Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Suffer the little children..."

The death of an infant or young child still happens with sufficient frequency to remind us of the poignancy of life too soon extinguished. But in the last years of the nineteenth and first years of the twentieth century, when science had only just begun to grasp the causes of serious illness, infant and childhood mortality was even more common, leaving behind a trail of sadness and family disruption. Evidence of childhood death is easily found in Grinnell:  Babyland, situated along the southern edge of Hazelwood Cemetery, is home to numerous infant and child burials; elsewhere in the cemetery one finds plenty more gravestones remembering children, their memorials usually positioned among the graves of parents and siblings. All deaths of children bring the same piercing sorrow, but especially sad are the several gravestones that recall children who died in Grinnell, but whose families then moved on, creating new lives and new memories elsewhere. In this post we'll look at a few of these more lonesome child graves and tell their stories.
Gravestone of Mabel Ruth Lambirth (1912-1918), Hazelwood Cemetery (2015 photograph)
In West Hazelwood there stands a fairly plain stone onto which are etched both the image of a lamb and an inscription devoted to Ruth Lambirth, who died in 1918 at the age of five. The gravestone communicates nothing about the circumstances of the little girl's early demise, but the official record identified cause of death as influenza, a pestilence that swept across the Plains in 1918. This was the same illness—sometimes called the "Spanish Flu"—that burned through Chicago that autumn, carrying off the biological mother of the twins whom B. J. and Mabel Ricker adopted that year. As with others infected by the virus, Mabel Ruth went quickly: the death certificate reported that Dr. P. E. Somers had first treated her on November 4; six days later she was dead.
Notice (including mistaken family name) from Grinnell Herald, November 12, 1918
Although Iowa's encounter with influenza was not so virulent as Chicago's, records kept by the Iowa State Board of Health prove that 1918 was an especially deadly year for Iowans who contracted the flu. About twenty percent of all Iowa deaths that year were attributed to flu—more than three times as many as cancer deaths. By contrast, the next year influenza deaths dropped significantly, accounting for fewer than half as many deaths as cancer whose mortality held steady.

Ruth's death, therefore, was not an isolated case, but merely one of many that made the year 1918 stand out for families touched by the virus. At the same time, Ruth's encounter with the flu was different: state records reveal that October had been by far the most dangerous month, during which almost 43,000 cases of flu were reported across Iowa. By contrast, in November state authorities counted only thirteen cases of influenza, one of which killed Ruth Lambirth.
Data on Diseases in Iowa, Second Half of 1918, Report of the State Board of Health for the Biennial Period Ending June 30, 1920 (Des Moines: State of Iowa, 1921), p. 19.
Perhaps her parents did not at first realize that their daughter's death had come after the murderous wave had subsided. But if they did, that realization could only have deepened their sadness.

However much the family mourned Ruth's death, her lonely gravestone points to an important postscript: if elsewhere in Hazelwood one meets whole families metaphorically gathered together in adjacent graves, Ruth's stone stands alone, her family having survived the flu and moved on, abandoning her and her memorial. Who were these people, and where did they go?

The Lambirths, as it turns out, moved a great deal in their lifetimes. Joseph Elmer Lambirth, Ruth's father, was born in 1884 in Metcalf County, KY where young Elmer, as he was casually known, grew up. In 1909 he married Lillie Davis of Center, KY, and the following year the couple welcomed their first child, Roland. By 1911 the family was settled in Illinois where Elmer rented farmland and where in 1912 a second child arrived: Mabel Ruth, whom the family called by her middle name. Within a few years, the Lambirths moved again, this time settling in Iowa. No later than 1916 they were living in Poweshiek County where Elmer rented a farm in Chester township from John and Zella Matzen. The Lambirths continued to work this farm after the Matzens sold it to B. J. Ricker in 1920, and remained Ricker's tenants until 1923, when they decided to move again, this time to a farm in Jackson Township (near Montezuma) where federal census officials found them still in 1930. In the meantime, a third child—Lucille—was born.
B. J. Ricker farm, Chester Township, 1921 Atlas of Poweshiek County
In January, 1931, however, the Lambirths confronted tragedy once again when Elmer's brother, Virgil, and his sister-in-law, Laura, were murdered by a man who had worked for both Elmer and Virgil on their farms. According to the Montezuma newspaper, Clarence Brewer arrived at the farm six-and-a-half miles southeast of Montezuma, shot Virgil twice in the forehead, entered the house and shot Mrs. Lambirth (who lingered a while before she, too, died), then turned the gun on himself. Elmer was called to the scene soon after the shootings, but could offer no explanation for the murders. All that he and Lillie could do was to welcome their orphaned nephew Ralph into their home where the 1940 census found him on the Mahaska County farm to which Elmer had moved some years earlier.
Montezuma Republican January 22, 1931
Elmer continued to live near Barnes City until he fell ill, and entered hospital in Oskaloosa in October, 1965, dying a few days later. Lillie Lambirth lived another fifteen years, and died at age 90 in the Grinnell hospital. Her obituary remembered her living children and her nephew, Ralph, and noted that her husband and one daughter, Ruth, had preceded her in death.
Gravestone of Lillie and Elmer Lambirth, Barnes City cemetery
However, despite the fact that Ruth's body lay in Grinnell, neither Lillie, who died just a few blocks from Hazelwood, nor Elmer was buried at Hazelwood with their little girl who had died so many years before. Ruth's gravestone was destined to stand among graves of people she never knew.
Although influenza dominated childhood mortality in 1918, other diseases were more deadly to an earlier generation of children. For some time in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was diphtheria that struck down more children than any other illness.  Often misdiagnosed as membranous croup because of the thick mucus visible in the victim's throat, diphtheria in that era was poorly understood, its causative agent having only been identified in 1882. The deadly swath that diphtheria cut through Iowa's young population and the low level of public understanding of the disease help explain why the 1891 report of the Iowa Board of Health devoted so much attention to it. According to data published that year, in the 1890s Iowa suffered more than 3,000 cases of diphtheria annually, over 600 of them resulting in death. One of those 1891 deaths came to the family of Newton Cessna.
Gravestone for Olive Ruby Cessna (1885-1891), Hazelwood Cemetery (2015 photo)
Newton William Cessna was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in 1857, but with his family moved to Scott County, Iowa the following year. Raised as a farmer, Cessna himself farmed for some years, tilling 160 acres in section 33 of Chester township, north of Grinnell. In 1882 he married a Muscatine woman, Nancy Skiles, and the couple had three children: Myrtle Pearl, born November, 1884; Olive Ruby, December, 1886; and Maude Opal, November, 1887.
Section 33, Chester Township, 1896 Atlas of Poweshiek County
Tragedy arrived at the Cessna family suddenly and unexpectedly in late June, 1891 when Ruby (as they called their second daughter) abruptly took ill, her condition quickly deteriorating; within a week the little girl was dead. The Grinnell Herald briefly took note of Ruby's death, providing few details and extending condolences to the family.
Grinnell Herald July 3, 1891
For unknown reasons, Ruby's death did not enter the official register until 1894, but Poweshiek county death records report that Ruby, age 5 and one-half, had died of diphtheria July 1st, that she had been ill only one week, and had been victimized by what her doctor—E. B. Wiley of Grinnell—called "blood poison," evidently alluding to the toxins generated by diphtheria. Her parents buried her beneath a log-like gravestone, adorned with a dove.

