by Dottie Smith
by Dottie Smith
The Chinese began arriving during the Gold Rush hoping to make a quick fortune and return to China as soon as they became wealthy, or, had earned enough money to pay off their debts and support their families who still lived in China. Their passage to America was arranged and paid for by rich Chinese mandarins who were repaid with a percentage of their gold profits. They were never well-tolerated or understood by most whites because of the differences in cultures. Their diets and eating styles were different, their religion was very perplexing, they loved to gamble, and many openly used opium. They were so unliked, a law was eventually passed forbidding them entry into the United States. Because they were disliked, and because of their fear of the white people, they lived on the outskirts of the white settlements or off by themselves in their Chinatowns.
The miners and settlers resented the Chinese for aspiring to become rich and then return to China. At first they were regarded as an exotic curiosity, but as more arrived, the curiosity changed to resentment, and eventually to open hostility.
The Chinese were usually referred to as a Coolie, John Chinaman, or Celestial. Very few Chinese women came here, and the few that did were usually prostitutes and were known by the whites as either Mary or China Mary.
The Chinese always worked in groups and first worked the mines or claims deserted by white miners. Or they leased a mine or a claim for a short time. They utilized an efficient mining technique the white miners called "teaspoon mining" finding what the earlier, less-patient whites had overlooked. Some became very wealthy as a result of this mining technique. They eventually began placer, hydraulic, and hardrock mining as those methods evolved. Other Chinese became ditch builders, laborers, cooks, laundrymen, gardeners. A very few became merchants. The Chinese were willing to work long hours for low pay which caused great consternation among the whites.
A few reminders of their presence in Shasta County are a few stone walls they built for ranchers and landowners. Another reminder are the numerous Chinese locust trees, also known as Trees of Heavenly Light, which is a tree native to China. It is virtually certain that these non-native trees originated with the Chinese miners, although the exact origin is unclear. Some say the trees were planted by the Chinese because of their homesickness for their native land. Another version claims the seeds were innocently brought to this country in their baskets and hats and eventually fell onto the ground where they germinated, grew, and flourished. Another reminder are the thousands of Chinese lilies that grow wild in many areas of Shasta County. The Chinese generously gave these bulbs as gifts on holidays to white people, especially at Christmas time.
Prejudice and discrimination increased and began flaring up in the early 1850s and grew into a serious racial problem. Before it was over, the Chinese were eventually excluded from further emigrating into the United States. The Foreign Miner's Tax was adopted in 1850 which required all foreign miners to pay a monthly $20 tax, but in reality, only the Chinese were forced to pay. The law was temporarily repealed in 1851. In 1852 a new license fee of $3 (later raised to $4) was assessed. As a result, many Chinese left.
In a two-week period in 1853, 1000 Chinese arrived. By 1854, 2000 to 3000 Chinese were living in Shasta County. In 1858, the California Legislature passed a law prohibiting further immigration of Chinese into the state. Hostilities between the whites and the Chinese reached a peak, and on February 5, 1859, a meeting was held at Shasta by white miners from Horsetown, Middletown and Texas Springs to decide what to do. The following resolutions were adopted at that meeting and posted on trees throughout the area:
"That the time has come when some definite and determined action should be had in relation to the Chinese, who, from their immense number, now in the mines of this county, have become an evil too great to be borne, and hence it behooves American miners to take prompt and decisive measures to stop this evil that overwhelms them.
That we will give the Chinese until the first of March next to wind up their business in such mining districts as are represented in this convention.
That on or after the date stated above, if any Chinese are found working our mines, we will....assemble and expel such Chinese, peaceably, if we can, forcibly if we must."
On February 25, 1859, fifty Chinese men were expelled from mines near Rock Creek and forcibly marched through Shasta by the white miners. On February 29, a large number of well-armed white miners expelled approximately 200 Chinese from Horsetown, Middletown, Oregon Gulch, and other mining places and marched them through Shasta and on to the Sacramento River where they were put on boats heading south. A riot almost broke out during this expulsion, but was averted. Shasta County Sheriff Clay Stockton was successful in helping to avert the riot.
