Clinton Jencks and Mexican-American Unionism in the American Southwest
By JAMES J. LORENCE
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS Copyright © 2013Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
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Growing Up Concerned
Childhood, Family, and the Formation of a Value System, 1918–1939
Origins of Commitment: Plotting a Life Course
Watching over the bustling resort community and mining town of Colorado Springs, the front range of the majestic Rocky Mountains provided the backdrop to where Clinton E. Jencks grew to maturity during the dark days of the Great Depression. The natural beauty of this environment, together with the dramatic story of its exploitation by first prospectors and then the mining industry, fired the imagination of a young man who as a child often explored the remnants of the mining boom and dreamed of the class struggle that could be dimly perceived in the history of the area. What Jencks learned as a result of study and exploration was the hard lesson that his region had been the site of sharp labor-management confrontation in the rugged mining districts of frontier Colorado. As his awareness of historical inequities sharpened, the trajectory of what was to be an eventful life as an advocate of social justice was set in motion; in short, Clint Jencks's long life in the human rights movement reflected these early perceptions of the world in which he lived and the culture of which he was a product.
It was also this regional growth that in the late nineteenth century had once attracted his forebears to a developing mining community, service center, health resort, and railroad junction. By the late 1890s Colorado Springs was well on the way to the transition from frontier boom town to trading community, industrial supplier, and transportation hub, emerging as a service center where, increasingly, permanent settlers like the Jencks clan established residence. Here in Colorado Springs, transplanted Yankees DeWitt Clinton Jencks and his wife, Sarah, found a home in 1888 when they resettled a growing family after spending their early years in the more staid environment of Wyndham County, Connecticut. Prior to their permanent removal to Colorado, the stability of comfortable New England childhoods and their strong religious upbringing had first led the pious young couple to spend ten eventful years of their marriage as missionaries in Japan.
In 1866 family patriarch Leavens Jencks, a successful carpenter, had gone to his final rest, leaving his widow, Esther, alone to raise a family of six children with assistance from two children employed as teachers and her oldest son, DeWitt Clinton Jencks, a bookkeeper by trade. In his youth DeWitt followed a religious vocation during the late Civil War years, working as a teacher in the South for the Freedman's Bureau. As Clinton E. Jencks's later journey into the Southwest demonstrates, DeWitt was the first but not the last Jencks to tread the path of moral responsibility in pursuit of social justice. After his father's death, DeWitt returned to Connecticut to assist his widowed mother, but the restless young man remained conscious of something missing in his life after his separation from the Freedman's Bureau. By 1873 he was again contemplating some expression of the religious life, driven by an impulse that brought him to Chicago for a meeting of the Home Board for Congregationalist Foreign Missions. It was here that he met Reverend Henry Bagg Smith, another native of Wyndham, Connecticut, and a man dedicated to spreading the word of God overseas. A proud parent, Smith introduced DeWitt to his daughter, Sarah Maria Smith, and in October 1876, shortly after his mother's death, DeWitt married Sarah in Greenfield Hills, Connecticut, thus cementing a union that drew him more closely into the religious community presided over by his father-in-law and liberally populated by the militant Congregationalists of his spouse's family. Genealogical, census, and family records make it absolutely clear, then, that Clinton E. Jencks's extended family history, which included a long line of morally driven New Englanders, was peppered with Congregationalist clergy, teachers, and religiously devoted laypersons. This background indicates that a tendency toward piety and personal moral imperative was a key element in the cultural baggage carried to Colorado by Clinton Jencks's Yankee forebears; it also foreshadows the deep religious commitment that would be displayed by young Clint in the 1920s and 1930s. It is evident that a sense of Christian duty and moral responsibility was his birthright.
Given the Jencks family's religious history, it was no surprise that in 1877 the adventurous DeWitt Clinton Jencks embarked upon a new career as a missionary to Japan, where his skills in bookkeeping led to his appointment as business agent for the Congregationalist Church's Kobe mission. Here, three children, Anna, Mabel, and Philip, were born to him and Sarah, herself an active partner in church work. After a decade of missionary fieldwork for the Board of Foreign Missions in Kobe, DeWitt and his family returned to Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1887 to await reassignment, but the following year they removed to Colorado Springs, where the birth of Horace Ebenezer Jencks, Clint's father, rounded out the family in 1891. While the rapid economic growth of the Colorado Springs area was a factor in this decision to relocate, it is also true that the reputed healing powers of the area's spring waters were attractive to them, because both Sarah and her daughter Anna suffered from a kidney condition known then as Bright's disease, which eventually led to the deaths of both daughter and mother.
As of 1906 the local city directory generously described DeWitt's occupation as "missionary," but by 1910 the census more accurately recorded a change in his status with the observation that he actually had no trade and was "running a rooming house" on Wasatch Avenue in Colorado Springs. Along the way, as early as 1901 DeWitt also began operating a shoe store and repair shop out of his house, an occupation that provided further evidence that for an unemployed missionary the shift to day-to-day economic survival back in the States was difficult to make. Despite the family's financial struggle, Sarah gradually became a leading figure in Colorado Springs society, devoted to the local Prohibition movement, active in church work, and president of the Colorado Springs East Side Women's Christian Temperance Union at the time of her death in 1911. Similarly, DeWitt was a prominent church figure, serving for twenty-five years as clerk of the city's First Congregational Church until he died in 1923. Although less motivated by religious fervor, young Horace resided at home after his graduation from Colorado Springs High School and his first tentative foray into the job market as a substitute mail carrier. Of considerable significance for Horace's future was the proximity in the neighborhood of his brother, Philip H. Jencks, who was working full-time as a postman for the U.S. Mail Service. It seems likely that Philip's employment was the key factor in securing Horace's position as mail carrier, a job he retained until his retirement in 1940. The closeness of the Jencks family ties became even more evident as DeWitt grew older, resulting in the formation of a bond confirmed when his son Philip became head of household in the Jencks home.
By the time he had reached the tender age of twenty-one, the restless Horace had courted and married Colorado Springs native Ruth Schideler, a deeply religious Methodist, who would soon become the predominant figure in the lives of her children. Ruth's father, Abraham Schideler, a German American worker originally from Indiana, migrated to Colorado Springs, where by the early 1890s he had become a motorman and conductor for the local rapid transit company. After his untimely death in 1896, his widow, Rose, became the effective head of the family, at least until her rema
Excerpted from Palomino by JAMES J. LORENCE. Copyright © 2013 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
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