Nothing survives to explain how the Cessna family dealt with Ruby's death. Perhaps Newton and Nancy Cessna, like some other parents of their era, anticipated the fragility of their children's well-being by delaying the naming  of  newborns. The 1885 Iowa census reveals that the first-born Cessna daughter (later known as Pearl), born November 15, 1884, was still unnamed when the census official inventoried the family early in January, almost two months later. The record for Ruby's own birth in December, 1886, shows a similar reluctance to assign a name: the document identifies her only by gender and surname. So perhaps the Cessnas were alert to the dangers of childhood illness.
"Iowa, County Births, 1880-1935," database, Family Search (http://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XVHZ-DRW)
As is now well-known, diphtheria is very contagious, so quarantine is essential, but this precaution  was poorly practiced in nineteenth-century rural Iowa. Poweshiek County death records, for example, report that Charles P. Case, age 1 year, 10 months, died of diphtheria September 12, 1880; three days later his older brother, Henry W., just a few days short of four years old and undoubtedly infected by his younger brother, also succumbed to diphtheria, delivering a one-two gut punch to their parents, who had to bury two children in the same week.

The parents of Ruby Cessna did not confront the same terror as was visited upon the Case family. That first-born daughter, Pearl, and her younger sister, Maude, both survived the dangers of diphtheria and other childhood maladies. Nevertheless, their dad, who had been reasonably successful as a farmer, by 1895 decided to move into Grinnell, and the family soon thereafter took up residence at 921 Summer Street. Newton Cessna became meat manager for Grinnell Provision Company, and, to judge by his report to the 1915 census officials, he did very well, earning over $4000 in 1914. But Nancy Cessna was not well, and in 1917 the family—including the two unmarried daughters, both of whom were teachers in their late twenties—moved to California where they hoped the climate would be kinder to Mrs. Cessna. For some years the senior Cessnas lived near Pearl, who in 1921 had married Francis Kellogg, a fellow high school teacher in Eureka. Later, the elder Cessnas moved to Pasadena, close to their other daughter, Maude, who had married Chauncey Traver, a doctor at the Patton State Hospital for the Insane.

And so Newton and Nancy Cessna lived out their lives in California, as did their daughters. Years after having left behind the grave of Ruby Cessna in Hazelwood Cemetery, Nancy died in California, and was interred at Mountain View Cemetery, Altadina, CA in 1934; her husband lived well into his nineties before his 1952 death when he was buried by his wife. Ruby's grave remained far away.
Gravestone of Newton and Nancy Cessna, Mountain View Cemetery, Altadena, California
Despite everything that had followed Ruby's 1891 death, the Cessna daughters did not forget Grinnell. A small item in an October, 1956 issue of the Grinnell Herald Register reported that Pearl Cessna Kellogg and Maude Cessna Traver had recently donated to the Grinnell Historical Museum their mother's wedding dress, several girls' dresses, and a child's book published around 1890. No doubt each of the three Cessna girls, including Ruby, had worn these dresses and had perhaps also handled this book; perhaps as girls growing up in Grinnell, they had tried on their mother's wedding dress, imagining their own futures. Now these legacies provide only mute, indirect testimony to the family's life here and to Ruby Cessna's early death.
If the influenza epidemic of 1918 passed quickly, diphtheria did not depart Grinnell quickly or quietly. As the first waves of the twentieth century washed over central Iowa, the disease continued to inflict loss upon Grinnell families. That history is not visible in the gravestone assigned to Lester Arnold Learned, who, the Grinnell Herald reported in its October 12, 1906 issue, had died from diphtheria. The gravestone, decorated with a small lamb at rest, recalls the boy who died that October, just short of his seventh birthday. An epigraph below the date of death quotes from the W. A. Ogden hymn: "I am Jesus' little lamb, Happy all day long I am." An inscription above the lamb reads, "Our Little Brother."
Gravestone for Lester Arnold Learned (1899-1906), Hazelwood Cemetery
Lester's mother, Lorena Shoffner, had been born in nearby Kellogg, but for reasons unknown had made her way to Miles City, Montana, where she met Grant Learned. The couple married in 1882, and soon began to welcome children to their Montana home: two daughters were born before Lester's 1899 birth, after which a third daughter arrived in 1903. In these years, Miles City could boast a population of fewer than 1000, but the town was a well-known destination for cattle drives, and the beef industry was crucial to the local economy.

What brought Grant and Lorena Learned to Iowa is unknown; perhaps they came east because of Lorena's family in Kellogg, but the 1905 Iowa census has them living not in Kellogg, but in Grinnell at 1138 Elm Street. In Montana Grant had been known as a "stockman," so he probably pursued similar work around Grinnell, but neither the 1905 nor 1908 city directories recalls him, and by 1909 he was back in Miles City, Montana.
Notice from the Grinnell Herald, October 12, 1906
The brief sojourn in Grinnell—arriving no earlier than 1903 and remaining no longer than 1908—offers little evidence of how the family dealt with Lester's 1906 death, but the family's return to Montana seems to have been accompanied by considerable domestic trouble. The 1910 census found Lorena and her three remaining children back in Miles City; the census-taker described Lorena as "widow," but I could find no confirmation of Grant's death. Furthermore, when Lorena remarried in 1912, the marriage certificate reported her as "married and divorced." What does this conflicting evidence mean? Had the death of Lester played some part in moving the family back to Montana and perhaps also in breaking up the marriage?