An attempt was made during the winter of 1860-61 to introduce the Chinese into the Buckeye mining district, but failed because the white miners threatened violence against the Chinese and whomever employed them.
In 1869, 10,000 plus Chinese were hired by Charles Crocker to work as manual laborers on the railroad in counties south of Shasta. They were referred to as Crocker's Army and/or Crocker's Pets. The Chinese were treated poorly, exploited, paid $1/day, and forced to buy their supplies from Sisson and Crocker, the railroad company store, at double the regular prices.
In 1872, track laying reached southern Shasta County; it was the Chinese who laid the majority of the tracks through the county. They complained bitterly about their treatment, and in 1883 decided to strike, but it was to no avail. The railroad retaliated by bringing in more Chinese from other areas and hiring on more whites.
The only-known official legal business venture/ partnership to take place between a Euro-American and Chinese men in Shasta County took place in the Cottonwood Creek gold mining area. James Drew and three Chinese men were partners in the Watson and Roaring Ditch. It is unknown when the partnership was established; it is known that Drew and Ah Tong, Gok Yek and Ah Too sold the ditch, reservoirs, branch ditches, and water rights to Alexander Andrews in 1881.
In 1886, an anti-Chinese meeting was held at Redding to take action and "...rid the city of the obnoxious Chinese Mongolians". A committee of 40 citizens was appointed to notify the Chinese they must leave. Shortly after, Redding's Chinatown "mysteriously" burned to the ground. The majority of the Chinese left Shasta County leaving only a few who bravely stayed and continued to work at their jobs.
The Chinese were very devout in their religious beliefs. Each home had a spiritual shrine decorated with red and white prayer pennants painted with black and silver characters. Incense was continuously burned in each house. When a house was entered, prostrations and chanting were made on the floor.
Their temples were called a Joss House. One was located at the Shasta Chinatown, but was considered plain compared to the Joss House at Weaverville. The Weaverville Joss House had jade green dragons painted on heavy silk above the doorway, gilded gods on each side of the entranceway, and a large statue inside on a table.
The Chinese lived in huts with dirt floors that were barren except for their beds (or bunks) tiered one above the other on the walls. The beds were wooden and were approximately 30" wide and 7' long. Their only bedding was rice matting and wooden bench pillows. Outside each house was usually a garden, a duck pen, and one or two pigs.
Their everyday clothing was simple and unvaried. They wore a rice-mat hat that had a large, i.e., two feet in diameter, brim that rolled downward and was held in place with a cord fastened under their chin. They wore blue denim trousers tucked into American made boots and a blue demin overblouse that reached almost to their hips. The boot soles were filled with many pounds of nails to keep them from wearing out. The trousers were replaced by shorts in the summer.
All Chinese had a queue. The queue was a braid of hair - the "rope" by which they traveled to Heaven at death; without it there was no future life.
While all Shasta County burials were temporary, death customs varied. One account states the deceased were placed in wide-mouthed earthen jars in sitting positions. A gravekeeper was assigned the task of keeping watch over the bodies until the bones separated from the flesh. When this occurred, he "helped" expedite the process with the use of a very long sharp fingernail grown expressly for the purpose. When a body was completely free of flesh, the bones were shipped back to China for final burial.
Another account states the dead were taken to the cemetery by a procession of mourners who scattered thousands of pieces of tissue paper four to five inches square filled with holes along the procession route. In order to be safe from the Devil who followed even after death, the deceased had to crawl through all the holes in the papers. This type of burial was also temporary. The bones were eventually exhumed and shipped back to China for final burial.
Large quantities of choice Chinese food were left at the gravesite for the Gods and the deceased. One such "meal" consisted of pigs and turkeys cooked in whiskey and stuffed with onions and rice. Platters of roasted hogs were left on each grave. This practice eventually stopped because the food and dishes were stolen by Indians or whites.
