Michigan State University

Estes, Rufus, 1857-

Rufus Estes was born a slave in Murray County, Tennessee in 1857. The name Estes was not a family name, but that of his master, D.J. Estes, who owned his mother's family, including his six older brothers and two older sisters. As a young boy during the Civil War, Estes had to work hard carrying water and tending the cows, since all the older boys left to fight with the North. Two of his brothers died in the war, and his mother, suffering greatly, moved the family to Estes' grandmother's home in Nashville in 1867. Estes attended school there, but left after one term to take care of his mother, milking cows and delivering meals to field laborers to earn money for her.

At age sixteen, Estes began working at a Nashville restaurant. When he turned twenty-four in 1881, he left home to work at 77 Clark Street in downtown Chicago (presumably a restaurant) for a salary of ten dollars a week. From 1883 until 1897, he worked for the Pullman railway car service, and catered to many of the prominent figures of his day, including Sir Henry Morton Stanley, the explorer, Ignace Paderewski, the Polish pianist and politician, President Benjamin Harrison (1889 - 1903) and President Grover Cleveland (1884-1888, 1892-1896) who was responsible for ordering the U.S. Army to crush the Pullman strike of 1894. That same year, no doubt in response to Pullman's wage cuts, the catalyst for the strike, Estes set sail from Vancouver on the Empress of China, visiting Tokyo while in service with Mr. and Mrs. Nathan A. Baldwin. After leaving Pullman permanently in 1897, Estes took charge of a $20,000 private rail car owned by railroad tycoon Arthur Stillwell. He managed the car even as it changed hands, until 1907, when he became chef of the Chicago subsidiary companies of United States Steel Corporation. He published his cookbook in 1911.

Sources

  • The Almanac of American History. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Ed. Greenwich, CT: Bison Books Corp., 1983.

     

  • Estes, Rufus, "Sketch of My Life," from Good Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus. Chicago: Published by the Author, 1911.

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