Instinctively lowering your head, you step up and through the
small but sturdy-framed door. You shake off the bright summer sun, straining
to focus through the darkness. You welcome the coolness but question
it's source. The first thing you see is a gaudy
collaged wall of faded peacock feathers and gilded paper flowers.
On another wall you see a row of trundled cots. You cringe as you
sense the haunting presence of opium pipe dreamers, sprawled out before you.
Composure is gained as the curator guides you into another room and
past the altar of the Kitchen God. You wonder if you should bow?
Herbal concoctions and hundreds of
medicine bottles rally in dust under an incense blackened ceiling. You
look around - you feel a mystical spell, you smell the musk of ages, and it dawns on you; this is the catalyst of Grant County, Oregon. This is the shining
light of the magical celestial beings . This is quite possibly the greastest treasure of Oregon. This is the Kam Wah Chung.
The following is from the Grant County, Oregon Visitors Guide
The John Day Kam Wah Chung Co. Museum is a unique historic site. The building, constructed as trading post on The Dalles Military Road in 1866-67, served as a center for the Chinese community
in Eastern Oregon until the early 1940's.
The original building now contains thousands of artifacts and relics
which illustrate the many former
uses of the site ... as a general store,
office of the famous herbal doctor,
Chinese temple and the home of two
noted members of the local community. "Doc" Ing Hay and Lung On,
highly successful businessman.
Nineteenth Century China was a troubled land. Opportunities for farmers or traders were much reduced by the twin ills of overpopulation and Western impact. Overpopulation led to periodic famine, which also constantly reduced the amount of land in relation to the mouths to be fed. Western impact exposed China not only to the scourge of opium but also to "cheap Western goods which destroyed local crafts and industries.
The Chinese of the southern province of Kwangtung, whose capital was the great walled port city of Canton, were quick to migrate to seek their fortunes elsewhere, usually intending to return with weatlh and honors. Hundreds of thousands of single males and some few women left for the cities, mines and gold fields of Europe, Latin America and especially for the American West, where the demand for laborers was
great. By the 1850's at least 20,000 Chinese had emigrated, most of them to work in the California Gold Rush. By the end of the decade they began to follow the gold fields into Eastern Oregon. The 1879 Census lists 960 whites and 2,468 Chinese miners there.
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, drinh and gamble. The room is a fascinating example of a multitude of uses and has many rare artifacts from a time gone by.
Kam Wah Chung & Co. was restored by:
Oregon State Parks & Recreation Division
Oregon Dept. of Transportation National Parks Service
American Revolution Bicentennial Comm.
Oregon Historical Society Interested Citizens
National Historic Trust
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