Arizona’s mining camps were full of immigrants. The 1882 Great Register of Cochise County listed residents born in Algiers, Argentina, Australia, Azores, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Finland French Guinea, Greece, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia and Spain. There was even one resident born at sea.
The variety of ethnic cultures left a stamp on Arizona’s mining history.
Bisbee, Globe and Jerome had sizable Serbo-Croatian communities that participated in the ups and downs of Arizona’s mines. More than any other group, they kept their ethnic identity and customs, often supported by their association with the Serbian Orthodox church.
An early Serbian immigrant to Bisbee was J.B. Angius. He had joined kin in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1874, where he was apprenticed to businessmen who ran the saloons, grocery stores and restaurants that served the miners of the Comstock Lode. When the Comstock played out, Angius, along with others, came to Bisbee.
Another Serb immigrant, David Milutinovich, a cousin of Angius’s wife, arrived in Bisbee in 1890, and went to work in the V.G. Medigovich grocery store, which was supplied by J.B. Angius’ wholesale business.
As the mining town boomed, there was plenty of work and opportunity for all, so the Serbians suffered no discrimination. The camp included more than 40 mining companies, and money circulated freely. In 1902, Bisbee incorporated, and Angius served on the first city council.
Milutinovich, an independent spirit, quarreled with his uncle and his employer, Vaso Medigovich, and left the business community. He worked for the Douglas Company and later as a miner at the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company. He would become a union member and strike leader.
Angius pursued a business career, was active in founding a new Bisbee bank, and with a lumberman from Globe, Anton Tojanovich, incorporated the Bisbee Lumber Company.
In 1903, Angius and Tojanovich helped form the first Serbian benevolent society of Bisbee, Srpska Sloga. It was affiliated with the National Union of Serbian Brotherhood which contributed to national and international causes and supplied relief goods following the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Bisbee’s Serbian tug-of-war team was also organized in 1903.
Both Angius and Trojanovich maintained traditional Serbian homes, and both married women in the Serbian Orthodox Church of their homeland.
When Angius died at his home on Aug. 25, 1904, at the age of 47, the Bisbee newspaper eulogized him as “one of the pioneer businessmen.”
But times were changing. Sentiment against foreigners flooded the country following the assassination of President William McKinley by anarchist Leon Czolgosz in 1901. Bisbee’s newspapers stopped reporting on miners unless they were in accidents or in trouble with the law, and began to editorialize against foreigners.
The Clifton Copper Era wrote: “In every instance expressions of that kind have come from foreigners, very few of whom have adopted citizenship. For years past our country has been flooded with the lowest class of Europeans… They are moral and intellectual degenerates, vicious beasts…” The Bisbee Daily Review became decidedly hostile toward Serbs and wrote: “Bisbee has always been ‘White Man’s Camp’…”
In 1907, Milutinovich joined the Western Federation of Miners and served on a union grievance committee. The committee approached Bisbee’s mining companies with two demands: that the union be recognized and that company blacklists of union miners and sympathizers be abolished.
A strike was called, and David Milutinovich’s name appeared on the strike bulletins. The mining companies tried to break the strike and sued the union, which counter sued. The court ordered the strikers to cease and desist.
In December of 1907, copper prices dropped and the union voted to call off the strike. Milutinovich found it impossible to find work in Bisbee, so he went to Tyrone, New Mexico. During his absence his house burned down. By 1910, the mines were hiring again, but Milutinovich could not get work under his own name, so he changed it to Dave Davis.
Three years later, when the union again called a strike, he elected to continue working. He had gained nothing, he felt, as a striker.
Milutinovich retired in the 1930s with $1,200 and died in Warren, a suburb of Bisbee, in 1942.
Many more Serbs and men and women of other ethnic groups contributed to Arizona’s rich mining history. They survived, not because it was easy, but because they endured.
– Jane Eppinga. Photo courtesy of the author.