Sunday, August 07, 2005

California Admission Day Celebration

From: "Chris Graves"

The State of California is soon to celebrate Admission Day. This year the Capital Celebration will be held at the Stanford Mansion, recently renovated, in a gala three day event.
State Parks has invited me to join in the pile, they are asking that I bring 60 linear feet of branded rail, original spikes, original telegraph pole and yard arm, mile post, etc. and most, if not all of my Chinese artifacts.
As a 'handout' is suggested, the attached is submitted to you for your critique. Several hundred of these will be given to school children and others that attend this soiree.
Your comments, corrections/suggestions are appreciated.

—Chris Graves, NewCastle, AltaCal'a


Are you good at puzzles? There are a few mysteries to be resolved, perhaps you can help!

The California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento has Central Pacific Railroad payroll records that reflect the following number of Chinese employees:

January, 1864....................23
February, 1864...................21
April, 1864............................5
March, 1865.....................730
April, 1865.....................1,358
May, 1865.....................1,218
January, 1866...............1,120
February, 1866..............1,176
March, 1866..................2,525
April, 1866.....................6,190
May, 1866.....................4,655
June, 1866....................5,184
July, 1866......................3,933
August, 1866.................2,012
September, 1866...........4,359
October, 1866................3,067
November, 1866............2,460
December, 1866............1,326
December, 1867...............401

The payrolls that are missing are presumed to be in private collectors' hands, as they surface from time to time on eBay and other auction sites. Do you know of anyone that may have a missing payroll journal?

On February 27, 1877, Charles Crocker said under oath, in Congressional testimony: Question "You say that you employed ten thousand Chinese?"
Answer: "About that number, I never knew exactly how many."
In that same hearing, James H. Strobridge, Construction Foreman for Mr. Crocker said "I do not think we had any Chinese (employed) in 1864, if so, then very few."
These two statements, as well as other Congressional testimony, leads most historians to believe that the bulk of Chinese workers were hired [beginning] in March, 1865, between Auburn and Clipper Gap. Do you have any documents that would prove or disprove this thesis?

Yet one other mystery remains to be resolved. In January, 1870, the Elko Independent reported that "there are 6 cars strung along the grade between here and Toano, picking up bodies of deceased Chinese railroad workers." And in July, 1870, the Sacramento Reporter noted "A train passed here today, containing 20,000 pounds of bones of Chinese railroad workers … some 1,200 bodies … bound for the flowery kingdom."
The question is, what possibly could have killed 1,200 workers between Elko and Toano, Nevada, a distance of less than 150 miles? We know that there were "pest cars" to house Chinese workers infected with smallpox in 1868-69, as Mrs. J. H. Strobridge contracted the disease caring for the sick workers. Nowhere has the exact number of workers that died during the course of construction from ANY CAUSE been found.
Newspaper reports of the day (1863-1869) note fewer than 130 deaths of railroad workers. These deaths are primarily from avalanche, cold, and fights, but few from accident while on the grade working. HOW MANY REALLY DIED? WHERE, AND FROM WHAT CAUSES? Do you know the answer?

[Links added.]


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

A few comments and observations.

1. I would have expected the highest employment to be in 1868 and early 1869 when the race against the Union Pacific was really on. I note there are no time sheets listed from those years, nor from any but December 1867. So I'd argue that the presented time sheets are not representative of the height of Chinese employment. Maybe 10,000 is a reasonable figure for 1868-69. Or maybe that is 10,000 total - cumulatively, but not all at the same time.

2. I can't speak for most historians, but THIS historian certainly does NOT conclude that, based on the statements by Crocker and Strobridge, the bulk of the Chinese were hired in March 1865 between Auburn and Clipper Gap. In fact, I would be extremely surprised if that were true. They wouldn't even have had time to get their recruiting in China underway, much less get all of the new hires from that source. I'd expect the bulk to arrive MUCH later - say 1867-68, maybe even into 1869. Your information is virtually silent about Chinese employment during those years.

3. We know even less about the employment of Indians in construction across Nevada, although we know they were there. We have also now spotted an Indian in the famous Russell photo of the two locos pilot to pilot – just in front of UP #119 – face generally very dark in photos, but braided hair visible.

4. In terms of the train of Chinese bones reported in July 1870 in Sacramento – there is no reason to believe it was limited to just the 6 cars from Toano-Elko. Rather I would suspect the train carried bones collected over the ENTIRE line. And we know for Civil War and other experiences of the time that many more deaths were from sickness and the like than from actual warfare. I'd think it would be similar with railroad construction.

And just because the Chinese drank tea and didn't suffer the water-born diseases that the whites did doesn't mean they were without sickness. Certainly there was plenty of sickness in other California Chinese communities, as well as in China. We can expect there were plenty of deaths from sickness, not just from accidents. Smallpox is an classic example.

The train suggests that 1200 might be pretty close to the total number of Chinese deaths between Sacramento and Ogden (beyond Promontory). But before asserting that figure I'd want to do a whole lot more research from different sources. And I think that the 130 Chinese deaths mentioned from newspaper accounts is far from the total.

Has anyone ever calculated and enumerated the death rate among Union Pacific construction crews? It would help to have a basis for comparison to the CP case.

Kyle K. Wyatt
Curator of History & Technology
California State Railroad Museum
111 "I" Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

My work address is:
My personal address is:

8/08/2005 12:52 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves"

Kyle, your comments are appreciated! I had to work with what I know, and am uncomfortable with speculating on the missing items. The February, 1865 payroll sheet sold on eBay a couple of years ago, I managed to get a copy of it, no Chinese named.

