By Helen Z. Papanikolas
Reposted from Utah History to Go
Small bird, there where you fly to Ameriki, Tell me, where does my son sleep? When he is sick, who tends him? — Folk song of immigration
At the beginning of the century, thousands of young Greeks began coming to Utah to live their first years of exile in a new land. Like myriad Greeks since ancient times, forced to leave their rocky land that could not sustain them, they vowed to return within a few years. Any life outside patridha, “the fatherland,” was exile. Not knowing what the three Moirci,” the Fates,” had decided for them during their first three days of life, many brought a bit of earth in an amulet or small bottle. If their destiny was death in American exile, a priest would have a pinch of Greek earth to sprinkle over them as they lay in their caskets.
The boys and young men had grown up in one of the most devastating periods of Greece’s turbulent history. Struggling in the decay left by 400 years of Ottoman rule, their northern provinces still under Turkish control, many of their islands governed by the English and Italians, Greece became bankrupt in 1893. In 1897 the Greeks were defeated by the Turks and further humiliated by the Great Powers’ imposing financial control over them.1 The education of this generation, then, was poor, often completely lacking, their opportunities stultified.
When the main industry of Greece, the currant crop, failed in 1907, families mortgaged their land at usurious rates to send sons to America. It was their only hope to survive penury and to provide daughters with necessary dowries. The few yearly emigrants standing on wharves with their scant belongings multiplied into thousands, among them men wearing white kilts or Cretan breeches. Villages were left with only women, children, and old men to harvest crops and to tend goats.2 Previous generations had gone to Rumania, Russia, and Egypt. Sailors were wont to jump ship in outposts throughout the world. The young at the turn of the century sat in village squares and in coffeehouses listening to priests reading letters from Ameriki and gazing at photographs of former villagers dressed in American finery. Work was everywhere, the letters said, especially on the sidherogrammes (“rail lines”).
Often the well-dressed emigrants themselves returned as labor agents for American industrialists. Although contract labor had been made illegal after the inundation of Irish immigrants a half-century earlier, it had continued covertly. Into remote mountain villages of Greece, labor and steamship agents climbed to entice the destitute who were eager to indenture themselves to reach Ameriki. With their families’ pool of silver sewed inside the lining of their jackets or pinned to their homespun underwear, some with clarinets and stringed instruments under their arms, they boarded crowded ships at Piraeus, Patras, and Heraklion. Many of them were forced to wait a week or more in Naples and other European ports for space on ships crossing back and forth to the United States. They stood on the crowded lower decks with hope and anxiety, hope for a new life, anxiety that they would be turned back by officials at Ellis Island who every day rejected thousands of immigrants. Gheorghios Zisimopoulos, who would change his name to George Zeese and become the owner of a grocery chain in Utah, feared that he would be sent back because of a missing index finger. George Cayias, who became a leading Utah insurance man, was nine years old when he reached Ellis Island. Through a misunderstanding his older brother was not there to meet him. He was put back on board ship, got off in Spain by mistake, and after many harrowing adventures, again sailed for Ellis Island. The island was a symbol of what awaited them in America.
The Greeks came later to America and to Utah than the Italians with whom they are often compared. Italians had been in Carbon County mines since the late 1890s and were followed by relatives and countrymen. Yet a greater number of Greeks came to Utah.3
It was the intense activity of Greek labor agents that brought thousands of their patrioti to that section near the Salt Lake City railyards called Greek Town. Of these, Leonidas G. Skliris, became a padrone of immense power. All Greek labor agents in the West either worked directly for him or had a reciprocal relationship with him. Americans called him the “Czar of the Greeks.” Pictures of Skliris and other leading Greek immigrants appear in a 1908 issue of 0 Ergatis (“The Worker”), a Greek-English newspaper printed in Salt Lake City. Skliris is correctly described as a native of Sparta and incorrectly as the first Greek in Utah. (Nicholas Kastro was the first, coming to Utah in the 1870s; he was a friend of Brigham Young, an Indian fighter, and pioneer Bingham Canyon mining man.)4 The back page of the newspaper advertises Greek steamship lines with branch offices in Greek Town.
Commissions from steamship companies for fares and from immigrants for finding them work were lucrative for the padrones during America’s burst of industrialization. The Czar advertised in Greek newspapers in America, Greece, and Crete. His advertisements in the journal of the Denver and Rio Grande and Western Pacific reads:
L. G. Skliris
The Reliable Labor Contractor
Headquarters: 507 W 2d So., Salt Lake City.
Branch offices: New York, St. Paul, Chicago,
Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco and Sacramento.5
Skliris was the authorized labor agent for both the Denver and Rio Grande and Western Pacific railroads, the Utah Copper Company (now Kennecott Copper Corporation), and coal mines in Carbon County, Utah. Through arrangements with other Greek labor agents, he sent laborers to the Union Pacific and Oregon Short Line railroads, Wyoming and Colorado mines, Pueblo steel mills, and Nevada metal mines. Skliris’s czardom accounts for the 1910 Census recording the largest concentration of Greeks in America as living in the Mountain States.6 Between the 1910 and 1920 Censuses, the Garfield smelter was opened (1914), and eleven more coal mines began producing, bringing more Greeks into Utah.
