Benjamin Siegel was born in Lithuania. His funeral record gives his date of birth as September 1876, his headstone says September 2, 1877, and his WWI draft card says September 20, 1878. He died in Bryan Memorial Hospital in Durant, Oklahoma on July 13, 1960. He was buried at Emanu-El Cemetery in Dallas, Texas. His funeral was conducted on July 14 by Rabbi Gerald Klein of Dallas.
Ben Siegel got his start in the early days of Caddo, establishing his mercantile business in 1896. He was one of Caddo’s most industrious businessmen and beloved citizens.
One of his early ads appears in November 17, 1899:
“To Help the Farmers- I stand to help the farmers and will sacrifice $10,000 worth of goods, fresh, reliable staple of Dry Goods, actually at cost. This is the honest fact, as I am going to do what I say. When you come to Caddo have on your mind Ben Siegel. You will surely save a great deal of money when you trade at my store. This will help you on the short crop. Remember you can find at my store anything for wear. All kinds of Dry Goods, boots, Shoes, Clothing, Hats, Notions. It is no use to quote prices. Come and see and examine goods. Seeing is believing. If you trade with me it will be beneficial to you. Respectfully, Ben Siegel, Caddo.”
Ben’s reputation was always one of honesty and fair prices.
The Bryan County Star
June 14, 1973
Ben Siegel grew up in Lithuania and went to school in Germany. He was 14 when he immigrated to the U. S. and first worked for a peddler’s supply house in St. Louis.
Ben was 18 or 19 when he came to Caddo in 1896, bringing rolls of cloth, fancy shawls, beaded slippers, rat traps, half soles, shoe laces, spectacles, and a few groceries. “During hard times he’d load his goods in a wagon,” said his son Allen. “He’d drive out over the county and trade for chickens, eggs, butter, and other farm produce.”
“The store at Caddo was a combination dry goods and grocery, and of course Saturday was the big day. Dad and mother both spoke several languages and dad learned to speak fluent Choctaw while in Caddo- many of the Indians couldn’t speak English.”
There wasn’t much traffic through Caddo in those days said Allen. In fact, the folks would set up a net and play tennis on Main Street during the spring and summer. Other recreations? Well, there was the baseball team. And every August the Corn Carnival, which invariably got rained out according to Allen.
The Ben Siegel store moved to Durant in ’25. Allen worked in his father’s store from 7 am to 7pm weekdays and 7am to 10pm on Saturday. He made $50 a month.
“We used to sell a lot of heavy clothing in those days,” said Allen, “but now most everything is year-around weight. And of course variety now is unlimited. In ’25 we had mostly work clothes, plus 20 or 25 blue and brown serge pinstripe suits and 10 or 15 odd coats. They didn’t have the style and looks of today’s clothes. It was hard to turn the ladies on in a blue serge suit and high button shoes. And there weren’t many shoe styles either.”
Of course it was slow going during the depression. “We’d work all day and into the night on Christmas Eve and be lucky to take in $500,” said Allen. “Nowadays one customer will spend $500 in less than two hours.”
“During the depression it seemed like everybody was coming here from the dustbowl and leaving for someplace else. But those that stayed never regretted it. I think this whole area is going to keep coming on. Property values will keep increasing along with farm products and livestock. I‘ve been border to border and coast to coast but it always looks good when I get back home.”