A Joss House and a red brick prayer furnace were located at Shasta; the prayer furnace was used only for funeral ceremonies. A fire was built inside and tinsel flowers decorated with peacock feathers and small statues were placed on both sides of the door. Prayers were printed on red tissue paper and pushed through the upper slit in the furnace and the draft from the fire blew the prayers heavenward. Near the furnace was a shrine with a marble slab where the mourners left food for the deceased. The funeral service was conducted at the furnace and the deceased was taken to the cemetery led by a band playing mournful music. More lively music was played on the return trip. The bodies were left in the ground until such time as the bones were ready for disinterment and shipment back to China. When the time came for this, an undertaker came from San Francisco and made the arrangements.
The Chinese New Year was celebrated on the first day of the lunar month and was known to them as their "Good Day". Immediately prior to the celebration, every Chinese man shaved his head and left only the hair for his queue which was then braided with red and black silk ribbons. If his debts were completely paid prior to the New Year celebration, he was entitled to let his queue hang loose on that day. If he was still in debt, his queue had to be wound around his head, and this was considered a very disgraceful status. Everyone purchased new clothing for the celebration, and those who were financially able, appeared in beautifully embroidered silk clothes. Festivities included a tribute to the God of Valor whereby very tall poles were erected and firecrackers were twined and intertwined around the poles from bottom to top. The bottom firecrackers were lit and caused lots of excitement as they exploded and banged all the way to the top.
The Chinese were very generous during Christmas and other holidays and often gave gifts to the whites which included silk handkerchiefs, embroidered scarves, candies, and firecrackers. At Igo, white children were given bags of Chinese candy or nuts, and the women were given bracelets or dishes. During Christmas at Shasta, every family was given a bowl containing a Sacred Lily of China bulb surrounded by white quartz. The Chinese believed the lily would bring good luck to the owner the following year, and as it thrived, so would the owners luck and peace. The same type of lily bulb and bowl were placed before the statue inside their Joss House. Sacks and sacks of these lily bulbs were imported from China, and the descendants of these flowers can still be seen blooming by the thousands all over Shasta County every spring.
They raised animals, especially ducks and pigs and had vegetable gardens. Many foods were imported from China. Imported foods included dried abalone, bean threads, pressed fish, oils, ginger, nuts, rice, tea, and many types of candies.
A live, good-sized rattlesnake was placed in a gallon of meat and malt whiskey for several days. Treatment consisted of drinking a full shot glass of the concoction whereby pain supposedly ceased and comfort soon followed.
Smoking opium was a common practice among the Chinese. Many participated. Opium was openly puchased over the counter at Chinese stores for 25 cents.
Opium pipes were made of either bamboo, ceramic, or jade and were usually decorated with pewter, leather, ivory or jewels and varied in lengths from 6 inches to 2 ft.
The larger Chinese settlements were called Chinatowns. There were Chinatowns on the outskirts of almost every town. Large Chinatowns existed at Centerville/ Texas Springs, French Gulch, Millville, Piety Hill, Prairie Diggings, Redding, Roaring River, and Shasta. Smaller settlements were known as China Camps. In 1875, China Camps were located near Townsend Flat, Taylor's Ditch, and near Shasta at Salt Gulch.
The Centerville/Texas Springs area was the site of many large Chinese Gardens. The vegetables were sold from peddlers wagons with white canvas tops in nearby towns and settlements. Supposedly no Chinese women ever lived here.
This Chinatown was located at the south end of town a short distance south of St. Rose's Catholic Church on the same side of the road. The settlement consisted of rows of weather-beaten huts huddled together side-by-side. It was also the site of a garden whose vegetables were brought into French Gulch and sold by a Chinese man named "John". One woman supposedly lived here. The entire area has been dredged so not a vestige remains.