Unless Lorena or her husband left behind some explanation, we will never know the answer to these questions. Like the Lambirths and Cessnas, the Learned family continued their itineracy after Grinnell, which ended up constituting only a brief chapter in lives for the most part lived out elsewhere. Consequently, the gravestone of Lester Learned, like those of Ruth Lambirth and Ruby Cessna, occupies a lonely spot in Hazelwood cemetery, comforted by the presence of no other member of the family. Parents and surviving children had moved on, leaving Grinnell and its memories visible only in the rear-view mirror.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Greek Who Never Went Home....

Most of the immigrants who lived in Grinnell early in the twentieth century had come either from Canada or from western and northern Europe. But as the railroads prospered and Grinnell added some industries that required more labor, the migrant influx changed, reflecting the changes taking place all across the country as increasing numbers of US-bound immigrants came from the Mediterranean and Mexico. Consequently, for example, most of the men who worked in Grinnell as section hands for the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad were Mexican. But the May 17, 1910 issue of the Grinnell Herald carried the sad news about a section hand who was not Mexican, and who was seriously injured.  The paper reported that Socrates Perras (the paper spelled it Perees), a Greek, was working on the tracks, and, having stepped out of the way of a passing freight train, had inadvertently stepped between two cars that were being switched on the next track. He was knocked down and thrown under the cars, his chest crushed and his back broken. Evidently still conscious, Perras was rushed to hospital where he soon died, far from his Greek home and family. The story of how Grinnell responded to this tragedy is often confusing, but simultaneously revealing about the town's encounter with an unfamiliar culture.
Grinnell Herald May 17, 1910, p. 1
Socrates Perras had arrived at Ellis Island in early May, 1907 aboard the S.S. Roma, which had sailed out of Naples in late April with a full complement of immigrants, many of whom were Greek. Responding to officials who compiled the passenger list, Perras gave his age then as 30, but his death record reports his age as 47, meaning that he was born around 1863, and therefore must have been 44 or so when he immigrated.  Perhaps he thought that providing officials a younger age would help him find work in America, or perhaps the immigration official misheard him—we'll never know.

The ship's manifesto reported the man's home as "St. Dimitri," or Agios Demetrios; as you might expect, toponyms like that are legion in Greece, so it is hard to say with confidence exactly where Perras originated. He traveled to America with two other men from St. Dimitri, and all claimed to be headed to Chicago, intending to stay with their friend, Gust Macris, and with Perras's uncle, Panogliotis Factoris (?), both of whom were said to be living at 1320 Portland Avenue, Chicago. No such address survives in today's Chicago, but Perras and friends might have confused Chicago with Chicago Heights, which was a destination for many immigrants around 1900 and which today still has a 1320 Portland Avenue. In fact, the 1910 US census did find a Gust Macris living at 1312 Portland Avenue, Chicago Heights, immediately next door to 1320 (where the census registered another group of Greek immigrants), so this is certainly where Perras was headed.
S. S. Roma (undated photograph)
How he ended up in Grinnell is unknown, but it seems likely that Perras acquired the railroad job in Chicago, where the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad had offices at the LaSalle Street Station. At the time of his death, Perras had probably only recently reached Grinnell, because his name does not appear in the 1910 Grinnell census nor in the 1910 city directory. Moreover, at the time of the accident, the Grinnell Herald admitted that the dead man was "little known," with the result that no pallbearers could be found—not even among railroad employees, several of whom had been called to testify at the inquest that investigated the accident.  Therefore, several businessmen (the grocer W. T. Moyle , the shoe company man, C. J. Card, the dentist, Dr. A. J. Brock, and three others) "dropped their work long enough" to serve at the "simple funeral."
Lasalle Street Station (ca. 1904), Chicago, Home of Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (photo courtesy of http://rrshs.org/)

The funeral was indeed simple. Although two local clergymen—Rev. G. E. White (a Congregational missionary in Turkey but back in Grinnell for the funeral of his father), and Rev. Elias Handy, pastor of the Methodist Church—volunteered to conduct services, "their friendly offers were declined," the paper reported (in a maddeningly perfect example of why the passive voice is obfuscating). Certainly the dead man did not decline the offer, but who did is left unsaid.

The stated reason for declining the help of the volunteer clergy is also confusing: the newspaper explained the situation by saying that the "dead man was a Catholic, and Catholic services, if any, were required." "For this reason," the report concluded, "burial was made without religious service."
St. Columbanus Catholic Church, Main Street and Washington Avenue (photo ca. 1913)
However, if Perras was a Catholic, he could certainly have obtained a Catholic burial. Although Catholics had yet to gain a strong foothold in Grinnell (only about 5% of the town's population then identified as Catholic), a Catholic parish had existed in Grinnell for almost thirty years by the time that Perras suffered his accident; in 1910 the Rev. James Curtin was priest, and had been priest at St. Columbanus since 1897. So, although  there might have been some difficulty in reaching the priest, the problem could not have been so great as to deprive a dead Catholic of a proper burial.

Almost certainly, however, Perras was not Catholic, but rather Greek Orthodox, and there were no Orthodox priests in Grinnell—a circumstance that might truly have caused a difficulty for arranging funeral rites. In 1910 Greeks were practically unknown in Grinnell, although within a few years, a small clutch of Greeks had taken up residence in town. The 1915 Iowa census, for example, found Peter Staffanou, a Greek immigrant and co-owner of a confectionary at 825 4th Avenue (later known as Candyland); with his brother Theodore and his candy store co-owner, James Joris (another Greek), Staffanou lived at 927 West Street. Two more Greeks, Peter Marcopolos and Tom Koserar, operated a shoe-shine in town in 1915, but none of these men (all but Koserar were still single in 1915) lived in 1910 Grinnell. Staffanou, for example, told the census-taker that he had arrived in the US in 1910, but had been in Iowa only two years, meaning that he had arrived in 1913. At the time of Perras's death, therefore, Grinnell still had not made much acquaintance with Greeks.

But there was at least one Greek in 1910 Grinnell: Charles Plagakis, whom the newspaper mentioned as having given evidence at the inquest. Born in Greece in the 1880s, Plagakis had entered the United States in 1909 and found his way to Grinnell where, according to the 1910 US census, he was working as a salesman in some place called "candy kitchen"—probably what later became Staffanou's Candyland. In January 1910 in Perry, Iowa Plagakis had married a Greek girl, Stella Lonebesi, who had immigrated from Greece at about the same time as her new husband; the pair, along with a boarder who was apparently Charles's brother, James, resided at 828 Main Street in 1910.

