The Peoples of Utah, ed. by Helen Z. Papanikolas, © 1976
“Italianita in Utah: The Immigrant Experience,” pp. 303–31
by Philip F. Notarianni
Many years later I was to realize that, to a child of nine years, emigration to America meant a new birth, to which a certain inevitable continuity with the past had given an added significance.
- …Angelo M. Pellegrini
The Italian immigrants who settled in Utah faced a strange, nebulous environment. Their numbers were relatively small, yet they settled in four major counties and contributed to the life and labor that characterizes Utah history. These immigrants, almost all of them confined to mining and railroad centers, brought with them language, religion, beliefs, and customs, products of cultural distinctiveness.
The primary forces motivating Italian migration at its height from 1880 to 1920 were overpopulation, agricultural depressions, and discontent among the contadini, the “peasants.” The United States was in a position to receive the newcomers. Technological advances in the country, railroad expansion, and new demands for coal and ores created a need for unskilled labor. These conditions in Italy and the United States led to the emigration of millions of Italians to America.
The great exodus of emigrants is one of the most striking features of Italy’s modem history. The northern Italians had adapted themselves to seasonal migrations but had always returned to Italy. The early emigrants who left the country permanently were either casual wanderers or political refugees, mainly from the North.2
The Risorgimento, Italy’s national revival, culminated in the unification of the country in 1870. Despite the term “unification,” a political and cultural divisiveness continued to exist between the industrial-prosperous North and the agrarian-poor South. The distinction between northerners and southerners found its way to the United States. Until restrictive legislation was passed in the early twenties, the Immigration Bureau issued separate statistics for each group. The mass migration consisted mainly of southern Italians and began in the late 1880s and early 1890s.3 From the middle of the nineteenth century and extending into the early twentieth century, Italy’s population increased markedly. At the same time, an agricultural depression occurred; foreign markets for grapes and citrus fruits were lost to southern Italian farmers. Thousands were left destitute.
The South, Mezzogiorno, was the neglected portion of Italy. The lack of industry and the dependence upon agriculture confined the southern contadini to a harsh life. Further, an “agricultural backwardness” existed in the South. This backwardness, as defined by Leonard Covello, resulted from “climate, water scarcity, seismic phenomena, floods, deforestation, depleted soil fertility, lack of roads, archaic methods of cultivation, the latifondi (“large estates”), taxation, usury, bondage, and corrupt administration of civic affairs.”4 The contadini, left poor and desperate, were attracted by emigration posters and agents and looked to new lands. These people, mostly from the Abruzzi, Calabria, and Sicily, in contrast to northerners, had never traveled beyond their village.5
Northern Italians wandered to European countries and to South America, mainly Argentina and Brazil, for seasonal work. However, from 1860 to 1870, Argentina was beset with political disturbances, a financial crisis, and war with Paraguay; consequently, southern Italians wanting to emigrate looked away from South America toward the United States.6 Another decisive factor in turning their attention to the United States was the “myth of America.” The myth embodied fact, fable, romance, and imagination, and culminated in the Horatio Alger dream of “rags to riches.” This myth of America has always been one of the principal incentives for emigration; and the myth, in turn, has been perpetuated and modified by the experiences of the immigrants in their actual contact with the New World.7
Once the tide of immigration began, the momentum continued. Additional factors added fuel to the fire. From 1884 to 1887 a cholera epidemic in southern Italy forced many people to evacuate the area. The Italian government had been inconsistent toward the exodus from the country, at times indifferent, at times deploring it.8 By 1888 it recognized the benefits of relieving the population pressure and passed a law that not only allowed Italians to migrate but actually encouraged it.
The United States became the major magnet to attract the Italians. Ellis Island in New York, the main immigration station, received as many as fifteen thousand Italians a day. Steamships, whose steerage rate from Naples to the United States rose from fifteen dollars in 1880 to twenty-eight dollars in 1900,9 brought in thousands of individuals, packed in compact areas of the vessels. From 1900 to 1910, during a high point of industrial expansion, 2,104,309 Italians arrived in the country.10
The first waves of Italians settled in the industrial centers of the East, but as immigrants continued to arrive, congestion resulted. Opportunities became scarce; consequently, new arrivals often looked to the American West, and many to the state of Utah. One immigrant, asked when his father came to Utah, replied:
I don’t recall the very first, but I believe that it was back in 1894, 95 or something like that…Well, he came to New York and from New York he heard the West was better conditions, it was better, it was new and he came West here.11
The West in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was an area of expansion. Railroad and mining industries were growing at such a rate that demand was high for unskilled laborers. Italian immigrants came to fill that demand.
The environment in Utah was also changing at the turn of the century. Population growth, increasing urbanization, the importance of mining and manufacturing, as well as an expansion in trade and transportation, all contributed to change the economic and social life of Utah during the first decade of the twentieth century.12 Utah did not attract a great number of Italians; yet, they were one of the largest foreign-born groups of southern and eastern European stock in the state. They settled, for the most part, in Carbon, Salt Lake, Weber, and Tooele counties.
The first noticeable number of foreign-born Italians in Utah appeared in 1870 and totaled seventy-four.13 These early immigrants, Protestant Vaudois of the Waldensian persuasion from northwest Italy, were the result of Mormon missionary activity in Italy from 1849 to 1861. Almost all settled in the fertile areas of Ogden where they began to farm. Joseph Toronto, who had given Brigham Young $2,500 of his savings to help build the Mormon temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, assisted Lorenzo Snow in the founding of the Italian Mission in 1849.14 A Latter-day Saints publication stated that
Emigration was a factor keeping the membership of the Italian mission and its successors small. At the time of its amalgamation with the Swiss Mission in 1854 there were three branches, sixty-four members, and records of fifty emigrations to Utah.15
However, the majority of Italian immigrants were attracted to Utah for its labor opportunities in mining and railroading.