The Millville Chinatown was primarily a settlement of workers of the nearby garden. It was located southwest of town on the south side of Cow Creek.
This community was home to approximately 600 Chinese beginning in the 1850s. Chinese laborers built the major portion of the 22-mile long Hardscrabble Mine ditch and flume that stretched from Petty Butte to the Middle Fork of Cottonwood Creek. In 1866 all the whites left Piety Hill and moved across Conger Gulch to the new town of Igo and the Chinese stayed at Piety Hill. Many Chinese living there had duck pens and opium smoking was carried on openly. Their houses, or huts, were wooden.
Piety Hill was the site of a large garden; the vegetables were sold in a Chinese store which sat beside the road. The Chinese population began declining in the late 1880s and 1890s. Sometime during the first decade of this century, the last Chinese left Piety Hill. Supposedly only one Chinese woman ever lived here. She was known as "China Mary", wore long jade ear pendants, and dressed in brightly colored silk pantaloons.
This was a major encampment. Tailing piles, ditches, and hearths still exist here.
Redding's Chinatown was located on Shasta Street between California and Market Streets in 1880. In 1886, the whites forced the Chinese to leave, and on the night of their forced departure, their settlement "mysteriously" burned to the ground.
This Chinatown was located on a hillside between what is now Foster Road and McAuliffe Road in the Bald Hills area of Cottonwood. Was the location of several large vegetable gardens connected by the Hong Fang (or Tang) Stage Road to their mining area on Roaring River. Was also the location of a Chinese store in 1866 called "Johnney's Store" operated by a caucasian, John Horace Bidwell, that catered to his predominately Chinese customers. The store operated until 1911.
Redding's Chinatown was located at the lower (southern) end of Shasta near Middle Creek Road. The settlement was known as Hong Kong and the residents as "celestials". Contained a two-story hotel, stores, saloons, gambling dens, a Joss House (similar to the Weaverville Joss House), a cemetery, prayer furnace, and many tent and cloth houses. The buildings faced west and stood close together for a distance of approximately 250 feet; a narrow path closely skirted the main buildings. In 1853, approximately 400/500 Chinese were living here, making it one of the largest populated Chinese settlements in California. In 1859, the Chinese were forced to leave by the whites.
The Chinese were excellent gardeners and planted many large gardens in the Redding and Anderson areas. The vegetables from these gardens were highly sought after by whites and were sold almost as fast as they ripened on the vine to their eager customers. These gardens became commonly known as China Gardens. The Chinese usually transported their vegetables in peddling wagons into the nearby white settlements and towns where they had no trouble selling the produce. This practice continued in Redding even after 1900.
Were located at two separate locations, at separate times. During the 1860s, a garden was located at the place known today as the Hickman Ranch on the east side of the Sacramento River between Ash and Bear Creeks. In 1883, William Wilcox leased 60 acres of land, also on the east side of the Sacramento River, south of the original garden, to various Chinese individuals who continued to cultivate it until 1923. Produce from this garden was hauled to Anderson and Cottonwood, much to the delight of the housewives.
Consisted of three large gardens whose vegetables were delivered to the nearby towns and settlements and sold from peddling wagons.
Was located at the south end of French Gulch at the present location of the Clear Creek Mobile Estate Trailer Park. The vegetables were taken to town and sold by a Chinese known as "John" who carried them in two large reed baskets attached to a springy pole that rested across his shoulders.
Was located southwest of town on the south side of Cow Creek. Water was brought to the gardens via a large ditch from the creek.
Was large and located across the road from the Chinese store, to which the whites came to buy their vegetables.
The Roaring River area had numerous large gardens located on a large flat on the north side of the Middle Fork of Cottonwood Creek near Foster and McAuliffe Roads. Other gardens were located on the terraced hillsides located on both sides of Roaring River directly west of Johnny's Store.
Piety Hill circa 1910
This was once the cellar of aChinese house at Piety Hill.