Plagakis later left Grinnell, settling in Chicago. But in 1910 he appears to have played a central role in assisting Grinnell authorities with the death of Socrates Perras, perhaps explaining in his best English that Perras was "Catholic," and therefore not eligible to be buried by Protestant pastors. Mediation in behalf of an unknown countryman could only go so far,  however: Plagakis did not volunteer as a pallbearer, for example, nor, apparently, was he in a position to underwrite burial costs.

In any event, Perras was buried two days after the accident in Hazelwood Cemetery, not in potter's field, where the unknown and impoverished were usually put to rest, but rather on the slope that bends down to Arbor Lake. Did someone buy him a grave plot, one wonders? If so, evidently not much money changed hands, because no gravestone was erected in the man's memory.
Grave marker (?) of Socrates Perras, Hazelwood Cemetery
Visitors to this part of the cemetery today can find numerous grave markers spilling down the hill, along with a small cement slab, sunken now a bit below grade, half-way down the incline. Like some other gravestones of the era, the cement marker was modest both in cost and appearance. Nevertheless, many of these same cement markers reveal a simple identification of the deceased—a name and date imprinted on the cement before it hardened. The marker over the plot in which Socrates Perras was buried, however, remains anonymous, and no doubt escapes the notice of all but the most curious.
Modest cement gravestone for "infant son of J. F. Ferson, Dec 26 (?), 1921" (2015 photograph)
Cemetery records indicate that as many as ten bodies are buried in this fifteen-by-twenty plot, but only two markers identify those interred there—one recalls Alexander Kline, who died in November, 1909, and the other remembers Merrill James Quire, an infant who died in July, 1910; the rest, some buried before Perras, others afterward, are not remembered by any marker whatsoever. Why Perras ended up with this unlikely collection of the unremembered dead is unclear.

In this way the story of Socrates Perras's brief sojourn in Grinnell came to an end. Only a staccato epilogue played out later that summer in Chicago: in early August the Cook County Probate Court appointed John F. Devine to collect and administer the property left behind by Perras, who had died intestate. Devine reported that he had gathered "property and effects [belonging to Perras] in said County, the value of which does not exceed the sum of Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000)." It seems unlikely that Perras had accumulated so enormous a sum in his brief time in America, so perhaps the number employed was chosen arbitrarily. However, as other Cook County intestate declarations indicate, it could have been a much smaller sum ($500, for example, in some other cases), so Perras evidently had accumulated a large treasury, even if the total was not so stupendous as $10,000.

What Devine did with the money I could not determine, although one may hope that the funds found their way back to St. Dimitri and the widow and six children that Perras had left behind. Sadly, none of that surplus was available to fund a gravestone in Hazelwood, where Socrates Perras still slumbers anonymously, far from his native Greece.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ku Klux Klan in Grinnell?

Grinnell has long taken justifiable pride in its abolitionist past, even if the city was never fully free of racial discrimination. Consequently, reports in the early 1920s about the appearance in town of the Ku Klux Klan proved shocking. The Klan, founded on the heels of the Civil War but languishing in the first years of the twentieth century, had revived during World War I. The immense popularity of D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation had helped galvanize the Klan, which began to hire recruiters who gradually built outposts of the KKK throughout the country, including parts of the Midwest. As a secret organization, the Klan was hard to trace, which only made more unnerving those moments when evidence of the Klan surfaced unexpectedly, as it did one night in 1923 on the grassy terrain of the Grinnell Country Club.

Grinnell Herald October 23, 1923, p. 1
The original KKK had appeared in 1865 as a reaction to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Intent upon guaranteeing white supremacy and what Klan spokesmen called the protection of (white) womanhood, the original Klan had prospered throughout the South. Often operating as vigilantes, Klansmen terrorized black Americans, and were responsible for numerous lynchings, especially throughout the deep South.

Federal legislation in the 1870s put a serious crimp in Klan activity, although vigilantism against African Americans continued. Iowa witnessed relatively few lynchings—one of the deeds commonly associated with the KKK—when compared to the totals of other states. Moreover, Iowa's lynchings mostly victimized whites rather than African Americans.

None of these lynchings had taken place in Grinnell, so it must have been a surprise to readers of the January 18, 1907 Grinnell Herald to find an editorial taken from the Charles City Intelligencer: "A Wise Note from Charles City." The article offered a reproving account of the lynching earlier that month of James Cullen, a white man accused of having murdered his wife and step-son. A crowd of about 400 had taken Cullen from the Floyd County jail and had promptly hanged him from the Main Street bridge over the Cedar River. The editorial objected to vigilantism, here not obviously attributable to the Klan, but the hanging must have stirred anxiety and uncomfortable memories among Grinnell's mostly liberal elite.
Main Street Bridge, Charles City (http://www.usgwarchives.net/ia/floyd/postcards/mainbr.jpg)
(image changed on recommendation of Beth's comment below 5/4/2016)
Nevertheless, few echoes of the KKK were heard in Grinnell before the 1923 report of the country club burning cross. The first, rather mysterious sign of the Klan's presence in Grinnell was reported on the front page of the Grinnell Herald, October 23, 1923. According to the article, on the evening of Friday, October 19th, a burning cross had been discovered on the fairway of hole number 4 at the country club, adjacent to the tracks of the Minneapolis and St. Louis railroad. Although the cross only burned for about twenty minutes, a "galaxy of automobiles assembled in the immediate neighborhood" (exactly where, one wonders?) to witness the unusual event, but none of those present admitted to having seen anyone set up the cross. The newspaper went on to claim that, according to unnamed informants, "a local organization [of the Ku Klux Klan had been] formed in Grinnell two weeks ago last night" (i.e., October 8, 1923), and, in a wry conclusion, the newspaper offered "a year's [free] subscription to the person who will hand in a list of the members to be printed as is customary in an account of the formation of a new order." No such list was ever printed, but suspicion about the Klan's presence remained firmly embedded in popular consciousness.

The next summer (June 6, 1924) the Herald published a short article on a meeting of the KKK in nearby Gilman. Apparently an Ohio representative—one of the Klan's official, paid recruiters who were part of the Klan's "second wave" in the 1920s—addressed "quite a good-sized crowd" in Gilman's park, explaining the "aims and objects of the Klan." "A delegation of knights [KKK members] in their robes was present, and formed a circle around the speaker's stand," the paper continued. Afterwards, those wishing to join the Klan were invited to meet off-site with officials; the Herald remarked that "we understand [that] quite a few were sworn into the order."

