Turmoil in Cherryvale, Kansas, 1915

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From Mindi Gonzales Duncan: 
“Angel Fernandez Gonzalez was born in Aviles in 1882. Son of Gabrial Gonzalez and Manuela Fernandez. He came to the US aboard the Carpathia in August of 1904 and was followed by his wife, Ramona Muniz Gonzalez, in 1906. He worked at the Zinc Smeltering Co in Cherryvale, KS like many other Asturians at that time. They later moved to Donora, PA. This picture was taken around 1920 in Cherryvale. It is said that his wife hated the motorcycle so much that it was later left in a ditch. Can you imagine?!

On March 25 1915, Alejandro Barea, the Spanish Consul in New Orleans wires his Ambassador in Washington with typical staccato diction of telegraphs:

200 Spaniards Cherryvale Kansas complain  treatment received in that town without concrete facts. Result: strained relations; an American hit a Spaniard and the Spaniard wounded the American, hospitalized. Both Spaniards jailed. Our colony tried  unsuccessfully to free them on bail; sent Commissioner Recio New Orleans who asked me to go with him to Cherryvale. I declined because I am alone here and I thought that a three-day trip by train would be useless.  Today write Mayor prevent abuses; deliver letter to Mr. Strong repectable lawyer Blue Rapids recommending the case. Father Superior Lorente of Dominican Priests offered to write to the bishop to ask they he call on the priest of Cherryvale to urge parishioners to treat Spaniards well.

The text of the telegraph is included in a fascinating report that the Consul of New Orleans sent to Washington, and that is another gem of a document hidden in the folders, legajos and boxes of the Archivo General de la Administración in Alcalá de Henares, Spain:

 Ladislao Recio, who came to New Orleans in representation of the Spaniards of Cherryvale, Kansas, tells me that in that town there is a zinc foundry belonging to the “Egan Zinc Company” which employs 400 workers; 200 of them are Spaniards.  Their average wage per 6-hour day is $1.75, and our Spanish compatriots are greatly appreciated by the owners of the company because they never agreed to make common cause with the Americans when they tried on occasion to go out on strike.  So much so that last year, because of the high-cost of living, the Spanish workers humbly requested a raise, and it was granted immediately, increasing their salary by 25 cents per day.   But the foreman of the plant does not hold the same esteem for the Spaniards, and he does everything in his power to bother them, offend them, and mistreat them.  A few days ago, a relative of the foreman hit a Spaniard for no reason, and the Spaniard’s brother came to his defense, injuring the American, who is now in the hospital.  The Spaniards were sent to prison, where they still are, because the efforts of the rest of the Spaniards to have them released on bail were futile.

This hostility towards our compatriots prevails throughout the town, and they are afraid that they will be further victimized, because even the parish priest there, an Irishman, has ill will towards them, and they say that he doesn’t look kingly on our compatriots.  The Spaniards live on the outskirts of town and they are constantly insulted and threatened; they live in constant distress and they are armed to resist any attack; but since there are fewer of them, they are likely to come out on the losing side if a conflict were to break out.

To avoid this, which would have deplorable consequences, I wrote to the Mayor of Cherryvale, asking him to protect our citizens; and the lawyer of this consulate, Mr. Puig wrote to the Sheriff of Independence and to the Egan Zinc Company so that each, in their own sphere, contribute to help de-escalate the conflict.  The Father Superior of the Dominicans in New Orleans, furthermore, has written to the bishop of the Diocesis that Cherryvale belongs to,  asking him to exert his authority over the parish priest so that he urges his parishioners to put aside their ill feelings.  As for me, I gave Ladislao Recio a letter of introduction to Mr. James D. Strong, a lawyer from Blue Rapids, Kansas (who a year and a half ago was recommended to me by the Consul General of NY), to see if he would like to intercede on behalf of the Spanish prisoners.  The Spanish colony of Cherryvale is willing to pay the costs of the lawyer; they are mostly Asturians, with experience in zinc smelting because they were formerly employed at the Real Compañía Asturiana [in Arnao, Castrillón]. 

I was sure to urge Recio to convey to our compatriots that we recommend prudence and moderation, especially because they are living in a foreign country.  We hope that with the measures that we have already taken, and if Your Excellency were to write to the Governor of the State of Kansas, we might be able to re-establish the peace, and help dispel the mutual prejudices that exist today.

We can also rely on the valuable support that the Egan Zinc Company will certainly offer us.  It is an important business concern with a capital of more than a million dollars, and enjoying great credit in the market.  The company greatly appreciates the work done by the Spaniards, who are competent, assiduous, and well mannered.

The folder in the AGA also includes a letter addressed to the Governor of Kansas by the President of the Edgar Zinc Company, which we transcribe here:

Edgar ZINC COMPANY

St. Louis, April 13th, 1915

Hon Arthur Capper

Governor of Kansas, Topeka

Dear Sir:

Your letter of the 10th, addressed to our Cherryvale, Kansas Works, together with enclosures from the Ambassador of Spain to the State Department at Washington and the Department’s communication to you, with reference to certain difficulties in which Spanish subjects working for our Company have been involved has been referred to me.

I wish to inform you that the difficulty arose over a fight that took lace on one of our furnaces on or about the 19th of March, in which one American and four Spaniards were involved. As I understand it, the American was punished very badly with furnace tools. The parties involved in this fight were arrested and their responsibilities in the matter will be determined by the County authorities at the trial which I believe takes places on Friday, the 16th.

I believe that the impression the Spanish Ambassador has gained –from reading hs letter of the 29th to the State Department—is not algotether warranted by the facts in the case. We have employed Spanish furnace men at our Cherryvale, Kansas Works for the past seven or eight years, and I believe they have been accorded better treatment by our company and their fellow American workmen than they have been accorded elsewhere in the same line of work.

I have had a talk with the men in person since this trouble came up and Have assured each of them, Americans and Spaniards alike, that the Company knew no classes or races of workmen: we look upon our employees as individuals and hold each one responsible as an individual for his particular conduct, and all of our men, regardless of race or nationality, can be assured of the Company supporting them in any difficulty whatever provided their conduct as workmen and citizens of the community warrants this protections, an so far as I am aware the trouble occasioned by this clase has subsided and will not be renewed.

Trusting that this will give the Spanish Ambassador the information he requires, I am

Yours very truly

S.C. Edgar, Jr.

President

And then, apparently, there is a happy ending, reflected in this communiqué from the Spanish Consul in New Orleans addressed to the Spanish Ambassador in Washington, DC:

1 April

It is my honor to inform your excellency to I have received a letter from Ladislao Recio who, after thanking us for our efforts on on behalf of the Spanish colony of Cherryvale, Kansas,  tells me that the residents of that town have abandoned their negative attitude toward our compatriots and that the two Spaniards who were in jail have been released on $500 bond each.  The trial which was scheduled for March 26 has been suspended.

Signed: Alejandro Barea

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