The earliest miners in the Roslyn field came from various parts of the United States, drawn westward like so many others by the promises of work and opportunity. The first to arrive were miners from the coalfields of the eastern United States, particularly Pennsylvania.
Many of the earliest coal miners in the United States came from the British Isles. Though many identified them as English, in reality, most came from the coalfields of Scotland and
Wales. As the American coal economy expanded in the nineteenth century, many of these miners carried their expertise and knowledge westward, eventually arriving in the eastern Cascades as coal production began in the late nineteenth century.
They were soon followed by a diverse array of ethnicities, originally drawn to the United States during the great European migration waves of the nineteenth century – immigrants from
Northern and Western Europe, followed by an even larger wave from Southern and Eastern Europe in the latter years of the century. This cascade of immigration created the American melting pot and spurred the economic boom that was ushered in on the backs of coal miners.
Arriving on the East Coast, many of these European immigrants followed in the steps of the British miners and made their way westward. At the peak of Roslyn-area production in 1920, twenty-eight different ethnic groups could be identified amongst the population, including places as far afield as Czechoslovakia, Croatia, Russia, Sweden, and even Syria.
Also, a part of the rich tapestry was the African-American community. During the first coal strike in 1888, African-Americans were brought into the region as replacement labor.
Despite the animosity created by ongoing labor troubles, many of the imported workers stayed in the area to work the mines and establish themselves in the local community. In 1900, nearly one-third of Roslyn’s population was African-American, and a distinctive community remained throughout the twentieth century until the last mine was closed in the 1960s.
Asians and Asian-Americans, so important to the overall history of the American West, were largely absent from the region once the railroads were built. The initial group of Asians in the area was a grouping of Chinese gold miners in the 1860s and 1870s. Combined with the business establishments run by the Chinese community, this population was increasingly in conflict with the local white population. Though several hundred Chinese laborers remained and worked on the Stampede Pass route for the Northern Pacific Railroad, most of the Asian population that tried to stay in the region faced discrimination and outright hostility. A handful of Asian-owned businesses managed to survive the rough and tumble early days of the coal communities, but the area’s Asian population remained small.
The rich ethnic heritage of the area is reflected today in the cemeteries of Roslyn.
Considering its small size, the 25 cemeteries found within the town are surprising. However, the large number is explained when one realizes that many of these cemeteries are reserved exclusively for one of the 28 different cultural groups that form part of Roslyn’s diverse past.