Reports like these appeared occasionally in the press, all with the same vagueness that unsettled those opposed to the Klan. For example, in late October 1922, the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette published a short piece on what even the headline admitted was a rumor—an organizing meeting of a local chapter of the KKK in nearby Nevada, Iowa. The newspaper reported that "Despite the fact that no definite information is obtainable the rumor [of the meeting] generally is accepted as true."
Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette October 28, 1922
Unsurprisingly, the Des Moines African American newspaper, Iowa Bystander, paid the most attention to the Klan's revived fortunes. What can only be called a screaming headline in the paper's November 20, 1920 issue alerted readers to the Klan's "invasion" of the North. The article itself, however, referred mainly to parades and demonstrations throughout the South. 
The Iowa Bystander November 20, 1920, p. 1
Nevertheless, the article quoted a letter from the Klan's Grand Kleagle that expressed the intention of opening new chapters of the Klan in New York, Maine, Illinois, Missouri, and California. The Bystander concluded by quoting an official from the NAACP: "The Ku Klux Klan is the most dangerous tendency in American life today and ought to be stamped out...."
The Bystander August 11, 1921, p. 1
But the paper had no news about the Klan's success in Iowa until the following summer.  An article in the August 11, 1921 edition of The Bystander quoted the Des Moines Chief of Police to the effect that the KKK had apparently organized a chapter in the city. "The mere organization of the Ku Klux," Chief Saunders said, "will not interest the police. But if any of them try to take the law into their own hands, then they'd better look out for the police." The paper went on to declare that the Iowa Attorney General was also keeping a close eye on the situation.
Consequently, it appears that only episodic reports of the Klan's success in 1920s Iowa made it into print. And, so far as I could discover, no further mention of the Klan appeared in Grinnell's newspapers. It is surprising, therefore, to note that at about this same time the college newspaper found several occasions to mention the Klan. In its January 6, 1923 issue, for example, the Scarlet and Black offered editorial criticism of something called "The Oracle," apparently a group of college upper-classmen, including "the huskiest and most hard-boiled athletes," who attempted to "regulate the morality and enforcement of traditions at Grinnell College." The S&B likened the group to the Klan, which, like the Oracle, kept its membership secret and felt free to enforce ("in the dead of night") its opinions upon people who had no voice in choosing them.

The following week (January 13) the college newspaper included yet another article that referenced the Klan.  This time the paper directly attacked the Klan, borrowing from an article written by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, co-editors of the literary magazine, The Smart Set. Mencken and Nathan had apparently defended the Klan as "typically American," but had also criticized the Klan's opponents as being two-faced, often supporting the very ideas for which they criticized the Klan. "The fundamental cause...of the existence of the Ku Klux Klan," the paper opined,  "is the weakness of human passions: envy, jealousy, and anger." In this view, the Klan fed off the desires of men who wanted to punish others with what they themselves could not do.
Scarlet and Black January 13, 1923
The newspaper concluded by expressing the hope that "Careful introspection and action governed by the results of this introspection will kill the Klan, if men still retain a sense of honor."

Little more was said about the Klan until the following autumn, when, according to the S&B (September 19, 1923), a freshman student used the KKK outfit as a costume for his performance during initiation rites. About a month later (October 31, 1923) the college paper reported on a "stunt" performed at Homecoming by students dressed to represent Klan members, hooded in white robes. Everyone seemed to think the stunt very humorous.
What explains this spate of local attention—some serious, some not so serious—to the KKK? For one thing, the Klan's revival in the 1920s was certainly real, and may well have resulted in a chapter right here in Grinnell. But even if Grinnell did not have its own KKK, the increased visibility of the Klan nationwide surely made the Klan more familiar to Grinnellians, both on and off the campus. Like many other towns in Iowa, Grinnell had been host to showings of Birth of a Nation, the film that had helped revive the fortunes and reputation of the KKK. Grinnellians, therefore, were familiar with the peculiar costume of the Klan's members and knew something about the vigilantism that the organization advocated. The burning cross at the Country Club had perhaps most forcefully brought home to Grinnell the reality of the Klan's revival, but long before that fiery cross was planted on the Country Club grass, Grinnellians were familiar with the Klan.

Over the long haul, however, the KKK seems to have had little impact in Grinnell. Throughout the rest of the 1920s, the subject almost completely disappeared from local newspapers. Nationwide the Klan's fortunes ebbed with the outbreak of the Great Depression, but in Iowa, where the agricultural depression was already in evidence by 1924, the Klan may have suffered reverses even sooner, leaving towns like Grinnell only lightly affected by the post-World War I KKK recovery.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

"Bury My Leg at...Hazelwood Cemetery"

Civil War buffs will know that General Stonewall Jackson was buried without his left arm, because, when surgeons amputated the arm after Jackson was wounded at the 1863 battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson's chaplain rescued the arm from the heap of amputated limbs and gave the arm a "Christian burial."  Amputation, however, did not save Jackson; he died soon after the operation, and his body was shipped to Lexington, VA, where it was buried—without the arm (commemorated by its own gravestone) that had been left behind at Ellwood Manor cemetery.
Photo by Julie H. (May 2015) (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g60824-d183750-r159921531-Grave_of_Stonewall_Jackson_s_Arm-Fredericksburg_Virginia.html#photos)
A person might be tempted to relegate this story to the quaint, fascinating, but uninformed past. In fact, however, the issue of buried limbs continues to make an appearance in the press. For example, in 2010 the Daily Mail told the story of two men who had had legs amputated in a Leicester hospital, which refused to hand over the limbs to the amputees, despite their announced request to have them.  Bob Brownlow, one of the complainants featured in the Daily Mail story, told a reporter, "That leg had been mine for more than fifty years, and I don't understand why I couldn't keep it.  It's part of me and...I wanted to be buried with it." Similarly, in August, 2014 a Chicago-area man filed suit against a Skokie hospital "for cremating his amputated leg instead of saving it for burial as he had requested." According to the news report, Jewish tradition requires that "amputated limbs... should be buried with or near a person in preparation for the resurrection of the dead mentioned in Jewish scriptures." Islam, too, prescribes burial for amputated limbs "in respect for the human being."

