|THE INCOMING OF THE POLES.
The Growing Colony in the Farming Towns in the South part of This Country.
Thought To Be a Better Class of Citizens Than Those That Have Settled in the
Manufacturing Towns--A Possible Solution of the Abandoned Farm Question--Some
Picturesque Features of Their Life--They Play a Stiff Game of Poker.
The incoming of a considerable Polish population to the towns of Whately, Deerfield
and Sunderland and Hatfield, as well as in less numbers to other towns in this
county, is one of the most interesting features of the life of this county at
the present time. The life of the Polish inhabitants of the mill towns, such
as the colony at Turners Falls has been many times described in the daily papers,
but comparatively little attention has been given to their incoming to the farming
towns. The Boston Transcript published recently an interesting article which
we reprinted last week, discussing in rather alarmist fashion, the settlement
of the Poles on the farms in the country towns. Judging from the talk of the
people of the towns above named in the southern part of this county, the immigration
of the Poles is rather to be welcomed than discouraged.
The settlement of Poles in these three towns named has been going on about
10 years. A well informed South Deerfield man estimates that there are now 100
Polish people in South Deerfield, reckoning in the outlying part of the town
for a distance of three miles from that village. It is claimed that there are
not less than that number in Sunderland, and also in Whately. Their number varies
to a considerable extent, as there are considerably many more in summer
than in winter. Those who own some property now stay the year around; but the
many who come in to work as farm hands, generally hiring themselves out for
about eight months, in winter time go off to work in the coal mines or other
fields of labor. The estimate made above includes some who are not strictly
Poles, but who come from parts of Europe near Poland, are so like the genuine
Poles that they are commonly grouped under the same head.
The immigration of Poles to the farms began with their coming into work as
farm hands. They are a very industrious people, and their hard training in the
school of labor on their own Russian steppes has given them an ability to get
a living out of pieces of ground at which the American farmer would turn up
his nose. Consequently there have been many, who after a few years of work as
hired men on farms, have seen good chances to buy out little places of their
own. The records of the local registry of deeds will show that a considerable
number of these people are securing little farms. They generally take some piece
of run-down land which can be had cheap. It may or may not have much if any
farm buildings. They rarely buy over 10 or 15 acres, and do not often pay over
$500 to $800 for the property.
Thus while the Poles who first came to the county have in many cases made some
purchase of land and located themselves, others have come in to take their places
as farm hands in the employ of the American farmers. It is said that nearly
every farmer in Sunderland has one or more Poles working for him. Their tendency
is strong to stay in the towns that have a railroad. If they continue to come
more and more into such towns, they will before long get possession of all the
pieces of property that are to be had for low prices, and will go further back
into the hill towns, where they will find plenty of property from which they will be able
to get a living.
While the Poles in their farming methods on their own farms show considerable
ignorance of the best methods, they are really superior to the poorer class
of farmers of American birth. Such points as the use of fertilizers, they of
course do not understand very well, but they are imitative, and are constantly
copying their neighbors. Their great merit is their untiring industry. Exceedingly
frugal in their methods, they will make considerable savings on a very small
It is related of one Pole at South Deerfield that he built a tobacco barn 100
by 30, that cost him about $200. He bought a little piece of timber for about
$50, went on to it in winter when he could not earn money any other way, cut
his trees, and got enough timber to build the barn. The whole cost was what
he had to pay out for his saw-bill and for some carpenter work. It is told of
another that he got this barn of about 50 by 40 for about $100. He cut his timber
and hewed out a good deal of it by hand, even hewing the rafters on one side.
Another help in the earning capacity of the Polish families is the disposition
of the woman to do hard word. It is not an uncommon sight in the towns to the
south of Greenfield to see the women, dressed in man's clothes, down on their
knees weeding in the onion bed, thus adding to the total product of the family
labor. The result of such untiring labor can only be one thing, and there are
not wanting those who prophecy that 25 years from to-day, if these Poles remain,
as seems likely, they will be rich men.
In their farm work the average Pole is pretty avaricious when it comes to disposing
of his product. If he raises onions, he is likely to put in many specimens that
should be thrown out. More of the Polish farmers have gone into onion raising
than into tobacco, for the reason that a barn is required for tobacco, and it
takes time to get the capital to put it up. It is thus evident that the incoming
of these people furnishes ready to hand a solution of the abandoned farm problems
that some will consider desirable and others not. At the rate the Poles are
coming in to the country, it can hardly be doubted that the next 10 years will
see a considerable influx of them to the Franklin hills. That they could make
many of the farms that have grown up to brush pay there is no doubt. In their
favor it should be said that they would add just so much to the taxable property
of the hills by their settlement, and in what they paid for groceries and supplies
of all kinds would stimulate business in such villages, thus adding to the general
Nor does it appear that their coming bodes, much danger in the way of deeds
of violence. It is an almost universal rule that their occasional assaults are
almost invariably on those of their own nationality. They almost never offer
to molest in any way any person outside their own people. But the Poles will
not be much value as citizens for many years. They are too slow moulded, too
steeped in the conditions of life in which they and their ancestors have lived
for centuries on their home soil, to become for a long time imbued with American
ideas. Their social relations are rather proomiscuus.
All in all, however, the people of South Deerfield and the other towns where
they are coming in say that they are not a bad class of citizens. They appear
to be pretty honest in their business dealings; their trade is said to be valued
at the stores. It is claimed that they are much superior to those that have
filled up Chicopee and Holyoke, and have done so much to make those places look
like foreign towns.
