„and as regards the (…) I alredy wrote you in two Letters but I’ll writte you once again”
– from Joseph Bock’s letter to his son.
But for the memory of family and friends, but for care and coincidence, the story of Joseph Bocek, one of millions of emigrants who came to the United States, would have disappeared at the time of his death. His grave is now just a piece of lawn, unmarked and never visited. None of the present inhabitants of the area in which he worked and lived for the last 20 years of his life, never heard and never uttered his name. However, in the village which he left for great America his grandchildren and great-grandchildren take care of relics of the ancestor, so Joseph Bocek is still alive in their memory.
Joseph Bocek was born as Józef Bocek on 11 March 1876 in Istebna – a highland village in the Silesian Beskids. He had eight siblings, his father’s name was Piotr and mother’s Elżbieta. June 1, 1901, he married his wife Jadwiga. They had seven children. If it hadn’t been for Józef’s emigration, his biography would have been pretty ordinary, perhaps less dramatic and perhaps longer than 77 years that he lived. But if it hadn’t been for that trip, Bocek wouldn’t have written down his views on the world and people, and vicissitudes, which he described in letters sent across the ocean to the family. Perhaps no one would have the chance to read and reminisce him in the letters written by his sister, sister-in-law and friends who cared about Bocek, and for many years wrote the truth about his life in the US to worried and waiting for his return family.
From Istebna to the Wild West
The whole story begins at the end of 1913, when Józef Bocek applies for a loan in the amount of 600 crowns to the Savings and Loan Association in Istebna. He wants to go to America as hundreds of other highlanders from his family village. Immediately after arrival he writes his first letter – from coal mine in Dietz, Wyoming, where many people from Istebna had already worked. This distant steppe state of the Wild West, so different from the green Beskids, will become Bocek’s second home. Miner occupation will be his permanent job in America. It was his first trip for earning; it is not known how long Józef Bocek dug coal in Dietz and if only there, but he already signs as Joseph Bocek.
Bocek decides for the second trip to the United States probably in 1933. This chapter of his emigrant life is very well documented by numerous letters sent to Poland by Bocek himself, as well as by third parties, commenting on his life in America. This time, he has found a job in a small coal mine in Shawnee, Wyoming: “I am working in a Small Coal Shaft in the winter and I earn between 2 and 3 dollars a day, but I earn nothing in the summer, so I have to save some money for the summer.” He writes about the crisis and the decrease in wages: “and as far as a success and earnings are concerned, you can only earn your livelihood, as it is like that in the entire America, and even not everybody can earn for their livelihood. Millions of people have no Job, no Home (…), now there is a depression, i.e. a Worker is repressed, there is no work, no Money, the American Government Provides for those who have no Job.”
He writes about wages on farms:“They paid from 40 to 80 dollars a Month, those, who could till the Land
[translator’s note: “zawodniowacz Rolym” in the original], received 80 dollars and more, those, who Worked with horses, received from 40.50 to 60 dollars a Month, and now those, who received 80, are paid 35 dol. only (…), and those who Work with horses receives from 50 cents a day during the harvest, and only for their livelihood in the winter.”