The trail ends at Saint Joseph, Missouri. Some say it also begins there. The Immigrant Trail has not yet been officially documented by historians – but the trail exists today. When documented there is good cause to believe there will be a trail of tears. But I get ahead of myself.
I live just outside Punkin Center, Missouri. In the past I would visit St. Joe on special occasions – like visiting friends for a football playoff game or shopping at Walmart. I have seen my share of immigrants at Walmart – they sometimes shop in the Latino Food Section – but that is a different story. Last year when I was down in St. Joe for a football game I arrived early and decided to take a walk. St. Joe has a wonderful system of urban trails that compliment their very nice parkway system. I happened to walk those trails in the winter – I took a few pictures if you are interested.
Walking around my home in Punkin Center is more difficult. Even in the summer I have to wear cowboy boots that nearly reach my knees – that way the rattlesnake bites don’t hurt so much. A long sleeve shirt is required to hold back the hickory thorns and poison ivy. So lately I have been going down to St. Joe to walk their urban trail. My age is somewhere between middle age and elderly – so walking is a good thing for me. This walking project has brought me closer to the people of St. Joe – and to their oral tradition of understanding the world around them.
Oral tradition is held in high esteem by most rednecks. If it was good enough for the Hebrews it is surely good enough for a simple redneck. When I was down in St. Joe last week I had to stop to fuel my vehicle – the Quik Trip store was convenient. As I stood in line to pay my tab I listened to the talk ahead of me. Most of the folks in that line were just waiting to buy lottery tickets and they seemed in no hurry. Each had a variety of lucky numbers and they briefly discussed the reasoning behind their number choice. Their talk convinced me there is a specific science to winning a lottery – like if the month is September you are supposed to use the birthday of your closest relative born in September – something like that. The point is that these folks seemed to know what they were talking about. With their lottery science confirmed by others the talk drifted to the Immigrant Trail that led to St. Joe.
There was some debate about specifics but the story goes something like this: If you build a pork processing plant they will come. And the business folks in St. Joe see opportunity when it knocks. Opportunity knocked a few years back and Triumph Foods was born. The called it Triumph Foods because the regular rednecks in St. Joe did not want an infusion of Mexicans. The burden on the education and health care system would be too great. But the Chamber of Commerce did some finagling and triumphed over the opposition. There you go. The pork plant was built – but getting the Mexicans to come proved a daring adventure.
The story in the Quik Trip store reported a mass gathering of Mexicans along the border, just south of Lonesome Dove, Texas. Some say that Missouri bandits had crossed into Mexico on a moonlit night to round up the potential work force – others say the bandits were from Seaboard Pork Processing Plants in Oklahoma – some say the bandits were mercenaries hired by the St. Joe Chamber of Commerce. The herd had to wait for a group of professional Mexiboys to come along and herd them to the Promised Land. With the Mexiboys organized the herd crossed the Rio Grande at Lonesome Dove and veered west and then north on the old Chisholm Trail. They passed Wichita, Kansas on the west and turned north west to follow the old meat packing rail lines north to Kansas City. The herd followed the Missouri River form Kansas City on the Kansas side all the way to a small town called Atchison, Kansas. They crossed into Missouri with the permission and help of the Army Corp of Engineers and then followed the river bottoms north to the Triumph Pork Processing Plant in the South Side of St. Joe. The story goes that each of the Mexicans was immediately branded with proper documentation like birth certificates, passports, and Missouri Driver’s Licenses. They were told their families would be brought along on the next moonlit night. Mexicans seem to get the idea of crossing borders under a full moon – It may just be redneck superstition but the Quik Trip folks insist that crossing borders should never be done in the light of day.
So there they are. Living and thriving in St. Joe. I know for a fact that they are there and I have first hand information that they are healthy. I know they are there because I see them in Walmart on Sunday afternoons. When they travel in Walmart they continue their herd mentality. They stick together like molasses on a fork handle. I know they are healthy because I see them walking, jogging, and biking on the St. Joe Urban Trail where I have been walking. It is not often that I see one walking or jogging alone. It almost seems like they are afraid of something in their new country. Go figure.
I was walking yesterday and saw a family of Mexicans approaching me. I just guessed they were a family because there seemed to be both male and female adults, pushing a baby stroller, accompanied by two small children on foot. It struck me that they might be like regular people in that family sort of way. The folks at the Quik Trip Store had said nothing of Mexican families so I was left to my own devices.
Anyway, in spite of what I heard about Mexicans at the Quik Trip, I decided that I would try to be nice. My Spanish language skills are limited so I tried to say something appropriate to their circumstance. They were pushing a baby stroller so I smiled as we passed and I said, “Asta La Vista, Baby.” I thought they might like a comment about their small child in the stroller. Right away I could see what the Quik Trip folks were talking about. Those Mexicans were not very friendly. As I smiled and spoke they seemed to sort of step away from me, making sure I had plenty of room to pass on the trail.
It is no wonder that the Mexicans struggle in their new country. We can give them driver’s licenses, health care, education, and the right to shop at Walmart – but they continue to treat us like we have cooties or something. One funny thing that I cannot seem to figure out is that the people waiting in line to buy the lottery tickets all said that when they won the lottery they would take an extended vacation in Acapulco, Mexico. The other thing is that the people in the Quik Trip all agreed they would vote Republican because those Republicans build pork plants and create new jobs. Figure that one out.
The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence – but you still have to mow it.
Wherever you go, there you are.