The first Italian laborers, predominantly from the North, began arriving in Utah in the late 1890s in response to the opening of the Carbon County coalfields. The development and expansion of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad into Utah in the 1880s was a catalyst to the state’s coal mining industry. Four major camps emerged: Clear Creek (1882), Winter Quarters (1882), Castle Gate (1888), and Sunnyside (1900)16 Many of these early laborers were lured to Utah by agents representing coal companies.17 A newspaper article concerning the camp at Castle Gate reported that Italian miners came in groups–as contract laborers did. It read: “About fifty to twenty Italians have arrived in town, presumably to work in the mines here or at Sunnyside.”18
Throughout the United States early Italian labor was furnished by a padrone, a boss who would exact tribute from an immigrant in return for employment. The system was nationwide.19 Although Greeks in Utah were subjected to a Greek padrone, the Italian experience remains unclear.20 The possibility that a single Italian padrone existed is remote; rather, it is possible that various padroni of limited influence might have existed at one time or another. Later arrivals, however, were “called” by friends and relatives to come to Utah where employment was readily available. A paucity of source material may forever preclude a definitive study of the padrone system in Utah.
Upon their arrival in Carbon County, the immigrants settled in one of the four main camps, usually Castle Gate or Sunnyside. The coal companies (Pleasant Valley Coal and Utah Fuel) furnished a few of the workers with company-owned houses on company-owned property and compelled the laborer to trade at the company-owned stores.21 Trading at company stores was inevitable, since miners were issued scrip instead of currency. The company town became a prominent feature of western mining life. These towns have been glorified and condemned, but immigrants who lived in them were subjected to horrible living conditions. For example, the rent charged by Utah Fuel Company depended on the number of rooms in a house. In one boxcar on company property a cloth curtain was used to divide it into two quarters. When company inspectors approached, a family member would tear down the partition in order to be charged for one room instead of two.22 In describing the camp at Sunnyside, a writer has stated:
…many put up tents in the southern part of the canyon, and this section became known as “Rag Town” by local residents. Company-owned houses were hastily erected framed structures, not plastered inside, but about 1915 the company began a program of building better homes and modernizing the town.23
The majority of the residents of Rag Town were Italian immigrants.
The mining and railroad opportunities in Salt Lake County also attracted Italian immigrants at the turn of the century. Italian laborers funneled into the mining town of Bingham. As early as 1880 there were thirty-five in the camp, mostly Piedmontese, who were called “Short Towns” because of their stocky builds.24 Bingham was a bustling community of many diverse nationalities, described as “a town of 22 saloons and 600 sporting girls.”25 Like Carbon County, Bingham was susceptible to labor strife. The Utah Copper Company, incorporated in June 1903, became the foremost employer of residents of Bingham Canyon.26
Towns that were dependent upon mining and smelting companies developed in Magna, Garfield, and Murray. Northwest of present-day Magna, a Little Italy grew west of Jap Town and Greek Town. According to long-time residents of the town, in 1914 there were approximately twenty-five families and a few single men living in the area. Little Italy was:
…just a bunch of shacks that they built themselves. I mean, you built your own shack, and the copper company let you build your shack there…No bathrooms, of course, we had to use the number three tub…It was usually a single-boarded shack, you know. Some of them had sheet iron roof on them, and then covered with tarpaper, you know. And single board, that’s pretty rough, you know, in those winters.27
Garfield, a town of the American Smelting and Refining Company, was remembered by one immigrant as follows:
He [his brother] was working Garfield. They went over there and never had no houses, they had a boxcar. Him and his brother was to live on a boxcar over there. In the morning they never had no dishes, they had coffee can. And they fill up the coffee can with milk, coffee, and eat some bread, and that is all the breakfast they had.28
In Murray, Italians were also employed by the American Smelting and Refining Company.
A later center of Italian settlement was Salt Lake City, with a residential and boardinghouse district on the west side of the city. By 1900, 102 of the 170 Italians who resided in the county lived in Salt Lake.29 Immigrants were employed by the Union Pacific and the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroads; but Italians also owned saloons, grocery stores, and tailor shops. The lack of a mining town atmosphere with its potentially explosive character differentiated Salt Lake City and Ogden from other Italian localities. In Salt Lake, Italians took part in celebrations and parades that promoted good will between the Italian and non-Italian communities.
In Tooele County, which began as a Mormon farming community but later developed mining and smelting industries, immigrant labor was in demand. The three main mining areas were Stockton, Ophir, and Mercur. The largest settlement of Italians was in Mercur, according to an article in Il Minatore, a Salt Lake Italian newspaper. In 1904 a Catholic church was erected in the town.30 At the Tooele smelter later arrivals found employment; and immigrants, mostly southern and eastern Europeans, who eventually settled in Tooele established a section of the town known as New Town.
Italian converts to the Mormon church had arrived in Ogden in the 1850s and 1860s, many of them in handcart companies. The greater number of Italians, however, lived in the Ogden area to work on section gangs for the Union Pacific, Oregon Short Line, and the Lucin to Corinne route of the Southern Pacific. There were also Italian farmers working the fertile lands in north Ogden; several owned dairies.
Italian involvement in labor is significant since immigrants were the core of Utah’s labor force. Utah’s first important experience with labor strife occurred in the 1903 Carbon County strike that involved, predominantly, Italian miners. The strike was called by the United Mine Workers in connection with the coal mining strike in Colorado. Pleasant Valley Coal Company Vice-President G. W. Kramer, speaking of the Italians, said:
The Castle Gate mine is what we might call an Italian mine because of the large number of Italians there to the number of other miners. At Castle Gate there are 356 Italians, 108 English speaking, Austrians 10. This is not true, however, at the other mines. At Sunnyside there are 358 English, 246 Italians, 222 Austrians; at Clear Creek, 128 Finns, 172 Italians, 95 English speaking; at Winter Quarters, 181 English speaking, 126 Finns, 74 Italians and a few others.31
In addition, Kramer asserted that he wanted to make the Castle Gate mine an English-speaking mine. The Italian miners were the initially dissatisfied group.
