Leaving Canton

The news of the 1849 California Gold Rush, may well have rocked the great walled city of Canton, China long before waking the napping villages of it's own Eastern United States. This factor was due in part, to the early geography of the Western World. At that time, the "Celestial Empire" was nearer to the California ports than those of her far off sister states. Arriving with tales of riches and glittering gold, the white mans story of wealth was received with far greater enthusiasm than his cheap Western cargo, that was destroying the Chinese market.

19th century China was already a troubled land. Struggling in the aftermath of the Taiping rebellion, compounded with over population and famine, the "Land of Milk and Honey," quickly became starvations only attainable cure. Leaflets, maps, and other forms of enticing propaganda, was being widley spread among the Chinese communities by opportunistic sea captains, in their endeavors for collecting more passage. It was a common practice among the Chinese villagers to pool their meager earnings in an effort to send one young representative to the, great, "Gum Shan", or Mountain of Gold, as California was soon to become known.

The first to arrive in San Francisco formed themselves into Six Companies, so called for the Six Districts of China from which they came. Representatives from each district would meet their newly arriving compatriots at the docks - place them with living quarters, and assist in their search for employment.

Alta California, San Francisco
Monday, March 8, 1852

Importation of Chinese on Labor Contracts

Our Chinese neighbors are usually looked upon as a race so wedded to old custom and locality as to be averse to any change, much more so to so great a one as emigration to a strange country would involve. Yet the early navigators found colonies of this painstaking, industrious race scattered through the Archipelego, their numbers constantly increasing, supplying a material of labor without which many of the ports which now have large commerce would be almost valueless. They are the merchants and contractors, the mechanics and the laborers. They are found ship-building in Siam, shop-keeping in Singapore, cultivating and mining in Borneo, and conducting almost the whole traffic of the Phillippines; and not at all averse to adding thieving and piracy to their other vocations in either place, provided it may be safe. In every location where the execution of the law is active, they are orderly and industrious citizens - valuable, indeed, in countries whose climate and the ease with which every want is supplied, have made indolence habitual. In all the situations in which they are thus found the system is the same: the Cooleys are imported by the wealthy Chinese, receiving from them a certain amount of labor in payment for their passage and to support their families.

In the same newspaper, Monday, May 10, 1852

The First Chinese Emigrants to California arrived in the Brig Eagle, from Hongkong, in the month of February, 1848 - two men and one woman. But four arrived during the succeeding twelve months. Total in California May 7th, 1852 11,787. Of this number 7 are women, the remaining are men and boys.

Shasta Courier - Sat., Dec. 03, 1853
"What is to be Done with the Chinamen?

Hard Work - Little Pay

Content to labor for meager wages at those professions left vacant by the miners, the Chinese quickly became indispensable servants in the early California mining communities. They were considered hard-working, clean, celestial beings who many believed could spin miracles with their strange and mystic powers. They were well received and highly respected.

Reprint from the Shasta Courier
Saturday, July 02, 1853

The Wisdom of Chinamen

On Thursday night a gang of near a hundred Chinamen, in single file, each with a pole slung across his shoulder, bearing at either end about half a mule load of traps, passed through town on their way to some more northern portion of the country. In choosing a beautiful moonlight night to pack and travel, John shows decidedly more wisdom than "white folks," who are invariably on the road in the hottest part of the day, while in the cool of the evening they are imbibing mixed liquors and smoking cigars.

When work in the mines was no longer available, the Chinese turned towards occupations of which they were well suited, laundries and restaurants - both of which took little capital but much hard labor. San Francisco had become a busy, bustling city with a staggering amout of men versus very few women. Those women who were of "working-girl" status - were definitely not seeking gainful employment in the laundry business. Almost all of the men of these modern times, fashioned themselves in hard, detachable shirt fronts which often had to be sent as far away as Hawaii to be laundered - sometimes taking as long as 6 to 8 weeks to be returned. Thusly, the Chinese laundry business was greeted with great enthusiasm by both unscrupulous miners, as well as the scrubbed up fancy-dans of the city.

