“Westward the Jug of Empire takes its way. How solemn and beautiful is the thought, that the earliest pioneer of civilization, the van-leader of civilization, is never the steamboat, never the railroad, never the newspaper, never the Sabbath-school, never the missionary — but always whiskey! Such is the case. Look history over; you will see.” — Mark Twain
The “Jug of Empire” did not move by itself. It took human intervention. As a result, the Schloss family should be considered exemplars of Twain’s observation. Jacob, Henrietta, Simon, and Abraham Schloss, with son-in-law Moses Stern, bought many jugs of whiskey to Western sites like Leadville, Colorado, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. As such, they can be accounted among Twain’s “civilizing” pioneers of the West.
The Schloss family odyssey began in Germany where the father, Jacob, was born in 1838. His wife, Henrietta, also was German-born in 1840. The newly married young couple emigrated to the United States about 1860 before the outbreak of the Civil War, settling in St. Joseph, Missouri, where Jacob found work as a butcher. The 1870 U.S. Census found them living there with four children. Among them were Rosa, born 1860; Simon, 1865; Carlotta and Eva, 1869. A fifth child, Abraham (“Abe”), was born a year later.
St. Joseph, Missouri, in those days was a bustling frontier town, serving as the last supply point and the “jumping off” place on the Missouri River heading to the “Wild West.” It was the western most point in the United States accessible by rail until after the Civil War. It is likely that Jacob Schloss was involved in provisioning settlers traveling West and likely hankered himself to join them. The tipping point for him likely occurred in the mid-1870s when lode silver deposits were found near a place called Oro City, setting off the Colorado Silver Boom. Mine owners had set up a town to serve their strikes, first calling it “Slabtown,” but later changing the name to “Leadville.” Shown here in an magazine illustration, by 1880 Leadville was one of the world’s largest and richest silver camps, boasting a population of more than 14,000.
The census that year found Jacob and his family in Leadville. Earlier in the decade they had made the trek west from Missouri, through Kansas to Colorado and Leadville, a journey of some 700 miles, With many thirsty miners and dozens of saloons, the Schlosses decided that a wholesale liquor business, supplying an evident need for lots of whiskey, was an profitable trade. Jacob accordingly established a “whiskey depot” on what is now Second Street. Apparently needing larger quarters as the business grew, he moved to 116 West Second. The family was living at 216 West Fifth Street, several blocks away.
A 1879 bill from J. Schloss makes it clear that he was dealing “strictly” wholesale. His wife, Henrietta, apparently was actively working with him in the business. In the 1870 census in Missouri Henrietta had been recorded as “keeping house.” Both of them were recorded by the 1880 census with the occupation of “liquor dealer.” Evidently not just male Schlosses had taken the jug westward.
Moreover, it appears that the family were having a civilizing influence in rough and ready Leadville. One commentary says of them: “Jacob Schloss and his family were significant contributors to Leadville’s economic, political and social life.” Just a few examples: In 1880, Jacob was elected as treasurer of the Turnverein Society, the German gymnastics organization. The next year he was part of a citizen group that organized an electric light company to supply electricity to Leadville and surrounding areas. Later he joined with other businessmen to underwrite the construction of the Tabor Grand Hotel.
Henrietta also was busy. She became president of the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Association, providing assistance to less fortunate residents at a time “when sickness and destitution prevailed.” According to local press accounts, even the the Schloss children had a civilizing influence, by regularly participating in local theatricals.
When an 1881 fire in the next door Pioneer Saloon did some damage to their 2nd Street location, the Schlosses moved into space at 108-110 Harrison Avenue. Their business continued at that address until 1899 when it was moved to 322 Harrison, its final location. Meanwhile Jacob’s sons were being brought into the whiskey trade. Simon Schloss is recorded clerking for his father as early as 1881, but left for a time to partner in a Leadville stable and horse sales business.
About 1897, a major management shift occurred. Perhaps for reasons of health, Jacob turned over the business to Simon and his younger brother, Abe. Simon was president while Jacob remained a director. The company, at the same address, now became Schloss Bros., as shown above in an early photo. Simon moved in to live above the liquor store. He was joined for a time by Abe who shortly after died at the age of 30. Moses L. Stern, who had married their sister, Carlotta, was brought into the firm as the secretary and treasurer.
As wholesalers, the Schlosses received whiskey by the barrel and often transferred it into smaller containers, usually one and two gallon ceramic jugs. As shown here, the Schloss Bros. jugs featured Albany slip brown tops and neck with Bristol glaze bodies with cobalt blue lettering. Today the jugs are much sought by collectors. As many other saloons and liquor dealers, the Schloss brothers also featured tokens, good in trade. The one shown here was could be redeemed for 12.5 cents. Sometimes these Schloss tokens are over-stamped for five cents.
That reduction in value may have been symptomatic of what was happening in Leadville. The collapse of silver prices and the slowing of mining activity led to a significant economic decline in the region and a strong exodus of the citizenry to other climes. Among those decamping was Simon Schloss. Shutting down the Schloss Bros. liquor dealership in Leadville and accompanied by his brother-in-law Moses Stern, he set out to take the “Jug of Empire” even further West.
Schloss’s objective was New Mexico and the town of Albuquerque. After New Mexico had been wrested from Mexican control by war, the town slumbered along until after the Civil War when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad arrived in 1880 and along with it many mountain men, settlers and Anglo merchants. Although for a time it was a wild and violent place, by 1885 it boasted a major commercial center, shown here. As Leadville was declining, Albuquerque was on the rise.
The partners saw the possibilities there and established a liquor dealership they called Stern, Schloss & Company, wholesale liquors, located at 115 West Copper Street. Simon was president; Moses was secretary and treasurer. Using the successful model the Schlosses had developed in Leadville, they sold much of their whiskey in ceramic jugs, of which two are shown here.
The partners were in business for a relatively short time, likely about 12 years. Temperance sentiment was strong both in the New Mexico territory and after statehood. In 1917 residents approved statewide prohibition by the staggering majority of three to one. That vote was three years before National Prohibition. Stern, Schloss was forced to shut down by 1918.
Simon, who apparently never married, is recorded in the 1920 census as living as a boarder with an Hispanic family in Albuquerque . His occupation was listed as “none.” Meanwhile his father and mother who had hung on in Leadville for a few more years are said to have suffered financial reverses. At some point they moved to the Denver area.
Section 7 of the Congregation Emanuel Cemetery in Denver is graced by a large granite plinth that is prominently marked, “Schloss.” Having died in1914, Henrietta is buried in the plot, along with Jacob who passed in 1918. They were joined by Simon in 1934. Lying nearby is Abe. The Schlosses are at rest having been instrumental in bringing jugs of whiskey — and presumably civilization — Westward. Mark Twain would be proud.
Note: Some of the information about the Schloss family in Leadville and several illustrations shown here are from a website maintained by Temple Israel of Leadville about the history of Jews in that region.