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John Michael Giro
Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by John Bellotti
Date of Interview - 1-15-1980
Interviewed by Sandra Cason
John Michael Giro
Date of birth - 7-31-1905
Parents - Matt Giro and ? Nossel
Ethnic group - Czechoslavakian
Family origin - Czechoslavakia
Date of family arrival in county - 1890's from Pennsylvania
Location of first family settlement - Walsenburg
Kinship ties - Yourich's
Profession - Mining
JG: They had the box cars. They'd shovel coal back with a shovel, 'cause they didn't have no machinery. They'd have to shovel it back by hand to get inside there and run it off a shoot and dump it inside a car. And then they'd shovel it back with a number two shovel. They'd load it up that way. I worked out there, getting, I think it was $15 a week. My dad gave me a quarter out of it. I got a job at CF&I then, about 1919. Picking the bellows out of the tipple again. Working on the tipple. Then I got a chance to go inside and I went inside trapping. Then from trapping I went into driving mules, running the hoist, riding the rope. I even tracked timber. Everything there was to do. I worked there till they shut down. '31. Then in '31 I went to San Luis Valley. Grandpa was up there, running a bakery, so I lived with him. Stayed up there till, I think it was '32. Came down and worked at Lenzini's here on 7th Street, worked with them for 11 years. Then in '41 I went back to Gordon Mine and I worked there about a year and from there I went down to Rouse and from Rouse I went to Raton and from Raton I went to Delcarbon and I helped dismantle all them mines. Every one of them. Every mine I worked in I helped dismantle it. Shut it down. Last one I shut down was March 17, of 1971 and that's when I retired. So I haven't been in one since. Oh, I wouldn't mind going back. But they won't hire me. Too young. (laughs).
SC: What was your wife's maiden name?
JG: She was a Belimo, from Kansas.
SC: Where are your children now?
JG: My daughter is in Denver. One daughter lives with me. She's been with me ever since she's been born. She's married now but she is still with me. She has a daughter and the daughter lives just two doors away from here and she has two children, a boy and a girl, and lives just two doors away from here. My grandson, great-grandson, he's in California. And my daughter lives in Denver and her daughter, my granddaughter, lives in Colorado Springs, and the other lives…. We've always been together. My children come home. We are always together. My youngest daughter, she's been with me ever since she's been born and her granddaughter was with us all the time till she got grown up to go to college. Then she got married. They got 2 at home.
SC: What year did you start working in the mines?
SC: Did your family keep the property your dad bought?
JG: The ranch, my oldest sister has it.
SC: Where is that?
JG: About 26 miles, 27 miles from here. You take the cut off, what they call the La Veta cut off, where they have that trucker's restaurant on the left side. Just before you get to it there's a little shack. Used to call it McGursky's place there and just before that you turn off that road and go up there about 7 miles and it's at the foot of the Silver Mountain there, this side. Then they have a short cut you can go through, they used to call it La Veta short cut. I think the Rio Cuchara building is on the right side now on that road. You can take that one and go to the place.
My sister, they just pay the taxes and lease it out for pasture for whatever the taxes are. They still have it. And the house and where I was born is still on 6th street.
Then of course my oldest one, I think she's born in Pennsylvania. And one in Rouse and I think the rest was all born here. Rest of the children, on 6th Street.
SC: So you started working after the big strike here. The 1913 Strike. Then there was another strike?
JG: They had the 1913 and then of course they had some before, too. But the 1913 I remember pretty good. I was around 8 years old. I was going to school when all broke loose and they killed all four guys up on 7th Street. All that shooting and everything then. Then we had the house on 6th Street here, high board fence and them bullets just sizzling all over, stray bullets, nobody was a direct shot. Stray bullets. Boys up on the hill shooting this way and the other ones shooting that way. Bunch of stray bullets. We stuck our heads out and saw those big flashing searchlights up there at Walsen Camp and the deputies up there searching all over town and we'd get on top of empty kegs of beer and stand up there just where they could see us. (laughs) Well, you know what kids will do. I never would do it right now. But at that time we thought it was funny. And it was.