Chinese Take-Out -The Early Years

The Chinese were wonderful cooks, so it was of little surprise that restaurants became another occupation by which they achieved great success. There are two interesting stories regarding chinese cooks : 1) On one particular evening, several men came to a chinese restaurant demanding a meal. Sadly the proprietor explained that he had no food. The hungry men demanded that he find something for them to eat. So it was, that the old Chinaman went back into his kitchen and began cutting up left-over meats and vegetables ... mixed it all with soy sauce, and served his concoction to his demanding guests, who marvelled over the delicacy. When asked what the dish was called, the chinaman answered with tounge in cheek, "Chop Suey." 2) On yet a second occasion, reaching across the stove a chinaman accidentally dropped a noodle into the hot fat - when it was discovered how delicious they were, they became known as "Chow Main."

The Gold and Their Welcome Runs Out

With the migaration of thousands of American miners to the San Francisco gold fields, the surface mines quickly began running out. The gold was no longer plentiful for all, and resentment amongst the miners towards the foreigners had turned to a hatred - resulting in the 1850 Foreign Miners License law. This disasterous law imposed a tax of twenty-dollars a month on all foreign miners. With the crippling effects of poverty, the law was considered a failure and repealed the following year. However, the bitterness that pursued would only result in a revised edition of the same law. The Chinese, with their long braids and yellow skin were the most conspicuous of all foreigners, therefore, taking the brunt of the miners rage.

By 1853-54, with the discovery of gold in Australia and the depletion of the California mines, the state was in a financial uprising. Thousands of unemployed miners were now seeking employment. Their anger grew more bitter with claims that the "Chines", who would work for far less wages, had taken all of the available jobs. They further argued that the "yellow-man" was sending money back to China, which was sucking America dry. It was suggested that all the Chinese be sent back to China, but this would have involved about seven million dollars and 10-12 ships, of which was a ridiculous notion. The Chinese persecution would continue for decades, with only one brief respite during the Civil War.

Federal Act of 1862 - The Transcontinental Railroad

It was an exciting time in the history of the United States.The great transcontinental railroad was being built from the East at one end, and California from the other, competition between the two builders to reach a common junction in Utah, became the most talked about event of the times. The Union Pacific had the Irish hard at work, but California had no such labor force on the Pacific Coast.

Charles Crocker thought briefly of bringing in the Mexican peons, but such an agreement was not be arranged between the two countries. He then thought of the thousands of Chinese that were trying to eke out a living by working the old mining claims left deserted by the miners in California. Very few believed that Crocker's plan would ever prove successful. They argued that the small-framed Chinese, who averaged a mere 110 pounds, were not strong enough to stand the Sierra climate, much less the grueling hours of back-breaking work.

Crocker began by hiring 50 Chinese of which he took immediately to the end of the track. Within an amazingly short period of time, these 50 men had established a neat and effective camp - cooked a meal of rice and had laid down and went to sleep for the duration of the night. By sun up these same fifty men were with picks and shovels and hard at work. Twelve hours later Crocker had sent for more Chinese. Within six months they were two thousand strong - working on the Central Pacific, some having been brought directly from Canton. Later they would also play an important role in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

Migration to the Inland Empire

When the railroad work was over and the California mines completely worked out, the Chinese began to head for the Inland Empire. Many traveled alone, but most were brought in by contractors or "boss men." For the newcomers from China, the boss men were needed for translation and working arrangements. It had also become necessary for their own safety to travel in large groups. For one reason or another, the American Indian hated the Chinese, even more than they did the whites. On one occasion in the Owyhee Mountains the Snake Indians massacred an entire company.

Though they were excepted and treated fairly well in Idaho, a law was quickly copied from that of California's, whereas the Mongolian would be taxed $5.00 a month. This law was put into place because of the fact that the Chinese owned no property and could not be reached by ordinary taxation. However, time would prove that the Chinese contributed a great deal toward the economy of the mining districts and provided much needed services in the communites of which they resided.

By the late sixties the gold miners had diminished and most claims were turned over to the Chinese, who were more than willing to labor feverishly for the last little flickers of gold dust left behind by lazy miners. Much of their findings would be turned into money and sent home to their families in China. In 1958 an Idaho newspaper told of the death of a woman in Hong Kong. She had been born in Idaho City in 1888, the granddaughter of Loke Kee who had made a fortune in gold.

