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Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Dick Chenault
Date - 1979
University of Washington
They Came and Stayed
(Immigrants in Walsenburg)
“They pay a dollar more. There are plenty of jobs; why don't you come.” The news spread among the immigrants waiting in the station; the bleak future frightened them once they realized that there was no gold, no shining beauty in the cavernous halls of the Ellis Island Immigration Station. Anything would do. Clinching the thirty dollars or so in their hands or hidden in a sack under their garments, they were willing to go anywhere. It didn't take much to persuade them. They could go out and explore the city that they saw across the river at the southern tip of Manhattan, but who was there? Some Italians, but for the Austrians, not much. They looked at the pamphlets with pictures of mountains and railroad lines, the wonders of the Garden of Gods and the Royal Gorge, the lines of railroads spreading on the map of the Colorado foothills.
The agents were there. The travel agents, Zotti and Sakser for the Austrians, many others for the Italians. In addition, there were the English speaking representatives of the railroads, even agents from the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company.
The young immigrants were ready to work and earn; they were not bothered by the prospect of hardship and isolation. They never intended to stay in America for long. Just long enough to save and then go home, get married, have enough land to live on, or just enough to pay off the brothers and sisters who were still back home. They had heard about gold and silver, less about smelters and coal mines, or about grasshoppers and winter blizzards.
Often they had signed papers without fully realizing what they had signed. They committed themselves to work at an established rate, somewhere between $1.50 and $2.50 per day. They committed themselves at least as long as it took to pay back the rail fare, which in the 1890's amounted to about thirty dollars on the “immigrant train”, normally consisting of boxcars with or without benches, but with some room for their luggage and meager possessions. Those who were able to inquire found out that it would take three days or more to get to Colorado; those who did not, faced the journey unprepared. The train, often mixed freight and emigrants, did not have firm schedules or stops. The people on the train had only a vague idea how long they were supposed to be enroute to reach their destination, but knew little of what to expect in between. Fortunate were those who had either an address of someone at the end of the route or knew where to turn.
In the 1880's the Colorado Piedmont was facing a tremendous expansion of various activities, but especially mining, metal work and farming. The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company or its predecessors were opening mine after mine, trying to cut the cost of transportation of expensive fuel from far away. They needed it to run the newly expanded iron works in Pueblo and to furnish numerous customers in Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver and Leadville. There was no time and no intention to build permanent communities, towns or villages. The cooperation of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, the land development corporations, either in the form of shared capital and operation or informally by having the same people on their Boards, makes it very hard to identify either collusion or competition for labor, transport lines, or land control.
The immigrants were disembarked in great numbers at temporary stops along the line, 'at places such as Primero or Ludlow, El Moro or Ideal, Walsenburg or Florence. A few temporary shacks waited for them there, and a job was forced on them almost immediately. No search, no pondering of alternatives. The mules were there, so were the wagons, the simple equipment — and the shouting boss, who mixed his broken English with a few Italian or Slavic words that he had picked up, often while working in the mines in Pennsylvania or Virginia.
That was it. No escape. The roof of the barracks, the mattress in the corner, the company store just a block away, and the entrance to the mine. Mostly without experience, used to working under the open sky, many at first hesitated to go underground, but not for long. Gangs were formed, friendships developed, or at least acquaintances. There were tensions outside, underground they were all alike: blacks and whites, Cornish miners and Polish peasants, Tyrolean woodcarvers and Slovene beekeepers. Life was in your hands and in the hands of your fellow workers. You wanted to be sure that you could trust them, that you could depend on them. It didn't matter much when everything was going smoothly. But it did matter when something appeared to be unusual, when the fear of an explosion, of a cave—in, of breaking of shoring in the narrow passageway, or the rushing of a wagon on the incline when the brakes failed. Then you needed a friend, someone who could alert you and possibly save you. The grouping of people by nationality, by language, by previous acquaintance became a matter of life or death. Not racism or discrimination in a contemporary sense, but mutual reliance: Mexicans depending on Mexicans, Italians on Italians, Poles on Poles, Slovenes on Slovenes. The friendship and clustering was transferred to the camps, to the bars and the halls, to life outside. When new people joined the earlier arrivals, they followed the ethnic and religious or racial lines. It was important to have someone that you could trust, since your life depended on it. Who would lend you a hand if something happened?
Age was not very important. If you were 12 or 13, you could work at the door to let the mules through and make some money. Later you moved on to other jobs. By the time you were eighteen, you were a man, with years of experience, hardened by the demanding work and callous and cynical about the promises of a good life and plenty of money.
