembled. Arthur, reaching back into European genealogy and records sought to tie the Bibo name to Hungarian and German royalty. This, I think, was a subliminal wish. Arthur was a man's man and a gentleman, but his knowledge of the Jewish religion was negligible. His sister, on the other hand, Irma Bibo Floersheim, was much more positive about her Judaism. The early records that Arthur sought with the help of European genealogical professionals, and found with much effort, exhibited his hunger for validity. Actually he didn't need it when he considered the German, speaking Bibos. When he turns to Isaak Bibo as a Jewish forebear validity is glaring.
In 1877 Isaak Bibo, born in Graetz, Poland, then under Prussian rule, received at Brakel, Westphalia, Prussia, the second highest award given by the Royal Prussian Order: the award of the Eagle of the Possessors of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern. 3 Accompanying the award was the declaration from the Mayor and local school inspector:4
The Mayor and Local School Inspector Brakel, May 30, 1871 To e.v. No 635B
The Office of the Royal Chief
Magistrate of the District
Bestowal of a Decoration to the Jewish
Elementary Teacher Bibo here, for his
50 years Service Jubilee.
Isaak Bibo, who was born on December 25,1808, in Graetz, district of Buda Req, Province of Posen, has on August 1 of this year been active for 50 years in Olendorf in Braunschweig, then 3 years in Warburg and 1842 to now in Brakel. Same possesses a lot of testimonies. All full of acknowledgements of his competence and performances as teacher as well as his exemplary conduct ...
Two or three years ago thru a coincidence I read the speech which he made in the Synagogue in 1870 and at the Peace Festival in 1871. Same deserves high praise. Also the Birthdays of his Magesty have always been celebrated most solemnly under Bibo's direction. (Italics Mine)
Local School Inspector
Mayor of the City
Brakel, August 1, 1877
This recogition of Isaak Bibo, cantor as well as teacher, by the Civil Authority, Baron Von Metternich, Mayor of the High Order, is an unusual occurence in Jewish life, contrary to the experience of other Jews of this period. Isaak Bibo abided by the principle in Jewish law, "The Civil Law of the land is supreme," the inference being that Jewish religious practices were free to be practiced. Bibo's recognition of the ruler added luster to his position when he celebrated the ruler's birthday that year. 5 Bibo in return was recognized by the Mayor. Isaak Bibo was not only honored for 50 years of teaching, he was pensioned by the Civil Government. All this leads one to believe that Bibo was uniquely selected because as well as being a religious functionary, he probably saw military service and was pensioned6 for that reason.
This leads us to ask if there were others who could have had this distinction. There were other Bibos and certainly the Seligmans with whom they had business and marital relations, why didn't they remain in Prussia? Obviously they were uncomfortable. They felt threatened. They left because they wanted to avoid the military draft and didn't see themselves recognized as Isaak was. He must have been an unusual person; cantor and soldier, a religious functionary who was not an oddity. He probably dressed like anybody else. He tucked his prayer fringes in his trousers.
Isaak Bibo, born in Posen and honored in Brakel, Westphalia, was part of the Arthur Bibo bloodline. Bibo's honor given by the Mayor and Local School Inspector was presented in the name of Prince Metternich. The fact that Metternich is mentioned supports and strengthens this recognition. Prince Klemens Wenzel Von Metternich (1773-1859) an important Austrian Statesman, was an advocate of Jewish rights in the German Confederation and abroad, although in Austria itself he did little for his Jewish subjects.
But his Jewish advocacy did not last long. Friends of the Jews on the continent were of short duration. Animosity and hatred of the Jew appeared with greater frequency and intensity. With the appearance of Adolf Stoecker (1835-1909) the anti-semitic German preacher-politician, the friends of Jews in Westphalia decreased in number. Stoecker, Imperial Court Chaplain from 1874, was a member of the Prussian Diet from 1879 to 1898. In 1881 he was elected to the Reichstag for a Westphalia district where the Bibos lived. This was enough evidence for people like descendants of Isaak Bibo to conclude that there was no future in Europe for them. The signal was "get out," and they did. They were followed by the Seligmans who lived in Werden, a suburb of Essen, also in Westphalia.
Note: This treatment of the Bibo family is a section of a chapter on the Seligman brothers of Bernalillo, New Mexico. Three brothers married three sisters and operated seven outlets in New Mexico. It will be a chapter of new work written by me entitled: From Guten Tag to Buenas Dias.
1Moyd S. Fierman, The Impact of the Frontier on a Jewish Family: The Bibos, Texas Western Press, El Paso, Texas, C. 1961.
2Floyd S. Fierirnan, Guts and Ruts: The Jewish Pioneer on the Trail in the American Southwest, KTAV, Hoboken, N.J., C. 1985, pp. III to 138.
3"Highly esteemed Jubilee Celebration: I have been charged by the Supreme Administrative official of our district, the royal national administrator of justice, the Freinherr (Baron) Von Metternich, Knight of the High Order, with the task, both pleasant to me and honorable, of transmitting to you in writing, his congratulations on the celebration which is being held today ... Mayor and Local School Inspector,H. Wehmoger."
4This is a personal declaration along with the declaration in the name of Baron Von Metternich.
6Ministry of Ecclesiastical Educational and Medical (Health) Affairs F. No. VIII 11857, Berlin, the 25th of July, 1877. "His Magesty the Emperor and King have, by means of supreme order of the 15th of this month bear pleased to confer upon the Jewish Teacher (Isaak) Bibo of Brakel in the District of Hoxter on the occasion of his fourthcoming retirement with a pension the Eagle of the Possessors of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern.
"I herewith inform the Royal Government of this report of the 24th of the previous month 1533 NI--the enclosures of which herewith follow, together with the inclusion of the insignia and of a design for the military (National) register for further cause. By Order, Signed Greiff.