While looking at a book on our family history my grandson commented, “We are all immigrants!” What a true statement that is! My great-grandfather, Owen, was part of the great wave of 19th century emigrants who came to America to seek a better life. He settled in San Francisco. Many came to escape persecution and bleak economic conditions at home. Early Colorado pioneers included immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Wales, China, Germany and Russia. Life was often extremely difficult, especially in the Colorado mines, and the locals often didn’t welcome the new arrivals with open arms. Can you imagine what life was like in a Colorado mining town? There was adventure and danger, but also opportunity for the industrious.
Setting sail for a new life in America.
Chinese emigrants traveled far for work in the West. They helped build railroads and dig tunnels, but found a great degree of prejudice and suspicion. This is an image of an anti-Chinese riot of 1880.
As word of spread about gold and silver discoveries in Colorado, many people came to seek their fortune working the mines and supplying goods to the miners. It must have been an exciting time!
This is the Samuel Cohen store in Fairplay, Colorado, in 1890.
Saloons like this one in the mining town of Telluride were very common.
I’m fascinated by images of early merchants. This is Stein’s Market in Pueblo in 1913.
Italian immigrants were important in early life in Denver, often settling in Northwest suburbs. This is Denver’s “Italian American Bank” in 1920.
The Mizpah Arch in front of Denver’s Union Station was the first sight when arriving by train in 1908. In Hebrew this means, “God watch over you while we are apart.” It was torn down in 1930.
Isaac Shwayder was born in Poland in 1855 and came to America to work for his wife’s uncle in Central City, Colorado in 1879. He began peddling in surrounding mining towns out of his heavy back pack. A few years later, his wife convinced him to move the family to Denver where he opened a used furniture store. His son, Jesse, was a born sales person like his father and started a luggage manufacturing business in Denver in 1910 called the Shwayder Trunk Manufacturing Company. It was renamed Samsonite in 1941 and became the largest luggage company in the world. This image is of the Shwayder brothers showing how strong their luggage was. The case was called “Samson.”
Early immigrants came with hope and a bit of fear when arriving in America. It is the same today I am sure for our new visitors. Fear of new immigration is a hot topic today just like it was in the past. It may come as surprise that Chinese immigrants made up the largest number of arrivals in the U.S. last year, followed by India, and then Mexico. In the heated rhetoric of today’s political climate it is easy to forget.…”We are all immigrants.”