Written by Dr. Tim Hudson
During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Daniel Stein was one of the most prominent citizens of Farmerville and most well-known businessmen of north Louisiana. During the 1860’s, Stein worked in Louisiana’s thriving steamboat industry, served in the Confederate Army’s Quartermaster Department, and then assumed ownership of Farmerville’s two most successful antebellum mercantile firms, Brunner Bros. and Brunner & Shlenker. His business acumen and strong work ethic led his firm to thrive, and his gregarious and charitable nature quickly endeared Stein to the denizens of Union Parish and the surrounding region. By the early 1870’s, “Daniel Stein & Co.” had the most extensive and lucrative business of any mercantile firm in north Louisiana outside of Shreveport.
Daniel Stein was born on 28 September 1833 in Asselheim, Bavaria, now southern Germany, to Jewish parents. We know nothing of his life in Bavaria, but about 1855, he came to the United States with four of his siblings. The Steins settled first in Mobile, Alabama, but Daniel moved to Louisiana about 1860, presumably due to his work in the steamboat industry and settled in Farmerville. In October 1862, Stein enlisted in the “Phoenix Rifles”, Company C, 17th Louisiana Infantry Regiment, serving at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou and the Siege of Vicksburg. Later in the war, Stein was placed in charge of his regiment’s Quartermaster Department, and he served in this capacity until the end of the war.
While back home in Union Parish on parole following his unit’s capture at Vicksburg in July 1863, Stein married Karolina Shlenker Brunner (Caroline), the widow of Farmerville merchant Lazarus Brunner. With his marriage, Stein acquired the inventory of Brunner’s original Farmerville firm, “Brunner Bros.” that had survived the fire that destroyed much of Farmerville’s business section during the early 1860s. After the war, Stein formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, Jacob Shlenker, and Emanuel Brunner. Shlenker operated their corporation’s firm in Vicksburg and Brunner the New Orleans firm, leaving Stein to manage the Farmerville store. Its success led Stein to expand his business and open another store at Stein’s Bluff, located on Bayou Corney about a mile upstream from its mouth on Bayou D’Arbonne (where the Bernice highway crossed the Corney today).
Like most Louisiana mercantile firms of that era, Stein’ stores provided food, farming tools and supplies, clothes, etc. to farmers of Union Parish and the surrounding region on credit, with the balance to be paid in baled cotton immediately after the harvest. Stein then sold the bales on the New Orleans markets to recoup his money. Whereas the major cities in the lower Mississippi Valley began to depend on the railroads for transportation of passengers, goods and farm produce after the war, the smaller towns such as Farmerville continued to reply on steamboats until after the turn of the century. As his business depended upon reliable transportation between Farmerville and New Orleans, Stein invested heavily in steamboats, owning stock in several transportation companies that operated steamers on the smaller rivers and bayous of the upper Ouachita Valley. Stein encouraged his step-son, Lazarus Brunner, Jr., to become involved with steamers at an early age. By the time he was 20, Brunner had become a steamboat pilot, and within a few years, he served as captain of steamboats plying the waters throughout the Ouachita Valley. Using Stein’s capital, Captain Brunner acquired or built numerous steamers used specifically for the D’Arbonne and Ouachita trade, with many of them named after their relatives. In 1877, Brunner named one of his streamers the “D. Stein” and she plied the Ouachita River as well as Bayous D’Arbonne and Bartholomew through the latter 1880s.
By the 1870s, Daniel Stein had become the wealthiest and most successful businessman in Union Parish, as well as one of the most respected and admired. His fairness in dealing with farmers and his philanthropic nature endeared him to the community. He also helped to bring progress to Union Parish quicker than it reached other regions. On his regular business trips to New York, Stein often saw demonstrations of new innovations and then brought them back to Farmerville. He constructed the first telegraph lines in Union Parish, paying to have the lines run to his store in Farmerville. Years later, he had the first telephone lines run to his store and Stein’s telephone was the only one in Union Parish until the early 1900s.
In the spring of 1883, at the height of his business success, Stein suffered several devastating tragedies. First, in early March his store in Farmerville caught fire and burned, destroying his entire inventory. Stein had surrounded his store with a brick firewall, but it was contiguous with other buildings across the street from the courthouse square. The firewall prevented the conflagration from spreading to Glasson’s saloon next door, but the charred brick walls towered above the adjacent wood saloon. On April 21st, a tornado struck Farmerville, and the winds blew the brick firewall on top of the saloon. Five men were in the saloon when the falling bricks demolished it and the disaster killed two of Stein’s friends, Hugh C. Glasson and Judge William A. Darby. After erecting tombstones to honor his deceased friends, Stein spent several years in court battling with insurance companies over the settlement for his losses. Due to the unfavorable outcome of the litigation, Stein closed his store in October 1884 and filed for bankruptcy. He never reopened his stores, choosing instead to support his sons, Abe and Jacob, brother, Simon, and his brother-in-law, Julius Arent, in their Farmerville business endeavors. Daniel Stein did successfully operate a steam saw mill at the junction of Bayous D’Arbonne and Corney just south of Farmerville during the 1880s and 1890s. He also performed numerous civic duties after his retirement from the mercantile industry, serving on the Farmerville Town Council and in other such capacities.
Daniel Stein and his family formed the core nucleus of Farmerville’s small but tightly-knit Jewish community during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Although many of Farmerville’s most successful businessmen prior to 1900 were Jews, they never established a synagogue in town, but rather attended religious services in Monroe and New Orleans. Stein’s wife, Caroline died in 1883, and he never remarried. After her death and his sons’ marriages, he made his home with his wife’s step-daughter, Ellen Brunner Laupheimer Levi.
After an illness of several months, Daniel Stein died on 30 August 1903. The editor of the “Gazette” lamented, “Mr. Stein’s pleasant face and cheerful voice will be sadly missed in our community where he has lived so long.”
Dr. Tim Hudson is the mathematics department head at Southeastern Louisiana and an avid historian on Union Parish. Hudson is a Union Parish native and graduate of Farmerville High School.