The First National Bank of Baker City, Oregon - now the U.S. National Bank, owns many of the records of gold sent to the mint by the Chinese and others. Some listed as sending gold and receiving payment are as follows: Lon Bur, Lee Chang, Hong Chung, Ah Jim, Hong Lee, Took Kee, Ah Dic, Sam Lung, King Sing, Fi Chong, Quing Wing, Chung, He Pong, Chin Lee and So Jo.


James L. Kraft, late President of the Kraft Cheese Company, once wrote a book on his favorite hoby, "Adventures in Jade." Mr. Kraft, points out in his book that it was his opinion that the Chinese were looking for jade as well as gold. From the dawn of civilization, jade has been associated with religious usage. In China pieces of varying colors represented Heaven, earth and the four quarters. The sacred stone of the Orient, symbolizes truth, goodness and purity.

The Chinese Act of 1882

By the 1870's gold was getting more difficult to find in California. The Chinese were getting more than the whites of what was left to be had , and sadly their frustrations would be taken out on the hard-working Chinese. When politicians began taking up the issue, the results would soon prove tragic to the Chinese community. In 1881 Congress passed a bill to suspend Chinese immigration for 20 years. President Arthur vetoed that bill, only to be followed by another bill suspending immigration for 10 years. The infamous Chinese Act of 1882 was put into place and applied only to laborers, ( termination of which was to include physicians and professors)

Between 1882 and 1924, 14 pieces of legislation against the Chinese were passed. Two of which were the Scott Act and Geary Act, which practically stripped the Chinese of any protection by the Courts. In 1902 the Exclusion Acts were renewed for another ten years.

When Franklin Roosevelt became President, public sentiment was for repeal - the repeal was passed on Oct. 22nd, 1943.

The Chinese in Grant Co., Oregon

Naturally, along with all of the other "gold seekers," the Chinese were among the many thousands of individuals that swarmed into Canyon City during the gold rush days. Census figures show 950 Chinese in 1870 and 905 in 1880. After the 1880's when the placer and hydraulic mining played out the Chinese population quickly decreased and by 1900 (according to the census) there were only 114 Chinese residing in the county.

Grant County's history would not be complete without mention of Doc Hay and Lun On, two very infamous Chinese characters, who lived out their lives in John Day, Oregon. So, at this juncture of my story, I conclude by presenting you with theirs ....,

Kam Wah Chung & Co Museum
The following is from a tourist brochure provided by The Grant County Museum

"In 1887, two young immigrants, Ing Hay and Lung On, bought the Kam Wah Chung & Co. building, constructed in the 1860s. Doc Hay and Lung On lived in the building until 1948 and 1940 respectively. They became important and honored members of the local community. With their home in the Kam Wah Chung building, they were major participants in the building of the dynamic economy and culture of Eastern Oregon. The development of that economy and culture is uniquely represented In today's John Day Kam Wah Chung Museum.

The Kam Wah Chung Museum contains a wide range of tools, both Chinese and Western, both hand made and mass-produced. These tools represent the wide range work-activities engaged in by th Chinese from the Nineteenth Centur to the recent past. There is a group ( gold mining tools, including pan, scales and weights, as well as pick and shovels. There is also a large group of carpenter's tools, as well as complete selection of old and modern saws, wedges and axes used by loggers. Many of these tools are unique one-of-a-kind handcrafted ones.

Among the many treasures the Kam Wah Chung Museum is a wide selection of pieces of furniture, including many rare hand-made antiques created with local material from traditional Chinese models by the John Day community.

The cultural and historical importance of this building is further found in the wealth of business and financial records, letters, orders, invoices and personal papers. This printed material demonstrates the successful integration of Oriental and Occidental cultures in the United States. This interrelationship is faithfully documented in the museum and is the best verified historical account presently available in the Western United States.

The original purpose of the Kam Wah Chung building had been as a trading post on the main East-West highway of the period, The Dalles Military Road. Doc Hay and his partner, Lung On, sold large amounts of mining supplies and staple foodstuffs to the miners, both white and Chinese, who came out of the hills periodically to stock up. As the needs of the local communtiy evolved, the two men sold canned goods, notions, tobacco, cigars, cigarettes and pipe tobaccos. Many of the goods, especially teas and Oriental foods, were imported from China. During Prohibition, Lung On also sold "bootleg" whiskey. Examples of all those types of goods can be seen in today's Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum.