The strike received wide press coverage and left readers with a more intensified, stereotyped image of the Italian immigrant as a bloodthirsty, nonwhite, stiletto-in-hand villain. In reference to non-foreign miners who wanted work, an editorial in the Deseret Evening News stated:
And if English speaking men come forward in sufficient numbers, they will not be required to labor in company with foreigners of the class that has become obnoxious and objectionable.32
The News revealed the fears of radical influence prevalent in the country:
The fact is indisputable that among the strikers are many red-handed anarchists who respect no law and feel it a sort of religious duty to exterminate and destroy all opponents…So long as this class has a respected voice in the strikers councils the presence of the militia will be necessary to prevent a reign of terror.33
Much of the above editorial was leveled against Charles (Carlo) Demolli, who was sent by the UMW from Colorado to Utah and put in charge of organizing the Italian miners.
Charles Demolli, born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1870 of Italian parents, was educated at the Institute of Milan, served three years in the Italian army, and later worked in the silk mills of Como. While at Como, he was involved in the 1895 strike and revolution there and was exiled from Italy. He then emigrated to the United States, wrote for Italian-language newspapers in the East on Socialist topics, and worked in the coalmines of Pennsylvania. Demolli made his way to Colorado where he founded Il Lavoratore Italianothat became the organ of the UMW among the Italians. The Salt Lake Herald characterized Demolli as a “silver-tongued” speaker “whose influence with his fellow countrymen is so feared by the Utah Fuel Company officials…with his level head, shrewd judgment, college education, suave manner and great magnetism, he is regarded as one of the strongest men affiliated with the United Mine Workers and he is idolized by his followers”.34
Demolli indeed proved to be an influential factor in leading the Italian strikers. The following are excerpts from an interview conducted with an old-time resident of Helper, Utah:
PN What in your opinion, what was the main grievance between the miners and the company?
JD The main grievance was the miners wanted a union. That was, they weren’t fighting for wages or anything, they wanted the right to organize. And, of course, the companies refused it, see. There was another one by the name
of. . .one of the best organizers that the union had.
PN An Italian organizer?
PN Charles Demolli?
JD Demolli. Charles Demolli stayed with my mother and dad.
JD Yeah. Charlie Demolli when he was here boarded with mother and dad.
PN Did your father ever tell you what kind of man Charles Demolli was?
JD …Both mother and dad thought he was a hell of a swell guy. He was more or less a little bit on the radical side. He was kind of an anarchist. Charlie Demolli was a real fine person and… everybody, all the old timers, knew him. In fact, my dad said he had more guts than all, anybody he ever saw. When he went to Scofield…he was suppose to go up there and talk to the miners up there. And they [company guards] told him when he got up there they were going to throw him in jail. You know how he got into Scofield? He got into Scofield in a breadbox.35
Demolli, while dodging company guards and becoming involved with much litigation in the courts, was able to articulate his prolabor views most effectively to his paesani by addressing them in Italian. The lack of more complete source material dealing with Demolli’s activities in Utah is unfortunate, since his leadership among the state’s Italians in 1903-4 might very well parallel that of Italian organizers who labored in the East. The placing of Demolli in the state by the UMW is evidence of union efforts to organize the Italian population. Nevertheless, the strike and unionization were lost.
The majority of Italians involved in the Utah labor movement were northern Italians who had an industrial and social base for unionization. However, reports and articles concerning the strikes in Murray (1908), at Doyle and Schwartz Company (1910), Utah Fire Clay Company (1910), and Utah Copper Company in Bingham Canyon (1912), and in Carbon County (1922 and 1933), attest to continued activity in labor by Italians.36 The leading figure in the long fight for unionization of the Carbon County coal mines was Frank Bonacci, an immigrant from southern Italy.
Strike participation is typical of other southern and eastern European groups because these immigrants were the unskilled labor force necessary for the development of Utah’s railroading and mining industries.
Immigrant laborers, then, became susceptible to union organizing and were embroiled in the strife that accompanied demands for workers’ rights. Leaders such as Demolli had only to point out coal company abuses, such as the underweighing of coal taken from the mines. In addition, miners were issued tags that they would tie on cars filled with the coal they had mined. When many of these cars were raised to the surface of the mine, “American” miners would remove the immigrants’ tags and replace them with their own, thus perplexing the immigrant laborer as to why he was not receiving his full pay. Such abuses, often supported by the companies, added credence to the rhetoric of organizers and strike leaders. Italian women, especially in the 1903 strike, supported their men by marching in parades of protest against the company, an incredible sight to non-Italians.37
Labor violence and abuses led many Italians to leave mining and start businesses of their own or turn to farming. After the 1903 strike, Italians left Castle Gate, a number of them settling in farms along the Price River and many more starting anew in the town of Helper. This group of Italians broke from the labor ranks by utilizing business as a means of social mobility. Numerous immigrants had been apprenticed in various trades in the old country, and once an economic base had been achieved, they left the mines or railroads and embarked upon their craft. This was particularly evident in Salt Lake City and Ogden where shoe shops and tailor shops, as well as grocery stores and taverns, sprang up in Italian residential areas.
A 1913 guide for Italian immigrants mentions Italian farmers in Utah enjoying good success in the fertile valleys near the Great Salt Lake. Farmers in areas of Carbon County,38 Ogden, and Salt Lake City engaged in growing many varieties of fruits and vegetables. In Salt Lake this produce was often trucked to the Grower’s Market on West Temple and Fifth South.
Italian goat ranchers in Carbon, Tooele, and Salt Lake counties found Utah adaptable for herding their animals. As early as 1902, a Utah newspaper reported an Italian starting a goat-raising business in Castle Gate.39 A rancher in Salt Lake County shipped most of his cheese and meat products outside the state, but also traveled to Bingham with his wagon affollato (“crowded”), shouting “ricotta, formaggio, crapa !”40 This goat milk curd, cheese, and goat meat were eagerly purchased by Italian and Greek miners–foods that were reminders of their southern European cultures.
