Sunday, February 17, 2013

When Farmers Became Miners


The great influx of people from what was the Trentino region of Austria before World War I was driven by economics.  After World War I when the Tyrolean Trentino region was awarded to Italy, lack of a way to earn an agrarian living only exacerbated the already entrenched out-migration of young people leaving for America.

Photo credit: josef.stuefer / Foter.com / CC BY

 The Trentini people were farmers, eking out a living in the valleys of the Dolomite Alps.  When they came to the United States they didn’t congregate in cities like their neighbors the Italians.  They were a hardy outdoor people used to a life of solitude.  Not miners by tradition, yet they adapted to the underground coal mines of America.

According to Bonifacio Bolognani, the author of A Courageous People from the Dolomites, most Trentini immigrants settled in Hazelton and Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania.  West Virginia and Ohio received immigrants from Trent, as well as gold and silver mines and coal mines in Colorado.  The coal mines of Wyoming, especially in Superior, welcomed a large contingent of people from Val di Non, which is from where both of my maternal grandparents emigrated.

As Phil Roberts says on his website A New History of Wyoming, “Even before there were cowboys in the ‘Cowboy State’ there was coal.”  Trappers and explorers found, and burned coal.  Surveying a route across the mountains for the army, Captain Howard H. Stansbury saw and recorded the presence of bituminous coal in the sandstone rock hillsides of present day Rock Springs. 

Photo credit: Rock Springs sign by Georgio_flickr

Although the original route of the Union Pacific was farther north, Blackfeet, Arikara, and Sioux warriors drove the company to a more southern route controlled by the Shoshones led by Chief Washakie, who early on saw the futility of sacrificing his people to try and stop the influx of foreigners to the West.  Moving to the southern Wyoming route was fortuitous for the railroad, as seam after seam of coal spawned coal camps populated by immigrant workers to mine the black diamonds that fired the steam engines.

First was Carbon, established in Indian Territory in 1868, mined by immigrants from Lancashire. Over six thousand tons of coal were produced that first year. Higher grade coal was soon discovered in Hanna, which was established in 1890, and by 1902 Carbon was almost a ghost town. Also in 1868 the Wardell brothers brought miners from Missouri to the alkali country of Rock Spring [sic], where the coal looked to be trying to burst from the rocky hills, just waiting to be mined.

Photo credit: Miners and mule by j3net_flickr




In early days miners worked with a pick and seldom saw daylight, especially in the winter months, getting seven cents a bushel for coal.  Each miner carried his own oil lamp, a shift of them looking like a swarm of fireflies as they made their way up the hill to work in the morning, and worked by the light of a carbide lamp attached to his cap. Mules, some worth upwards of $200, spent their entire lives hauling the coal carts on rails underground. 

Children often worked in the coal mines as they had done in their home countries of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.  Stooped to work in the tunnels, ten or more hours a day, some had their spines fused in a bent-over position and that’s how they walked their entire lives. There was some effort to allow the mine boys to attend school, day classes in the summer and evening classes in the winter, with reports of some finishing the eighth grade.  In those days a boy became a man in the mine and never left, often working his way up through various positions.  

Rock Springs bills itself as the melting pot, and home to 56 nationalities. The reason for the city’s founding as well as its diversity, is the Union Pacific Railroad. In the days of violent labor unrest, many Chinese were brought in to work the mines and acquired the reputation of working for a lot less money and being able to survive on a bowl of rice. In 1885 there were 331 Chinese miners in Rock Springs and 150 of other nationalities.

The coal camp of Superior was founded in 1906, Reliance in 1911.  Winton’s mines were bought in 1921.  According to History of the Union Pacific Coal Mines 1868 to 1940, from coal mining’s beginning in Wyoming in 1865 when a total of 800 tons were mined to the end of the steam era, millions of tons of coal were mined in the state.

If you wish to connect with others of Tyrolean Trentino descent in America, check out the Facebook group Trentini News USA.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

INZARED Queen of the Elephant Riders

I'm always enchanted by a historical novel that teaches me something I didn't know before. One of the best books I've read in the last year is L. Leander's INZARED Queen of the Elephant Riders. If you like historicals about the first half of the 19th Century in the U.S., novels about women overcoming the constraints of their time, or just want to escape in a book about running away to join the circus, I recommend this one.

Here's how Linda describes INZARED Queen of the Elephant Riders:



Sometimes life isn't what we wish for.  A Gypsy circus comes to a small Appalachian community in 1843.  A naïve, misunderstood farm girl is entranced by the sights, sounds and costumes and is persuaded to join the troupe.  Late one night she leaves the only home she has ever known and follows the Gypsy wagon circus.  She learns to ride the main act - an elephant named Cecil and she and the elephant form an instant bond.  She is given the stage name of INZARED, Queen of the Elephant Riders and is delighted.  

But all is not as it seems.  There are undertones of danger and sadness lurking in the shadows, as foretold by the old fortune-teller Vadoma.  Inzared finds true love and works hard to gain acceptance into the Gypsy world.  Someone is sabotaging the circus - but whom?  Inzared and Paytre (the boss handler) search for clues.  What of the family Inzared left behind?  Will they ever forgive her?  Does she miss them?

This book is for anyone who has ever had a dream so big, so overwhelming that it consumed his or her every waking minute.  Sometimes you just might get more than you bargained for and maybe it’s not what you really wanted after all. 

About the author of INZARED Queen of the Elephant Riders, L. Leander:

L.Leander is an author who lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Ralph, during the summer months but spends the majority of the year in Mazatlan, Mexico. Ms. Leander is an award-winning singer/songwriter who has also won accolades for her needle arts. As a child, Ms. Leander loved the circus, hence, her debut novel, INZARED Queen of the Elephant Riders. The book follows the adventures of an Appalachian girl in 1843 who runs away to join a Gypsy circus and becomes a famous elephant rider.  The author also has available a series of self-help books available for beginning writers.

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