Many of those working in the mines aimed at having a piece of land of their own. They soon discovered the Homestead regulations that permitted them to take possession of Federal land at minimal expense by citizens of the United States and those who declared their intention of becoming citizens. Homesteading stimulated many newcomers to file their petitions for naturalization, the documents that are now one of the primary historical sources for the investigation of the Huerfano past.
Newcomers tried to combine earnings on the job with benefits of having a farm. The combination nevertheless faced the conflicting aims of employers: the miners lived in camps, in company houses and used company issued scripts. They enjoyed the protection of the company for jobs, medical assistance, nursery and schooling, but they were at the same time severely confined in their freedom: if they were laid off, they had to leave the camp, the house, they lost company medical assistance and social services. Some camps were firmly enclosed, with guards, often armed to “protect” company-property, especially during a time of unrest. Even those who built their own houses or shacks on company land — and most of the land around the settlement was and still is owned and controlled by CF&I - could not stay in their house if they left company employment. The water was cut off, the access route was barred, the power (in later years) was discontinued, the children could not continue to go to the school that was built by the company. The paternalistic attitude of the company had numerous drawbacks. The CF&I was not much different from similar industrial corporations elsewhere in the country.
Homesteading therefore permitted new settlers to have a refuge of their own and were not forced to retreat into tent settlements at the edge of company land when they lost their jobs, or the mine was closed, or some other disruption hit the company operation. It is therefore not surprising that miners favored the policies of the labor unions, especially the United Mine Workers of America. The unions began a long struggle for recognition, capitalizing on the dissatisfaction of the workers and the reluctance of employers to yield to legitimate workers' demands. Walsenburg and its coal camps were the scene of fierce labor struggles from their inception in 1880 to the final recognition of unionized labor in the 1930's. Many elements of the labor struggle were and remained unknown to the workers. It was quite common for a new batch of workers to be brought into the area as “scab” or strike breakers, either from the Pennsylvania or Virginia camps or directly from the Immigration Station at Ellis Island. In 1913 and at later strikes, the hiring was done in New Mexico and Arizona, even in Alabama. The newcomers, Europeans, Hispanics or blacks, were used by the employers to take the brunt of resentment of the striking workers and organizers. No one who has been interviewed in the last two years in Walsenburg, Pueblo, Denver or elsewhere in Colorado admits that either he or his parents came as a strike breaker. But many refer to “others” that came this way. Evidence from other mining centers in the United States indicates that “scabs” did not stay “scabs” for long. Either they were chased away, or they joined the striking workers when they realized that their own future was at stake.
How Did All This Begin?
The Santa Fe Trail crossing of the Cucharas River was originally popu1ated by Hispanic people who combined ranching and farming with small trade at the trading post on the river bank. The railroad changed everything. Soon after the Denver and Rio Grande reached Pueblo in June of 1872, General Palmer argued that the line should be extended to New Mexico through El Moro and Raton Pass. Although he encountered fierce competition at the southern stretch, the road from Pueblo through Cucharas to El Moro was completed in 1876. This narrow gauge line served a dual purpose: as a through line along the foothills of the Rockies, and later as the receiving line for numerous spurs that were built from the line to the mining camps that the Colorado coal companies were opening in the area.
The Denver and Rio Grande shared orientations and ownership with the Colorado Coal Company and was able to benefit from special rate arrangements that the railroad offered to preferred clients that owned the steelworks in Pueblo. The smelters and ironworks in Pueblo, Denver and other centers demanded coal, and the opening of new mines was almost a daily affair from the opening of the first mine in 1872. The 1870's and 1880's witnessed the substitution of Hispanic settlers by newcomers: first railroad builders and maintenance crews, followed by miners.
It was not gold and silver that brought new people to Walsenburg: it was the railroad and the coal mines, for some the farms. The railroads brought into the area their construction gangs that moved with the line, stayed in railroad wagons on a side track at the construction site. They moved across the country wherever they were needed, but they often stayed together as a gang: Italians, Mexicans, Irish. There is no record that there was any Chinese rail construction gang as there were in California and the Pacific Northwest; they were common on the Union Pacific and the Missouri Pacific railroad lines.
