Pete Macias turns 100 years-old and reminisces about his family being the first Mexicans In Bettendorf

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By Guillermo Trevino and Alvaro Macias

Pete Macias born on March 4, 1919 has a lot of history to share about his uncle, David and his father, Manuel and has a wealth of pictures and documents that capture his family’s contributions to the Quad Cities region. In his Davenport retirement home he has enough framed and dated pictures for a museum exhibit, which he’s also shared with area museums.  From the Mexican revolution to settling in Bettendorf to starting a band in Silvis, Pete Macias had much to share. David was born in Sombrerete, Zacatecas in 1885 and his brother, Manuel was born in the same town in 1891.

 

Photographs of David & Manuel Macías, from the state of Zacatecas in Mexico, emigrated to the U.S. in 1914 and 1915 respectively to work in the foundry of the Bettendorf Company.

 

In 1912, Manuel Macias married his childhood sweetheart, Guadalupe Perez and shortly thereafter got involved in the Mexican Revolution to overthrow the dictatorship in Mexico. His brother, David wanted to become a Catholic priest and an accomplished musician but with the unrest in Mexico, he went to work for a U.S. owned mining company, visiting the United States several times and learning English. In 1914, David Macias arrived in Bettendorf, which was then known as Silver City, and worked at the Bettendorf Company becoming the first Mexican to settle in Bettendorf.

David told his brother Manuel about the good fortune of getting a job with the Bettendorf Company. “My uncle (David) said leave all these things. There’s money to be had here.” As a result, Manuel decided to come to the United States to seek a better life. To get to Bettendorf, Pete said his father had to work in railroad gangs and sugar beet fields. In 1915, Manuel arrived at the Bettendorf Company and received employment. Manuel and David were the first Mexicans to settle in Bettendorf according to Pete Macias.

During the U.S. involvement in World War I (1917-1918), there was a shortage of workers at the Bettendorf Company and the company sent Manuel and David to Juarez, Mexico to recruit workers. The Macias’ also went to Kansas and came back with 150 workers, Pete said. “They were housed in homes built by the Bettendorf Company, rent free. This housing was later known as Holy City (the barrio). When the war ended some of the recruits returned to Mexico and others moved on. The rest stayed and brought their families to live in the barrio,” Pete Macias said.

In 1918, Manuel heard of a group of Mexican immigrants living in the barrio of Silvis, Illinois and decided to check it out. David and Manuel went to Silvis and were not disappointed, feeling at home with the large number of Mexican people. “The men worked for the Rock Island line shop and round house. The people there lived in simple little homes, boxcars with additions built to fit their needs. They called their settlement ‘La Yarda’. Not many people would venture too far out of their little community. Some become restless, so Manuel and David eased their tension and put their musical talents to work, volunteering to teach the men music,” Pete said. Also in 1918, David lost his left arm in a near fatal accident at the Bettendorf Company.

The most interesting thing to note was the start of a band in Silvis. “In 1921, the community brass band gave its first concert. Manuel arranged all the music for the band. They would play for concerts on Sunday afternoons in the area and as far as Chicago. It became one of the largest bands in the Quad Cities with a concert orchestra, choral group, and dance band being formed as well. The brothers convinced the community to build a rehearsal building, so two boxcars were put together which the Rock Island line donated for their cause. This shelter soon became the Mexican community gathering place,” Pete Macias said.

Sound familiar? It should, as this place would later become Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Silvis. “The Macias brothers decided that rehearsal building was more suitable for worship as the community had begun to fall away from their culture and in order to keep their Catholic and cultural heritage, Manuel persuaded the community to convert the building into a church and David constructed an altar,” Pete Macias said.

 

1968 article written about the formation of the Silvis, Illinois Mexican Community’s first church in 1927.

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