Out of Syria and Lebanon

Turks were overrunning Syria in the early years of the twentieth century, and because of the unrest, many families left their homeland and came to America.  The young men came first.

About 1910 several families came to this general area.  Some settled at Crookston, Minnesota, others in the North Dakota communities of Stanley-Ross, Rolla-Dunseith and Glenfield-Binford.

Though they were educated in their homelands, they came without knowledge of the English language, bearing names that were difficult to transcribe into an English spelling.  The same man's surname might be spelled Asmel, Ashmael, Ishmael or Ismel by people attempting to spell it phonetically.

Faithful Moslems, they attempted to maintain their faith in a land where their Christian neighbors raised pigs.  The women wore long sleeves and covered their heads.  The families brought along the Koran, which is the Moslem Bible, and the other traditions of Islam.  A well-known feature of the religion is the observance of Ramadan, a month of fasting in which Moslems are not allowed to take anything into their mouths from sunrise to sunset, a practice intended to make Moslems aware of the plight of hungry, poverty-stricken people all over the world.  At the end of the thirty days, they have a feast and go from house to house to celebrate.

The difficulties of maintaining a minority faith have been great, intermarriage with their Christian neighbors being one of them.  Not many of the second generation, Syrian people have remained Moslems, though the first generation maintained their faith as well as their ties with the homeland.  The area where the local families originated is now within the borders of Lebanon.

The first Syrian settlers here made a living peddling merchandise from door to door.  Later some of them started farming, raising sheep, goats and beef.  Lamb was the preferred meat.  For religious reasons they abstained from pork.

The peddlers brought the store to the home.  They drove around the country with horse and buggy and had their trunks and wares in the back.  They handled clothing and dry goods.  Tofic Ishmael had lots of blankets for sale.  Some walked from place to place also, carrying their wares on their backs.  When night came they would sleep in barns, haystacks, and any shelter available or sometimes they would stay at homes of their customers.  Payment for lodging was a gift from their inventory.  Mrs. Gilbert Fadness (mother of Amanda Hogie) at one time received a fur coat valued at $15.00 for board and room overnight.

One of the first-generation Syrians was William Alley, who settled in Glenfield.  Amanda Hogie of Cooperstown recalls that her father, Gilbert Fadness, traded at the Alley Store and they would always send along a sack of candy with the grocery order.  Oscar Hogie remembers buying his first pair of long dress pants from Charles Alley.

Roy Alley tells about his father:

William Alley came to America from Lebanon in 1914.  As a lot of new immigrants, these people worked hard to pursue the American dream that has become so dear to all.  They became peddlers, carrying their goods from farm to farm, thus becoming the first traveling salesmen.  They worked at most anything, never being ashamed, for there was no task below them.  The only thought that brought most newcomers to this great land was a better way of life.  In 1917 William Alley joined the U.S. Army, not because he had to but because this country had been so good to him.

That was his way of saying, thank you.  He came out in 1919, went back to Lebanon and married Hasaby.  They returned in 1922 and both became citizens.  They stayed in Crookston, Minnesota and while there, their oldest son was born, Roy Alley.  Three other children were born: Ernest, Lila and Rosie.  Willie as he was better known, had a quarter Section of land which he traded for a building in Glenfield, North Dakota and he and his brother-in-law, Albert Alley, opened Alley's Cash Store.  Work came before everything else.  This was why they had come to this country, to achieve the best they possibly could.  Life in Lebanon and other foreign countries is hard, not enough land or money.  Even in 1914 life was very hard there.  The United States has not had to live in constant unrest. This is why so many believe this land holds for them what they are looking for.  Willie and Albert had the store for many years.  In later years Albert Alley farmed.  Later Willie sold the store and retired.  He died in 1968, his wife died in 1972.

As I look back, I think what sticks in my mind most was how hard they worked, saving and living with little comforts.  Wondering why, I can now see that people who came with so little wanted to give their families something so great that they were able to pursue the better life that America had to offer.  We all give thanks for the poor immigrants who came here those many years ago with only their clothes on their backs and their hearts in their hands.  The immigrants have made our country what it is today.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 51

News & Events