The gangs came through Walsenburg when construction was under way in the 1880's. They reappeared during the construction of numerous spurs to the mining camps but they didn't stay. After the line was in operation, the railroads hired road maintenance crews that were responsible for a segment of the line. Although they were on the road for a great part of the year, they nevertheless had their home base. In addition, the depots, the maintenance shops and the district offices employed various people. These jobs became available after the road was completed. The managerial and supervisory jobs were in the hands of English speaking people, often European immigrants, who nevertheless represented the skilled and leading class, often the “good society”. The railroad workers, maintenance crews and depot laborers were less affluent European immigrants. Blacks were rare. They were normally confined to service jobs on trains, as porters and handymen, and very few had their homes in the area. Denver and Colorado Springs were the bases for service personnel for the Denver and Rio Grande, Kansas City for those on the Atchison and Topeka line.
The formation of the transport network is responsible for the survival of Walsenburg to the present day, and is the reason numerous people of different ethnic backgrounds and nationalities stayed in Walsenburg.
Walsenburg began its growth when the spur from the Cuchara Junction was extended in 1876 through Walsenburg to La Veta and reached Alamosa on June 15, 1878. By that time the first mine was expanded at Walsen, and a railroad spur was built to the Pictou mine. Cuchara was platted in 1874, but the plans to build a town there were abandoned even before the railroad from Pueblo reached it in 1876. The next plan was to build a town at the end of the line at La Veta. But the extension of the line across the mountains changed the role of La Veta.
One mine after the other was opened as the demand for coal increase in Colorado, not only in the immediate vicinity. The demand for coal grew with the growth of the population in the Rockies foothills, from the Wyoming border to Raton Pass in the south. The coal districts extending from Canon City to the southern border of Colorado were expected to supply the total needs of the state, especially its expanding cities of Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Boulder, Canon City and a string of others. The larger enterprises, such as Colorado Coal and Town Company, predecessor of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, controlled a large portion of the coal fields as well as the delivery of coal to principal users. Private and often small operators, on the other hand, were mostly providing coal for local needs. Large enterprises brought in workers from the East, the South and even from Europe. Small entrepreneurs used the labor force that they could find locally. Small mines were almost a family affair: father, son, a few friends. As soon as they were forced to comply with federal safety regulations, they couldn't operate profitably any more and the mines closed one after another.
Frank Hall reports in his History of Colorado (1890) that the three companies, Colorado Coal and Iron Company, Colorado Fuel Company and Pueblo Fuel Company controlled 23,160 acres of coal land in Huerfano County. The companies controlled Walsen and Pictou, (old) Rouse, Robinson (later consolidated with Walsen), Prior, and numerous mines in Las Animas County extending south along the foothills of the Spanish Peak. Later numerous independent operators began mining: Dicks, Bruce, Turner, Thompson and others. Most of the independent mines supplied coal to local customers. CF&I had the best mines, with seams of four to seven feet high. Their mines were better equipped since the company had more capital available.
The history of mining alone would require extensive documentation, and may be done at a later date. The character of mining, dominated by one company, and the temporary nature of most mines, nevertheless had a profound impact on Walsenburg and its population. The miners of Hispanic origin were hired at Walsenburg as early as 1879. During the labor disputes of 1884 and 1885, Blacks, Italians, and “Austrians” appear for the first time in large numbers.
Expanded mining stimulated the construction of new railroad lines along the foothills. On August 16, 1895, the first train from Walsenburg reached Trinidad. The new line had standard gauge while the parallel Denver and Rio Grande operated on narrow gauge to which a third rail was added to accommodate standard equipment.
The ownership frequently changed. It was operated by the Pacific, Denver and Gulf Railway Company in 1898 and later became part of the Colorado and Southern.
By the beginning of the century Walsenburg was ready for further expansion. The railroad lines to the mines and across the mountains were in full swing. The town served as the major gateway for workers on their way to the mining camps, and at the same time as the refuge and retreat during frequent closures or labor disputes. While numerous mines and camps existed only for short periods, Walsenburg expanded into a permanent stronghold for both administrative and service functions of the county and the district, as well as the nearest and most accessible town for people who needed some help: a place to which people moved when temporary camps were abandoned and mines closed, when the coke furnaces extinguished their fires and dismissed their workers. A place where the survivors of tent camps and of labor confrontations found refuge and support — or where they boarded the train to go away never to return. Jobal and Pictou, Walsen and Cameron, Ideal, Lester and Rouse were the mines and the camps in the immediate vicinity, but Aguilar and La Veta, Tabasco and Berwind were not far, nor Kebler.
The Denver and Rio Grande railroad line from Cuchara Junction passed through Walsenburg and continued to La Veta toward Alamosa. Numerous short spurs of the Colorado and Southern Railways and Colorado and Wyoming Railways enabled Walsenburg to be the major joining point in Huerfano County.