I am not aware of any special discussion of this problem within Christian theology, which also makes space for bodily resurrection but emphasizes the immaterial nature of the immortal soul. Nevertheless, the practice of burying amputated limbs evidently thrived in Christian Britain. For instance, Sarah Tarlow in her book, Ritual, Belief and the Dead in Early Modern Britain and Ireland, mentions the 1756 burial in Wales of the "left leg and part of the thigh" of Henry Hughes Cooper, fully commemorated by a stone marker (apparently Cooper later emigrated to America where he died and was buried without his amputated leg and thigh). Tarlow also found several nineteenth-century cases in which amputees had had coffins prepared specifically for their lost limbs, the first step toward formal burial.  This practice, Tarlow asserts, indicates that Britons thought that amputated limbs retained "some part of the individual self."

Photo by Julie Preston, 1993 (http://www.jlb2011.co.uk/walespic/archive/990502.htm)
What brought me to ponder these unusual circumstances was my recent work in Hazelwood Cemetery. In an effort to help update the inventory of persons buried there, I ran across an interesting fact: at least two burial plots in Hazelwood cemetery are occupied by amputated legs, although neither is remembered by a gravestone of its own.

What was evidently the first leg to be buried at Hazelwood belonged to Mary Ewoldt, who died at age 79 in Grinnell in late May, 1952.  Her parents, Frank Kelm and Julia Poleska Kelm, had both been born in Germany, so it was perhaps no surprise that Mary's choice for husband was also German-born, Herman Ewoldt.  The couple married in 1895 in Trinity Lutheran Church, Malcom (the record is preserved in German), but Mary later was a member of long standing at St. John's Lutheran, Grinnell.  She and her husband spent more than 50 years together farming in
Grinnell Herald-Register March 19, 1945
Washington Township, south of Grinnell, and had but one child, Hinrich, who died soon after his birth in August, 1907.  In the late 1940s the aging couple moved into town, taking up residence at 1706 4th Avenue where they could enjoy retirement. The newspaper report of their fiftieth-wedding anniversary described them both as being in good health, but Mary came to endure what her obituary vaguely described as a "lingering illness," perhaps the cause of the amputation of a limb, which  is buried in the same plot with her, her son Hinrich, and husband Herman (who died in 1953). According to cemetery records recently added to the local history archive at Drake Community Library, her leg was buried just north of the gravestone on December 29, 1949, about two-and-a-half years before Mary Ewoldt herself was buried, May 31, 1952.
Gravestone for Della and Elmer White, Hazelwood Cemetery
Elmer White contributed the second (and third?) leg to burial at Hazelwood. Born in Indiana in 1875, White only reached Grinnell in 1902, and soon thereafter married Della Cole. The 1910 census found White outside town, farming.  But by 1915 he and his wife had moved into town, with their three children taking up residence at 1215 Summer Street. In those days White worked first as a "yardman" and teamster for Grinnell College, then later as a church janitor. The official who registered White for the draft in 1918 described him as being of medium height, medium build with gray eyes and dark hair. The line on the form that asked "Has person lost arm, leg, hand, eye, or is he obviously physically disqualified?" was left blank, meaning that in 1918 White still had all his limbs. The 1940 census, however, found only Mrs. White at home in Grinnell, renting a room at 1225 Elm Street and working as a housekeeper at the college; that same census reported that her husband was institutionalized at Mt. Pleasant State Hospital where he had been residing since at least 1935. Later, whether in Grinnell or at Mt. Pleasant, White developed an illness (diabetes?), which, according to the recollections of one who knew him, finally required amputation of both legs. Hazelwood records indicate that burial of White's legs (at the east end of the gravestone) took place on April 6, 1955, meaning that amputation of the legs was probably intended to prolong White's life, as he died—legless—more than four years later. White's obituary described him as a member of Grinnell's Methodist church, but it was the pastor of First Baptist church, the Rev. C. E. Kingsley, who officiated at White's August 7, 1959 funeral; graveside services were entrusted to the Odd Fellows, one of several fraternal organizations to which White belonged. What services attended burial of Elmer White's legs remain unknown.
More than fifty years later, we have scant hope of learning why Mary Ewoldt and Elmer White had their legs buried at Hazelwood years before they themselves were interred there. Perhaps they acted out of religious conviction, hoping that, when bodily resurrection came, as they evidently believed it would, they would be recreated as they had been before amputation. Or perhaps, like Bob Brownlow in Leicester, they thought that their legs were, after all, theirs, and no one else had more claim to the severed appendages than they.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

When Mexicans First Came to Grinnell

With immigration now much in the news in this the 50th anniversary of the 1965 immigration act, it seems a good time to think about the history of immigration to Grinnell, especially the role that Mexicans played in Grinnell's immigration history. As you might expect, many of Grinnell's early residents were immigrants: according to the 1895 census, about 6.6% of the 3332 people then living in Grinnell were foreign-born; even more were children of parents who were foreign-born.  And, as was true in much of the rest of the country, almost all Grinnell's immigrants had come from Canada or northern and western Europe—in late nineteenth-century Grinnell, there were no Latino immigrants whatsoever.  By 1915, a slightly larger percentage—about 6.8%—of the town's 5000+ residents was foreign-born, and, as before, the great majority of the newcomers had journeyed from northern and western Europe.
Some Points of Origin for Mexican Immigrants to Grinnell
One change, however, was already evident in 1915 Grinnell: a dozen Mexicans were part of that year's census. Most had been born in central Mexico (Guanajuato and Michoacán), worked as section hands for the railroad, were single, and lived in Grinnell only temporarily, soon moving off with the job or to still another job.  Only the 1920 Grinnell census discovered Mexican families who had settled in Grinnell. Most of the new arrivals, like their predecessors, had been born in central Mexico, and came to Grinnell to work for the railroad, or for labor-intensive industry like Iowa Light, Heat and Power.  A few of these Mexicans lived out their lives in Grinnell and subsequently were buried in Hazelwood Cemetery, adding their names to Grinnell's stories.
Gravestone for Tony and Mary Torres, Hazelwood Cemetery.
So far as the records can confirm, the first Mexicans who found their way to Grinnell crossed into the United States around 1910 or soon thereafter.  For example, Fidencio Estrada, whom the 1915 census located in Grinnell, had crossed into Texas on the El Paso Electric Railway in October, 1910. Already in his twenties then, Estrada reported his last residence as having been the little town of Calvillo, Aguascalientes, north of Guadalajara. How he found Grinnell we don't know, but in 1915 he worked as laborer in Grinnell's brick yard, reporting that in the preceding year he had earned only $400 total. By 1920 he had left Grinnell for points unknown.
El Paso Electric Railway at Santa Fe Street International Bridge linking Ciudad Juarez with El Paso, TX
Also counted in 1915 Grinnell was "Joe" Garcia, who gave his age as 30. He, too, identified himself as a laborer, although exactly where Garcia labored the census card does not say. If we can believe his report, in 1914 he had earned even less than Estrada, telling the census-taker that he had accumulated only $250 in 1914 wages. Like Estrada, Garcia deserted Grinnell by 1920, having moved to Des Moines where that year's census found him living in a boarding house at 403 E. Locust. Garcia evidently did not tell the census worker what year he immigrated, so it is difficult to know for sure his origins. But one José Garcia who crossed the US border in 1912 might be the same man who worked in Grinnell and Des Moines: reporting his age as 27 when he appeared in Laredo, Texas, he would be 30 in 1915, just as Grinnell's Garcia was. Likewise, the 1912 immigrant reported his home as San Francisco del Rincón in Guanajuato, not far from the hometowns of other Mexicans then living in Grinnell.
Grinnell Herald, December 1, 1916
The 1915 count does not remember Refugio Garcia, but the December 1, 1916 Grinnell Herald reported that "Repujio [sic] D. Garcia, a Mexican," had died in the city hospital November 29. The paper did not identify any relatives, mentioning only that Garcia had been buried in "the Catholic cemetery." But if the Herald meant to point to the Catholic section of Hazelwood, no gravestone or burial record survives to confirm that destination and nothing provides any additional biographical detail. However, when the 1915 census-takers visited Creston, Iowa, they found there a Refugio Garcia, age 35 and Mexican, who was a "railroad laborer." Perhaps this was the man who soon after the 1915 census in Creston came to Grinnell, only to die there. (What the paper meant by the man's "chaotic" domestic relationships we may never know.)

