Finnish Americans are recognized as being hearty, rugged, honest, and fiercely independent people. These traits along with their single most important piece of cultural luggage--the sauna--have contributed to the state's cultural heritage.
Like many other immigrants at the turn of the century, Finns came to the United States in search of a better economic life. At this same time, Utah was emerging as an important mining center and needed workers. Significant seams of coal were found in Carbon County, while Park City, Tintic, Bingham, and other mining districts contained rich deposits of lead, zinc, silver, and copper ore. Finnish immigrants provided some of the much needed labor in the state's rapidly expanding mines.
There were several reasons for Finns to leave their homeland at the turn of the century. Finland lacked some of the vital resources that helped fuel the industrialization of other European countries. Its political association with Russia conflicted with the rise of nationalism and created unrest in a dramatically growing work force and population, which resulted in the creation of a pool of young Finns without permanent employment opportunities.
Meanwhile, there occurred within the country a growing spirit of nationalism. Increasingly, Finnish intellectuals turned their attention to the study of their own language, folk traditions, music, and literature. At the same time, young Finns were being conscripted into the Russian army and Russian was made the language of government, education, and commerce in Finland. Finally, a deep economic recession in the 1880s prolonged by the later European-wide recession in the 1890s further fueled growing political, social, and economic unrest in Finland. Many young Finns, therefore, looked beyond the Baltic for a brighter future, and economic opportunities were present in Canada and the United States. Between 1864 and 1920 approximately 375,000 Finns immigrated to the United States.
Many Finnish immigrants flocked to the iron range of Minnesota where there was ample work. The fish and lumber industries of the Pacific Northwest beckoned other Finnish immigrants. And from the mining camps of Red Lodge and Butte, Montana; Green River, Hanna, Almy, Rock Springs, Reliance, and Superior, Wyoming; Leadville and Telluride, Colorado; Tonapah, Nevada; and Winter Quarters, Scofield, Price, Clear Creek, Park City, Eureka, and Bingham Canyon, Utah, came the clarion call for workers.
Some of the first buildings built by or for Finnish miners in the scattered Finn towns in the mining camps of Utah were the public saunas (dry steambath), Finn halls (combination social, cultural, and amusement buildings), and boarding houses for single Finnish male workers. In Eureka, near the turn of the century, a Finn hall was built near the corner of Beck and Railroad streets. A short time later a public sauna was built nearby. A Eureka newspaper carried this advertisement of the sauna: "Steam Baths near Eagle Street. Fridays from 2 till 12 p.m. for ladies and families. Saturdays from 2 till 12 p.m. for men." A public sauna was built in Scofield around 1905. Today several private family saunas can be seen in backyards in Scofield.
The sauna for the Finnish immigrant was the primary link to the homeland and traditional culture. In addition to using it as a place in which to bathe, Finns visited the sauna to become physically, spiritually, and psychologically revitalized. The sauna was a place and a process where a Finn renewed his "sisu," or internal fortitude.
The U.S. Census for 1900 indicated that 163 foreign-born Finns were living in the state. The earliest and largest concentration of Finns, or Finlanders as they were frequently called, was in the Scofield Mining District of western Carbon County where they were employed in the coal mines. For most this was new and frightening work; many came to Carbon County from two rural districts in western Finland where there were no mines.
Early on 1 May 1900 a number of Finns along with other miners had entered the Pleasant Valley Coal Company's number two and four mines at Winter Quarters as usual. At about 10:25 A.M. a thundering noise rocked Winter Quarters and the larger nearby community of Scofield. Some believed that someone had set off a blast of powder to honor Admiral Dewey and his naval victory over the Spanish at Manila in the Philippines. Soon word spread that a devastating explosion had occurred in the two mines. Rescue squads were quickly organized and within a few hours the dead were carried from the two portals. The official count of the dead was set at 200.
This mining tragedy hit the small Finnish community at Winter Quarters and Scofield hard. At least sixty-two Finns perished in the explosion. Six sons and three grandsons of Abe Luoma died in the blast. Some blamed the explosion on the Finns, who were accused of having earlier secretly stashed large quantities of powder for the purpose of removing larger amounts of coal and thereby earning themselves more money.
Finnish victims to this terrible tragedy were buried in simple wooden coffins in graves designated with wooden markers at the Scofield Cemetery. The Reverend A. Grandholm, a Finnish Lutheran minister from Rock Springs, Wyoming, conducted the funeral services for the Finns. The Salt Lake Herald reported on the impressive graveside services. At each hole, after the wooden casket had been lowered into the ground, Mr. Grandholm said a few words in Finnish and then threw a shovelful of dirt into the grave. At the end of the row of open graves, the minister "delivered an eloquent invocation in his native tongue, which seemed to move the Finnish women very much."
Many Finns left Scofield and Winter Quarters following the disaster, looking for jobs elsewhere in Utah or nearby states. Those Finnish miners who remained in Carbon County soon became involved in the new labor movement. Early in 1901 miners at Winter Quarters went out on strike. Some newspapers blamed the Finns for instigating the strike while other newspapers blamed the newly arriving Italian miners.
Miners again went out on strike in 1903. As in the 1901 strike Finnish miners took an active role. This strike resulted in the calling out of the Utah National Guard from Nephi to protect company property and to maintain peace. The Finnish community supported the strike while at the same time offering the guardsmen the use of their social hall for recreational activities.
In December 1903 a number of Finnish miners and their families were evicted from company housing by the National Guard. The result was that some guardsmen were set upon by some of the Finnish strikers. Only hours earlier, members of the guard had been guests at a Christmas party at the Finn Hall hosted by striking Finnish miners and their families.
Like other immigrants, Finns were successful climbing the social and economic ladder. John Westerdahl, for example, was first employed as a miner at the Eureka Standard Mine in Eureka by mine owner E.J. Raddatz. Within a short time Westerdahl was appointed mine superintendent, and he went on to become part owner of the mine. Along with his wife, he also acquired and operated a boarding house in Eureka. Westerdahl eventually gained enough wealth to send one of his two daughters to Salt Lake to attend school at Rowland Hall.
With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 and growing turmoil between their homeland and Russia, many Utah Finns retained little hope of returning to Finland. By the end of the war, Finns were no longer seen as radical foreigners but were highly regarded and respected, especially when Finland won its independence from Bolshevik Russia.
The physical legacy of the Finnish immigrant to Utah includes but is not limited to the sauna and the lonely but not forgotten grave markers at the Scofield Cemetery. Finns have made many contributions to our culture and heritage. The Scofield markers can be seen as stark reminders of the contributions Finnish immigrants have made to the industrialization and development of the state.
Disclaimer: Information on this site was converted from a hard cover book published by University of Utah Press in 1994. Any errors should be directed towards the University of Utah Press.