The story of southwest
is the history of the Union Pacific Railroad. Civil War veterans and Irish immigrants built the road. Card sharps, ladies of the evening, and entrepreneurs headed west to seek their fortunes as the road opened. European immigrants rode the rails west to farm or build new lives. Wyoming
My maternal grandparents were immigrants after the devastation of World War I on the Tyrol region of the
on the Austrian/Italian border. They landed in Dolomite Mountains Wyoming, my grandfather going to work in the Union Pacific coal mine in . Coming from a high green alpine land of white chalk cliffs and remote monasteries clinging to the cliffs, the women fled hunger and poverty in their homeland to seek passage on refurbished troopships to come to Superior as coal camp brides. A large contingent of the Tyroleans settled in America Pennsylvania, some in Colorado; some went to Mexico and South America.
It was a tough life for my grandmother in
’s high desert. Cold and windy, the treeless, rocky landscape offered little except solitude and hard work. Only a special kind of woman could survive and thrive and raise a family in that tough landscape. Wyoming
The picture below shows the house my dad’s family occupied in
, from the 1950s rather than the 1920s, but you get the idea. Superior
Here’s an excerpt from my novel Willow Vale, describing what my heroine, Francesca Sittoni, found upon alighting from the train:
They halted in front of a tiny clapboard house sprouting from the powdery dust. Cheek-by-jowl with its mirror-image neighbor, the collection of little houses formed a tiny, dirty neighborhood set flush atop a coal mine.
Every couple of houses shared a water pump in the dirt yard. Francesca was soon to find if she wanted to cook or heat the house, she hauled her own coal in all kinds of weather from a shed in the back yard next to the outhouse. Everything, the floor and the rude table and chairs, the painted countertop in the minuscule kitchen, the bed, the walls, and the windows, bore a fine coating of coal dust.
Despite her constant effort to abolish it, life in
, meant everything always would be covered in coal dust. Elena’s clothes were filthy, whether she played inside or out; Cesare’s, of course, were permanently saturated with fine black powder. Hawk Point, Wyoming
This is a picture of part of the coal tipple at D.O. Clark mine in
, again probably from the early 1950s. My paternal grandfather worked in this mine. The picture came to me as part of my dad’s estate from his grandmother. My dad’s mother had probably sent it to her mother in Superior Kansas, trying to illustrate where and how the family lived in . Her mother, even after living through the Dustbowl years of the 1930s, was probably disturbed by these images of the stark daily lives of her daughter and her grandchildren. Wyoming
As the railroads transitioned to diesel engines from steam, the Union Pacific no longer needed coal. The younger generation raised in the coal camps sought jobs elsewhere as the mines began to shut down in the 1950s, and
became almost a ghost town. Superior