Life in Utah was indeed a new experience, but Italian immigrants, maintaining continuity with the past yet accommodating to the new environment, discovered, in the words of Alexander De Conde, that it wasmezzo amara, mezzo dolce (“half bitter, half sweet”). The bitterness commenced from the outset as Italians met antiforeign sentiment–nativism .41
Nativism in Utah began with an ignorance of Italian culture and was compounded by Italian participation in the 1903 strike and stereotyped images presented in numerous press reports, both nationally and locally. A typical example was a newspaper article entitled: “Whisky, Knives, and Bad Blood.”42 As early as 1893, the Building Trades Congress reported at their meeting of June 10 that the Culmer Jennings Paving Company of Salt Lake City was employing “dagoes” and passed a motion to communicate to the city council, asking them to remedy the “dago” situation by insisting that the company abide by their contract to employ “white men.”43 The above factors were combined with a Mormon genealogical doctrine that classed peoples as either of the House of Israel (Mormons believed they were from the lineage of Ephraim) or Gentiles. England, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, and Belgium were said to be the countries containing “a considerable number of the blood of Israel amongst their people which must be gathered.”44 Although some Protestant Italians did convert to Mormonism and emigrate to Utah, southern Europeans were classified as Gentiles.
Newspaper reports and editorials of the early quarter of the century are replete with anti-Italian, antiforeign sentiments. In Lucile Richens’s “Social History of Sunnyside,” she states:
I was raised with a whole hearted contempt for Greeks, Italians, and other southern Europeans who lived there…Intermarriage with foreigners was considered almost as bad as death. If they had become Americanized it was not so bad.45
Thus, children instilled with hatreds and prejudices for “foreigners” grew to perpetuate further the notion of the inferiority of southern and eastern European immigrants.
A 1914-15 thesis, entitled “On the Housing Problem in Salt Lake City,” was submitted and approved by the Sociology Department of the University of Utah. The study began as an investigation of housing on Salt Lake’s west side but ended as an undocumented degradation of southern and eastern Europeans, primarily Italians and Greeks:
The Greeks and Italians are perhaps the most careless and shiftless people found…Comfort to them is unknown unless it is in the form of a smoke by the fire or a drink. Not only is this true of the hundreds of men who rent a house for themselves…but of the families as well…The standard of living among them [Italians] is lower than of any other nationality.46
The author also noted:
Of all people that do not have sufficient recreation, the Italians are by far the worst off. They seem to have no initiative or resources of their own…They lack a fighting and persevering spirit that might lead them to a better life. Even the children attending school are tortured and left out of the play of other children.47
The writer failed to recognize the initiative needed to emigrate from one’s mother country. Oral interviews have substantiated her assertion concerning Italian children.
- JL We had to fight in our schools. When we went to school, they just had us in there, because I don’t know why, but the kids.., if you ever wanted to talk to one of the girls why you thought.
ML Some punk would come along and tell you you couldn’t…black men couldn’t talk to that girl. .
JL They wouldn’t dance with you.
ML Couldn’t even play ring-around-the-rosey…the girl would [n’t] drop the beanbag. Christ, you never had the beanbag dropped behind you…
JL Never got a Valentine in my life at school.
ML Neither did I.
JL Never one Valentine. Yes, that’s right.48
Another Italian related that as a child, he was ashamed to admit to his friends that he ate spaghetti.49
Parents and children were torn between two cultures. American society demanded the adoption of “American” customs (and the English language), but the home was centered about Italian customs, food, language, religion, and the teachings of parents. Compulsory education laws after World War I made Italians feel that their language and backgrounds were viewed as inferior. This proved contradictory because immigrants were told that America was the land of many peoples; therefore, they often wondered, under these pressures to Americanize,50 just what constituted the ideal prototype of an American? The prejudices and discrimination they experienced provided negative examples.
Antiforeign sentiment reached a peak in the 1920s. In regard to the 1922 strike in Carbon County, one newspaper article asked, “Is Carbon County a Part of the State of Utah or is It a South European Dependency?” It continued: “Hundreds of Red-Blooded American Men with Families want to Know why they Have to Submit to the Blatant Lawlessness Effrontry of South European Domination.”51 These attitudes led to the formation of the Ku Klux Klan in Utah. Klan activity, at a peak in 1924 and 1925, manifested itself in parades, demonstrations, and threats. A fiery cross was burned at Helper in September 1924, with hooded Klansmen seen in the vicinity of the Mormon church.52 In 1925 articles of incorporation of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were filed in Salt Lake City by W. M. Cortner, Harry B. Sawyer, and L. W. Taverner. The doctrines of the Utah Klan were similar to those of other branches, “…to uphold Americanism, advance Protestant Christianity, and eternally maintain white supremacy.”53
Klan activity reached a high point in Salt Lake City in 1925. In retaliation to a municipal antimask law, the Klan instigated a measure that resulted in the banning of false whiskers worn by Santa Clauses during Christmas time. The first state convention in 1925 was held at Ensign Peak, north of the city, with burning crosses illuminating the area.54 In that same year the Klan was active in Magna, Bingham, and Provo, as well as in areas of Carbon County.
The Ku Klux Klan of Utah created tension, anger, and fear. Many immigrants lived in a state of uncertainty. They became concerned at the possibility of Klan lynchings and violence, such as existed in the neighboring state of Colorado. In response to these tensions, nationalities banded together for mutual aid. Individuals were unsure of what the Klan was trying to achieve; their impulse was to steer clear. When asked who the Klan members were, one immigrant replied, “Well if he tell you this is a Ku Klan you say goodbye, you never talk to him any more. That is it.”55
In Magna, children, many of them Greek and Italian, watched a Klan parade down Main Street en route to the Gem theatre for a meeting. As the robed and hooded order passed, the children recognized a local resident who walked with a distinguishable limp. The children shouted “You can’t fool us! There goes old Joe Ferris.”56 The tensions created in Utah by the Klan culminated in the lynching of Robert Marshall, a Negro “accused” of murder in Carbon County.57
The immigration legislation of the 1920s greatly reduced the number of Italians coming into the United States.58 With the passage of such laws the intense nativism of earlier years began to ebb. Immigrant life seemed to proceed on a route to accommodation with other residents of the state. Children were learning English and American customs, as well as being educated in American schools.
