Monday, June 15, 2015

A historical empirical explore.

History surrounds us.  We live it in our day to day experiences.  We go to the store in the morning and it is a part of our personal history.  We talk about where we went to elementary or middle school - boom, history is present.

Family history is often thought of as being a sort of throw away history by some in the most formal settings.  But I think it is like a good family recipe.  If we have the recipe we can enjoy the dish again and again.  Or we might make something new based on the most delicious tidbits of that familiar recipe; memories can be like that.

In this post I won't get into the politics of history.  The "who tells the story" and "who is empowered" part of history.

It was exciting to go to  Pueblo and begin to get some of the details and facts of the history I heard from my mother.  Facts. Questions. Answers.

Fact - I know that my mother and her family lived in a company town.  Fact - Several of my relatives worked at the CF&I Steel Mill.  Fact - My Grand Uncle Agapito died while working in the mill.

Unknown - Did it really happen in accident?  Are there any details about his death? Did the CF&I mention his death or cover it up?

There is always a bit of the Rashomon about the answer to the question.  Different perspectives and different tales for the same story.  Facts are always seem to be open to interpretation.

Thanks to Sara Szakaly, I was able to spend some time in the archives of the Steelworks Museum of Industry and Culture.  It is operated by the Bessemer Historical Society.  They have exhibits and tours.

It is exciting work in the archives because the amount of information they have is vast and somewhat untapped.  Well, it may not look vast, but in addition to the bound volumes of the mill's weekly newspaper, there are records of workers and the jobs they held.  If you want to learn what a family or community experienced you can look and see when someone was first employed, where in the mill they were working, who was working with them, and, on occasion, how they died.

Imagine a workplace that is big enough that you have a weekly newspaper with a bilingual section and adds placed by local businesses.   If you've imagined this, you begin to get a sense of the size of the labor force that was employed by the CF&I.    

To read the columns, gives you a sense of the many different cultures and heritages that were working on site and the efforts that were made by the company to develop a sense of workforce unity across languages and traditions.  By the 1920s there were two columns that were in Spanish.

While researching articles in the archives I was able to learn more about the death of my Grand Uncle.  The fact that he was one of five people who died in a week was shocking. Not all died from work related deaths - but five people in one is still a shocking fact.

 How his death is reported is also noteworthy.  

It's pretty clear that there were different people doing the reporting.  

The details of his death matched the stories I was told. 

And the response to his death by his co-workers as well as the response from his family reflects a bit of how his death affected friends and family.  
The formality of responses hints that this was not an unusual occurrence.  

A rough translation reads: 
"We accompany those, in their time of 
pain and sorrow, who lament the loss of him who in
life was
and who ceased to exist when
he fell victim to
an accident on the
14th of the current (week?)"
The Correspondent
"In a most attentive and sincere way we wish to express our sincere thanks to all those who so kindly comforted us during the bitter moments of pain caused by the tragic death of our beloved husband, son, father, brother and uncle.
We especially appreciate the courtesies of the members of the three local lodges of the Spanish-American Alliance and Mutual Society Ignacio Zaragoza .
By means of the many beautiful wreaths, is is not difficult to name all the people who also showed their kindness toward us.  For this we say, a thousand and one times: Thank you.  Villa Family."


  1. Jeez. The notice in the newspaper is awfully brief. It shows how they felt about their workers.

    I've been reading Lisa See's book about her ancestors' immigration from China. Another case of (white) ownership caring little or nothing about the workers.

    1. I have to wonder whether or not they made less of it so that the repercussions might be less. I think it's as much about the bottom line as it is about ethnicity or race. I can't help but think about the coal miners in W. VA.

  2. Good point. And the bottom line to that bottom line is that humans are expendable, profit is not.

  3. Pretty sure it was Churchill who said, "History is a lie agreed upon."