Padrones in the West supplied strikebreakers as well as workers. With a telephone call or telegram to western coffeehouses, Skliris could have hundreds of newly arrived, unemployed Greeks traveling to distant mines and railyards. When reaching their destination, the perplexed immigrants found they had to run through picket lines. Although the workers did not win their demands, the Greeks were impressed that lowly laborers had the effrontery to complain about employers. Unlike northern Italians and South Slays, Greeks did not leave their country for seasonal employment in northern countries where radicalism was prevalent among workers. For supplying strikebreakers alone, mine and railroad management found Skliris invaluable.
In the first years of the century, Skliris sent lieutenants to Greece for his labor gangs. Among them was a contingent brought over to break the Carbon County strike of 1903.7 Skliris’s advertisements made the journeys unnecessary. Greeks were coming into the country in such numbers that the Czar sent recruiters to coffeehouses in the Greek section of Chicago’s Halstead Street and to those in Denver and Pueblo, Colorado. These dispatches also became superfluous, except during strikes; Serbians, Albanians, and Lebanese, as well as Greeks, came to Skliris.
Greeks without countrymen already employed in Utah worked their way across the country laying rails over the prairies, building roads, digging sewers, disposing of offal in slaughterhouses, and clearing land of sagebrush. They rode freights, munching bread and dried beans, trying to learn a few words of the new language from small, gilt-edged, Greek-English dictionaries bought in New York and Chicago. They climbed onto wrong freight cars, their food giving out, always alert for railroad detectives their countrymen had warned them against. They hid from town officials who would charge them a three-dollar head tax and jail them if they could not pay it. They were stunned by the hate of Americans. “The scum of Europe,” “depraved, brutal foreigners” they were called in print, taunted and jeered when they asked for work. In coffeehouses along the way, they heard of attacks on Greeks: the burning of Omaha’s Greek Town and the routing of a gang of Greeks clearing sagebrush south of Boise, Idaho, by masked men on horses, whips and guns in their hands.8
They arrived at last at the Salt Lake City railyards, the lifeblood of immigrants in the state. Greek Town encircled the yards and in the Parthenon, Open Heart, and Hellenic coffeehouses were Skliris’s men waiting to sign on the new arrivals. Each Greek agreed to pay an initial fee averaging twenty dollars – out of his wages if he did not have the money – and was given a document to sign. It was printed in English that the men could not read.
…I ___ for myself, my heirs, executors administrators, and assigns, do hereby irrevocably assign and set over to L. G. Skliris, of the City and County of Salt Lake and State of Utah, the sum of One Dollar ($1,00) [sic] per month out of any wages earned or which may hereafter be earned by me in the employment of ___ and I do hereby irrevocadly [sic] authorize, empower and direct said Railroad Company to deduct said amount…and to pay same to L. G. Skliris…9
The laborers were told to trade at certain Greek businesses or they would lose their jobs. The owners of these meat, grocery, and clothing stores were all agents of Skliris. Although the workers fumed at Skliris’s living off their labor, at his diamonds, and at his luxurious suite in the recently constructed Hotel Utah, they considered themselves fortunate to have work. It enabled them to send money orders to Greece, a practice that was used in all propaganda attacks against them. Because Skliris had the messa (“means”) of patronage that the poor did not have, the men accepted his extortion in America as they would have in Greece.
Labor men throughout the country complained that the immigrants were taking jobs from “bona-fide” Americans by working for less pay. Newspapers printed scornful descriptions of their crowded, unhealthy living conditions. No one, except the American Federation of Labor, blamed industrialists who hired this “cheap labor” and provided insufficient housing or none at all. A Greek woman journalist berated R. C. Gemmel, general manager of Utah Copper Company, for the tents and shacks in which Greek workers lived, and where water for drinking and sewage streams trickled nearby. “They choose their own habitations,” Gemmel said, “and if we built them new quarters, they would prefer to stay where they are.”10
Greeks steadily arrived, found temporary sanctuary in Greek Town, and were sent to the Carbon County mines, Murray-Midvale smelters, Bingham Canyon mines, Magna mill, Garfield smelter, north of Ogden for railroad-gang work on the Oregon Short Line (later Union Pacific), and the Denver and Rio Grande in Utah and Colorado. Those from nine to fourteen years of age became water boys.
The greatest number of men were sent to railroad section and steel gangs where pay was as low as twenty dollars a month and where they were isolated for months until winter when they were laid off. Besides extensive branch-line building, narrow gauge tracks were being replaced by wider, standard track that would allow freight to proceed from one line to another without having to be unloaded and reloaded. Laying track and keeping it in repair was a major industry and a wholly immigrant occupation. Census taking was haphazard and Greeks known to have been in Utah working on railroad gangs are not found in Polk’s city directory.
The men lived in tents and in railroad cars and worked under Japanese foremen, later replacing many of them. Although the Greeks were reviled as “undesirable aliens” and not “white,” the more distinctive appearance of the Japanese caused their ruthless displacement. The early association of Greeks and Japanese lasted during their prolonged bachelorhoods. They wrestled, vied with each other in feats of strength, and were favorite card-playing companions.
Between jobs on section gangs the men returned to Greek Town. Although they were fulfilling family obligations decreed by Greek tradition, for the first time in their lives they had steady work and could spend a portion of their savings in coffeehouses, restaurants, saloons, candy stores, and bakeries. In crowded, pungent-smelling importing stores, they bought octopi, Turkish tobacco, olive oil, goat cheese, liqueurs, figs, and dates. They gathered in coffeehouses for their most satisfying recreation, discussions based on the stands taken by Greek-language newspapers. These invariably turned into brawls over Greek politics: the men were either royalists upholding King Constantine or partisans of Premier Eleftherios Venizelos.