Yet life for Italian immigrants was not one of total alienation from their traditional life in Italy. Values, customs, beliefs, and practices endemic to Italians were carried from the old country to Utah. The “sweetness” in Italian life was best exemplified in the love of music and musical instruments, a value taught to Italian children in their villages. This affinity for music was carried to Utah. Leonetto Cipriani, an Italian aristocrat journeying through Salt Lake in 1853, befriended a Neapolitan music teacher, Gennaro Capone. Also, Capt. Domenico Ballo directed an instrumental band that came to Salt Lake after traveling across the Plains.59
In the 1903 strike, parades held at Castle Gate and Helper were led by an Italian brass band. Dr. Joseph Dalpiaz of Helper recalled:
The majority of the band members were Italians…they organized a band years and years ago… Before the strike…Yeah, they had a band in Castle Gate. That is the one that played when they built the bowery up there and had the celebration [July 4].60
Italian strikers, locked in bullpens by company guards, cooked spaghetti in coffee cans, sang songs, and danced the tarantella to relieve tensions.
The Sunnyside Italian band received considerable acclaim for its excellence and repertoire. It was “one of the best anywhere.”61 The hand, originally organized in the mid-1910s, was upgraded in the latter portion of 1917 by the talents of Prof. Giovanni D. Colistro from Grimaldi, Italy, as the group’s director.62 The band first performed at it funeral in Sunnyside and thereafter on Sundays during the summer months using the handstand in front of the amusement hall in Sunnyside. Antonio Guadagnoli, a member, said, “Oh, we played operas and…Oh yes, we played a lot of operas?”63 Verdi operas, La Traviata., Ii Trovatore, and Rigoletto, were often played by the band in front of the courthouse in Price. The musicians were invited to perform in a parade in Salt Lake City on May 24, 1918, in honor of the third anniversary of the entrance of Italy into World War I and also on October 13, 1 919, at the first celebration of Columbus Day as a legal state holiday,64 occasions with which both Italians and non-Italians could identify.
In the early 1920s an Italian fraternal organization, Societa’ Cristoforo Colombo, organized a marching band in Salt Lake City. The brass band, in ornate uniforms, played in parades and dances that were held at the Odd Fellows Hall in Salt Lake. The Vito Carone orchestra, a six-man group composed of mandolins, guitars, banjos, and a bass fiddle, also played at lodge functions in the city.
Bingham, Magna, Ogden, and Tooele all had Italian bands or orchestras that entertained at private homes, weddings, and baptisms. In the 1920s Italians of the Magna area would gather at the goat ranch of Luigi Nicoletti, located at Bacchus, for Saturday night festivities. Food, comprised of ricotta and various types of Italian salami (ca pocollo andsoppressata), wine, and song helped ease some of the strain Italians encountered in daily life. An Italian band comprised of Filippo Notarianni, Tomaso Angotti, and Alfonso Cairo provided music for the group, who danced the tarantella until the late hours of the evening. Even in the remote area of Promontory station, Utah, Italian section hands for the Southern Pacific serenaded the local residents.65
In the mid-1940s Italian war prisoners were interned at Ogden, Fort Douglas, Tooele, Deseret, and other Utah and Idaho locations. The Ogden camp was particularly proud of its thirty-piece orchestra, known as the “Camp Ogden Army Service Forces Italian Service Unit Brass Band.”66
The Catholic church had a varied impact upon Utah’s Italian population. In the words of an Italian Catholic priest, born in Utah, “…there were those who had the faith that were well versed from the old country. There were those who were ignorant.”67 Among women, both young and old, Mass attendance was imperative; but the men went to the church only for special occasions: holidays, baptisms, weddings, Christmas, and Easter.
A major force in the Italian Catholic community of Utah was Monsignor Alfredo F. Giovannoni, an Italian priest, who brought Catholicism closer to many Italian families. The dominant personality of the priest, who not only represented but also embodied the church, cast a tremendous influence upon the Italian community.68 Numerous oral interviews attest to Monsignor Giovannoni’s success in his forty-four years as a prelate in Utah.
In southern Italy there existed a dual-faceted religious system: the official Roman Catholic church and the folk beliefs of the people. These beliefs in the occult and superstition were continually fed by the impotence to control natural forces–earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods.69 One such belief shared at one time by many southern Italian families in Utah was that of human envy; certain men and women had an inborn power, the mal’ occhio (“evil eye”). With a mere glance their envy could cause sickness and injury.
An account of the mal’ occhio was as follows:
- Well they [the women] said whenever you get a severe headache…aspirin or anything wouldn’t help. They would say that somebody had given you the evil eye…I can’t remember just how they did it, but there was oil and water in some way and they would make the sign of the cross on your forehead and let the oil drip into the water. Through some formation that it had they could tell whether it was that or whether it was just a natural headache which you had.70
Divinities were viewed as protectors from the evils that might befall one. In southern Italy, the Catholic church gave the peasant support for these beliefs with church cults of the Madonna and the saints, as well as in religious festivals. Such feste were sporadically celebrated in Utah Catholic churches. Accounts range from a procession in honor of Santa Lucia in Saint Patrick’s Church in Salt Lake City to a feast in honor of La Madonna della Carmine (“Our Lady of Mount Carmel”) in Tooele. Statues of the respective saints were carried on top of a platform, much in the style of old-country observances.71 These feast-day celebrations, as well as others, faded away because their importance was attached to local old-country traditions and had little significance to later generations of Italians in Utah. Also, the relatively small number of Italians in the state combined with the multi-ethnic membership of the church–largely Irish who maintained different cultural values–to make their continuance more difficult.
An unusual aspect of immigrant life was the involvement of numerous Italian men in various Masonic lodges throughout the state.72 The Roman Catholic church refuses its members participation in the Freemasons. Italians of Carbon, Salt Lake, and Weber counties, however, found the Order of Freemasons a means of social mobility and aid, especially during the 1930s. While there is a paucity of manuscript source material concerning this area, various oral narratives help in understanding this development.
PN Were there any social benefits to be reaped from being a Mason, or economic benefits?
FP Oh, economic, yes, as far as work goes. And money, yes.
PN How was this?
