The mining camps of Utah in the late 1800s were built, literally, on the backs of immigrants who came to America in the great rush of that century to improve their lives and flee the potato famine in Ireland. Many of them were Europeans – Irish, Italian, Greek, Norwegian, Finns, Germans and Eastern Europeans. Others came over the Pacific from China, Japan, Australia and Indonesia. Between 1850 and 1900 the men coming to America began their lives here working to build the great railroad networks that spanned the ever-expanding country.
In Utah the transcontinental rails locked the country together east to west and the branches spread like spider webs into the far reaches of the states and territories. In Utah the “Southern Extension” was built from Salt Lake City down through Provo to a point south of Nephi and west of Levan. Here the track terminated in 1880 but plans were made to extend the road-bed south to the mining camp of Frisco, Utah – a new mining town at the base of the San Francisco mountain range in central Beaver County.
Between 1875, when the Horn Silver mine was opened, and 1882 when the rail line finally reached Frisco, the ore was shipped by wagon to Milford, about 18 miles east, where it was smelted and then shipped north to the rail terminal near Levan. That’s how Milford got its name – a mill was constructed near the Beaver River so the town grew around the mill at the fording point in the river.
When the railroad extension reached Frisco in 1882, the men who had built the railroad went to work in the mine or in various jobs around town. Most of these men spoke little English. They congregated together through their native language. Many were related: brother, cousins, fathers and sons. Of these, most were working to earn funds to send back to relatives in “the old country” to pay the passage for others of their clan to join them. Then those men would enlarge the funds to bring others.
My grandmother and grandfather operated a small store in Frisco for many years. She had many stories to tell of these men and their dedication to bring their families to America.
Her store also contained the post office for Frisco. She provided help for the foreign men who struggled with our language – to address and stamp their weekly letters to wives and family back home.
One group who faithfully came to the post office every week were the Greek miners. She described them as large, muscular men with heavy, black hair and smooth olive skins. They usually had large mustaches and many sported thick beards. Still, with all that impressive appearance they would speak softly and kindly to my grandmother.
“I am Tony Kompus,” she remembered one of them saying. “K.O.M.P.U.S.” He would always spell out his name. “Any mail for Tony Kompus?”
Each week Tony would come in the store. Sometimes he would buy something with the small amount he would withhold from his paycheck for food and other necessities. Most of these emigrants would live together in a dugout near the mine. They would rotate their schedules. While one was in the mine, another would be asleep in a bunk at the dugout. Another would be keeping the fire going in the steel drum formed into a stove. If one took a scoop of food from the big kettle always simmering on the fire, another would add cuttings (beans, carrots, turnips, potatoes, etc. and an usually a large piece of meat) to the mix. There was always food simmering.
“Any mail for Tony Kompus? K.O.M.P.U.S?” And my grandmother would dutifully go through the envelops.
“Sorry, Mr. Kompus, no mail today.” And it was always so. She wondered if Tony’s mail every reached his wife in Greece. At any rate, there was never any return mail for Tony Kompus.
Copyright Harold Hickman, 2017 All rights reserved