Prospering on the farm in Bristol
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
This is the second story from Joseph Andrew “Tony” Tonozzi.
Tonozzi: My dad was born in Italy in 1880. When he was in his early 20s he and his brother traveled to Ethiopia to work on the roads to get enough money to buy tickets to the United States for himself, his brother and his four sisters. Their parents had died leaving dad and his brother to look after their younger sisters. They came through Ellis Island in 1902.
They had some friends in Ladd, Illinois, who told them they could come work in the coal mines. My dad went to work in the mines there, and that’s when he met my mom. She had a job fixing lunches for the coal miners. My mom didn’t have an easy time of it. There were 13 in her family, and she lost six of them in one year to diptheria.
The mine in Ladd was a three-foot coal vein. The miners would have to crawl in on their bellies, pick ax the coal and drag it out to where they could put it on a cart. Mom and Dad heard about a six-foot mine down in Taylorville, Illinois. The miners were able to stand up in the Taylorville mine, and it was a little safer.
Dad worked the mines in Illinois until 1908. That’s when one of my sisters started having trouble with asthma real bad and the doctor said “You better move to Colorado ’cause the air is better for you there.” So they moved to Sand Creek and lived in an old house there. They damn near starved to death. They didn’t have much of anything at that time.
Luckily, my folks met a man who needed a big family to work a farm for him near Bristol, Colorado. That’s where they prospered. Dad was a carpenter. He worked on the farm, too, but he preferred to have his sons do the farm work while he went off and did carpentry work.
Gallacher: What are your earliest memories of the farm?
Tonozzi: Well, following the horses around. We had an old Italian man that moved in with us. He was like an uncle to me. He would let me come along with him, and I would follow along behind the harrow and the plows. They started us working on the stacker team putting up hay at about 5 years old.
I would drive the team up and then pull them back so the hay could get stacked. When we were mowing hay we would have four teams of horses and four mowing machines lined up right behind each other. They would let me drive the team in the back. I felt part of it.
I remember one Fourth of July our bull had gotten away from our herd. Dad says to me, “If you go get that bull I’ll give you 50 cents.” My brother wouldn’t let me use his horse and I had an old plow horse that I knew wouldn’t work, so I borrowed the neighbor’s horse and went looking for the bull. I found him about two or three miles from home down along the Arkansas River in a neighbor’s herd.
He didn’t want to come home. Every time I tried to cut him out of the herd he would try to gore the horse. Finally, that horse had had enough. He got around behind the bull and got the bull’s tail in his mouth and started biting. That bull took off for home and never looked back. And I got my 50 cents.
We were an industrious family. Everybody was working hard. We had cows and horses and pigs and some sheep. We drove the cows to the pasture every morning and would go get them every night. We milked the cows every morning at five.
Everything was put up there at the house. We cured hams, made sausage, raised chickens and honeybees. I loved the smell of the hams curing in the basement.
Dad made wine every fall. The Italians in that area would pool their money and have grapes shipped in from California. The first wine of the season was the best wine, the second wine was when the same grapes were pressed again. It was pretty good, but he’d have to add a lot of sugar to the third wine to make it ferment. You could always tell which of his friends were his good friends. Good friends were always served the first wine.
Gallacher: What about your mom?
Tonozzi: She was a pretty loving ol’ gal. We never talked much of love in our family, but we always knew how much she loved us by the way she treated us. I remember on cold winter nights she would put a blanket in the oven and wrap me and my sister in this warm blanket and run us into bed. Sometimes if she had been ironing she would wrap the warm iron in cloth and put it at the foot of our bed. She was a very spiritual person.
Dad had a lot of love but he never showed much. Mom was kinda the spark plug of the family. When we kids would come home from the dances late at night she would still be awake sitting out on the porch saying her rosary.
Immigrant Stories runs every Monday in the Post Independent.
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