Peripatetic showmen from Greece regularly brought puppet shows, the Karaghiozi, to the coffeehouses. Karaghiozis was a sly, hunchbacked, illiterate Greek peasant who successfully cheated wily Turks and pompous Greek officials. Night and day, coffeehouse phonographs rasped out old guerrilla songs from the centuries of struggle against the Turks. For the Cretans the days of liberation were but a few years past, in 1897. Many of them had been guerrillas, singing then as they sang in Utah coffeehouses, songs of necessary cruelty:
When will the sky clear, when will it be February
to take my rifle, my lovely mistress,
To come down to Amalo, on the road to Mousoure,
to make mothers sonless, and wives widows.
The young men – few older men and no women came in the first onrush – clasped hands and danced in circles, waiting their turn to lead, to show their manliness, their leventia. With leaps and twirls, they bent backwards and lifted chairs with their teeth or balanced a glass of ouzo or mastiha on their foreheads. In their songs and dances, nostalgia for patridha lay heavy in rooms, blue-layered with tobacco smoke.
The men brought with them an ambivalence toward priests, but not to their religion. They built a small, one-domed brick church on Fourth South between Third and Fourth West. It was dedicated on October 29, 1905, and served the Greek, Serbian, Christian Albanians, and Russian people.11 The immigrants were now assured of the Eastern Orthodox ceremonial rites of life and death. Bearded, long-haired priests, wearing black robes, glinting pectoral crosses, and tall black cylindrical hats (kalimafkions), walked the streets of their Greek Town domain, performed the mysteries (sacraments), arbitrated disputes, and helped in matchmaking by writing letters to Greece for illiterate immigrants – although they were often barely literate themselves.
The Holy Trinity Church was the mother church for Greek immigrants in the Intermountain West. Until Greek churches were built in McGill and Ely, Nevada; Denver and Pueblo, Colorado; Rock Springs, Wyoming; Pocatello, Idaho; Great Falls, Montana; and Price, Utah, the Salt Lake Greek church was the center of Greek life in these states. Archbishops and bishops, in robes and kalimafkions, with black veils falling backwards, elaborately carved staffs of office in their hands, came to Salt Lake City as to a far-off outpost. From there they were escorted to Greek “colonies” hundreds of miles away.
If immigrants could not come to the church, priests went to them. They rode trains and stages to marry men to picture brides, to baptize a prolific number of children, and to bury the many young men killed in industrial accidents. These burials, called Death Weddings in Greek folk life, required the unmarried dead to be dressed as for marriage, the most important event in a person’s life, one of the seven mysteries. With white-blossomed wedding crowns on their beads and gold wedding rings on their right hands – the hands that make the sign of the cross – the dead were buried with a sprinkle of Greek earth.12
If the Greeks could have chosen their jobs, they would have stayed in Salt Lake’s Greek Town near their church. Their main objective, though, was to find work in the mines where wages were twice as high as on the railroads and where the camps were filled with patrioti. Utah Copper employment records, Utah immigration reports, and Carbon County newspaper accounts attest to Greeks being by far the largest group of immigrants in mining towns.13
In mining camps the men lived in crowded boardinghouses, in tents, and in shacks they built themselves out of explosives boxes on company land. Sanitation was deplorable. Yet the men would live under any conditions in return for steady wages. It was the company doctors they feared, who, they said, carelessly cut off arms and legs. Injured men were bidden at times and spirited away to boardinghouses where a Greek folk healer was brought to administer cures before “the butchers got them.” The loss of a leg or an arm or blindness from mine blasting meant return to Greece and destitution, help to parents and dowries for sisters a lost fantasy.
American life was jarring for the Greeks. Their 23 percent illiteracy rate left many of them at the mercy of their compatriots as well as of Americans.14 They had come from societies accustomed to paying Turkish and Greek authorities bribes for every small service and found the practice continued in America by Greek “interpreters” who knew a few more words of English than they. In contrast there was also in each coffeehouse an older man “with reason” who admonished the young men against card players and “bad” women and who extricated them from disturbance-of-peace charges, so common as to be routine – the Greeks would take no slight to their nationality. Vice-Consul Stylian Staes (Stylianos Stagopoulos) of Salt Lake City and Price was foremost among these “men with reason.”
The coffeehouse was the men’s true home. In its gregariousness, they found security against nativist hostility. Mormons looked at them as strange beings; the Greeks, in turn, derided the “White Heads” whose polygamy in the recent past was, to them, another version of Turkish harems.
Cut loose from the authoritarian rule of parents, the men discovered freedom; it also brought them “that homesickness that has no cure.” The patriarchal structure of their society gave women a lowly role. Men were waited on from birth to death with slavish subservience. In the male society of labor gangs and mining camps, the men were vulnerable and longed for return to patridha.