SC: Was your dad on strike then?
JG: Yeah. He came nearly to getting hunged up, too. They was going to hang him up in one of the coal mines up there near Mobil. He was a real red neck, what they call union men, you know. These scabs, why he didn't like them and he got in trouble, but he got out of it. He was pretty lucky. I was only about nine then. He used to tell me about it.
SC: They caught him up at the mine?
JG: They caught him yeah, they took him and of course they released him. But then some places, like down at Ludlow, they burned all those people down there. Some places it was pretty bad. Well, it was bad here too, like I said, all them stray bullets. Not very safe to get out. Bullets flying all over, you know. Never knew if one was going to hit you. Then they had one in '26 they called the Wobblie. We were living in the camp then and we had the camp all fenced in. We were all fenced in and whenever we went out we had to show the guards our pass. The store was on the outside of the fence. We had to go to the store, so we had to go through this gate. We didn't get in trouble or nothing. We worked right along. It was called the Wobblie strike and it didn't last too long. But that '13 that was bad. At that time, the union, you didn't get no help from the union. They might give dad a pair of shoes or something. Few odds and ends. Not enough to keep going. You were all on your own, you know. We survived. It was kind of rough, but we survived. When you survive, you look back; you don't think it was so bad.
SC: Were there any lodges or clubs that you belonged to, or your father…
JG: No, I didn't belong to any clubs. I wasn't much for going out myself. The only thing I belonged to, my work, and I'm on a pension.
SC: Were you active in the union?
JG: I did, the only office I ever held was doorkeeper. When we were in the union I always declined. (laughs) Always got out of it. Nothing but headaches. I had nothing against working. I participated in the meetings. You had to, if you didn't they fined you, you know. I didn't hold no offices. I'd just stand at the door and they'd have to tell me the password, that's all. If they didn't know it I'd have to send them up to the president and he'd have to tell them what the password was.
SC: Was the church important with your family? Were they church goers?
JG: Catholics. But my dad and mother, they did all their praying right at home. They had their own Bible. We'd all go to the Catholic Church. Took communion. Baptized. Still are. I went to St. Mary's school. Sisters. Course I only went through seventh grade. Like, I say, I was on my own. I finished seventh.
SC: To go back over some of this that didn't pick up (on the other side of the tape.) When did your family first come to this county?
JG: Like I say, I couldn't give an exact day. Just guessing, 1890's I would say.
SC: Then your parents died when you were young?
JG: Yeah, they passed away when I was 11 or 12.
SC: And you were telling me the story about your mother..
JG: Yes. We was remodeling the house on 6th Street. The place where I was born. We were….We had this room finished and we was painting it. We had two 50 gallon barrels for scaffolding, with a plank on top of it. She weighed around 230, 235. And we had a carpenter working there on the rest of the house and right where we had these double doors right before this scaffolding, he was pulling down some old stuff. Happened to be just right at noon, 12 o'clock. When the carpenter saw it was 12 o'clock he was in a hurry and he pulled this block of wood. I seen him pull it but I didn't look at it when he throwed it in this corner. I just thought of it because at the same time my brother came to get me and so I told my mother, “You just stay in the middle, between the two barrels. Don't get down at the end, because you may tip it.” Because it was hanging over the barrel and she was pretty heavy and could lift that plank up. She said she'd stay in the middle, so I didn't notice. I started to go open the door to go get my brother something to eat and I could only open the door about that much because the plank was up against it, you know. And I was squeezing through and as I was squeezing through I looked back and it was too late, she already had flipped over, and jammed me against the door. And I hollered to my brother and said, “Go run the other way, mother fell off, mother fell off.” And I couldn't get through. I couldn't get through because the plank had jammed up and had the door locked up against me. He came running around and got me loose and we picked her up in that corner and the two by four came up with her. About 18 inches or more. We pulled it, got ahold of it and put our knees up to her back and pulled it out. Had a hard time pulling through flesh. Put peroxide on and called the company doctor. He came and looked at it and washed it out and told her to go to bed. She didn't. Maybe two or three days after it started to go where she couldn't raise her arms. We had an aunt that lived in La Veta and she's her half sister. She's a half sister to my aunt. So we called her and my dad didn't know nothing about it yet until she told him and she come down. And she talked her in to going to the hospital. But it was too late. If I remember right they started emergency operations but it had got too far. Couldn't do nothing for her. Blood poisoning had set in. And she passed away.
