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Old Homes of New Americans

The Slovenians and Their Contribution to America
Chapter 13

Where the Slovenians come from -- Where they go -- A Thrifty People -- A Picturesque Country -- An Undiscovered Paradise -- The Aspirations of the Slovenians for Liberty -- A Literary Revival and the Reformation -- The Curious Ancient Custom of inaugurating the Prince.


Quite distinct from the Slovaks is another Slav race that is sending its sons to America by the ten thousand. These are Slovenians from the southwestern part of Austria. Most of them in Carinthia, Styria, and Carniola are directly under Austrian rule. A few others in Croatia-Slavonia are under the Hungarian crown, with certain autonomous powers of their own.

It is difficult to know just how many Slovenians have reached America, since they are often classified as Austrians in the emigration reports; but five years ago, in 1907, a Slovenian editor estimated that there were at least one hundred thousand of them in the United States, including Alaska. Moreover, it is a cheering fact that they do not all, or indeed many of them, seek their fortune in New York or Boston or Philadelphia, but they scatter themselves throughout the Western States, as many as fifteen thousand Slovenian farmers being settled in the State of Washington, while nearly as many more have taken up farms in Minnesota, and other thousands are found in Kansas, Utah, and Colorado.

They are a thrifty people, as is shown by the facts that three thousand Slovenians are in business in and near Pueblo, Colorado, and that the Slovenian farmers in Minnesota are almost uniformly prosperous.

An interesting department store item is that the largest establishment of this sort north of Chicago is owned and operated by a Slovenian, in Calumet, Michigan.

In a recent journey through the Slovenian country, I was charmed with the delighdul scenery, and the picturesqueness of the villages and of the peasants in their quaint costumes.

After the long railway journey over the rich but monotonous plains of Hungary, it was a relief to get into the hilly country of Carniola and Carinthia. Charming valleys nestled under the protection of beetling crags, sparkling brooks ran chattering down the hillsides, splendid forests clothed the mountains almost to the top, while one often obtained glimpses of rich intervales and prosperous farms and pastures, dotted with flocks and herds, and flecked with hundreds of white geese and ducks. It seemed to me like an undiscovered Paradise, for comparatively few tourists disturb these lovely solitudes. No Cook's "personally conducted parties " invade the primitive hotels. I wondered, as the crooked railway revealed new charms every moment, that some enterprising Swiss hotel-keeper had not discovered them, and trumpeted them abroad.

I know of no more delightful spots in the valleys of the Rhone or the Rhine than in the valley of the Laibach. The city of Laibach, in Carniola, the unofficial capital of the Slovenians, struck me as a peculiarly beautiful town, where I would like to settle down for a long summer holiday.

As one approaches the sea in the neighborhood both of Fiume and Trieste,the country becomes more sterile, and at last absolutely hopeless, from the agricultural standpoint. Gaunt, bare granite hills rise up on every side, wind-swept and bleak. The dreadful Bora has whirled the last particle of soil from between the rocks, and the poor peasants, in order to raise a few cabbages and potatoes, must build a high wall of masonry around their little plots, which are sometimes not more than fifteen feet square.

The Slovenians, as compared with the Slovaks, are not a great people numerically, numbering only about a million and a half who speak their language; and it is interesting to know that already one Slovenian out of fifteen lives in America. It is not too much to believe that, before the end of this century, she will harbor a majority of these hardy, enterprising sons of the soil.

That Slovenes are not without aspirations for liberty and a national life of their own is shown by their various efforts to secure national independence. These uprisings were almost hopeless, surrounded as the people were by half a dozen nationalities far stronger than their own; but they indicate that the Slovenes have the spirit of free men, and will appreciate the blessings of a free republic.

At the period of the Reformation, a large part of the Slovene country became Protestant. But the nobles, who remained Catholic, together with most of the landed proprietors, aided by the predominant influence of the Jesuits, forced or coaxed the people back to the Mother Church again, so that now they are Roman Catholics almost to a man.

As in Bohemia, the Protestant Reformation brought in its train a literary as well as a religious revival, and the Bible and other books were translated into Slovenian, a literary renascence which has not entirely disappeared, though the people are no longer allowed to read the Bible in their own tongue.

In the Napoleonic wars much of the Slovenian country, together with Dalmatia and Croatia, was united to France for a short time, as her Illyrian provinces. But Napoleon's star waned, and the Slovenians were obliged to return to their old allegiance.

A curious ancient custom of the Slovenes, as told by Louis Ledger in his history of Austria-Hungary, is worth recording. When a new prince was inaugurated over the Slovenians, a peasant mounted a rock to await the coming of the prince, who was dressed like a peasant. As the prince advanced the peasant called, "Who is this who approaches?" The people answered, "It is the prince of this land." The peasant then said, "Is he a good judge? Is he the friend of truth?" On receiving a reply in the affirmative, the peasant yielded his place to the newcomer, who mounted the rock and, brandishing his sword, vowed to defend the country of the Slovenians. We may well believe that people with such blood in their veins will not disgrace their adopted country.

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