The Italian Presence in the Coal Camp of Thurber, Texas
Thurber was not a Sicilian Community as one writer has referenced, because 95% of the Thurber Italians were from northern Italy. Adjacent to Thurber's "Italian Hill" but just outside the city limits, there were four Italian saloon/grocery stores: Mazzano, Ronchetti, Sealfi and Corona. These "Mom and Pop" stores stocked the salamis, cheeses, pastas and olive oils needed for Italian cooking and which were not available in the company store.
The Italians comprised 25% of Thurber's total population but 52% of the coal miners were Italians. Importantly, a source of contentment and a great morale booster for young, homesick Italian miners was the feeling of family and home which was engendered by the hard work of the Italian wives who cooked tasty Italian meals for their boarders. Italian families often took in boarders for $18. a month. The wives, with pregnancies and small children underfoot, still prepared a work lunch and two full meals a day and did the laundry for their boarders. One family had three kids and 18 boarders
With the majority of the miners, the Italians were a key determinant in the unionization of Thurber in 1903. Joe Fenoglio was sent in by UMW to organize the Italians. And Gior Giuseppe, Peter Grosso and John Rolando were among the 14 signers of the union demands which initiated the 1903 Thurber Coal Miners Strike. Tony Gardetto worked as an interpreter. This strike was not a "Pyrrhic Victory" as one recent writer proclaimed because this strike calmed the labor unrest, the workers got a 33% pay kick, the company prospered and Thurber became a great place to live.
In 1906 at mine #7, Frank Vittoria led a protest by Italian miners which resulted in the granting of a second UMW Local, "The Italian Local." Lawrence Santi and Lee Americo, both bilingual, were state legislative representatives for the Italian Local.
Because of the innate musicality of the Italians, Thurber was a musical city. Italian wives would sing as they did their daily chores, washing clothes over an outdoor fire and a scrub board and baking bread in an outdoor oven. The Italians jammed the Opera House to hear classical opera by touring troupes and there were free concerts at the Band Stand. The sound of music pervaded Thurber from a dozen outstanding bands, some of which were staffed from a pool of accomplished Italian musicians. Bart Bertino and Dan Raffael were two well-known maestros.
One way to help the process of "Americanization" was to own a piece of America but non possibile in Thurber because of company-owned land. There was land just to the north in the suburb of Thurber Junction. Several Italians owned businesses and homes in Thurber Junction: Santi Drug Store and Paper route; Peretti's Ice and Garage; Auda Grocery; Taramino picture show and dance hall; Vietti Meat Market; Gazzalo Furniture; Meneghetti Saloon; Lenzini Tavern; Rech Grocery; Castaldo Grocery; Solignani Saloon.
When the company began laying off miners in 1921, some turned to bootlegging. The Italians were noted for their "grappo" (grape) whiskey. With the Ranger Oil Boom 15 miles west, Thurber Junction was an oasis for the thirsty oil field workers.
By 1933 Thurber was being dismantled and moved away, brick by brick and house by house. From almost 1000 Italians in Thurber at one time, today there are only four Italian descendants remaining in nearby Thurber Junction/Mingus. And the only visible evidence of a past Italian presence in Thurber is bocce ball courts at NY Hill.