EP Well, they were helped by their fellow Masons. They were certainly given jobs. They had preference over those who did not belong to the Masons. And socially they had their social activities…73
Traditional North-South tensions among Italians were continued in Carbon County. Separate Italian lodges were organized at Castle Gate: Stella D’America (1898), whose fifty-seven founding members were from the North, and Principe Di Napoli (1902), whose members came from the South. In 1903, during the wake of the strike, the following account appeared in the Salt Lake Herald:
There is no better citizen than the Italians of the north, nor can there be any more undesirable citizen than the southern Italian of the ignorant class. Unfortunately the men who have created the trouble in tbe coal camps of Utah are mostly of this latter class…74
While the above assertion perpetuated North-South distinctions, the reporter was mistaken in his assumption, since the Italian strikers were predominantly from the North.75
Newspaper articles not only mentioned nationality in reporting crimes but also revealed regional distinctions, for example, “Fred Macmo, a Southern Italian, wanted for murdering a countryman at Sunnyside.”76 In 1912 the Eastern Utah Advocate reported a stabbing incident, maintaining that “The incident seemed to stem from the hatreds of the North and South in the ‘old’ country.”77
Old World antagonisms culminated in what Carbon County residents referred to as Black Hand activity. The Black Hand, associated with southern Italians, was characterized by threats and extortion directed against prominent northern Italian bankers, lawyers, and businessmen. The full extent of such activity is difficult to assess because of a lack of source materials. One description maintained that it was highly organized, extracting money from people by force. Threats were often made graphically in the form of a black hand attached to one’s door or window. The late Judge Henry Ruggeri of Price stated that he received such threats, especially against his family when he served as Carbon County attorney in the early twenties.78 Another respondent said:
- I will tell you years ago they had what they call ‘Black Hands’…But they no was the Black Hands. They was older single men you know. They know that you had a few dollars so they write you a letter for $1000 or $500 and you had to give it to them. Well, they wait for you some place. Oh, they kill four or five…in the 1920s.79
Similar Black Hand activity was reported in other areas of the state, but almost all was confined to Carbon County. Time has reconciled the factions; present-day Italian life in Utah, while still marked with some North-South strain, is basically characterized by harmony and understanding between the Italian people, in the first as well as the second and third generations.
Italian fraternal and mutual aid societies were an important development throughout the state.80 In Carbon County there were: Stella D’America, Castle Gate (1898), Principe Di Napoli, Castle Gate (1902), Fratellanza Minatori, Sunnyside (1902), Societa’ Cristoforo Colombo, Castle Gate (ca. early 1910s), and the Italian-Americanization Club (1919); in Salt Lake County: Societa’ Cristoforo Colombo, Salt Lake City (1897), Societa’ Di Beneficenza, Bingham Canyon and Mercur (ca. 1907), Club Dante Allighieri, Salt Lake City (1908), Figli D’Italia, Salt Lake City (1915), and the Italian-American Civic League, Salt Lake City (1934); and in Weber County: Societa’ Cristoforo Colombo, Ogden (date unknown) These early organizations began as a means of mutual aid among single miners and laborers, as well as in response to the nativism that had developed in the state.
Organizational functions eventually helped in bettering relationships both within the Italian community and between the Italian and non-Italian peoples. Mergers took place between societies (bringing northerners and southerners together); parades and celebrations reflected mutual interests between Italians and non-Italians; and Italian participations and contributions in civic affairs, especially through the Italian-American Civic League, provided ways through which Italian group interests were expressed to the rest of the community. These interests were often common aspirations of the public as a whole: providing for orphans at Christmas.
Early Italian life in Utah was able to maintain a distinct continuity with the past. This Italianita’ (“Italianness”) was wedded to the Italian language. A sporadic Italian press existed in Utah. In 1908-9 Ii Minatore, published by Mose Paggi in Salt Lake City, was a labor-oriented newspaper that reported news of mining camps in Utah and the entire Intermountain region. La Gazzetta Italiana was published in Salt Lake City by G. Milano of the Italian Publishing Company, from approximately 1911 to 1917. In 1926 La Scintilla, printed by Alfonso Russo and Milano, appeared hut by 1929 had merged with America to form Ii Corriere D’America. It was published in Salt Lake City by Frank Niccoli and managed by Alfonso Russo.81 The paper reported local news within the Italian community in addition to topics of national interest.
Utah’s Italian population was not totally isolated from the Italian-language press that existed in other areas of the United States. Newspapers from the West, L’Italia (San Francisco), and East, La Follia di New York and Il Progresso Italo-Americano, were subscribed to by numerous Italian families.82 However, the Italian press in Utah was ephemeral. This, combined with the multiethnic character of the Catholic church and the lack of Italian language schools (such as the Greek schools) aid in explaining why second, third, and fourth generation Italians have not preserved the language.
The Italian immigrants, upon their arrival, kept aspects of life with which they were most familiar. Language, customs, basic religious beliefs, family life, and food were important. Numerous reports reveal how customs such as boccie (played on courts in Helper, Bingham, and Salt Lake); the art of wine-making83 and sausage-making; and nightly promenades by husband, wife, and family, as well as frequent visits to homes of friends and relatives characterized early Italian life. The Italian community also had midwives and folk cures (a panacea for gastric ailments among infants was chamomile tea).
Much of Italian culture, brought by the early arrivals, has now disappeared. The smallness of the Italian community within Utah is a key factor in its failure to preserve a distinctive ethnic character. Nevertheless, in assessing the history of the Italians in Utah, Italianita’ has added and given significance to the children and descendants of Italian immigrants in Utah. This is embodied in the immigrant experience itself and becomes germane to our lives with the understanding that the present in which we find ourselves is a product of the past encountered by our immigrant forebears, a past that has produced a future founded on the interaction between the Italian character and a country replete with opportunities.
1 From 1820 to 1948 Italian immigration into the United States was second only to that of Germany. Exact figures are: Germany–6,064,653 and Italy–4,752,735. However, Great Britain and Ireland accounted for 8,937,879. Figures from U. S., Immigration and Naturalization Service, Annual Report for Year Ending June 30, 1948 (Washington, D.C., 1948), Table 4.