Most of the coal in the Walsenburg area was used for heating. The expansion of industry in nearby cities increased the demand for coal, the need for opening new mines, and for new workers. It was known from the beginning that the coal deposits were not so concentrated that they would give origin to major mining and industrial centers. The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company which controlled a large portion of the coal fields either directly or through leases, was well aware of the temporary nature of the mining operation and made little effort to stimulate permanent settling or permanent centers. Permanency was restricted to a few selected locations, where in addition to coal mines there were other industrial and productive activities: coke furnaces at Hastings, Berwind, El Moro and ironworks in Pueblo. Even at locations that had some basic installation for industry, such as coke ovens, the settlements were not considered to be permanent. The company labeled the centers as camps and treated them as company Camps. Walsenburg was not such a camp, though it was surrounded by them.
In the camps, the company had the upper hand in almost everything. It regulated who could stay or not, who could use the services or not, who could work there or not. On the one hand, the arrangement guaranteed the worker and his family some crude and basic accommodation and access to services, on the other, it confined the company worker only to things that the company provided. During mine closures, the company could evict the people from company property; during a strike, the company put armed guards at camp entries and prevented striking miners from staying on company property, even their house, or to enter the company premises. Tent towns were therefore a common feature in Colorado during labor disputes — and the tragic events at Ludlow in 1914 were more common than exceptional. Tent cities at Walsenburg made frequent appearances during labor disputes. The strikers who were active-during the strike against CF&I were labeled as agitators. The company allegedly kept a roster of these and refused to employ them in its mines or mills. The “activists” therefore had to make a decision either to leave and go out of the CF&I area, also beyond the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad which maintained friendly relations with CF&I throughout the decade — Helper, Utah, was such a place — or they had to move to another camp where they were not known and sign under false names. These people, however, later had difficulties if and when they wanted to regulate their standing in the United States to obtain citizenship or acquire property. Although this happening was not exceedingly common, it nevertheless is evident in the documents at the Court House and in oral interviews.
During the strikes in the mines, many families were divided. Members of the same family found themselves on opposite sides: supervisory personnel, timers and watchmen were with the company and were expected to stay on the job, the miners were on strike. The people who stayed in company housing in mining camps had to stay on the job if they wanted to stay in the house. Otherwise they had to leave. The unions brought temporary tents to the area — and tent cities became a common feature in mining areas. The large temporary encampments at Ludlow, on the east side of Walsenburg, and minor ones at other mines became famous or infamous “white cities”. The people who were able to find accommodations with relatives or friends, on farms and ranches, often, also found different jobs and never returned to the mines.
Generally, migrants came to the area with intentions to return to the old country, Maybe this plan was less prominent for those who had or had established their families in the new country, but it characterized many single people. World War I changed their plans more than they expected. Not only did travel back to the old country become more and more difficult, they were also forced to make major decisions about their loyalties. These loyalties affected their stay in the United States. Early in the war, emigrants from Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany, Serbia, and shortly afterwards Italy, were called to the army at home. If they decided not to return, they were considered deserters. But by accepting loyalty to the United States they became eligible for the U.S. draft. The situation became more critical in 1917 with U.S. entry into the war. The Austrians became enemy aliens and were required to take a loyalty oath to the United States if they wanted to stay at their jobs, especially for the CF&I. The loyalty oath to the United States made them at the same time primary objects for the draft. Some went into the service and at the end of the war became eligible for early naturalization to become U.S. citizens. Those who retained their loyalty, for example to Italy - and hoped that they could find excuses not to go to service in Italy — found out after the war that when they applied for U. S. citizenship, their petitions were rejected. The irony of the situation was that the Italians from Tyrol were treated as Austrian subjects and therefore potential enemy aliens, while the Italians from Italy, be it from the north or south of Italy, were treated as allies. The Slovenes found themselves in the enemy camp. The consequences for the mining camps were rather profound: the Italian and Slovene workers, often working together in the mines, called into service for their respective countries would find themselves on opposite sides on the battleground in Europe. The result of the challenge was a substantial increase in naturalization petitions filed in the courthouse and more numerous commitments to stay in the United States, just at the time when the war was coming to an end and economic prosperity, short lived during the war, began to vanish. Those who during economic troubles of the past, during the strikes, or independently carved for themselves a niche somewhere in the countryside either by home—steading that was open to them in the La Veta area or east of Walsenburg, were able to retreat to their fields and somehow managed. But the miners saw their jobs disintegrate, first with a reduced work week, working every second day, then one day a week, and finally not at all. They also saw company housing abandoned, the services that the CF&I provided in active camps withdrawn. Many came to Walsenburg, hoping that the situation was only temporary; some continued to mine on their own — as long as they could find a buyer for the coal. Many however left the area never to return. The mines that survived throughout the period operated until 1968 when the last of them was closed. CF&I still holds the land and mineral rights, the coal is still there.
