The Baltierra Family Exodus

Greetings! Happy February 2022. I hope this year finds you safe and healthy. The Escalante research has been a tad dry recently. Nothing better than discovering a new Baltierra family member to get the research jump started!

I have been off and on Ancestry the last 6 months – lack of focus. But just recently, I found a new -to-me cousin in my dad’s side of the family, thanks to her family tree and DNA test. She has shared wonderful photos of family I had never seen before. I was sad my Dad missed getting to see these faces, but I am thrilled that I did.

My dad Eddie was first cousin to her dad Manuel. I had no idea. After my mom looked through his things she found that Manuel’s address and phone number was in Dad’s little telephone book! My new cousins were not strangers. They had just been lost…due to time, life, moving, and the fact my dad did not like travelling anywhere.

We are related because our grandfathers were brothers. The more we talked about our family, the more we realized she and I have aunts and uncles born in the same random places all across the United States: Kansas City, Kansas/Missouri; Galesburg, Illinois; Butte, Montana. What would bring our family up from Durango, Mexico, to the mid-west United States? What would make them move 2,200 miles north? On purpose?

Well, because of a revolution and a call from the United States Government, of course.

The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) found many Mexican citizens needing work and stability. The First World War sent many American men overseas. The need for labor in the US meant that businesses were courting laborers across the border. Business leaders convinced US legislators to allow a new labor force to arrive and help. “The number of legal migrants grew from around 20,000 migrants per year during the 1910s to about 50,000 – 100,000 migrants per year during the 1920s.”1

The Baltierra family heard this call. And we are talking most of them. My great-grandparents, Cecilio Baltierra, his wife Trinidad Rodriguez, and their adult children, started the trek north.

My young grandparents, Leon and Pauline (19 and 13-ish, respectively), began their journey to Kansas City, Kansas.

Wedding photo of Leonardo and Panfila. Leon and Pauline were their preferred names, which they changed on their naturalization paperwork later.

In the 1920 Census, they had 2 children. Here is the announcement for #2.

Uncle Nar made the “Kansas City Kansan,” Nov. 5, 1918.

Our families were working in the meat packing sheds in the Stockyard area of the city. The area they lived in was named after the Armour meat company. The swift increase in Mexican workers in the growing “Armourdale” neighborhood caused concern among the locals. The citizens of Kansas City realized the influx of help from another country was a double-edged sword. You want your industry to flourish, the money to keep rolling in, but at the same time, having workers from a different culture can upset your status quo.2

When researching family history, sometimes it’s the minor details that can provide clarity. Per the 1920 census dated in January, my grandparents were in Kansas City. But by October, 1920, they had moved, having a third child born in Galesburg, Illinois.

Now how in the world did that happen? Well, turns out, two railroad companies had been recruiting workers to move up north. And our nomadic family heeded the call.

Side note on the importance of oral storytelling: Picture it: San Jose, CA, early 1970’s. When my parents would go visit my grandmother, my dad would watch TV. Mom was the one who listened to all of Grandma Pauline’s stories. She mentioned they moved all the time. But no matter where she was, even when she lived in the Box Car, she always had flowers outside of her house to make it a home. Mom mentioned this again last week. Grandma had given us a “clue.” When I googled Galesburg, I kid you not, a documentary called “Boxcar People” popped up. And it was quite enlightening. If you get a chance, please watch: https://video.wtvp.org/video/boxcar-people-hzhj7n/

Our family experience was similar to the first 30 minutes of this video. Here was another neighborhood of immigrant workers created out of necessity to keep American businesses running. This time it was the railroads that needed help. They established an area of derailed box cars with a stove and windows cut in each for the workers. While single men were preferred, they found the men worked better with their families there.

3 Baltierra cousins, from 3 different brothers, were born in this town when the family was there. Now we know where Pauline had her flowers! Unlike those folks interviewed in the film, our family did not put it’s roots in Illinois. They moved on…to Minnesota.