Census officials also did not find Jesús Negrete in 1915 Grinnell, but we know that he was there by 1916 when he figured in a crime story reported by local newspapers. Perhaps as an indication of how "foreign" the Mexicans appeared to white Grinnell, the newspapers were not sure of the names involved, and only later could report that "Pete" Negrete had been the victim of a knifing in a house at 717 Spring Street that he shared with another Mexican. By the time he registered for the draft in 1918 the 19-year-old Negrete was living at 1902 2nd Avenue, adjacent to the railroad tracks by Penrose Avenue (probably in a railroad facility of some sort). Born in León, Guanajuato in 1898, Negrete had found his way north to work for the Rock Island railroad.  When he left Grinnell is not clear, but before his 1939 death in Fort Worth, TX, Negrete had crossed back and forth from Mexico several times, apparently without ever returning to Grinnell.

Also part of Grinnell's small Mexican community in 1915 was Estéban Contreras, only 20 years old and single. Apparently born José Estéban Contreras in Cuautitlán de Romero Rubio in 1895, Contreras worked for the railroad, and seems to be the same person whom the 1920 census found in Fort Madison, Iowa, still working for the railroad. According to the 1915 report, Contreras had earned $400 the preceding year, which he'd evidently spent elsewhere as he told the census-taker that he had immigrated to the US in 1913, but had been in Iowa only a few months.

Frank (Francisco?) Eskey (?) likewise entered the United States in 1913, but had apparently come straight to Iowa—at least he reported to the 1915 census that he had been in the United States and Iowa both for two years. At age 38 he was older than many of Grinnell's other Mexicans, but, like most others, he was single and worked as a laborer, earning only $300 in 1914. Given the name reported in the census—apparently an anglicism—learning where Eskey hailed from is impossible, and tracing his future whereabouts just as difficult. Nevertheless, the 1920 census knew no one by that name in Grinnell.

Even older than Eskey was Prestianos Ramirez; at the time of the 1915 census he reported his age as 44. Ramirez was also distinguished from his fellow Mexicans in having his wife ("Rebecca," according to the census card) living with him in town. Ramirez identified himself as a laborer, although his 1914 reported earnings were miserly—only $100, according to the census, which may explain why his wife also worked. Ramirez evidently hailed from Salamanca, Guanajuato, as his brother, Felix Ramirez, living in 1918 at 2nd and Broad in Grinnell and working for the railroad, gave this place of origin when he registered for the US draft. By 1920, however, none of the Ramirez family was still resident in Grinnell.

"Frank" Fields, who entered the US in 1909, represents a special case. Evidently Fields only arrived in Grinnell after the 1915 census, for his name does not appear among that year's census cards. Instead, his name first surfaces in the columns of  the Grinnell Herald of January 25, 1918: describing Fields as "colored," the newspaper reported that he had entered a plea of guilty to the charge of having raped "two little colored girls" in Grinnell, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment in Fort Madison, where the 1920, 1925, 1930, and 1940 censuses all found him. But Fields was born Mexican—at least that was what he reported from prison when in 1918 he registered for the US draft; he said the same to all the census-takers who came to Fort Madison, and identified both his parents as Mexican-born.
Still more Mexicans—about 30—resided in 1920 Grinnell.  As before, most worked for the railroads, and some bunked in freight cars that stood on railroad siding. By 1920, however, a distinctly more familial image developed around Grinnell's small Mexican community.  In addition to the single men known earlier, several Mexican families took up residence in Grinnell, bringing to Grinnell's schools an ethnic difference not much in evidence earlier.
Drawing of proposed new power plant for Iowa Light, Heat & Power, Grinnell Register, Aug 10, 1916; so far as I know, this building was never constructed

One man who gave signs of settling down in Grinnell was Joseph (José) Torres, who worked at the Iowa Light, Heat and Power plant.  Born in Mexico in 1886, Torres entered the United States in 1912 or 1913, leaving his wife and children behind. Only in 1917, by which time he was already settled in Grinnell, did he arrange for his wife, Adela, and their two children, Simon and Sarah, to join him. The family occupied a house at 305 Park Street (now demolished), and Simon and Sarah began school in Grinnell, learning English as best they could. In March, 1919 Adela gave birth to a third child, but what happened to the baby girl is unclear—the 1920 census does not include her, nor do available Iowa death records. By 1930, however, "Joe" Torres was gone from Grinnell, along with his family, some of whom returned to Mexico.
Simon Torres ca. 2000 (photo from Dave Adkins, "Grinnell Ramblings and More: The Family Named Torres of Grinnell"

Border records confirm that Simon Torres, the six-year-old son of "Joe," crossed into the United States the first time in 1917, and at that time reported his birthplace as Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on the southern banks of the Rio Grande, across the river from Brownsville, Texas. It seems likely, however, that the Torres family had only settled there temporarily when José decided to enter the United States. As the record of José's brother, Antonio, shows, the family originated in Michoacán in central Mexico. Indeed, Simon's obituary reported that he had been born in Morelia, Michoacán, so Matamoros must have been only a temporary address where the family could wait until summoned.

