Early in December 1990, soon after his eighty-sixth birthday, Abe Nasatir was struck by pneumonia. In spite of intensive care, complications set in. He died at 2:30 p.m. on January 18, 1991, ending a remarkable career as Dean of Documents.” Furthermore, his lifelong devotion to Orthodox Judaism made him as admired for his religious teachings as for his scholarly works in history. Abe was born in Santa Ana, California, November 24, 1904, to Morris and Sarah (Hurwitz) Nasatir, Lithuanian Orthodox Jewish immigrants. After a few years in Los Angeles, young Abe entered the University of California, Berkeley, at fourteen. Less than one month past his seventeenth birthday he won his B.A. in history, with honors. One year later, he gained a second degree with his M.A. thesis, “The Chouteaus and the Indian Trade of the West, 1763–1852.” About one year later he had completed most of the research for his doctoral dissertation. His mentor, Herbert Eugene Bolton, couldn’t see turning out “that kid” with a Ph.D. before anyone else his age had earned the bachelor’s, so Abe was sent to University High School in nearby Oakland as a cadet teacher. One of his students, Lucia B. Kinnaird, said that “Abe (in short pants) was a student teacher. . . when I attended!” Still too young to take seriously, Abe was a teaching assistant at the University of California, 1923-24. For seasoning, the next year he was sent to Spain on a Native Sons of the Golden West traveling fellowship. He was given the doctorate in May 1926, at age twenty-one years and six months. His dissertation was “Trade and Diplomacy in the Spanish Illinois, 1762–1792.” He then spent a year on the history faculty at the University of Iowa, 1926–27. A year for further research and writing put him on the faculty of what later became San Diego State University. Until he became “emeritus” in 1974, Abe scarcely left the campus. His office and the library remained his haunts until a few months before his death.
From the 1920s through the 1980s, Abe turned out almost one hundred scholarly and heavily documented articles. His reviews numbered into the hundreds. Some fifteen to twenty books (including translations into German and Polish) were part of his productivity. At the time of the disastrous fire on June 30, 1985, that destroyed 2,500 books and 500,000 documents, he was busily engaged in his final great work, British Activities in California, a 1,200-page volume completed with the computer notes of his assistant, Gary Monell, and with many other pages salvaged by a team of librarians, archaeologists, and former students. Dr. Janet Fireman summarized and analyzed his career in 1987 in the Pacific Historical Review (“Abraham Nasatir, Dean of Documents,” 56:4). His presidential address of 1964 for the Pacific Coast Branch, AHA, was printed in the PHR as “The Shifting Borderlands,” 34:1 (Feb. 1965). His synthesis of almost sixty years of borderlands study was published in 1976 by the University of New Mexico Press as Borderland in Retreat: From Spanish Louisiana to the Far Southwest. Apart from his primary work on the Spanish in the Mississippi Valley and the Southwest Abe did major work on the French in California and on British activities there through the 1860s.
His honors, awards, fellowships, professional offices, and consular corps activities were numerous and a natural outgrowth of his long and distinguished career. His wife since September 14, 1929, Ida Hirsch Nasatir, was a constant and tireless collaborator as well as a distinguished teacher. In the remembrance service at San Diego State University, March 24, 1991, her tribute to Abe was moving and brilliant. President Thomas Day noted that Abe and a very few others had given the university its stature. Former students and co-workers added their appreciation. Professor Lawrence Baron, holder of the Nasatir Chair in the Lipinsky Institute for Judaic Studies at the university, found a passage from the Talmud that seemed to capture the essence of Abe’s life and career:
Learning is acquired also by him who knows his place, who is content with his portion, who makes a hedge about his words, who takes no credit to himself, who is beloved, who loves God, loves mankind, loves acts of charity, loves reproof, loves rectitude, keeps far from honors, is not puffed up with his learning, does not delight in handing down decisions, bears the yoke along with his fellow, judges him with the scales weighted in his favor, leads him on to the truth, leads him on to peace, concentrates on his study, is capable of intellectual give and take, is capable of adding to what he has learned, studies in order to practice.