“By Tre, Pol, or Pen ye may know most Cornishmen.” This simple rhyme was known to nearly everyone in the mining camps of the Old West and probably to much of the general population in America during the 19th century. Treloar, Trevelyan, and Tremaine were especially common names on the mining frontier, as were Penrose, Penhall, and Pender. Less common but not unusual were Polglase, Polkinghorne, and Polmear. Cornishmen, one and all. In America, they became known as “Cousin Jacks.” They all seemed to have a cousin Jack back home who would be just right for the latest job-opening in the mine. They were such skilled hard-rock miners that they demanded to work for a percentage of the profits rather than daily wages. Needing the expertise of the Cornishmen, the mine owners readily complied. Once the placer deposits had been exhausted and hard-rock mining commenced, it was time to bring in the Cornishmen. Camp after camp filled with Cousin Jacks until they represented more than ten percent of the population in most mining districts. In Crass Valley, in the heart of the California Mother Lode, they made up nearly 20 percent of the town’s population.

Since prehistoric times, the Cornish—a Celtic people—have inhabited Cornwall, an 80-mile-long peninsula in southwestern Britain. A beautiful but rocky and rugged land where farming was difficult, Cornwall was blessed with a wealth of mineral resources. The Cornish have been mining that wealth for more than 2,000 years. They traded tin to the Phoenicians and later to the Romans, and conducted trade in tin and copper with foreign peoples for hundreds of years. When England began acquiring an empire, Cornishmen, with their great mining expertise, were sent to the far reaches of the empire—to America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. “Wherever there is a hole in the earth,” according to an old saw, “you will find a Cornishman at the bottom of it.”

By the turn of the 19th century, Cornishmen were already prominent in the iron mines of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. During the 1840’s, thousands of them settled in the lead-mining region of the upper Mississippi Valley. Centered on Mineral Point, Wisconsin, Cornish settlement soon spilled into the neighboring states of Iowa and Illinois. Cornishmen, like nearly everyone else, rushed to the California goldfields after news of James Marshall’s discovery spread.

However, it was not until the placers were exhausted and it became necessary to tunnel into the granite core of the Sierra Nevada that the Cornish rose to prominence. The business of sinking shafts, tunneling, excavating, timbering, using explosives, and operating power tools called for Cornishmen. They had a virtual monopoly on several specialized tasks, including operating the engines that pumped water from the mines. Their skills were vital to the development of mining not only in California but throughout the West. In the 1850’s, Crass Valley became a kind of outdoor laboratory for inventing and testing equipment and mining processes, including rotary stamps for crushing ore, hydraulic operations, and chlorination during milling to increase the amount of gold recovered.

Cornishmen made wrestling matches a feature of mining camp life. In their own national tradition, wrestling played an important role. Legend has it that a Cornish champion, Goemor, wrestled and defeated a Trojan hero, Corineus, in an epic contest in 1000 B.C. Cornish wrestlers, serving as soldiers in an English army, fought at Agincourt in 1415 under a banner that is still the symbol of the Cornish Wrestling Association.

Cornishmen also brought Methodism to the camps. Back home, the Cornish, especially the miners, had embraced Methodism from the first. The Cornish were not only passionate Methodists but passionate singers of Charles Wesley’s many hymns. Cornish choirs quickly became a part of life in Western mining towns. The Grass Valley Cornish Choir gained national renown by the 1890’s and eventually performed for several American presidents.

The Cornish introduced and made the pasty a staple of the diet of miners working long hours underground. Consisting of a hearty helping of meat and vegetables in a crimped crust of pastry, the pasty provided enough fuel for a long shift in the bowels of a mine. Cornish women—”Cousin Jennys”—prided themselves on their pasties. Today, the frozen-food section of the market is full of modern versions of the pasty.

Despite all this, my college students usually give me blank stares when I ask them to identify and describe the Cornish. On one occasion, a student with a sense of humor (I think) said she knew nothing about the Cornish but did know of a recipe for Cornish game hen stuffed with wild rice. I also ask students to locate Cornwall. Again, there is usually no response. “OK, the Gilbert and Sullivan musical, The Pirates of Penzance, is a clue,” I tell them. “Now where is Penzance?” Blank stares.

The Cornish have become a non-people. They no longer count. In American schools, “diversity” means only differences in physiognomy and skin color. Whites are a monolithic group. They are without peoples who contribute to “our richly diverse society.” Such a view reveals not only an anti-white agenda but a massive ignorance of American history and of European peoples. Students entering college today can usually write a paragraph or two about Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman but not a single line about the Cornish in America.

The mining camps of the Old West were almost always more than 90 percent white. The only significant numbers of nonwhites were Chinese, and even they rarely made up more than eight percent of a camp’s population. Blacks were virtually nonexistent, usually constituting less than one percent of a camp’s population. Still, the camps had great diversify. In Grass Valley, where the Cornish made up nearly 20 percent of the population, the Irish accounted for 22 percent. Although both were white and—even more—Celtic, they were very different. The Cornish were mostly Methodists, teetotalers, and Republicans. They were highly trained, experienced miners, staunchly anti-union, and worked for a percentage of the take. When the Civil War erupted, they considered it none of their affair. The Irish were mostly Catholics, heavy imbibers, and Democrats. They were unskilled laborers and inexperienced miners, fiercely pro-union, and worked for daily wages. When the Civil War erupted, they flocked to the colors.