After the family left Grinnell, Simon returned to Mexico, then later re-entered the US, working at jobs in Texas and California. When in 1943 he enlisted in the US Army he was living in Fresno, CA, but after the war he returned to Grinnell where he worked many years in construction for Allen Latcham. Between his early days in Grinnell and his later return, Torres had married and perhaps had had children, but he spent his last years in Grinnell apart from his family, and died in Grinnell in 2004.
Gravestone for Simon Torres, Hazelwood Cemetery, Grinnell
Antonio Torres, a brother to José, was born in 1890 in Quiroga, Michoacán, Mexico, and entered the United States in 1910. According to Dave Adkins, "Tony" arrived in Grinnell by train in 1914, and, having inadvertently missed his train after lunch, went in search of work in Grinnell, landing a job shoveling coal for Iowa Light and Power. The attractions were such that Torres never left.  Within two years of his arrival, Antonio married Mary Seely, who had been born in Excelsior Springs, MO and raised in a Seventh-Day Adventist home.  What brought her to Grinnell is unknown, but she and Tony enjoyed more than fifty years of marriage, making their home at 703 Summer Street. Apparently no children graced the Torres household, but for some years Tony's dad, Eugenio, lived with them at their Summer Street home before his 1953 death.
Gravestone of Eugenio Torres at Hazelwood Cemetery.
"Frank" Duran also worked for Iowa Light, Heat and Power. Like the Torres family, Duran had his wife (Cresencia) and child (José) living in Grinnell with him, occupying a house at 622 East Street (now demolished). José Francisco Duran entered the US at Laredo, Texas in September, 1917, giving as his birthplace Guadalajara. This might have been Grinnell's "Frank," despite the fact that Duran told the 1920 census-taker that he had entered the country in 1916. The 1925 Iowa census found all members of the Duran family still residing in Grinnell.

The largest family among early Grinnell's Mexicans was headed by "Frank" Espinosa who, with his wife, Salome, provided for five children, all of whom lived in a rental house at 628 State Street. Francisco Espinosa is not an unusual name, so it is difficult to say with confidence when and where Grinnell's Espinosa entered the US. The 1920 census claims that the entire family immigrated in 1918, but the closest match to Espinosa's age among the surviving border crossings dates to October, 1916 when a 42-year-old Francisco Espinosa headed to San Antonio, TX, coming from Pénjamo, Guanajuato.

Jesus Fregoso was 52 when he entered the US at Laredo, TX, along with his wife, Refugio, so they had been in Grinnell only briefly when the 1920 census was taken, living in a railroad car on a siding near East Street. Jesus was born in La Barca, Jalisco state, about 70 miles from Guadalajara and perhaps a bit closer to Pénjamo. In recent years La Barca has become known as the site of several mass murders connected to the Mexican drug cartels, but in Fregoso's day the city had not yet acquired this nasty reputation.

Living in another railroad car closer to High Street were José and Augustina Almaguer, who declared to the 1920 census-taker that they had immigrated in 1916. Apparently they were already living in Grinnell by late autumn, 1917, because on November 15 of that year Augustina gave birth to a child who died three weeks later, and was buried December 8, 1917. Hazelwood cemetery, however, preserves no record of the unnamed Almaguer baby, who may have ended up in an unmarked grave in potter's field near the cemetery's southern border.

Ursulo Escamilla was born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico in 1888. The 1920 census found him, his wife, Inocencia, and their young child, Luis, in Grinnell where Escamilla worked for the railroad.  Evidently the family did not stay long in Grinnell, as their names did not appear in the 1925 census; in fact, border crossing records from that year show Escamilla re-entering the US from Mexico, and his name appears in the same source again in 1935, by which time Escamilla and family were living in Menasha, WI; in those years Ursulo worked for the Soo Line railroad in Neenah, WI.

Of course, not all members of Grinnell's small Mexican community enjoyed the presence of their families. For example, Daniel Ochoa, age 25 in 1920 and working as section hand for the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad (CRI&P), was rooming at 624 State Street. Like the Torres family, Ochoa hailed from Michoacán, telling the US draft registry official in 1918 that he had been born in La Piedad, Michoacán. Ochoa's hosts were Quirino and Paulina Flores. Quirino was 41 at the time of the 1920 census, and, like Ochoa, worked for the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad; Paulina, whose age the census reported as 70, was Quirino's mother, and it was she who kept house at 624 State Street. Flores entered the US in 1916, reporting that he had been born in San Francisco del Rincón, Guanajuato in central Mexico.
624 State Street, Grinnell (2013 photograph)
Like Ochoa, the Alvarez brothers—Pedro and Luis—who in 1920 were bunking together in a railroad car on a siding near Second Avenue, hailed from Michoacán.  Pedro, age 38, was about ten years older than Luis, but both had immigrated in 1917. For a time Luis had worked for the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad in Kansas City, where in 1917 he registered for the US draft. But by 1920 he was living side-by-side with his brother, both working for the CRI&P railroad in Grinnell.

It seems strange to think about all these folk who lived and worked here a century ago, but who left only the scantest trace in the records.  Clustered in railroad cars on sidings or living in a few small houses, speaking only Spanish in an English-speaking world, Grinnell's first Mexican immigrants must have lived fairly lonely lives, working hard for low wages—a formula that is still familiar to  today's Mexican immigrants.

Although the origins of some remain unknown, it is interesting to note that the majority of Grinnell's first Mexicans came from central Mexico, especially from Michoacán and Guanajuato.  So far as the records can confirm, few lived in the same towns or shared close kinship. But somehow, crossing the border in Texas and traveling far into the US heartland, they landed in Grinnell. Some experienced great pain here, burying newborns in the soil of a foreign land; some collided with the law, and at least one spent the rest of his life in prison at Fort Madison; but most worked, got by as best they could, and then left, either to return to Mexico or else to seek work in yet another yanqui settlement. For them Grinnell represented no more than a few pages—perhaps a few paragraphs—of a much longer story with a distinctly different plot.

For a handful, however, Grinnell became a new home. Men like Tony and Simon Torres authored entirely new stories here. Sadly, the public record of those lives remains slim, and their stories barely visible, the concluding pages inscribed on gravestones in Hazelwood Cemetery.