[Narrator 1:] He walked from New York to St. Louis, Missouri in eight months. This was not a contest or an effort at setting a new record, just a peddler making a new start in American in the 1890's. This Lebanese peddler, Joe Abraham, was one of the founding fathers of Bristow, Oklahoma at the turn of the century. His story is one of success on the frontier, success for a man and his family, success for an Oklahoma community.
[Narrator 2:]They came to Oklahoma from many nations. Newcomers to a new land, looking for better opportunities, a chance to begin again and what remains is their heritage. A rich heritage, that has become the Oklahoma image.
[Narrator 1:] By 1960, Joe Abraham's holdings included land, cotton gins, gas and oil wells, banks and four of the best business blocks in the town of Bristow, not bad for a fellow who, at age 30, borrowed the money for passage to American and walked down the gangplank in New York City with $10.50 in his pocket. By the time he reached Bristow, he had paid back the money he had borrowed for his passage and had earned enough to open a merchantile store. Bristow had only three or four buildings when Abraham and his wife selected this small community, about 50 miles southwest of Tulsa, as the place where they would stay and raise their five children. Later, other members of the Abraham family established themselves in this growing Oklahoma town.
[Narrator 1:] The family recalls with pride that Abraham started his life in America as a peddler. With his original $10.50 he bought merchandise and sold it as he walked across the country from New York to Buffalo, on to Cleveland, St. Louis and then, into Indian Territory. On this 1,500 mile trip, Abraham was a member of a profession followed by many of his countrymen who walked or rode across America selling their wares. These men were welcome guests in many farmhomes in Oklahoma and Indian territories. Not only could the peddler rest overnight but if he had a horse or team, they too could be fed and bedded down. The peddler's pack, buggy or wagon contained luxuries and even some necessities for these frontier families. There were fabrics, spices, linens and the like to be admired, bargained for and bought. The success of the peddler depended on the energy and salesmanship of the man. Abraham spent only a few years of his life on the road but while he worked as a peddler, he did both the profession and himself credit.
[Narrator 1:] While this selfmade man of the early decades of this century could neither read nor write English, he spoke the language with considerable fluency. During his early years in business he sold merchandise valued at about $50,000, largely on credit. Business records were kept by a bookkeeper but Abraham rarely used the books. His keen memory permitted him to remember all that was necessary. He knew when a note was due, where the person lived who owed the account and the quantity of goods that had been charged. This man had a fine mind and he kept it sharp by using it.
[Narrator 1:] At his store in Bristow, Abraham added one department after another until he had the largest assortment of merchandise in the area. After more than ten years, he sold the store to his brother in order to devote more time to his other interests and his other interests were many. The disovery of oil and gas in this part of Oklahoma made even the most conservative man dream of riches. Abraham's dreams became realities. At one time, his gas wells supplied nearly all the illuminating and heating fuel for Bristow.
[Narrator 1:] In addition to his other interests in cotton, banking and real estate, Abraham was concerned about people. His dealings with a variety of individuals from all races and classes strengthened his understanding and judgement. He had a hand in the successful careers of several local citizens and some say that from such investments Abraham received his greatest pleasures and satisfactions. The story of this man and his personal success can be measured by the material possessions he aquired but the most lasting success is the memory that remains in the minds of the people who live in the town that he helped to build. Citizens of Bristow, Oklahoma remember Joe Abraham as the man who worked for the prosperity and welfare of the community. This Lebanese turned Oklahoman came to Bristow and become part of our Oklahoma image.
[Narrator 2:] This program was produced by the Oklahoma Image Project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and brought to you as a public service by this station. Oklahoma Image is sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and the Oklahoma Library Association.
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Part of the Oklahoma Image Statewide Humanities Project, promoting Newcomers to a New Land book series and the Oklahoma Image Project.
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