Psychologists have argued that the Cornish and the Irish were “emotionally repressed.” Having serious reservations about psychology in general and its use as an historical tool in particular, I would prefer to say that there was a general reluctance in the two peoples to express their feelings. Any similarity ends there. Cornishmen found release for pent-up emotions in song-filled and fervent Methodist services. Irishmen found release not in church but in drinking and fighting. My sister once told me that Irishmen can only, or dare only, express themselves emotionally when drunk. She was probably right.

The Cornish were the leaders of the temperance movement in the mining country. Temperance was a misnomer: The movement actually advocated total abstinence. The Irish were the owners and patrons of many of the numerous saloons that lined the main streets of the mining camps. Conflict between the Cornish and the Irish over drinking occurred in nearly every camp; bloody brawls erupted in Virginia City, Nevada, and Butte, Montana. Nearly as often, though, the conflict resulted in some good-natured fun. When a temperance crusader arrived in the mining camp of Bodie, California, the local hard drinkers packed the lecture hall to hear his speech. He excoriated Bodie’s liquor dealers and saloonkeepers, many of whom were in the audience applauding him. The proprietor of the Bank Exchange Saloon, Joe McDermott, thought that “the lecture is good, possessed of argument and no man in Bodie could pass a more pleasant and edifying hour than by listening to it, but if they think they can deliver more temperance lecturers than I can sell whiskey, why just let them keep it up.”

Nonetheless, the temperance crusaders in Bodie had some success. They got the county supervisors to enact a law prohibiting saloons from opening on Sundays. Just one month later, the district attorney announced that he was discontinuing prosecution for violation of the Sunday-closing law because large-scale violation had made the law impossible to enforce. The small but ephemeral victory was not by accident. A Methodist church was one of only two — the other was a Catholic church—built in Bodie. The Cornish clearly exercised a strong presence in the town.

While the Cornish have been erased from American history and from the consciousness of young Americans, the Pennsylvania Dutch have been reduced to obscurity. Asking my students to describe the Pennsylvania Dutch usually elicits, “I thought the Dutch were in New York.” Explaining to them that “Dutch” was what everybody else in America called Germans leaves them perplexed. Somehow, they have missed what the rest of us learned, one way or another, when young. Germans were nicknamed “Dutch” Miller or “Dutch” somebody, and the tidy farm down the road was owned by a “tough, old Dutchman.” From the 18th century on, American landowners were advised to lease an unproductive farm to a Dutchman because he would put the property back in shape. If you had been bad, you might get a “Dutch-uncle talk.” Your big brother might give you a “Dutch rub.” Has all this disappeared?

By the early 1700’s, large numbers of Germans, mostly from the Palatinate in southwestern Germany, were arriving in Philadelphia. By the time of the American Revolution, they made up a third of Pennsylvania’s population. Thousands of them settled in the Susquehanna Valley, its rolling hills and fertile bottomlands reminding them of their native land. Along the Susquehanna River and its tributaries, particularly Conestoga Creek, they laid out their farms. They grew tobacco along Conestoga Creek and rolled the leaves into cigars. Called “Conestogas,” the cigars smoked well and were relatively inexpensive. They became enormously popular, so much so that “stogie” became synonymous with cigar.

Another kind of Conestoga, also developed by the Pennsylvania Dutch, was the Conestoga wagon. Built sturdily with a bowed bottom (something like the hull of a ship) to keep cargo from shifting during transit over rough terrain and covered by canvas stretched over iron supports, the Conestoga wagon was without rival. The wagon carried the pioneer westward, generation after generation, from one frontier to another.

Equally important—perhaps critical—to westward expansion was the Kentucky rifle. Developed by Pennsylvania Dutch gunsmiths, the rifle was used by frontiersmen for a hundred years. The gunsmiths lengthened the stubby barrel common to European weapons to four feet, for greater accuracy at long distances. They reduced the bore to less than a half-inch to increase range and conserve lead. They enlarged and strengthened the trigger guard to withstand rough handling. They increased the size of the sights to ensure good aim over greater distances on the frontier. They made the hickory ramrod and grease patch standard.

The result of all these innovations was the famed Kentucky rifle. Known at first as the Long rifle, the piece got its new name because of its vital service on the Kentucky frontier, that “dark and bloody ground.” Wherever the frontiersman went in the trans-Appalachian West, he was not without his Kentucky. A good rifle and steady aim meant food on the table and protection from the Indians.

The rifle also made American frontiersmen valuable soldiers. When George Washington joined British Gen. Edward Braddock’s expedition against the French at Fort Duquesne, Washington had 400 frontiersmen with him, all armed with their own Kentucky rifles. The French and their Indian allies surprised Braddock’s force and inflicted heavy casualties on the musket-armed British. Washington’s frontiersmen took cover behind trees and carefully aimed every shot, dropping one Indian after another, enabling the survivors of Braddock’s ill-fated expedition to retreat. Later in the war, Pennsylvania frontiersmen used their Kentucky rifles to clear the way for British Gen. James Wolfe’s successful assault on Quebec.

