In 1916, the sugar beet industry brought the first serious wave of Mexican-speaking migrants to Lovell: betabeleros, the beet workers, to hoe the fields and help with the harvest. Yet most were not Mexican nationals, but rather Spanish-speaking people from Texas, New Mexico and southeastern Colorado, wrote Augustine Redwine, then a graduate student at the University of Wyoming, in a Fall 1979 Annals of Wyoming article, “Lovell’s Mexican Colony”. While many of the workers were still “Mexican Nationals,” they had immigrated earlier and had already received resident/worker status when the Great Western Company recruited them. Some stayed, but most moved back to Texas or the Southwest.
Redwine recounted the experience of the Rodriguez family who came to Lovell in 1924 to work for the Great Western Company:
The Rodriguez family gathered their possessions and boarded the train in El Paso on May 2, 1924. Three full cars of people from all parts of Texas and Mexico made the train trip to Lovell with only one stopover on the way. At the stop in Denver, they received further instructions about where they were going. Accommodations were cramped and they were never allowed to leave the train. Bologna sandwiches, sardines, and coffee were provided for meals. When Secundino and his family arrived in Lovell, a farmer was waiting to take them to his farm and the one-room house he had for them. They also saw the acreage they were to work for the first time. It was not a small plot like the recruiter told them. Their main duties included not only working the beets but feeding the cattle as well. Rodriguez’s nephew Eusebio was recruited by a free-lance recruiter who took his money then told him his destination was Oregon. Instead, he was sent to Boise, Idaho. He came to Lovell in 1924.
There are conflicting opinions as to the date the Lovell colony was established. One long-time Lovell resident said there were some houses in the greasewood area later known as the Colony before 1923. The Great Western company’s magazine, Through the Leaves, printed two photographs of the Colony houses in 1924, indicating that the Colony had only been established that year. While accounts vary as to the number of houses built there, no more than 20 were in existence at any one time. They lined a single unpaved road at the end of which stood a building, about twice the size of the residences, that served as a meeting house.
In 1927, early in the colony’s history, residents formed an organization, the Comision Honorifica (Honorary Commission) for both social and political reasons. At one point there were 30 members, according to Eusebio Rodriguez. The Comision controlled the community meeting house, known as “El Salon,” where social functions were held as frequently as once a week. In El Salon the area’s laborers celebrated Mexican national holidays which occurred nearly every month. The Comision had committees like the Comite Patriotico (Patriotic Committee) whose chief function was to plan Mexican holiday parties.
The organizers of the Comision, Nicolas and Manuel Almazan, formed it to fight discrimination and to seek help from the Mexican consul in Denver if residents needed assistance from the outside. The social function came later. While American-born laborers could go to the police and other authorities if they had difficulties, the Mexican citizen believed his only hope lay with the Mexican consul. The Comision was the link to the consul.
Complaints of discrimination in bars, the local pool hall and restaurants were frequently made. Even in the local Catholic Church, seating for the Mexicans was divided from that for “whites.” At one point, Mexicans and African-Americans were refused admittance to bars altogether. The policy was amended to allow them to purchase beer or liquor in the bar although they were still prohibited from consuming their purchases on the premises. The sugar company remained silent about the discrimination so the only recourse was a complaint process to allow the Mexican consul to intercede in such cases.
The Comision existed until 1940 when Mexican membership dropped off. The founders, the Almazan brothers, left that year and the others moved away to join the war effort, returned to Mexico or simply lost interest. The Colony was demolished in 1954. At that time, there were 20 houses, and the majority of the residents were related to Secundino Rodriguez. When the colony closed, they found quarters in town or in the surrounding area.
Excerpted from “Lovell’s Mexican Colony” by Augustin Redwine, Annals of Wyoming 51 (Fall 1979): pp. 26-35.