2 Denis Mack Smith, Italy. A Modern History (Ann Arbor, 1959), p. 239.
3 U.S., Congress, House, House Reports, 77th Cong., 2d sess., 1942, VIII, p. 239.
4 Leonard Covello, The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child (Leiden, 1967), p. 34.
5 Alexander DeConde, Half Bitter, Half Sweet: An Excursion into Italian-American History (New York, 1971), p. 79.
6 Ibid., p. 80.
7 Carlo Levi, “Italy’s Myth of America,” Life, July 7, 1947, pp. 84-85.
8 DeConde, Half Bitter, Half Sweet, p. 80.
9 Andrew F. Rolle, The Immigrant Upraised (Norman, Okla., 1968), p. 31.
10 Robert F. Foerster, The Italian Emigration of Our Times (Cambridge, Mass., 1924), p. 327. Total immigration for the period was 8,795,386.
11 Interview with Angelo Calfo, Salt Lake City, Utah, July 10, 1971.
12 Sheelwant B. Pawar, “An Environmental Study of the Development of the Utah Labor Movement: 1860–1935” (Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1967), p. 194.
13 1870 Census.
14 A description of the Italian mission is given in Kate B. Carter, comp., Heart Throbs of the West, 12 vols. (Salt Lake City, 1939-51), 4:282-89.
15 Albert L. Zobell, Jr., “In Italy…The Sunny Land,” The Improvement Era 53 (1950): 733.
16 Thomas G. Alexander, “From Dearth to Deluge, Utah’s Coal Industry,” Utah Historical Quarterly 31 (1963): 237. Carbon County was actually organized in 1894.
17 Interview with Vincent Massari, Pueblo, Colorado, September 14, 1974.
18 Eastern Utah Advocate (Price, Utah), November 30, 1899.
19 Humbert S. Nelli, “The Italian Padrone System in the United States,” Labor History 5 (1964): 157.
20 For a study of the Greek padrone, see Helen Zeese Papanikolas, Toil and Rage in a New Land: The Greek Immigrants in Utah, 2d. ed. rev, reprinted from Utah Historical Quarterly 38, no. 2(1970) : 121-33. Mose Paggi, publisher of Il Minatore and Italian consular agent for Utah in 1910, entered into a partnership in 1912 with L.G. Skliris, who was the Greek padrone unmasked in the Bingham strike of 1912. This suggests that Paggi could have also been a padrone. He was well educated, had consular power, and was an Italian notary public. For details of the partnership see: Pacific Reporter, 197 (St. Paul, 1919) : 739-40.
21 The Pleasant Valley Coal Company operated the Wasatch store. Approximately 225 houses were built on company property by the miners themselves. See Allan Kent Powell, “The ‘Foreign Element’ and the 1903-4 Carbon County Coal Miners’ Strike,” Utah Historical Quarterly 43 (1975) : 143.
22 This incident was reported to the writer by Monsignor Jerome Stoffel, who is a member of the advisory board of editors for the Utah Historical Quarterly and a former resident of Carbon County.
23 James B. Allen, The Company Town in the American West (Norman, Okla., 1966), p. 13.
24 Helen Z. Papanikolas, “Life and Labor among the Immigrants of Bingham Canyon,” Utah Historical Quarterly 33 (1965): 290. State of Utah, First Report of the State Bureau of Immigration, Labor and Statistics, 1911-12, listed the Italians in Bingham as follows: “402 Italians (north), 237 Italians (south) .”
25 Interview with Joe Tome, Sandy, Utah, July 31, 1974.
26 Beatrice Spendlove, “A History of Bingham Canyon” (M.S. thesis, University of Utah, 1967), p. 60.
27 Interview with Mike and Joe Lewis, Magna, Utah, June 26, 1974.
28 Interview with Charles Barber, Salt Lake City, Utah, November 28, 1971. However, there were company houses at Garfield.
30 Louis J. Fries, One Hundred and Fifty Years of Catholicity in Utah (Salt Lake City, 1926), p. 101.
31 Eastern Utah Advocate, December 3, 1903. See Powell, “The ‘Foreign Element’ and the 1903-4 Carbon County Coal Miners’ Strike,” pp. 125-54.
32 Deseret Evening News, December 8, 1903. Similar articles mentioned a “fear of Mafia tactics among the Italians.”
33 Ibid. The militia was eventually called. For a complete study of the 1903 strike refer to Allan Kent Powell, “Labor at the Beginning of the 20th Century: The Carbon County, Utah, Coal Fields, 1900 to 1905” (M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1972).
34 The Salt Lake Herald, December 11, 1903. An opposing view was expressed earlier in the Deseret Evening News, December 9, 1903, which stated: “The general [Gen. John Q. Cannon of the National Guard] is pleased at the way Governor Wells talked to Demolli, and says that the agitator is no better really than the average Italian fruit peddler [sic]; and this newspaper talk about his fine presence, fine speech, and pleasing address and smartness is all rot.”
35 Interview with Dr. Joseph Dalpiaz, Helper, Utah, February 5, 1972. The bread box was reportedly three feet high, three feet deep, and three feet long.
36 See: Salt Lake Tribune, May 6, 1908; Karl Aiwin Elling, “The History of Organized Labor in Utah (1910-1920)” (M.S. thesis, University of Utah, 1962), pp. 55-56; Papanikolas, Tail and Rage, pp. 121-33 and 166-75; and Helen Z. Papanikolas, “Unionism, Communism, and the Great Depression:
The Carbon County Coal Strike of 1933,” Utah Historical Quarterly 41 (1973): 254-300.
37 Eastern Utah Advocate, November 26, 1903.
38 Guida Degli Stati Uniti Per L’Immigrante Italiano (New York, 1913), p. 32. In the Eastern Utah Advocate, April 30, 1908, reference was made to the San Rafael irrigation project indorsed by Dr. A. W. Dowd and Joe Ronzio. Ronzio wished to open land to Italians once it had water.
39 Eastern Utah Advocate, April 3, 1902. The rancher was Frank Cavello; also reported was the starting of a chicken ranch.
40 Interview with Luigi Nicoletti, Midvale, Utah, July 23, 1971.
41 The material on nativism is taken primarily from Philip F. Notarianni, “The Italian Immigrant in Utah: Nativism (1900-1925)” (M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1972).
42 Eastern Utah Advocate, July 24, 1902.
43 Minutes Book of The Building Trades Congress, June 10, 1893, Western Americana Division of the Marriott Library, University of Utah.
