Home » Articles » History » The Polish People Of Thurber

The Polish People Of Thurber


There are perhaps a half-million people scattered throughout America who have ancestral ties to Thurber. This is the “Thurber Diaspora.” When Thurber was shutting down from 1921 to 1933, about 3,500 people had to relocate. The majority of Thurber’s coal miners moved to the Illinois coal fields or other jobs in northern cities. Others went to potash mines in New Mexico. Some went to California where there were a viriety of job opportunities. Many chose to remain in nearby Thurber Junction (Mingus) because they owned homes or they might have been involved in bootlegging. Those connected with Thurber’s oil operations moved to Fort Worth offices or to other T P Oil Co. locations in Texas.

Shutting down Thurber meant the foreign-born miners would be starting over again. But this they did with the same determination which brought them to America. With the exception of my book “The Back Road To Thurber”, the literature has been virtually void on the immigrants’ contributions to Thurber’s development. Indeed, without this predominant, industrious Eastern European work force (85% of the coal miners), Thurber might not have succeeded. By looking at some of the individual sacrifices and efforts of the early Italian and Polish Thurber immigrants we attempt to set the record straight.

Leo S. Bielinski, March 2003

Thanks to Pete Galik, Daryl Berezik and Gen. Tut Daskevich

There were a dozen different European nationalities among Thurber's immigrant coal miners. The most populous of the foreign-born were the Italians who make up about 52% of the miners, followed by the Poles with 12%, then the Mexicans and Blacks each with about 11%. The English-speaking miners (Americans, English, Irish) comprised about 9% of this work force. Without this hard-working group of European miners the Thurber coal industry might not have succeeded.

There is no 1890 Thurber Census, but names of some of the first Poles in Thurber are available from 1893-1900 Baptismal Records. In the 1900 Thurber Census there were 161 Poles (men, women and children). This includes 54 miners, of whom 16 were from us-Pol, 9 from Ger-Pol and 29 from Rus-Pol. Some writers on Thurber misinterpret census data when they count Aus-Pols, Ger-Pols and Rus-Pols as Austrians, Germans and
Russians; respectively. By their count there were no Poles in Thurber!

Although there were 260 Poles (men, women and children) in 1910 Thurber, today there are only two Polish families remaining in the Thurber-Mingus-Strawn locale. Thurber's population was somewhat transient; therefore, census lists will show only those present during census years. For Thurber's Eastern Europeans, Baptismal Records are a more reliable means of checking on a Thurber presence.

Digging at a 30-inch layer of coal in Thurber was exceptionally arduous work, but this did provide an opportunity and escape for many emigrants from repressive European countries. In 1795, after many centuries of prominence, Poland was split into three countries: Austria-Poland, Germany-Poland and Russia-Poland. All land was confiscated. Poland's nobility status (szlachty), comprising about 10% of the population, was abolished. Uprisings against the ruling countries were harshly crushed, each uprising bringing increasingly brutal reprisals. Domination of Poland lasted until after WWI (125 years), but amazingly, the Poles never lost their ethnicity.

The first Eastern European miners (mostly Italians and Polish) came to Thurber probably in response to advertisement in the northeastern mining regions of the U.S. Then, it was letters, often with passage money enclosed, sent to brothers and cousins in the "Old Country". The Italian and Polish miners were a key determinant in the unionization of Thurber, for these two groups comprised the majority of miners (over 60%). By Fall 1889, a year after organizing the Texas and Pacific Coal Co. (no connection to T & P RR), Company President Hunter had quashed the striking Knights of Labor Union, and for 15 years Thurber was an absolute open shop. Thurber miners worked for $1./ton, 10-hour days, six days a week, and made about $35 a month. By 1903 the United Mine Workers had organized miners at nearby Lyra (Strawn) and at Rock Creek (just east of Mineral Wells). But Thurber was hard to organize because the Company would not allow any Union Activity, the barbed wire fence around Thurber kept out union organizers and there was language diversity with a dozen nationalities. However, since the Italians and Poles were the majority, the UMW would concentrate on these miners. Joe Fenoglio would work with the Italians and Jacob Galik was a natural choice for organizing the Poles.

Jacob Galik came to Thurber in 1889. He and Tillie Kozakowski were the first marriage in St. Barbara’s Church in July 1892. In 1897 they moved to Canada and then to the Rockvale Town, Colorado coal mines in 1899. By 1902 the Galiks were back in Thurber for the remainder of their lives. It is presumed that Jacob became familiar with union activities while working in Colorado and since Jacob was multi-lingual (Austrian, Hungarian, Polish, Bohemian, Swedish and English) he was well qualified to organize the Thurber miners of Slavic descent. This took courage and prudence because the company forbade any union activity on company land and suspected organizers were summarily thrown out of Thurber, often after a beating. Also, Jacob Galik was one of the 14 signers of the union demands which initiated the 1903 Thurber Coal Miners Strike. These 14 signers had "their necks on the line", literally, for of the 1903 Strike failed these signers would be gone. And Jacob had four small children.

