Born Yetta Goldsmith in Bavaria in 1843, she immigrated with her family to the United States when she was young. By 1857, she had married Samuel Kohn who was from Pilsen and was living in Leavenworth, Kansas. For a short time they moved to Cherry Creek, Colorado and then returned to Leavenworth.
In the mid-1860s, Yetta and Samuel traveled down the Santa Fe Trail to Las Vegas, New Mexico. On the way, they saw buffalo, and in Las Vegas they were greeted by the sight of executed men hanging from the windmill tower in the town’s plaza.
This did not discourage them, for they stayed and opened a store under their name. They sold wood, hides, flour, and grain. Samuel died in 1878, leaving Yetta with four children and the store. In true frontier fashion, Yetta Kohn took over the business. Four years later she sold the store and moved her family to the village of La Cinta near the present-day Conchas Dam. In La Cinta she opened a general store, became the village’s postmistress, and ran a ferry across the Canadian River. She made and saved enough money to start buying parcels of land. In time she acquired enough land to create a partnership to form the 4V Ranch on which they ran cattle. At one point, the 4V owned 3,858 head of cattle.
Never one to stay still, Yetta and her family next moved to Montoya, where they purchased a store, opened a bank, and acquired more land; this time through the Homestead Act. Through Yetta’s foresight, grit, and hard work, the family became influential locally as well as statewide. One of her sons was a delegate at New Mexico’s Constitutional Convention.
Yetta Kohn was a minority on many fronts. She was foreign-born, Jewish, and a single mother who succeeded on the frontier at a time when life was perilous. She was a matriarch, rancher, and entrepreneur who overcame all obstacles placed before her. Her 4V Ranch has survived the years to become the basis of the T-4 Cattle Company, which remains in the family.
Thomas E. Chavez, Tomas Jaehn, and Henry J. Tobias, Jewish Pioneers of New Mexico, (Santa Fe; Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003)
Vertical File, “Letta Kohn,” Fray Angélico Chávez History Library, Palace of the Governors