There were fewer than ten Greek women in Utah by 1910. The men’s namedays passed with makeshift celebrations of roast lamb and a drink of liqueur at best; the days of feasts and religious services to honor them were memories. The Greeks had no women to prepare the fast foods before the great church events, Christmas, Easter, and the Dormition of the Virgin on August 15. When one of them died, women did not sit by the casket to keen the mirologhia, the “Words of Fate,” nor forty days later to prepare the memorial wheat, boiled, sweetened, sprinkled with nuts, raisins, and pomegranate seeds, wheat and seeds, symbols of immortality.15
To help each other and to keep their ethnic identity, the men joined Pan Hellenic Unions. These organizations were fostered by Greece itself to keep alive the idea of return. With the Pan Hellenics, their immigrant church, and their customs, the men led a Greek-centered life. Only men isolated in areas far from Greek Towns were without roots. They married Mormon women and although only two of them converted to the Latter-day Saints church, they were lost to their culture.16
The Greeks continued coming to Utah, continued paying extortion to the Czar. In 1912 the Western Federation of Labor called a strike in the Bingham copper mines.17 The federation had tried to interest the Greeks in unionization for several years but had not been successful. The Greeks still expected to return to the fatherland. Their only interest in labor was to get enough money to get out of it, each to become his “own boss.” It was important to the Western Federation to have the support of the Greeks, the largest group of workers. In saloons and boardinghouses, the labor organizers, called Bolsheviks, Wobblies, and agitators, made a pact with the Greeks: if the Greeks became members of the federation, a condition of the strike would be the firing of Skliris as their labor agent. The Greeks joined in a body and jubilantly ran up and down the streets of Bingham shooting off guns.
Fifty National Guard sharpshooters on order of Gov. William Spry and twenty-five deputy sheriffs from Salt Lake City were sent into the town. Gambling halls were closed and mines and railroad crossings were floodlighted. The strikers took blankets and guns and barricaded themselves on the mountainside.
The union spoke of wages, hut the Greeks, almost all Cretans, “famed as men who, when the spirit moves them to fight, are difficult to control,” made the firing of Skliris their first goal. The Cretans were supported by the second Greek-language newspaper to be published in Salt Lake City, O Evzone, named for the white-kilted Greek palace guard. (The editor was a champion of laborers. He exposed a self-proclaimed banker who ostensibly represented the National Bank of Greece, but instead deposited the workers’ money each night in a Salt Lake City bank and collected the interest for himself.)18
The Greek priest, Father Vasilios Lambrides, wearing his black robes and kalimalkion, climbed the mountain to exhort the men to refrain from violence. The Greeks took off their caps to him in respect but became enraged when Utah Copper manager Gemmel steadfastly upheld Skliris. Strikebreakers were brought in, the greater number of them unemployed Greeks sent on Skliris’s orders through his connections with Greek labor agents in Pocatello, Idaho, and Denver, Colorado. The strikebreakers were from the Greek mainland; enmity between them and the Cretan strikers never healed.
Gunfights among strikers, deputies, and strikebreakers erupted, killing two Greeks and wounding many men on 10th sides. The strike caused intense suffering among the union members and their families; business and transportation were seriously affected throughout the county; and ore production fell drastically through the inefficiency of the strikebreakers. The strike gradually ended with the Western Federation unrecognized. However, it broke the power of Leonidas Skliris and forced him out of Utah.
The Greek strikers began leaving Bingham. Church services were held for those who joined approximately two hundred Utah Greeks who went back to fight for Greece in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. Greece recognized no other citizenship for anyone born on its soil, and men, who bad served in the Greek army and others who had not, returned in high spirits to fight for the Great Idea, the redeeming of Greek lands taken by the Turks centuries before. Others knowing they were blacklisted for their participation in the strike left the state to search for work.
Greeks who could have returned to Greece at this time wanted to defer their repatriation until they had increased their savings. It was unrealistic to postpone marriage, and picture brides began to arrive on every train. In the Carbon County coal camps, Italian bands met them, their operatic melodies mingling with the shrill of mine and train whistles. Other Greeks journeyed to Greece to return with brides for themselves and several women for their friends. Immigration authorities suspected white slavery and sent women detectives to follow the travelers.19
The weeklong wedding festivities in Greece, which began after the haggling over the dowry was completed, had to be done away with in America. There was not time in the industrial, shift-work days; Americans looked down on immigrant customs; and parents did not come with the young to insist on all of the old customs. Weddings were solemnized on Sundays, the holy day for weddings, baptisms, and funerals, and were followed by feasts in backyards of mine company houses, boardinghouses, and in the church basement. The Cretans kept their customs longer. For three days after a wedding, they ate, sang, danced, and stayed away from work.
By 1915 thousands of Greeks were working in the Carbon County mines and on railroad gangs in eastern Utah and western Colorado. A second Greek church, the Assumption, was dedicated in Price, the county seat, on August 15, 1916.20 Special trains ran from all the coal camps and brought Greek miners shooting off guns in celebration.
Around every mine, mill, and smelter town in Utah, there was now a cluster of Greek families. (Real-estate clauses in many instances barred their living in the “good” sections.) The houses in these Greek Towns were three- and four-room frame ones, often painted a sky blue, the color of the Greek flag. Peddlers called out their wagonloads of butchered lamb, kid, and barrels of goat cheese. Luxuriant gardens were watered by irrigation streams, a joy to the women; in the old country they had had to walk miles over rocky goat paths to fill jugs with water. Next to the gardens were chicken coops, rabbit hutches, coal and woodsheds, and washhouses where bachelor Greeks slept on cots. In domed mud ovens bread baked and sheep pelts hung on wire fences to dry. As more children were born, lean-tos were added to the houses.