Perhaps the most important function of the building was as the Medical Office of "Doc" Hay, the most famous herbal doctor between Seattle and San Francisco. Doc Hay was a master of Pulse Diagnosis, a traditional Chinese method of detecting illness through light pressure at the wrist. There are records of many remarkable feats of diagnosis later confirmed by Western-style medical doctors. Doc Hay treated his patients with herbal medicines, made up of imported and local plants. More than 1,000 different herbs, many rare ones whose use is still unknown, can be seen in the museum. Many other traditional Western and Chinese, medicines can also be seen by the visitor.

The Kam Wah Chung & Co. building also served as the social and religious headquarters for the Chinese community in Eastern Oregon. Lung On was a sort of troubleshooter for the Chinese, often called upon by miners as far away as Nevada and Idaho to interpret English, or to resolve difficulties caused by conflicts between immigrant Chinese and U. S. Customs officers at the ports in Oregon and Washington. Doc Hay was the chief priest for the Chinese and often officiated at religious ceremonies or cast fortunes for men anxious to know the future. The building contains a major shrine and several smaller ones, and many religious objects covered with smoke from decades of incense.

Doc. Hay and Lung On as well as their intinerate friends and relatives also lived in the Kam Wah Chung building. Doc Hay's bedroom still contains the original furniture, his clothing and personal items. The kitchen contains bunks, antique furniture, a large wood stove and both Chinese and Western cooking utensils and foodstuffs. It was also the custom for both local white and Chinese to meet there to talk, drink and gamble. The room is a fascinating example of a multitude of uses and has many rare artifacts from a time gone by."

The following is a reprint from The Grant County News, April 20, 1905
Indignant Citizens Determine to Abate Vile Nuisance

The war against the John Day China town has been renewed with vigor, and Monday evening about 25 or 30 of John Day businessmen, reinforced by a delegation of sight-seers from outside points, and all headed by the city marshall, made a raid on the opium joints. So quietly and swiftly was the campaign arranged that the wily chinks caught not the slightest inkling of what was doing, until the avengers of the law marched into the middle of the Kam Wah Chung joint. The surprise was complete, and two dreamers were found with pipe and bowl. Of the dozen other, more or less, piled upon the ill-smelling cots, several were apparently as guilty as the two nabbed, but unfortunate the same indisputable evidence was lacking. As soon as the two apparently guilty Chinamen had been placed under arrest, a search of the premises was made by the officer and his deputies. Three pipes, a number of cans supposedly containing opium, and an imposible array of bowls, lamps, and other acceseries of smoking, if the officers reasoned correctly, but "medicine", according to the testimony of the "doctor", were hauled out and stored away. If it really were medicine those who take it would have been interested and instructed as well, could they have seen how it was treated by the Celestial practitioner of the healing art.

About a half dozen other dens were then raided, but in their fright real and pretended, those on the Kam Wah Chung gentle couch ki-yied unto the other had evidently taken alarm. In some places the sight and smell conveyed the impression of a pipe removed from the mouth for about a minute, but no others were caught in the act. A large supply of pipes etc., were found stored away, and these were removed. Altogether about 20 pipes were captured. These things, as well as the coolies, spent the night in the cooler, although in a different apartment.

Le On, manager of the Kam Wah Chung Co., was reminded that he had asked until the first of May to sell out and get away, and that he was naturally expected to make his word good. He seemed to realize the obligation of truth and probity resting upon him, and will probably "go, skip,", "vamose".

The two Chinks arrested were held for a while and then turned loose. It is difficult to ascertain just who is responsible for this action. The Recorder tells the NEWS that he did not order it done, as the matter was not brought into his court. Warrants were issued for the arrest of LeOn and two other Chinamen and they were brought before Justice White on a charge of unlawfully having this opium in their possession. The two pleaded guilty and were fined $110 which was paid. Leon stood trial, and his case was under way on going to press.

For Additional Information:

..... California Reader - The Chinese In California
..... The Museum of Chinese American History
..... The Promise of Gold Mountain
..... The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
..... Chinese Historical and Cultural Project
..... Chinese History Research Center
..... The Museum of San Francisco

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