44 “Nathaniel Baldwin, Times of the Gentiles. Fullness of the Gentiles. A Discussion with Scriptural References (Salt Lake City, ca. May 1917), p. 1. Doctrine and Covenants 64:36 states: “For verily I say that the rebellious are not of the blood of Ephraim, wherefore they shall be plucked out.” Italian involvement in the strike of 1903 may have made this passage more significant, since Italian miners as well as most southern and eastern European laborers who participated in labor strife, were considered the foreign element responsible for the situation. In the 1903 strike, Angus Cannon, president of the Salt Lake Stake, announced in the tabernacle that employment was available in Carbon County. Some reports stated that he encouraged Mormons to respond to the call, a move that can be interpreted as “antiunion” and “antiforeign.”
45 Lucile Richens, “Social History of Sunnyside,” Manuscript #A 211, WPA Collection, Utah State Historical Society.
46 Katharine E. Groebli, “On the Housing Problem in Salt Lake City” (M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1914-1915), p. 40.
47 Ibid., p. 44.
48 Lewis interview.
49 Interview with Sam Siciliano, Salt Lake City, Utah, January 3, 1972.
50 A compulsory Americanization law was passed in Utah in 1919. For details consult Leroy Eugene Cowles, “The Utah Educational Program of 1919 and Factors Conditioning its Operation” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, 1926).
51 The News Advocate (Price, Utah), June 29, 1922.
52 Papanikolas, Toil and Rage, p. 181.
53 The Sun (Price, Utah), November 14, 1925. John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925, (New York, 1967), pp. 287-88.
54 David M. Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The First Century of the Ku Klux Klan 1865-1965 (Garden City, N.J., 1965), pp. 223-24.
55 Barber interview.
56 Incident reported to the writer by Frank Maddy, Mike Lewis, and Joe Lewis, long-time residents of Magna, Utah.
57 Papanikolas, Toil and Rage, p. 180 (includes photograph).
58 The Immigration Restriction Acts of 1921 and 1924 are discussed in Notarianni, “The Italian Immigrant in Utah,” pp. 85-101.
59 Rolle, The Immigrant Upraised, p. 204. Also, Giovanni Schiavo, Italian-American History, vol. 1 (New York, 1947), pp. 236-37, 279; and Giovanni Schiavo, Four Centuries of Italian-American History (New York, 1958), pp. 170-72.
60 Dalpaiz interview; Powell, “Labor at the Beginning of the 20th Century,” p. 119; Eastern Utah Advocate, February 18, 1904.
61 The Sun, May 31, 1918. Also called the Sunnyside Community Band.
62 One member of the band recalled that Professor Colistro was brought from Italy by band members; while other accounts maintain that the Utah Fuel Company possibly sponsored the group and paid Colistro’s salary.
63 Interview with Antonio Guadagnoli, Price, Utah, August 9, 1974.
64 Salt Lake Tribune, May 24, 1918 and May 25, 1918; Salt Lake Telegram, October 13, 1919. Fortunato Anselmo, Italian vice-consul in Utah for almost a quarter century, was instrumental in having Columbus Day established as a legal state holiday.
65 Interview with Bernice Houghton Gerristen, Ogden, Utah, September 3, 1974.
66 Intermountain Catholic Register (Salt Lake City), October 22, 1954; Ralph A. Busco and Douglas D. Alder, “German and Italian Prisoners of War in Utah and Idaho,” Utah Historical Quarterly 39 (1971): 55-72. The camp near Ogden was reported to have had two thousand Italian war prisoners.
67 Interview with the Reverend Francis Pellegrino, Salt Lake City, Utah, November 27, 1971.
68 Covello, The Social Background, p. 136.
69 Ibid. p. 104.
70 Interview with Paul Razzica, Magna, Utah, June 13, 1971.
71 Interview with Mrs. Catherine Fratto, Hunter, Utah, November 13, 1971; interview with Charles and Rose Leonelli, Tooele, Utah, August 2, 1974. Mrs. Leonelli related to the writer that the Italians of Tonele also celebrated Carnevale, “fat Tuesday” (the last day before Lent), at which time they would dress in costumes and visit from home to home.
72 Sources of documentation for this are the Proceedings Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Utah. These are the yearly reports and date from 1872 to 1972.
73 Pellegrino interview.
74 Salt Lake Herald, November 25, 1903.
75 Investigation of the lodge rolls for Stella D’America and Fratellanza Minatori, Sunnyside, compared with reports of arrests and other various accounts prove that most of the strikers were from the North. Also, in an interview with Stanley V. Litizzette, of Helper, Utah, Mr. Litizzette stated that from his study of the Castle Gate area, the first wave of Italians were predominantly from the North.
76 Eastern Utah Advocate, July 29, 1910.
77 Eastern Utah Advocate, September 5, 1912.
78 Interview with Henry Ruggeri, Price, Utah, December 18, 1971.
79 Barber interview.
80 A full discussion of Italian mutual aid organizations in Utah by this writer is found in “Italian Fraternal Organizations in Utah, 1897-1934,” Utah Historical Quarterly 43 (1975): 172-87. A briefer account appears in Notarianni, “The Italian Immigrant in Utah,” 54-77.
81 Il Minatore and Il Corriere D’America (in part) are available on microfilm at the Marriott Library, University of Utah. Mention of La Gazzetta Italiana was made in the Report of the State Bureau of Immigration, Labor and Statistics, for the years 1911-1916.
82 In one case, it was discovered that the Italians of Wattis and Kenilworth, Utah, were very much aware of Riccardo Cordiferro, an outspoken critic of American society and an ardent anticleric. Several published letters, by Achille Monteforte of Utah, were found in the Papers of Alessandro Sisca, pseud. Riccardo Cordiferro, located at the Immigrant Archives, University of Minnesota.
83 An article appeared in the Bingham News, October 31, 1925: “Italians in Bingham have been making wine for their personal use and now residing officers, headed by County sheriff, have arrived in camp with search warrants to clean up the Bingham District of all wine in the possession of these people. The Italians are reported to be the best workers in the mine camp and Ring-ham is afraid this wine confiscation will drive them on to Calif…”