During the American Revolution, the British felt the sting of the long rifle. Col. William Thompson’s battalion of Pennsylvania riflemen killed British troops with such great regularity and from such great distances that the British War Office declared, “The settlers from the backwoods of America used their hunting rifles with so much effect that the only rejoinder was to pit rifle against rifle; for this purpose Jägers were recruited on the Continent.”

The Battle of King’s Mountain in western North Carolina demonstrated what an American frontiersman could do with his Kentucky. The British held the high ground and thought that their musket fire and bayonet charges would rout the buckskin-clad mountain boys. Instead, American sharpshooters found their marks again and again, until 225 British soldiers were dead and another 163 wounded. The Americans suffered only 28 killed and 62 wounded.

Neither the British nor the Indians could stop the American frontiersman with his Kentucky rifle. Frontiersmen became so expert that, at 70 paces, they could “snuff the candle” by passing a ball through the candle’s flame without hitting the wick or “drive the nail” by putting round after round on the nail’s head. Some even dared to shoot cups of whiskey off each other’s head. They practiced with their rifles from boyhood on. The rifle was a tool more common than the plow. The American language became filled with rifle-inspired colloquialisms—”a flash in the pan,” “lock, stock, and barrel,” “a straight shooter.”

In addition to being America’s finest gunsmiths, the Pennsylvania Dutch were also America’s best farmers. They introduced or greatly refined several important farming techniques. They rotated crops, allowed fields to lie fallow, used manure for fertilizer, and brought their livestock into specially designed barns to protect them during winter months.

Despite all this and more, the Pennsylvania Dutch are, like the Cornish, ignored when “diversity” is considered today. Occasionally, we hear of the Amish, but only for their quaintness. Moreover, few seem to understand that the Amish were but one element of the religiously diverse Pennsylvania Dutch. There were also the Mennonites, Moravian Brethren, Hutterites, Baptist Dunkers, Schwenkfelders, Reformed, Lutherans, and Catholics. Most of these groups conducted their religious services in German until well into the 19th century. A few were still doing so on the eve of the Civil War. It is no accident that the first Bible published in the American colonies was printed in German and that the publisher was Christopher Sauer of Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Not only are whites now treated as a monolithic group, but they are regularly misnamed. The misnaming first arose in California and the Southwest. Since Mexicans successfully lobbied in the 1920’s to be recorded in the census and under various laws as “white,” it was technically wrong to speak of whites and Mexicans. It could be literally wrong as well. Some Mexicans are of pure Spanish (or other European) descent, and many others have only a small portion of Indian blood in them. This led some writers, by the 1960’s, to begin using the term “Anglo” for non-Mexican whites. All of sudden, I became an Anglo! I found this particularly ironic, considering the differences of opinion my Gaelic ancestors had with the English. I had been called a lot of names in my time, but never an Anglo.

Today, in California and the Southwest, whites with non-Spanish surnames are Anglos. We now have German Anglos, Norwegian Anglos, French Anglos, Italian Anglos, Polish Anglos. The irony of it all, in an age when all peoples and cultures are supposed to be preserved, embraced, and honored, is stunning. An otherwise excellent book about the Lincoln County War in New Mexico that I reviewed some years ago referred to all non-Hispanic whites as “Anglos.” The use of the term was especially jarring because most of the major players in the Lincoln County War were not Anglos but Scots and Irishmen.

The whites certainly did not consider themselves part of a monolithic group. When the Rev. Taylor Ealy, a Presbyterian minister, arrived in the town of Lincoln, Alex McSween, a Canadian Scot and former Presbyterian minister turned lawyer, welcomed him in his home. Ealy wrote to his superior that McSween was a noble man and that his rivals for power in Lincoln County—Murphy, Dolan, Riley, and Brady—”are a dirty set of Irish cut throats, and you know what their religion is.” The U.S. Army had a different opinion. Three of the four served with distinction in the Indian wars and in the Civil War. The County Wexford-born Murphy and the County Cavan-born Brady each rose through the ranks from private to major.

The diversity of European peoples in America might again be recognized through an appeal to the Evil White Man theme dear to the hearts of the politically correct. The Cornish can once more gain prominence by being portrayed, through their mining activities, as the principal despoilers of a pristine wilderness. Equal consideration can be given to the Pennsylvania Dutch, who not only supplied the vehicle that carried the Indian- killing pioneer westward, but also created the weapon that made the Indian’s demise inevitable. The possibilities are limitless.

The term “Anglo” might even fall into disuse if enough is made of all these so-called Anglos slinging pejoratives at each other, and occasionally killing each other, over ethnic and religious differences. Today, at California universities, separate graduation ceremonies are held for blacks and Latinos, featuring “traditional” music, language, food, and dress. Should the rest of us expect similar treatment? At my ceremony, I want the pipes, Gaelic, a kilt, whiskey, and a sword—especially the latter two.