Throughout the one hundred years of its history, Walsenburg was not isolated: its life depended on what was happening elsewhere. The railroad strike of 1903 began in the East but nevertheless affected the Walsenburg area.
The strike of 1913 that led to the confrontation with the militia and National Guard, was centered in Ludlow, though it affected Walsenburg directly. The expansion of smelters and mills in Pueblo made an immediate demand on expanded mining in the Walsenburg area. The people of Walsenburg were not always aware of the happenings elsewhere and sometimes could not understand the course of events. They were not alone in this situation. Many communities in the west shared the same degree of disorientation and bewilderment.
But life has to go on: the personal histories fully document the struggle of families for their survival: when the mines were closed the people went homesteading, building shacks and houses, clearing the land, growing their own food, raising cattle, chickens or turkeys — just surviving. The present generation of Walsenburg is the generation of survivors, often unaware of how costly the struggle to stay alive was for their parents and grandparents. What was the alternative? Go back to the old country? Conditions there were not much better. Go elsewhere in the States? When the First World War ended and the smelters closed one after the other and the mills laid off thousands of their workers, the mines reduced their activities, where could you go? East? The conditions there were not much more promising. To California? The fear of the unknown and unfamiliar was strong and prevented many people from moving. As long as there was one mine operating, there was hope that mining would revive. Even today, with the mines closed, the possibilities are not exhausted: the coal is still there, the experience is still at hand. The hope for revival keeps people in their places where they feel at home.
Why did they come? Why to Colorado? Why to Walsenburg? The reasons for migration to the United States were different for the British and Irish than they were for the Italians, Slovenes, Croats, Greeks and Poles. Both conditions at home and conditions in the United States triggered the move.
When Colorado was opened, the British were already far along in the industrial development of the country. New jobs were few and far between. The British capitalists — so they called themselves — were willing to invest in new ventures that offered greater promises in the United States than in Europe. Colorado was no exception. Railroads, mines, smelters, banking and trade offered high returns for investments. Similarly, better wages were offered to workers in Colorado than in Pennsylvania. But the number of new British and Irish migrants was not sufficient to keep the new economy in the West going. The doors were open for the non-British.
Conditions in Central Europe, a large part of it under the Habsburg rulers of Austria, greatly improved in the second part of the 19th century. The peasant acquired the freedom to leave, new railroads changed the demand for many occupations; the previously immobile society began to migrate from farms to jobs in the cities. But the opportunities were limited. The news of prosperous America, the land of plenty where jobs paid well, lured first the most courageous young men, to venture in the land, where there was plenty of gold, where the land was there for the asking and where freedom was assured to every individual. The news, often exaggerated, of success of the, first triggered the imagination of others. Agents and agencies, private entrepreneurs and official committees and commissions on immigration actively recruited young people with offers of secure jobs, travel tickets, and beautiful pictures of the immense and wild America, especially the American West.
Young people were willing to go anywhere. Some went to Australia, others to South America, to Canada, or only to Germany or France. But once they were willing to leave their homes, it didn't matter where they went. The expectation of earning more money was paramount. That's why they were willing to go to the unknown West. Colorado was just a name, not even on the map. The mountains were like those in Switzerland, the clear sky like in Italy, the vast plains like in Hungary. Furthermore, the land was almost free, the gold was there for the taking, silver in abundance.
Central and Eastern Europeans came to Colorado with the railroads. They followed the pioneers by about 20 years. When the first railroads reached Colorado in 1870 and in the following years expanded along the foothills to Pueblo, Trinidad and began to reach into the mountains along the Arkansas River to Leadville and beyond, when the first normal gauge line reached Pueblo in 1876 from Kansas, the door was open for industry which had been severely restricted as long as it had to depend on wagons and mules and rough trails. Hard rock mining demanded smelters to process ore, the machines needed the power that coal provided. The mines needed workers, and the workers wouldn't come unless paid better than in the East. The whole system was in full swing by the mid-1880's: the hard rock mines in the Rockies, the coal mining in the foothills, the fast expansion of numerous railroads, the construction of smelters and mills, the construction of camps, towns, and cities.
