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The following article is a transcription by Gary L. Gorsha of an article originally printed in the February 15, 1995 issue of PROSVETA. My editorial comments and additions are enclosed in [brackets].

Page Created: April 2, 2000

Page Updated: April 4, 2000

ęCopyright 2000 Gary L. Gorsha

Pioneer Slovene settlers reached into many parts of American history

The following is an example of the writings of historian Joze Zavertnik examining pioneer Slovene settlers in "Ameriski Slovenci." The piece was translated by [SNPJ] Lodge 218 President Joseph Drasler.

A very interesting report was submitted by Jacob Stonich, a travelling retailer of gold jewelry and watches who wrote about Slovene settlers from the era preceeding[?] the Revolutionary War of 1776-83.


Jacob Stonich came to America on Aug. 1, 1883. Chicago was his primary destination where he became personally acquainted with the individual men he writes about.

For original Slovene immigrants, Chicago was a prime gathering ground, or waterhole, probably because most of these early settlers were either merchants or packpeddlers who came to the city to purchase goods they later retailed to house-to-house customers in the states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan.

At first, most of these men were mainly packpeddlers, known as "krosnjarji" in Slovene; then later, some settled in other small cities, while a number of them settled in Chicago.

It was Joseph Gorse's firm belief that he was the very first Slovene to settle in Chicago, this in the year 1847. He was born in Semisk Parish in the homeland.

When Gorse passed on, he left behind a large fortune in properties and land he had acquired through hard manual labor. He began his career by working in various occupations, with his main interest developing into selling firewood.

Chicago was just a small town at that time. Money was hard to come by and many times his customers paid him with offers of small plots of land.

Land and property ownership brought Gorse great wealth in an era when the city began its rapid growth and expansion.

Among the original Slovene settlers in Chicago we also find Mihael Tometz, probably Tomec. He came to America around 1850 as a packpeddler. He sold gold jewelry, watches and other items in the states of Illinois and Iowa. Later he opened an inn or saloon on the corner of Canal and 16th Street.

During his time, he was the best known saloon-keeper, not only among Slovenes, but among other nationalities as well. He was born in the village of Jernej in Crnomelje.

John Pepel arrived in this country in 1851 and worked as a packpeddler originally, then became a saloon-keeper on Canal Street.

John Zagar came to America around 1856. At first he worked as a packpeddler in Illinois and other states, after which he settled down in Chicago and established a mercantile business on Canal Street. Later, he moved his business venture to Halstead and 12th Street.

Among the oldest Slovene settlers was George Cernic. He settled in Chicago about 1848.

J. Rozich, the eldest of the Slovenes in Chicago at the time this history was compiled in 1925, lived at 4146 Jackson Boulevard. He believed that Cernic came to the city before Gorse did.

Cernic was also first a packpeddler, then a saloon-keeper. His place of business was on Canal Street --- the favorite gathering place for all Slovene activities.

Joseph Turk settled in the bustling City of Chicago about 1855. He also began as a packpeddler. Afterwards, he ventured into the mercantile business in Lenark, Illinois.

In 1880 he established another business --- furniture manufacturing --- known as Frank Mayer & Company. This business name was later changed to Mayer-Turk. He then moved to Kankakee, Ill., and opened a plant for manufacturing iron beds.

Following his death, his business was taken over by his son, Frank Turk, who died in 1925.

Colorado, Utah & Montana

John Witine was also among the first Slovene settlers in America. He came here around 1852 and began his career as a packpeddler, then moved westward to seek his fortune.

He once panned gold on the site where Leadville, Colo., is now located. Enduring extremely difficult times there, as gold prospectors had to practically live off the land, he departed Colorado and travelled to the state of Utah in search of gold and other valuable ores.

When he first came to Salt Lake City it was nothing more than a small village. Prospectors played cards for small pieces of gold which Americans referred to as "nuggets," and for chicken eggs which were highly-prized delicacies among the gold seekers.

From Utah he moved on to Montana where he continued panning for gold around Montana City, which was one of the liveliest cities during the days of gold prospecting in the West. At the present time, only the wreakage of mining operations remain on the site of that once busy city. He also spent some time prospecting in the city of Helena, Mont.

Upon his return to Chicago, he married and opened a saloon on Halstead and 19th Street, which he sold, then opened another on Taylor and Lincoln Streets.

Another Slovene pioneer in America was Joseph Stalcar who came here in 1855. He worked in Chicago for a short time then opened a retail store dealing in various everyday necessities. Later he sold his business and departed for Kansas where he settled on a farm.

He returned to Chicago in 1881, and after working a while for the Meyer Company he opened his own food store. Stalcar lived to a ripe old age and saw his family grow over four generations --- his son, Joseph Stalcar, his grandson and great-grandson's families.

John Stonich Sr. arrived in New Orleans in 1855 in a sailboat. He was on the ocean for 96 days. He served in the Civil War as a volunteer, returning home with the title of lieutenant. After the war he settled in Chicago where he died in 1915.

California & Washington

Matt Malnarich from Enumclaw, Wash., reported that the first two Slovene immigrants in California were Stefan Kocevar from Semica, Slovenia, and Jozef Stukel.

They were both settled in California in 1858 and prospecting for gold there. Stefan Kocevar returned to the old country in 1865. His stories told about American life, excited great interest among the people, especially when he talked about gold and showed American gold pieces which he claimed were worth fifty goldinars each.

Michigan, Minnesota & Montana

Copper ore was discovered on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan around 1845. A few years later, miners began arriving and settling in Red Jacket. As early as 1845, 12 tons of copper was produced and from 1847 on, more copper was mined in the state of Michigan than in any other state until large scale production began in Montana and Arizona.

Copper ore was a big attraction for workmen and businessmen. The first Slovene miners arrived there in 1856. They were Joseph Vertin from Doblic, Slovenia, and Peter Rupe from Poljan ob Kolti. At first, they peddled goods to the miners and farmers.

From packpeddling they advanced to merchants and shareholders. Other Slovenes followed in their footsteps, leading to the establishment of the city of Red Jacket which became incorporated in 1875.

Peter Rupe was elected as first mayor of Red Jacket, Mont. One of the oldest Slovene settlements was the farming community of Brookway, Minn. The first settlers arrived in that area in 1866. It is very likely that Slovene missionaries assisted in establishing that community.

Among these missionaries were Franc Pirec, born in Godica, near Kamnik, Slovenia. He came to this country in 1853. His missionary work among Indians and the first white settlers spanned a period of 17 years. He lived to age 96, was 15 years old when he came here and passed away in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Lovrenc Lavtizar was born in Kranjska gora. He arrived in America in 1854 along with Andrej Andolsek, Jurij Godec, Andrej Skopec, Janez Cebal, Jacob Trobec (who became a bishop), Ignacij Mrak (who also became a bishop) and some others.

Among these pioneer Slovenes were seven Gorjenci mountaineers who settled in Brookway, Minn. Other Slovene immigrants followed in their footsteps.