WELSH MINERS IN IOWA is not news to those of us who live in Southern Iowa’s coalfields. In Monroe County and others adjoining, we have the remains of once-vibrant mining camps, now mainly populated by the cemeteries of those who once lived there. Buxton even has one building remnant from its busier days.
Many of the miners working there were immigrants from Wales, long one of the world’s chief exporters of coal.
Mining was an industry in Wales since the Roman occupation in mid-first century A.D. The Roman advanced engineers and technologies helped develop the methods and equipment for extracting gold, copper,
slate and other metals from the earth. Wales eventually became most famous for its first-class, low ash coal. Its mines fueled seagoing ships, supported the developing railroad systems and fired the steam engines supporting the Industrial Revolution.
During the 19th Century, America had waves of immigrants, seeking freedom and employment in the New World. Many of these new Americans came from Italy, eastern Europe and Ireland. The Welsh were a country of farmers and miners, so those were the locations and jobs they sought, in the coalfields of Iowa.
Mining camps sprang up around the large seams of coal. The coal companies owned the stores, schools and miners homes. Buxton also had YMCAs and a church.
When a mine was exhausted, the entire mining camp - stores, miners homes, schools, everything - was moved to the location of a new working mine. Some mine-owned houses were moved to Albia, where they still can be seen and are in use. Even with some remodeling, these house designs are recognizable.
Like other immigrants, the Welsh brought their own skills, customs and culture. One import to Iowa was the oggi or Welsh pasty (pronounced PASS-tee), or miner’s dinner. On a circle of pie dough housewives added a filling, sealed the edges with egg, then folded it over and baked the half circle.
The filling was likely to be diced beef, sliced or diced potato and leeks or onion, chopped. The miner then wrapped his meal in paper or muslin, and took it down into the mine with him (he needed no knife or
Pasty recipes are still carried online to this day. The filling varies by cook’s choice; meat could be diced pork, venison, salmon, corned beef, or lamb, and vegetables could include turnips or celery, and a spot of gravy or sauce could be added.
I suspect a pasty could be a school kid’s lunch, before school lunch days, and some families might even have them for supper. Local families with Welsh heritage and family mining history may still remember pasties on the dinner table.
A modern update to some of the online recipes for traditional Welsh pasty: instead of making from-scratch pie crust dough, today’s pasty cook might start with Betty Crocker’s refrigerated pie crust.
Isteddfod is another Welsh cultural tradition that was brought to Iowa. A musical people, the Welsh enjoyed choral competitions. Monroe County Welshies staged regular isteddfods, until relatively recent years. Many of today’s churches still sing hymns set to Welsh tunes.
No more are there isteddfods, Welsh miners, nor even any Iowa coal mines at all, for that matter...
There still is pride in Welsh heritage. The late Sue Palmer (nee Williams) was an avowed Welshie, who made several trips to Wales. And several American presidents - think Thomas Jeffeerson and the Adamses - had Welsh ancestors.
But sorry, there’s nothing Welsh about a welsh rabbit. It’s just a mistaken translation.