It would almost paralyze an American family, trained in fairly comfortable
ways of living, to know for how little Polish people can live. The story is
told of a man who took dinner one day with some Polish wood-choppers who were
cutting off a lot in Conway. They had baked beans, fried pork, potatoes, and
bread, and altogether what seemed like a passable lay-out for the rough life
of the woods. "How much do you suppose it cost me to live for a week?"
asked one of them on their visitor, and on further inquiry it was found that
the expense was but 80 cents apiece for a week. It is said that nearly every
Pole who is living with his wife in South Deerfield, Sunderland, and Whately
makes a business of taking one or more boarders. They prefer to furnish both
board and room, for which they are supposed to get about $2.50 a week. There
are some of the single men, however, who live a great deal more cheaply than
that. They are believed to get their room for about 25 cents a week, and it
is claimed that they can get their living for 50 cents a week. To do this they
get their bread of their boarding mistress, and do their own cooking over the
common family stove. A house may contain two or three families, but it is said
that there rarely is more than one stove, all using this one for their various
messes. When one thinks of this, some explanation is afforded of the amount
of quarreling that goes on among these people.
These statements as to the little it costs them to live sound almost incredible,
but when one thinks that some of these Polish boarding houses accommodate as
many as four beds in one room, of which three are double beds, one does not
wonder that but little money is charged. The men take care of their own rooms,
some of which would frighten a tidy New England housewife out of a year's growth.
The beds are said generally to look as if the occupants went to bed with their
boots and all their clothes on.
As to the low cost of food, that can be imagined by watching them hang around
the butchers' shop for cheap pieces of meat. Necks, flanks, meat that has been
carried too long in the cart, are what they want, and they want something for
from two to three cents a pound. There is one thing about them, that they are
rather helpful to each other in misfortune, and a man who is out of work will
be taken care of for almost nothing. And on the other side, there are said to
be but few complaints because they do not pay their bills. It is an interesting
feature of the Polish family life that the woman of the family is said almost
invariably to be the treasurer. The reason for that is said to be that the Polishmen
are rather suspicious of each other. If they go out to one of their break-downs,
where the use of considerable liquor is to be expected, they seem to think that
their money will be safer at home, and no doubt their wives think so too. The
crowding of the Polish boarding houses is pretty close, though not as much so
as tin he manufacturing towns. One case is reported from South Deerfield, where
in a house having three rooms on the first floor and two on the upper floor,
there are three families living, with one boarder.
There appears to be no doubt that this colony of Poles has improved considerably
since they first invaded these towns. There are fewer drunken bouts. If they
have any break-downs of any kind, like the christenings, weddings and dances
which the city Poles are celebrating all the time, they generally go back to
some of their farm houses away from the village, where they can make considerable
noise without disturbing anyone. The women are no doubt becoming neater in their
habits. When they first come in they are not ordinarily tidy at all; but since
the immigration commenced, very many of them have worked in nice homes in Greenfield,
Northampton and surrounding towns, with the result that they have learned a
great deal of the desirability of orderly methods of living. Compared with the
prominence of the Poles of Chicopee and Holyoke before the police courts, they
have been comparatively little before the district court of this town. In the
cities above named it is very common to have up a dozen or more of them as the
result of their Sunday celebrations, but it is estimated there have not been
more than a dozen of them before the district court here in a year. The ones
who make the most disturbance are those that have recently come in to work as
farm hands, in the first stage of their life here. Those who have been here
a few years are said to be pretty orderly.
South Deerfield looks like a little Poland on some of their church holidays.
The Polish priest comes up from Holyoke or Chicopee about twice a year to hold
service and the people pour in from all the surrounding towns.
Although rather quarrelsome among themselves, the Poles make little trouble
with the officers. One of the latter tells how he found a Pole one night lying
very drunk on the steps of a building. He shook him, the Pole moved uneasily,
and told the officer to go to the place of eternal torment, adding some language
not found in well edited Sunday school books. On being shaken a little more,
and discovering that a well-known officer had hold of him, he seemed to sober
off in a single moment, came to himself, begged pardon profusely and went off.
From the frugal habits of the Poles as described above, it may well be imagined
that they save up a good deal of money. Of this a large part goes to the friends
left at home, but no little finds its way into the savings banks.
It is said that the Poles in these country towns are doing some pretty stiff
gambling. They have a game that is not unlike poker. They deal out the cards
face up and there is no drawing of additional cards as in poker. The man that
has the best hand takes the "pot." The peculiar feature of the game
is that as long as they play, the man who wins the last hand takes all the "pots"
that have preceded that hand. The less "sandy" are frozen out early
in the game, and thus lose their chance at the whole hand, which goes to the
man who winds the last hand of the game, and which is the inducement that
leads some of the bolder to remain in the game
to the finish. It is said to be quite a trick for the man who owns the house
where the game takes place, called "the boss," to wait until he wins
a hand, then declare the game closed, so he rakes in the stakes of the whole
evening. The "ante" is said to be 10 cents and more often a quarter,
and it is claimed that it is by no means an unusual thing for the winner of
an evening's game to take in from $15 to $20.
The Poles have not been here long enough so that there are many of their children
in school. They were mostly single men and women when they came over, and if
any had children they generally left them at home. Many have been married and
had children since their immigration and some of the oldest of these are now
beginning to appear in the lower grades of the schools.