For the young mothers, life was continual childbearing and unending work. There was the added burden of boarding the young Greeks for village women. “City” women were exempt.
We boarded forty men. They came in the morning for breakfast and we filled their lunch buckets. In the evening they came for the big meal. We washed their clothes, going to the river far from the house to get water. I had only four children, but most of the women had eight or more. Four men relatives lived with us.21
In retrospect the mothers remember the fatigue but also the relief that their children would never be hungry. They had left be-hind the immemorial fear felt by village Greeks: whether there would be enough corn for bread to get them through winter. In Utah’s springtime, they went off, talking and laughing to the outskirts of towns, dishtowels tied about their heads, children hanging on their skirts, to pick the first dandelion greens of the season. They would eat them for their tart flavor, not to supplement the winter diet of corn and beans they knew in patridha.
Except for constant apprehension of industrial accidents that would make them widows with orphan children in exile, the mothers were secure in their Greek Towns. Their customs and religious rites were transplanted almost intact to their neighborhoods. This isolated them from American life and eased their exile. Beyond their borders they knew were the Amerikani and the Mormoni who did not want them in their country, hut not until World War I did they experience new anxieties. With the United States’ entrance into the war, the chronic fear of the native-born that the burgeoning numbers of immigrants “would take over” burst into an irrational campaign against Germans and all aliens.
In Utah the Greeks were castigated in newspapers for refusing to enlist immediately. Still expecting to return to their country, they were wary that the war would again give powerful nations the opportunity to further cut up portions of Greece under the guise of being her protectors. This Greek nationalism was a puzzle to Americans: why this concern for the land they had left? Not only were the Greeks “unassimilable,” but they were whelps who think nothing of getting American dollars under the American flag but who would not turn a hand over to save that flag from being dragged in the dirt by the Kaiser’s dirty cutthroats.22
As hysteria against Germany mounted, Greeks began enlisting, but animosity swelled. Two lynchings of Greeks were thwarted at this time, one of a Greek who had killed the brother of fighter Jack Dempsey, the other of a Helper Greek who had allegedly contributed to the delinquency of a minor – a ride in his new car bad precipitated the mob action.23 In both incidents, Greeks armed themselves and arrived in time to prevent the lynchings.
After the war, the American Legion led a virulent campaign against all aliens, especially the Greeks. The Legion resented Greeks’ establishing schools for their children, speaking their native language on the streets, reading Greek newspapers in coffeehouses, and leaving the mines, mills, and section gangs to enter business.
By the early twenties, Greeks had become proprietors of stores, bought real estate, and entered the sheep business. Sheepmen had ironically returned to the very occupation they had left Greece to avoid. Supplying Greek boardinghouses with meat had given them a foothold in a thriving business. Sheepmen and owners of successful “Greek stores,” many of them World War I veterans, were condemned for “not knowing their place,” and were indiscriminately classed with Greek cardplayers and idlers whom they themselves denounced.
The third Greek-language newspaper weekly, To Fos (“The Light”), printed exhortations to their readers to become American citizens that “they could travel freely in America.” To Fos praised Greek immigrants for their successes on leaving labor for business ventures and condemned those who “sullied the Greek name by involvement in bad businesses.” (Throughout the text were American words transliterated into Greek: stool pigeon, frame-up, bootlegger.)24
American Legion attacks increased. When the Greek miners of Carbon County joined the unsuccessful national coal strike of 1922, the Legion had its most potent propaganda weapon: striking was the epitome of un-Americanism. The Wyoming Labor journal accused coal operators of inciting prejudice against Greek businessmen to gain support of Americans who had become alarmed at this new competition.25
Near Scofield, guards and strikers fired on each other wounding a guard and two Greeks. Gov. Charles R. Mabey came to the mining camps and promised armed aid to the coal operators. Two weeks later a Greek striker, John Tenas, was killed in a Helper orchard by Deputy Sheriff R. T. Young. The Greeks of the county rose up at the killing. Several hundred of them followed the casket to the church and graveyard carrying small blue and white Greek flags. Newspapers spoke of Tenas’s having “attempted to murder R. T. Young,” whose family were “oldtimers of Price.”
On June 14 the governor announced that the National Guard was being sent to Carbon County; machine guns and equipment had already arrived there. The day the troops went in to occupy the coalfields, strikers tried to stop a train reportedly carrying strikebreakers to Spring Canyon. Deputy Sheriff Arthur P. Webb was killed and H. E. Lewis, general manager of the Standard Coal Company, was wounded. A seriously injured Greek was arrested and, later, helped by his countrymen to escape. The militia rampaged through Helper and the strikers’ tent colony south of the town searching for him. Greeks were driven out of Spring Canyon by sixty men wearing masks or with blackened faces. Searching for guns, the guard raided coffeehouses and poolhalls in Helper. They forced strikers out of the tent colony into the Helper school yard and ordered them to form lines. Lewis then walked down each line and chose men whom he said had fired on the train. Fourteen men and one Italian were arrested. “Men were chosen who weren’t there [Spring Canyon train incident] and men who were there were not.”26
The trials were long and resulted in twelve of the men receiving sentences from ten to thirty years. “A vicious element,” the Sun called the Greeks, “unfit for citizenship…must America be a haven for foreign born, criminally inclined persons?” The same issue reported the arrest of Greek Vice-Consul Stylian Staes as he tried to enter Kenilworth to talk with Greek strikers. His diplomatic immunity was ignored.
