National Hispanic Heritage Month, which spans the period from September 15 to October 15, was first observed as a heritage week under President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 then became a federally recognized heritage month under President Ronald Regan in 1988.
Wyoming has much to celebrate during Hispanic Heritage Month. Much of what is today Wyoming’s Red Desert remained part of Mexico until the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo forced the Mexican government to cede what is now much of the southwestern U.S. in 1848. But that change of legal borders didn’t change the fact that people of Mexican heritage continued to live and work throughout Wyoming. In the 20th century, many new residents who were either Mexican Nationals or Mexican Americans from California, Texas, and New Mexico (primarily) migrated to Wyoming to work on the railroads and in agricultural industries. With a boom in the 1920s, the sugar beet industry of northern, central, and southeastern Wyoming drew a large population of Mexican and Mexican American field workers.
On the American Heritage Center’s online digital database, researchers can view the Powell Tribune’s La Pagina Español (The Spanish Page) in the Gonzalo Guzman Newspaper Collection (Collection #12782). The section in Spanish only ran for one season in 1927, then disappeared. So, why would the Powell Tribune run a page for its Spanish-speaking residents for a few months in 1927, then never again? The answer lies in the history of the Great Western Sugar Company and the early migrant workers to Powell’s sugar beet fields.
The Great Western Sugar Company was founded in northern Colorado in 1900. They operated facilities throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Montana. The Lovell, Wyoming processing facility was opened in 1916 to accommodate the harvests coming in from the area beet farms, including those around the town of Powell.
Because they were having trouble finding enough local laborers to staff the fields and the factories, they hired recruiting agents to bring Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans from the southwestern states to work in the sugar beet fields of Wyoming and neighboring states. Since there was also a housing shortage in the Lovell and Powell areas during this time, they also began establishing Mexican “colonies,” which were essentially clusters of company-built or employee-built (with company supplies) housing for Mexican migrant workers to live in while working the fields. Other workers were provided housing by individual sugar beet farm owners, of varying quality and size.
As the sugar beet acreage and yield continued to grow, the Great Western Sugar Company recognized the dire need for Mexican and Mexican American laborers. They set out in several ways to appeal to these workers and their families and encouraged the local community to make them feel welcome. In 1929, the company took out a very large ad in the local newspaper, the Powell Tribune, with a detailed list of eight ways sugar beet farmers could make their Mexican laborers feel welcomed and cared for. These suggestions included providing “reasonable living accommodations,” access to food and other necessities, providing good tools to work with, and treating them with “friendliness and patience,” particularly since many of them could “understand English only very imperfectly or not at all.”
In 1927, the company went so far as to publish an entire page in Spanish in the Powell Tribune and called it, simply, La Pagina Español. It ran from May 26 through October 27, 1927, roughly covering the agricultural season from planting to harvest when Spanish-speaking migrant workers increased the population in the Powell area by several hundred.
The first issue welcomed “seven hundred and more Spanish speaking residents to the Powell valley.” The Great Western Sugar Company enlisted two of their worker agents, a Mr. Fernandez and a Mr. Pacheco, to write the articles that would be of interest to the migrant workers and “bring these beet workers into closer contact with our way of life.” The company introduced La Pagina Español: “We want you to be interested in this community, in our beautiful valley, in our schools and churches, and we know no better way than to take a page out in the Tribune in your own language.”
Articles often included news on the beet fields and harvest but also included community news such as marriage and death announcements, a recipes section, sports news (the beet workers had baseball teams as well), and advertisements for local businesses (in both English and Spanish).
Beyond the page in the newspaper, the company also sponsored dances and picnic dinners for the Spanish-speaking population. They held meetings in Spanish and tried to encourage them to become permanent residents (so as not to lose them to other farms in the next season). In the final issue with a page in Spanish, the company wrote:
Now, knowing that some of our esteemed subscribers have resolved to leave for other regions, we have found ourselves in the painful necessity of suspending this page in Spanish, sincerely regretting that their determination has been to venture, instead of settling in this place where the honorable and hard-working Mexican, or those of any other nationality, is also appreciated, and where every man already established with his family always finds the necessary help to survive, and when he has already established his work and demonstrated that he is a worthy man, everyone enjoys the general esteem of Powelanders. Our best wishes to them, hoping to see them here next spring.
In the company’s estimation, treating the field workers with friendliness and patience increased the likelihood that they would do a good job. However, discrimination was present in the community and efforts to help the Spanish speaking population was tinged with condescension. For instance, an article published in the January 1929 Tribune was titled “Pitty [sic] the Poor Mexican.” It articulated that those beet workers who did not leave in the winter lived on the company’s dole during the winter months and, being from “southern climes” had no idea how to live through winter. The article claimed they wore light clothing and “lacked the ingenuity” to better the poor housing they were provided to make it through the winter. Though the article called them “good-natured, accommodating, peaceful citizens,” they claimed they must learn to “better provide for themselves” if they wished to stay in Powell during the winter months.
It was also reported in 1929 that Mexican children were being segregated in school. Earl Collins, who was tasked to teach the Spanish-speaking children and even went to Laramie for extra training to teach these children, thought it best to keep them separated. They claimed that he students “respond much more” in a class by themselves than with “American” children (by which they meant English-speaking since some of these children were Mexican American) and they saw it as their duty to make sure children ages six to nine were “in school as much as possible” because after that, they would be working the beet fields with the parents and would get no education.
Mexican and Mexican-American migrant workers continued to travel to Powell and the other sugar beet farming areas of Wyoming, and many stayed to become permanent residents of those towns. The Great Western Sugar Company changed hands a few times in the mid-20th century and in 2002, it was acquired by growers who formed the Western Sugar Cooperative. Sugar beet farming is still a major industry in the Powell area today. Although the sugar beet industry attracted a large Spanish-speaking population, La Pagina Español was never again published after 1927.
Note: All the editions of the Powell Tribune that contain La Pagina Español and more can also be viewed in full, thanks to the Wyoming Newspaper Project at https://wyomingnewspapers.org/
Translations by the author.
Post contributed by Brigida Blasi, Public History Educator, American Heritage Center.
About. National Hispanic Heritage Month. https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/about/
“Earl Collins, who is to teach.” The Powell Tribune, May 23, 1929.
Killough, Kevin. “After difficult years, beet growers wary,” The Powell Tribune, March 12, 2020.
“Pitty the Poor Mexicans.” The Powell Tribune, January 31, 1929.
Redwine, Augustin. “Lovell’s Mexican Colony.” The Annals of Wyoming 51, no. 2 (1979): 26-35.
“Spanish-Americans and Mexicans to Picnic Sunday at the Fair Grounds,” The Powell Tribune, May 26, 1927.
“Sugar Company Holds Meetings in Spanish.” The Powell Tribune, May 12, 1927.
“The Important Work of Thinning Now Ready to Begin,” The Powell Tribune, May 30, 1929. “There are seventeen children,” The Powell Tribune, September 26, 1929.