SC: Then the family lived there in that house.
JG: Yes, I couldn't say exactly how long. We weren't there very long when my dad went and bought this piece of land and a team of horses and harness for the horses. Spent everything he had for this farm. Got the wagon and hauled us all up there. Wasn't too long after that he came up and hit me and I left.
SC: That was after he fell in the well?
JG: Yes. We were trying to get water.
SC: I see.
JG: We didn't have no water. We had to haul it. Then this thing broke and he fell down. I had a heck of a time. I went to the neighbors to get ropes and stuff. It was quite a ways down there.
SC: To get him out?
JG: Yes. To get him out. I hollered at him about 25 minutes. I guess it just knocked him out. He didn't answer me at the same time.
SC: So you went to get ropes to try and get him out?
JG: Yes, went to a neighbor of his whose fence divided ours. Mr. Fern. He's passed away. He came over and helped us. At the same time my sister Mary, my little sister Mary, she's married to Albert Lenzini, they happened to come every now and then to see us too, you know, and I happened to see them coming over the hill over there. Between them and all of us we got him out. He said he wasn't hurt or nothing. He laid in bed that day and the next day and went down to La Veta. Like I said that was about 7 or 8 miles to the town of La Veta and that's where my aunt lived, that was half sister to her. So he went down there and he got lit up and he came home and I left the next morning. And the kids, they stayed up there. But I don't remember now just how long they did stay, but not long.
SC: You weren't the oldest?
JG: Oh, no. I had one between my sister that lived down here; there's five below me. The only one above me that's passed away is a brother. Out of the whole spoke of nine, he's the only one that broke.
SC: Are the others still living in Walsenburg?
JG: Oh, yeah. I got two sisters here. I got the baby of the family and a sister that's older than me and a brother that's next to the youngest sister and he works at Lenzini's. He's parts manager. George, I don't know if you've heard of him or not.
SC: I've heard his name.
JG: And then my sister Katherine that's the baby of the family. She's married to Harold Miller. And my sister-in-law that's married to the brother that passed away. She lives on 7th Street, too, right next to Lenzini's Garage.
SC: Do you remember your family telling any stories about how they decided to come to the United States or to Colorado?
JG: Well, they talked about it. There was a bunch of them. I don't know just off hand now. Maybe 15, 20 families that came from the old country. One right after another, see. First stopped in Pennsylvania and worked on down different mines you know, and they all settled down here in Rouse and all around in here and they've been here for years and years, and every time they'd have a wedding or christening a baby or kill a calf or kill a hog, why they had a celebration. They'd all come and they'd sing and all. Weddings would last maybe seven, eight days. Till there ain't no more dishes in the house. My sister's went 7 days.
SC: Is that right?
JG: And if you'd baptize a baby, you thought it was a wedding, too, cause they'd all come down and drink the whiskey and sing. The ladies had better voices than the men did. My mother and all them, they had beautiful voices. And they would all sing. They didn't know what a bad day was.
SC: And they would stay at the one house for all that time?
JG: Yes, didn't make any difference whether you killed a hog or what. They'd all come down and help and while the calf was still kicking you'd eat. They tell me now you got to let it rest, put it away before you can eat it. I wasn't brought up that way. Mine was still kicking when I ate it.
SC: So they had some good times?
JG: Oh, yes. And you take like on Easter, on Easter we used to go and take all the girls and take them to the hydrants and stick their heads under the hydrants and water them, see. And then the next days the girls were supposed to get the boys. Well, the boys were all up on the hill. Wasn't no where close to where there was a hydrant. That's the tradition. And the girls had to. Couldn't get mad about it. That was our way of doing it.
SC: Do you remember other holidays you celebrated?