An editorial in the July 13, 1922, News Advocate blamed the nation’s citizens for not demanding forceful immigration laws to keep out “undesirables” and Americanization schools where the aliens would be forced to learn the English language:
The local Greek priest has been in America twelve years and can not speak or understand a word of English… If he doesn’t want to learn the American language so that he can converse with local people, he should go back to where Greek is the national language.
During the court trials, the Castle Gate Mine Number 2 exploded on March 8,1924, killing 172 men who left 417 dependents. Fifty Greeks were killed. A few of the nineteen Greek widows returned to Crete. The rest of them and their children remained in the state, their black clothing a constant reminder of the tragedy.27
Simultaneously, a revived Ku Klux Klan appeared, purporting, among other principles, to protect American womanhood and to prevent fire.28 The Klan paraded down Salt Lake City’s Main Street and burned crosses on Ensign Peak. They marched in Magna, burned crosses on the Oquirrh foothills, and at night drove through Greek Town at high speeds with clattering wash tubs tied to cars. A Magna Greek who had eloped with an American girl found a cross on fire in front of his store and another in the yard of his wife’s family home. During a Klan march down Magna Main Street, the Stamoulis brothers, who owned the Ford agency, noticed the distinctive, highly polished tan and beige colored shoes of their bookkeeper under his flapping white robes. Young Greeks followed the Klan to the park, pulled off their robes, and exposed several prominent citizens.29 It was not a social stigma to belong to the Klan.
In Helper the Klan burned crosses at the railyards and on a mountain slope. Catholics answered the Klan with a circle of fire on the opposite mountain. Greeks, Italians, South Slays, and Irish-Catholic railroad men formed an elaborate spy system that revealed who the Klansmen were. Wary, then fearful, the Klan disbanded. There was one fatality, an Italian who surprised Klansmen painting KKK signs on his barn chased them with a hoe and fell dead from a heart attack.
For all this turbulence from without their enclaves and dissensions within over political crises in the fatherland and the establishment of the Greek Archdiocese in America, the twenties were still the prime of Greek life in Utah. Greek schools multiplied. Greek Towns teemed with births; illnesses; one of America’s many wonders, the canning of fruits and vegetables; and soap, bread, and noodle making. Children went from house to house on New Year’s Day, sang Kalenda to welcome the coming year, and were repaid with sweets and coins. Children and adults dressed in costumes to sing and to revel before the forty days of austere Lent when neither meat nor meat products were eaten.
Each Greek Town had a matriarch or patriarch who was looked to for advice. In Magna, a renowned midwife, Mrs. Nick Mageras (Magerou), not only delivered babies to Greek, Italian, and South Slav women, hut arranged marriages and used folk cures for a variety of illnesses: a wandering spleen, burns, fevers, and infections. She also dispelled the evil eye and set bones.30
In Helper, John Diamanti was sought out to interpret dreams, using a dream book ordered from New York. In addition, Barba Yiannis (“Uncle John”) was a praktikos, a folk healer. As a patriarch, he read the shoulder blade of the pasehal lamb every Easter and predicted from the demarcations what the year would bring. Pregnant women asked him to foretell the sex of their babies. Looking away from embarrassment, he gave his predictions. Legend says he never made a mistake.31
Another praktikos, Barba Andreas (“Uncle Andrew”), was noted for setting bones. In response to urgent telephone calls, he would board the Bingham stage for the Salt Lake area to use the Greek folk method for broken bones: egg whites mixed with clean sheep’s wool packed around the reset bones then firmly bandaged with white cloth. Like Barba Yiannis, he would not accept pay.
In the twenties, the Pan Hellenic Unions of earlier days were disbanded in favor of organizations representing different provinces in Greece; the names of the local chapters were those of legendary heroes and leaders in the 1821 Revolution against the Turks. Burial expenses were among the benefits provided. The larger lodges formed women’s auxiliaries and youth groups. Whatever their origin in Greece, almost all men belonged to the national lodges, either AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progress Association) or GAPA (Greek American Progressive Association)32 The AHEPA was founded in 1922 to counteract hostility toward Greeks. It espoused assimilation and used the English language in meetings. “Ahepans” emulated American lodges with conventions in leading hotels, balls, and queens. Under this veneer, however, the Ahepans remained Greek-oriented. The GAPA was established in 1923 as a reaction to the AHEPA in fear that Greek heritage in America was threatened. “Gapans” were conservative. Their favorite gathering was the mountain picnic with lambs roasting on spits.
In the twenties, almost all Greeks became American citizens. Their children dutifully attended the Greek schools where proverbs and axioms were taught in the stilted, purist katharevousa. (Rebellion came later, in the thirties.) In Greek Towns a few sheepmen’s wives were still carding wool, not through necessity but through habit. In mud ovens bread still baked. Boys, heads shaved to make their hair strong, wore knee-length rubber boots and trampled on grapes in galvanized tubs. Girls sat on front porches and embroidered pillowcases and dishcloths for trousseaus, the American dowries.
Picnics were held regularly on Sundays in nearby canyons. Often Greeks from the Salt Lake area and those from Carbon County met halfway to share the day. Men went to the picnic sites before daybreak to roast lambs. Mothers made cheese pastries and honey and nut delicacies with an extra supply for bachelors to take to their hotel rooms and boardinghouses. For hours men played lyras, laoutos, and clarinos while young parents and their children sang centuries-old songs and danced.
