El Cometa, Fort Madison

Celebrating Mexican Independence Day, Fort Madison, Iowa, ca. 1926.<br />

Celebrating Mexican Independence Day, Fort Madison, Iowa, ca. 1926.

Map of El Cometa barrio, Fort Madison, Iowa

Sanborn fire insurance map, showing the "Mexican Shanty Town," Fort Madison, Iowa. (Sanborn Map Company, 1926).

By 1895, the barrio known as El Cometa had grown up in the yards of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF) in the southwest part of Fort Madison, Iowa. The lines of the AT&SF ran from El Paso to Chicago, crossing the southern tip of Iowa at Fort Madison.  The company specifically sought Mexicans to work as traqueros on section gangs, laying and maintaining track.

Magdaleno Sanchez came to Fort Madison in 1910. Following a process of chain migration, he later returned to Mexico to bring additional family members once his employment prospects had become secure.  As more women and children joined relatives in Fort Madison, three distinct neighborhoods developed - El Cometa, La Yarda, and La Istafiate.  By the 1920s, over 500 Mexicans lived in the three barrios.

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El Cometa, Fort Madison