A CENTURY OF MIGRATION
In 1853 Sigmund Aron Heilner left the small town of Urspringen in Bavaria. His parents had been fretting over the declining opportunities faced by their son and by other young Jews. The Jews found themselves burdened by several special taxes levied just on them. The government restricted the number of Jews legally allowed to marry. The Heilners had few resources to expend on their son, not only because of their limited circumstances, but also because they needed to save up for a dowry for Sigmund's younger sister, Regina. To get her established in her own home, they knew they needed a sizable amount of money.
Sigmund, like thousands of other young Jewish men in the region, opted for immigrating to America as the best way both to fulfill his personal aspirations and to support his parents, who, because of their age, would never join him. He did not have to ponder the decision for long. He already had a brother in America, and he knew other relatives and townspeople, who had paved the way for his journey. Arriving in New York, he stayed with a cousin for a month until he felt ready to make the journey across the continent to reunite with his brother, Seligmann, then living in Crescent City, California. Sigmund remained in California only briefly, deciding to try his luck in an even smaller town, Brownton, Oregon, a tiny enclave of copper and gold miners. Here Sigmund opened a small dry goods shop and also tried his hand at money lending, an occupation practiced by his father in Urspringen. From Brownton he went further afield into the Oregon hinterlands, to Althouse, where he met