Plays were produced on the topic of the Greek-Turkish war and given on March 25, the anniversary of the Greek revolt. In Salt Lake City, a small group of literate immigrants formed a coterie that met often. Several of them wrote stories and poems, published in To Fos, that spoke of longing for patridha and alienation in American exile. A leading member, James Skedros, wrote poems and stories on themes of Greek life that were as vivid to the immigrants as if they had never left patridha. In “Heroes Who Are Watchful,” written after the disastrous 1922 Greek rout by the Turks in Asia Minor, he says,
Is that roar, do you think, the fluttering souls
Of heroes who watch with secret pain
The Fatherland whose honor there they guard
Against a dishonorable, murderous foe?
There in the earth, newly dug.33
Women whose families had been forced out of Asia Minor came as picture brides and enlivened this circle of poetry writers and readers. Having lived among many peoples, the women spoke several languages and were cosmopolitan compared with the villagers of the mainland.
Prosperity continued for all Greeks during the l920s – except for labor agents. The immigration laws of 1921 limited the number of incoming Greeks to 100; in 1924 this was raised to 384. The heretofore inexhaustible supply of Greeks needing jobs was cut off, and older workers who had been in the country for a time had freed themselves from the extortion of labor agents. Now the padrones who had lived solely, and well, on the labor of workers were forced to make a living. Many became destitute. Men who had combined a business with supplying labor for Skliris as a sideline were the earliest of Utah’s successful Greeks. Their days as labor agents dimmed and the origin of the money that bought their businesses and property was almost forgotten.
With mines, mills, and smelters working at full capacity, an exodus began from Greek Towns to middle and, for a few, to upper-middle-class neighborhoods. Not only were mud ovens, wash houses, and gardens left behind, but the dispersal brought an end to singing the New Year’s kalenda and masquerading before Lent. Children of the immigrants found themselves in schools where they were among a small number of “foreigners,” stripped of the psychological haven of their old neighborhoods, even more exposed to derision because of their strange names and their Greek-school attendance. Yet at this time a penchant and aptitude for business that the Greeks evinced had made many of them prosperous newspaper advertisers. The businessmen began to demand an end to newspaper accounts that described Greeks in pejorative terms and after several years the practice stopped.
The exodus continued until the stock market crash of 1929. In Carbon County, where mines closed or worked half shift, families moved to California hoping to find work with countrymen in grape fields and canneries. Sheepmen neared bankruptcy as the price of sheep fell from eighteen dollars to three dollars a head. There were not enough buyers at three dollars and sheep were abandoned in the Chicago stockyards.
Communal activities, picnics, and plays went on despite the bleak years. The two churches provided the Easter feast of Agape (Christian Love) because many could not afford the traditional paschal lamb. The Greek Revolution plays filled the church basements and rented balls. In Carbon County, the schoolgirl members of the Athena Club played all parts, male and female. Many of the Salt Lake City plays were written by Harry K. Kambouris, and all were presented by the Hellenic Theatrical Club “Star.” Only when husbands had parts in the plays did married women also participate; otherwise the rigid Greek custom of separation of the sexes would have initiated gossip about the women. When wives and daughters were not available to play female roles, men took the parts. Strange looking “women” with heavy makeup and odd voices minced or stamped about the stage boards.
Following the Second World War in which 565 sons of Utah Greeks served, 20 of whom died,34 Greek immigrant life ceased. The first American-born generation had reached maturity, and some children of immigrants were marrying into other cultures. Many of the immigrant generation returned to visit patridha and supplied dowries, installed water lines to their villages, repaired churches, and brought relatives to the United States, but they were eager to come back to America – no longer their exile – and to their lifetime of tangible and emotional ties.
Thousands of the first Greeks, who, with immigrants of other cultures, did the industrial work that changed Utah from a rural state, did not remain in its mining and smelter towns. They “passed through” Utah and with their savings settled elsewhere, a considerable number of them becoming prosperous. A Greek who sold shoelaces and pencils on Salt Lake streets in 1910, established a chain of laundries in California. Others used their money to educate themselves in the professions.
After the Second World War, the lifting of quotas enabled a new influx of Greeks to come to Utah; 749 were counted in the 1950 Census. Unlike the first immigrants who came to America without skills, these later ones included “many skilled laborers, intellectuals and entrepreneurial talent,” depleting Greece of their greatly needed services.35 All have shown the same ambition as the early immigrants, but their accommodation has been easier and faster. (They did not bring amulets of Greek earth with them.) Even the village-born are less provincial: education had been made compulsory in Greece, and roads connect villages to towns and cities. Utah, and all America, no longer holds the intense, anti-alien feelings of the past. These later immigrants have given a new vitality to Greek life in the state.
Children of these newer immigrants and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the first immigrants continue to attend Greek schools, but there are far fewer students in comparison with the large numbers enrolled in Sunday schools. Increasingly, the Sunday schools are composed of the offspring of two cultures, mainly Greek and Mormon. The four Greek churches in the state, two in Salt Lake City, one in Price, and one in Ogden, are the centers of Greek ethnic life.
