A Family Tree Extends to the Wild West

Author’s ancestors knew Billy the Kid, Teddy Roosevelt reposted from Jewish Woman Magazine
By Sue Tomchin
Winter 2012

While many of us have an interest in family history, few of us can boast as intriguing a family saga as Kay Miller. The retired New York City public school teacher is a descendant of the Staab and Ilfeld families of the West. Teenage family members left Germany in the mid-1800s and settled in New Mexico, eventually becoming leading merchants and playing important roles in state history. Miller’s research turned up so many colorful facts that she decided to tell her family tale in a picture book, Jews of the Wild West: A Multicultural True Story (Paint Horse Press, $14.60). Miller uses her background as a painter to create vivid illustrations reminiscent of folk art.

Miller says the book is appropriate for ages “8 to 108,” and indeed, the stories she relates are distinctive. Julia Staab, one ancestor, encountered Billy the Kid; Ludwig Ilfeld, another, was a friend of Teddy Roosevelt’s and rode in his inaugural parade, started a rodeo and appeared in a cowboy movie. Julia’s daughter, Bertha, an adventurous woman, accompanied the governor of the state on a six-day trek by horse and wagon to observe a Hopi Indian snake dance—with live rattlesnakes. After fighting the Nazis in the mountains of Europe with the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division, Bertha’s son Robert Nordhaus returned to Albuquerque where he became a lawyer specializing in a different kind of fight: protecting Native American rights. He argued on behalf of the Apaches at the U.S. Supreme Court, winning an important case affecting oil rights on tribal lands.

Learn more about Miller and her book at http://www.jewsgowest.com.

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