My family’s stay in Geneva, Minnesota, in 1924, marked by a birth of an aunt. (Birth certificates are great map plotters and date givers.) Apparently, the sugar beet farmers in the north needed labor assistance. Unlike many of the other towns our family had been in, there were no long lasting Hispanic influences in Geneva. (An article regarding Mexican labor in a county north of Geneva giving an account of how the beet industry handled their labor staffing over the last 50 years is below.4)

My grandmother Pauline did get a reprieve from moving for 6 whole years when they went to Butte, Montana. The group was still moving together, except for one person. Cecilio disappeared.

It seemed Cecilio left his wife Trinidad while the group was still in Kansas City. From documents I found in Chihuahua, he had divorced Trinidad, remarried, and had five more children before dying in 1930.

I have been told by several people that Trinidad wasn’t a kind lady. And I can only speculate why Cecilio left. However. I wanted to go on the record that, before coming to the US, this couple lost three small children in succession: Catarino (1901-1902), Cecilio (1902-1907), and Jovita (1906-1908). In my years doing this hobby, I have “met” several women who have lost babies due to early death/miscarriages/stillborn births. These experiences changed the women. It caused deep sorrow and resentment. Their families forgot the losses and could only see the hurt expressed as meanness, anger, distance. Familial research gives clues to these mysteries. My heart is sympathetic to her trauma.

Trinidad Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy: T. Hansen

Back to Butte.

Butte was a successful mining town and a magnet to so many people from all over the world. 3 of my dad’s siblings were born in Butte. The addresses on these birth certificates were on Galena Street in a district called “The Cabbage Patch,” per author Jacob Sorich.5

In the 1940’s, Butte decided to clear out what was left of the old Cabbage Patch area. But this gives an idea of how tight the housing was for immigrant miners in the area.6

My great-aunt Bruna and her second husband stayed in Butte. Their roots grew very deep in the Montana mining town. My grandfather worked in the mines there, which may have caused his lung cancer later in life.

The job landscape was about to change in the US again. By now, WWI veterans were in the country again taking their jobs back and the United States was at the start of the Great Depression. 

“At the onset of the Depression in 1929, entire industries dried up, and the need for immigrant labor decreased. Many Mexican migrants found themselves suddenly impoverished and tens of thousands of rural workers went back to Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were also deported under unofficial “repatriation” policies led by federal, municipal or city authorities.”1

The original Baltierra siblings went their separate ways. My grandparents, and their 13 children, persisted and stayed in the US. My dad asked Grandpa why he never went back to Mexico. Grandpa told him, “I have nothing there for me anymore. My life is here.”

Other places they lived: In the early 1930’s, Sugar City, Idaho; in 1935 (per the US Census) Milpitas, CA, as well as Atwater (where Dad was born); Fresno (1940); and Firebaugh – where so many poor Oklahomans and Arkansans were also trying to find work. They landed in San Jose at the end. Basically, they moved consistently for 30 years. My dad’s cousins settled into the Los Angeles area.

Pauline – Possibly early 1950’s
Leon – Probably early 1950’s also.
Grandpa Leon’s Funeral. June, 1960. My dad is at the far right. All his siblings, and 2 cousins.
Grandma Pauline is sitting in the front.

My grandparents became naturalized citizens. While assisting the United States in filling the need for laborers early on, the Baltierra children created wonderful lives for themselves, and their children as well. For over 106 years, our extended family has been an integral part of the building, defending, and maintaining the fabric of this country that we love. This country that is ours. And we are proud of it.

References:

  1. https://blogs.loc.gov/kluge/2015/03/the-history-of-mexican-immigration-to-the-u-s-in-the-early-20th-century/
  2. https://pendergastkc.org/article/kansas-city’s-mexican-community-and-guadalupe-center
  3. http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/58/v58i04p196-209.pdf
  4. https://www.mankatofreepress.com/news/local_news/glimpse-of-the-past-sugar-beets-were-cash-crop-for-faribault-county-farmers/article_2dbfd010-b3ac-11e9-a50e-93d7f7cf7f81.html
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=To_xc3LxjfQ
  6. Cabbage Patch photo courtesy of the Butte Silver Bow Archives.

As an added note: This episode of “Finding Your Roots” just came out this week. It discusses two families that came from Mexico. It discusses some of the American governments’ mixed signals when it comes to Mexican immigration. https://www.pbs.org/video/mexican-roots/

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