Walsenburg stands in the middle of this. Early Mexican settlers — the area was part of Mexico until the end of the Mexican War of 1848, were clustered in the valleys on their ranches, and managed the trading posts at river crossings. They were generally ignored by newcomers, both the colonizers who aimed to establish agricultural colonies in the valleys in the Rockies — with little success — or by the rough prospectors and miners who came in great numbers after they heard of the 1859 Pike's Peak gold finds.
The Slovenes came to Walsenburg a few years later than to Pueblo and Trinidad. By 1891 they already had their fraternal organization that is still in existence. While the Slovenes in Pueblo congregated around the Slovene parish and the leadership of Father Cyril Zupan, the scattered Slovene communities in the Walsenburg area followed predominantly progressive and anti—clerical lives, maintaining closer relations with progressive Slovene organizations with their headquarters in Chicago. The survival of the Slovene community in Walsenburg is more the work of a few dedicated individuals than an outcome of formal organizations.
The Italians were the most numerous. The first Italians appear in Walsenburg with the railroad construction gangs. By the 1890's they formed large segments of workers in the Walsen and Robinson mines, they ran businesses in Walsenburg and successful farms in La Veta Park. They were, however, divided: while most of the Italians came from the Kingdom - and were called “regnicoli”, the most compact group of Italians came from the Italian Tyrol, from the Trento Province which belonged to Austria until the end of World War I. The Tyroleans, therefore, Italian by culture, language and tradition, held their allegiance to Austria.
Most immigrants came to Walsenburg through the port of New York. Among the early coal miners, especially the Italians, were some that were brought from Pennsylvania and therefore had some previous experience in mining At the turn of the century, however, Colorado immigrants used also the ports of New Orleans and Galveston as ports of entry. The total Cost of travel from Europe to Colorado was cheaper through Galveston than through New York.
Immigrants, especially those without families, moved from camp to camp, especially during uncertain times. The summer slack and lay-offs forced many to look elsewhere for jobs. Pueblo smelters and steel mills offered greater security though often lower pay. Personal stories of many people indicate how they moved between camps of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, either staying with the company or working in camps that were not in the company's hands.
The present people in Walsenburg are survivors of generations of hard working men and women who in one hundred years of history have carved their homes out of harsh and inhospitable environment: the physical elements challenged their survival, and the demanding organizations, mines and enterprises, labor unions and community institutions demanded from them more than they could offer in return.
The history of immigrants in Walsenburg consists of many stories of little known and unrecognized individuals, men and women, who were asking very little and were satisfied with mere survival. If and when they rebelled, it was for the chance to stay alive. When their lives were threatened, they closed their ranks and faced the challenge.
Colorado is known for its heroes. It should be better known for its unrecognized heroes: the miners and farmers, mill workers and railroad gangs, housekeepers and camp guards, who built what we can still see today.
They came and stayed. The marks of their presence are evident everywhere.
The interviews with local residents express a ray of hope that the mines will open again. It is possible, but not very likely in the near future. But even if the mines open again, they will operate more like the Allen mine does now, fully mechanized, employing a very small number of people.
History runs it course: it doesn't return. The Huerfano area was a land of open ranches and estates when the territory became part of the United States in 1848; the Hispanic people sharing or fighting with the Ute Indians have seen the arrival of newcomers, British and German first, followed by Italians, Poles, Slovenes, Croats, Czechs, Finns, Greeks and many others. They came on the train, they moved from one camp to another, they helped open new coal fields and were present when they closed. Walsenburg was their major center: camps were often temporary, some of them open only for a few years, some closed after major disasters — but Walsenburg was there, with its hopes and expectations. The early pioneers became businessmen, the Unruhs, the Walsens, and the Withingtons. They had gone from rough primitive life at the frontier to the opulence at the height of prosperity. Later immigrants seldom made it so well: their children did. But the Tomsics and the Bonaccis, the Pazars, the Laneys, and the Hribars did not achieve the prosperity of the Unruhs and the Lenzinis, though they were the people who made Walsenburg. Unfortunately, there is not enough recognition for their achievement, no matter how deserved.
There is very little in Walsenburg today to be used as the “economic base”. The railroad still runs through, but there are no passengers. The freeway passes by and a few people stop. The highway to La Veta branches off near Walsenburg, but again, there is no need to stop. From a community of major activity, Walsenburg became a place on the map that lost its early base: mining. The new generation can change it. Not with coal, but with other potential activities.
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