JG: Well, like Christmas. My dad had the last supper and everything at home. We had the statue under the table and everything. They carried it out. They had the last supper and the special donut they'd make and they carried everything out.
SC: Kept all the traditions?
JG: Yeah. And at that time very seldom we ever had the doctor. You take like a person. I never will forget it. A person just about to faint or something; something got them all upset. She'd take and get some cold ashes out of the stove and put it in a glass of water and make you drink it. I seen it work, too. Nobody can tell me it don't work, because I know it does. Worked at that time.
SC: Sure. Do you remember other home remedies she'd use?
JG: Yeah, when I had the whooping cough, all they gave me was coal oil, to break the whooping cough. They mostly had their own remedies. I don't remember them.
We raised our own…practically everything. About the only thing they'd go to the store for, they'd have to buy a hundred pounds of sugar or a hundred pounds of flour, and pepper, and salt, and crackers. Used to buy crackers by the big boxes, you know. And the rest, why she'd make everything out of flour. We raised our own gardens and killed our own beef and had chickens and had hogs.
SC: Right here in Walsenburg?
JG: Yeah. I guess now they won't let you have hogs, keep them in the city limits but in them days we didn't even have bathrooms, had outside privies. Didn't have running water or nothing. Right here, just had our own well. We'd have to haul it by buckets out of the well and fill up 3 or 4 fifty-gallon barrels that we had sitting there. Had to fill them every morning. Let them sit all day. And at night we'd take one of the buckets and water the garden. That was our chore and we'd have to do that. And we wasn't told but just one time to do it. We did it. We had chores and we had cows and summertime we would take the cows to the pasture. Take them all over the hills, to pastures which you don't have anymore. At that time everybody had their own cows, and own eggs and that's how they survived.
SC: What other chores did they have? Were there other things the kids did?
JG: Did a lot of playing.
SC: What kind?
JG: When we took the cows out like in the summertime, we never come home no more. We'd turn the cows loose and they'd pasture by themselves and we go down here to the creek, down at the Cucharas, right at the dam and that's where we stayed all day, swimming. Then when it was around 3:30, 4:00, we'd go get the cows and bring them home. Then when we'd get through eating supper we'd go play hide and go seek all around the neighborhood till eight o'clock. They had a curfew and when that curfew blew we had to be home before the last tune was played on it or we'd catch something else. The way they punished us, they'd make us either kneel on rice or on a sharp plug of wood, for whatever we did. So that's how come we didn't do any damage to nobody. Because we was brought up if we did anything we was gonna get it. We could expect it. Not like kids now. Break windows and cut tires and all that. We couldn't do that. We did, we wouldn't be able to walk or sit. That's for sure. We were all brought up that way, all the kids I know here. Course as kids we had our own games and made all our own toys. We had tops. We had marbles. Run sheep Run. We'd take the rings off these big wheels and run them down the street, cause we didn't have no sidewalks. We always had some kind of game. Marbles and tops was the most. We had a big uphill on Center Street where there were vacant spots, you know, vacant yards and we played there. And always played at each other's houses. Twenty, twenty-five of us. And then down in the grove, before they got rid of all of them, down where those brick houses is, on the left side there was nothing there but a bank of dirt about 12 feet high and they had a pavilion even at that time. The trees was just like this down there and the old people that were working in the mines, they didn't work very much at that time, you know. Only one and two days and sometimes not even that. Wintertime, summertime, they didn't work at all. There was no demand for coal at all. These old fellows would just go down there and just baby sit the babies and play high five, string their blankets under the trees and play high five.
SC: What's high five?
JG: That's a card game like sol or something. At the same time they'd have the children of theirs, one or two, have them down there. And of course the rest of us would be down there swimming, playing. That's where our recreation was down there. We all lived right around there. In the summertime it was hot and down there was all these trees. It was just thick at that time. Course it is all cleared out away from there now. You didn't have no houses around there. It was all open. You could have all the fun you wanted. Swimming pool, best swimming pool you ever wanted down there.
If they'd give those days back, I'd take them. Those were really wonderful days. Didn't have no money or nothing, but anyway you were happy.
SC: That's right. Sure sounds like it.
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