We Are One Family


Jesteśmy jedną rodziną


Karen Ballek and Leon Washut are the grandchildren of ethnic Poles who settled in the northern Wyoming coal mining camps. Their initial search for family history expanded into a broader study that brought to light important information about immigrant Poles and an interesting pattern of Polish immigration that changed the face of Sheridan County, Wyoming.

Their book, We Are One Family highlights stories of ethnic Poles who immigrated between 1890 and 1920. Many were Polish Górale (highlanders) who came from villages that dotted the mountains and foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Although they adapted to a new life, deeply held beliefs and traditions from their rural Polish culture became firmly rooted in Sheridan County. The stories of the immigrants’ villages in the old country, their journeys to America, and how they built a new life in Wyoming are tributes to strength, character, and the triumph of survival. The title of the book, We Are One Family (Jesteśmy jedną rodziną) was chosen to reflect the fact that ethnic Poles immigrated from a variety of areas but their experience living and working in the mining camps brought them together as one family.

The eight years of research that resulted in the book began with a series of questions.  Who were the Poles who immigrated to Sheridan County? What drove them to leave their homeland? And what drew them to Wyoming? To answer these questions, the authors reviewed family histories, read personal memoirs, and interviewed descendants of immigrants. Oftentimes incomplete or competing information emerged as family histories were shared. To fill in gap or sort out conflicting information, ship manifests, naturalization documents, census data, school and church records, cemetery archives, genealogical research, and other written materials were reviewed. The authors also traveled to the historic city of Kraków, villages along the Carpathian Mountain Range, and other regions in Poland to conduct interviews and gather information. The culmination of this research was organized into three sections of the book.

Section I examines the backdrop of Polish history that led ethnic Poles to leave their homeland.  It also explores the social and economic conditions in Wyoming that drew them to Sheridan County. This section begins with a poignant firsthand account of four immigrants who embarked on the journey of a lifetime that brought them to Wyoming.

When the Polish immigrants first arrived in Sheridan County, most initially lived and worked in the coal mining camps north of Sheridan. Section II relates the experiences of Poles who lived in the mining camps between the 1890s and the closing of the Monarch mine in 1953.

Section III follows the Americanization process and explores stereotypes that plagued the immigrant generation and their descendants. And finally, it examines the contributions of Poles to the culture and economy of Sheridan County.

Read Chapter 1 Here

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