At an important union organizational meeting on September 10, 1903 at Rocky Creek, three miles north of Thurber, UMW miners from Lyra (near Strawn) marched over to give support to the Thurber miners. And Jacob Galik translated into polish and Hungarian the words of UMW National Organizer W. M. Wardjon.

The successful 1903 Thurber Miners Strike gave a tremendous boost to the labor movement in the Southwest. While it is true there was union activity in the Southwest well before this date, it was mostly talk and little clout. Nationwide, strikes were ineffective because management, often with government help, could kill a strike. Witness Thurber’s R.D. Hunter quashing the striking Knights of Labor Union by 1889 with the help of the Texas Rangers. But after 1903, with transportation and industry dependent on Thurber coal, and Thurber firmly in the union fold, labor unions now held the “hammer”.

Thurber became a totally closed shop with every worker in Thurber belonging to one of several different unions. The Miners Strike was not a "Pyrrhic Victory" as one recent revisionist writer proclaimed because this successful strike calmed the labor unrest, the workers got a 33% pay kick, the company prospered and Thurber became a lively, modern community.

In the often seen photo of the labor-management meeting which settled the 1903 Thurber Miners Strike, there are only three men identified: UMW’s John L. Lewis, Thurber's General Manager W.K. Gordon and Company President Edgar Marston. Jacob Galik was a delegate to this meeting and in this picture he can be identified as the third man from the viewer’s right. Newspaper reports of this meeting often gave the name "Jack Garlick" for Jake Galik. Virtually all prints of this picture indicate this meeting took place in Thurber, but this is a gross error, for the meeting took place in the Worth Hotel, Fort Worth, Texas as evidenced by the caption on an untrimmed picture.

After Thurber settled down Jacob Galik bought land and built a home in nearby Mingus (Thurber Junction) in 1908. He opened a general merchandise store in 1912. He fathered 16 children and died in 1942.

It is regrettable that practically all writers of Thurber history have never acknowledged men like Jacob Galik et al. for their contributions to this historic 1903 strike. No miner was more involved in Thurber's 1903 Labor movement than Galik. The crucial determinant to the success of the UMW in Thurber was the unifying of the diverse nationalities who were in a hostile anti-union environment. And it is unfortunate that one person, Gomer Gower, is almost exclusively and overly referenced on Thurber union activities. Gower was unquestionably an authoritative source on the Knights of Labor until its extinction by 1889. And in 1892 “…employment was extended to those who promised not to join a union again.” While Gower’;s numerous letters give valuable insight to some aspects of union activities and mining, Thurber’s dominant work force, the Eastern European-born miners, have been essentially ignored by Gower and others. Gower does not mention individuals such as Fenoglio, Galik, Gardettok, Santi etc, who contributed so much to UMW success and strength in Thurber. There are other pertinent questions, such as: What tactics were used to organize the multi-ethnic miners? What about the second and much larger UMW Local, the Italian Local? What difficulties and experiences did immigrant families and miners experience when they were relocated temporarily during the 1903 strike? Why did Blacks choose to join the Italian Local? Was there a lockout in 1921? What was Tent City? What of Lawrence Sant’s valiant efforts in securing help for Tent City? Etc. The record needs to be set straight.

Gower states: "I served as secretary of that local union for the first four years of its existence and John Lloyd was its first president." FACT: John Lloyd was president but William McKinnon was secretary. Gower never mentions an extremely significant UMW event in 1906 when the Italian miners, led by Frank Vittoria, broke away from the original UMW Local #2538 of which Gower claimed to be secretary. Initially all Local union officials were Americans, despite the overwhelming majority of foreign-born members. But these officials ignored religious holidays and grievances of the immigrant miners. Thus, in order to prevent more labor unrest a second Thurber UMW Local #2753, the "Italian Local," was chartered and all Eastern European, Mexican and Black miners joined to make this Local fifteen times larger than the first UMW Local. Out of 1600 miners, Gower's figures show 900 Italian, 150 Polish and 100 Mexican miners, but he neither accounts for the 100 Black miners nor other foreign-born miners who joined the Italian Local. Surely, in some manner, this overwhelming majority of miners must have contributed to UMW success and to Thurber's vitality. But such is not evident in Gower’s writings.