Greek immigrant life in Utah, begun in the oppression of hostility and ostracism, nevertheless brought economic independence to the first generation and exceptional success to the second generation through education in the professions and in business. A survey conducted after World War II showed over ninety Greek-owned businesses in Salt Lake City’s downtown area.36 It is a paradox, uniquely American because of the great opportunities industrialization of the country presented, that this Greek immigrant life may have been negligible, or altered, had it not been for the notorious padrone, Leonidas Skliris, the Czar of the Greeks.
The Greek Towns have long been gone. Coffeehouses have closed; there are not enough old men to support them. Old-country customs of mourning have fallen away; mirologhia, the keening for the dead, have not been sung since before the Second World War; memorial wheat is no longer elaborately decorated but enclosed in small, stapled plastic bags. Ikons and vigil lights remain.
This essay is based mainly on the author’s Toil and Rage in a New Land: The Greek Immigrants in Utah, 2d ed. rev., reprinted from Utah Historical Quarterly 38, no. 2 (1970).
1 L.S. Stavrianos, The Balkans Since 1453 (New York, 1966), p. 467.
2 Ibid., p. 481. The 1910 Census lists immigrants from Greece as follows: 1850-56; 1860-328; 1870-390; 1880-776; 1890?1,887; 1900-8,515; 1910- 101,282.
3 Ibid. In 1910 Utah’s population was 373,351. Greeks numbered 4,039 or 6.4 percent of the foreign-horn population; Italians 3,117 or 4.9 percent.
4 Greek Archives, Western Americana Division, Marriott Library, University of Utah. Nicholas Kastro, according to the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Salt Lake City Fiftieth Anniversary Book (Salt Lake City, 1955), pp. 38-39, returned to Greece at the age of 80. His descendants altered their name to Casto.
5 The Scenic Lines Employees’ Magazine, Official Railroad Journal of Denver and Rio Grande-Western Pacific, September 1917, p. 38.
6 Greeks in Utah numbered 4,039.
7 Wyoming Labor Journal (Cheyenne),June 16, 1922.
8 Thomas Burgess, Greeks in America (Boston, 1913), pp. 165-67; Theodore Saloutos, The Greeks in the United States (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), pp. 62, 66-69; John G. Bitzes, “The Anti Greek Riot of 1909-South Omaha,” Nebraska History 51, no. 2 (1970) 199-224; Papanikolas, Toil and Rage, p. 112.
9 American West Center, University of Utah.
10 Maria S. Ekonomidou, E Ellines Tis Amerikis Opos Tous Eda (“The Greeks of America as I Saw Them”) (New York, 1916), p. 85.
11 Holy Trinity 50th Anniversary Book, pp. 41-44.
12 This custom is traced to antiquity. See John Cuthbert Lawson, Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion (New Hyde Park, N.Y., 1964), pp.545-62.
13 Employment records of Utah Copper Company 1880-1920, in R. C. Gemmel Hall, Bingham Canyon; yearly Coal Mine Inspector’s Reports in State of Utah documents.
14 Annual Report of the Commissioner General of Immigration to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1905, chart II following text.
15 Memorial feasts have their roots in ancient Greek life. See Lawson, Modern Greek Folklore, pp. 486, 532-41.
16 Harry George Greaves and Sarah Smith Greaves “Hellenic Latter-day Saints,” vol. 1, Greek Archives, University of Utah.
17 Helen Zeese Papanikolas, “Life and Lahor Among the Immigrants of Bingham Canyon,” Utah Historical Quarterly 33 (1965): 289-315.
18 Tape-recorded interviews with Paul G. Borovilos, Louis Lingos, John Demeris and Theodore Marganis, and John Kotsovos, in American West Center, University of Utah; and reminiscences of author’s parents.
19 Interview with George Zoumadakis, April 21 1966.
20 Fiftieth Anniversary Book of the “Assumption” Greek Orthodox Church of Price (Price, 1966), Greek Archives, University of Utah.
21 Interview with Mrs. James Koulouris, June 16, 1971.
22 News Advocate (Price), January 3,1918.
23 Papanikolas, Toil and Rage, p. 155; Helen Zeese Papanikolas “The Greeks of Carbon County,” Utah Historical Quarterly 22 (1954): 153 – 54.
24 To Fos, Greek Archives, University of Utah,
25 Papanikolas, Toil and Rage, pp. 167-75.
26 See Sam A. King, Utah Statement and Brief Concerning the Coal Operation of Utah Against Organized Labor and the Unionizing of the Utah Coal Fields, June 25, 1923, which was sent to the U. S. Coal Commission in the Greek Archives, University of Utah; Zoumadakis interview.
27 Papanikolas, Toil and Rage, p. 177.
28 Ibid., pp. 177-81.
29 Interview with Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Dallas, June 26, 1972.
30 Papanikolas, “Magerou: The Greek Midwife,” Utah Historical Quarterly38 (1970): 50-60.
31 Helen Zeese Papanikolas, “Greek Folklore of Carbon County,” in Lore of Faith and Folly, ed. Thomas E. Cheney (Salt Lake City, 1971), pp. 61-77.
32 Saloutos, Creeks in the United States, pp. 246-57.
33 To Fos, August 2, 1923.
34 Greek church records of Salt Lake City and Price
35 George Christos Papadatos, “Greek Labor Migration and Its Dimensions in the Greek Economy” (MA. thesis, University of Utah, 1971), p. 6.
36 Made by Constantine J. Skedros, in Greek Archives, University of Utah.