As to my (and your) item #2, I will be adding the word "beginning" in March, 1865, that should clarify the issue a bit. I caught the error last evening, after the email was sent.

As to the "six cars strung along the line" between Elko and Toano, I am curious as to why SIX cars were there, and not just one or two? Perhaps the six cars were to assigned to the work, and the work started at Toano, where the Mormons were first placed to work East, replacing the Chinese. If that were the case, (and it could be) the last to die were picked up first, and then the 6 cars moved West, finally arriving in Sacramento in June, 1870.

As to the 130 Chinese dead mentioned in newspapers, I have read every paper on microfilm in Sacramento, Reno, Ogden and SLC Libraries. That being said, only Sacramento and SLC have papers that were printed in 1863 that carried much news of the work. The last death of Chinese that I could find occured in 1868 at Toano, where an Anglo stabbed a Chinese in a fight. The Dutch Flat paper was rabidly anti-Chinese, they mention a 'tong war' and marching in circles, followed by fights, the avalanche at the Summit, etc. If anything could have been printed that would influence their readers as to the habits of Chinese, that paper would have printed it.

All of that being said, I can only account for 130 deaths during the course of construction that were mentioned in the papers of the day.

Someday, hopefully in my lifetime, someone somewhere will come up with a reasonable answer to the question.

Thank you all for you thoughtful comments.........gjg

8/08/2005 10:03 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

> ... "six cars strung along the line" between Elko and Toano ...

My guess is that they placed individual cars on selected sidings between Elko and Toano to serve as convenient loading points, then reassembled them into a train. My guess is that additional cars may have been placed on selected sidings West of Elko, too.

And we do know that Chinese also worked East of Toano. I think NPS has found Chinese artifacts a little West of Promontory in some of the camps (along with non-Chinese artifacts). And of course the Chinese were included in the ceremonies at Promontory.

Both CP and UP had pulled back most of their workers from Promontory before the ceremonies. Each railroad only kept a small crew there. Probably the majority of those present were locals who came from the surrounding area, and by train from such points as Corrine and Ogden, not railroad workers at all.

For all the complaints that the Chinese did not receive recognition in the Promontory ceremonies, I think they received more specific acknowledgements than the workers of the Union Pacific.

Kyle K. Wyatt
Curator of History & Technology
California State Railroad Museum
111 "I" Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

My work address is:
My personal address is:

8/09/2005 2:32 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


... I have a thought or two on Chinese labor and death. I agree with [Kyle] on the possible number of deaths but I suggest one must be careful to delineate between deaths caused BY construction and DURING construction. My take is Chris is claiming 130 lives lost BY construction which is possibly low but also consider the number of deaths of white workers reported by the media. Not too many. We should remember that in all cases where work is dangerous men are not fools and take some extra care in what they are doing. And from a management standpoint it would be prudent to see that as few casualties as possible occurred. The idea of a disregard for human life does not fit my idea of a responsible attitude by those in charge of the troops. And as to the total Chinese employed we should remember that there is a practical limit to the ability to keep the entire work coordinated, not just the use of unsupervised hordes. Then too, how much supplies and water was available for workers strung out for extended distances? To my mind there is a finite limit to what is practicable, not just theoretically possible. I sure enjoy your comments on historical questions brought up by the discussion group. I learn more every day.

—Lynn Farrar

8/10/2005 10:28 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

.. I do not think the treatment of Chinese by the Central Pacific during construction was significantly different than the treatment of any other laboring groups in that time period. (Treatment in towns and cities is a whole different topic, and I really don't have enough familiarity with that to make any statement.)

Just as most deaths in the Civil War were from disease and such things (by a wide margin), so I think disease likely accounted for the majority of deaths on the Central Pacific, White and Chinese.

I do not think that newspapers named every White worker who died during construction of the Central Pacific, and certainly not all Chinese. "Sensational" deaths would be described. "Routine" deaths would many times not, I suspect. Thus I'm reluctant to base a conclusion solely on a totaling of all deaths mentioned in newspapers.

Since we know the Central Pacific was actively recruiting in China in 1867 (and 1868 I think), it seems likely that peak employment would likely be around then. They are also working far in advance of end of track by 1868, so there is much more space to work crews to advantage than when they are all compressed in the mountains. (I gather a crew of 15 or so was all you could reasonably use on a tunnel face. In open country you could use far more.) There are of course limits caused by the supply line, but by 1868 I think the money is flowing much better, and they have gotten the system working efficiently.

Chris mentions the 6 cars between Toano and Elko, then the bones of 1200 Chinese passing through Sacramento. My suspicion is that the CP spread 6 cars on selected sidings between Toano and Elko to conveniently collect Chinese bones - and likely placed other cars similarly spaced west of Elko (and east of Toano). These were all assembled into the train that passed through Sacramento. Off the top of my head, 1,200 does not seam an unreasonable number of total Chinese deaths, especially when one includes disease, and also Chinese who may not have been working for the CP at the time of their death, but who were in the area.

Again, getting comparative death figures for the Union Pacific would be illuminating. My suspicion is that the UP death rate may well have been higher than that of the CP, but I have no evidence to support that.

Kyle K. Wyatt
Curator of History & Technology
California State Railroad Museum
111 "I" Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

My work address is:
My personal address is:

8/11/2005 7:30 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Subject: Worker Deaths - again

I'm still ruminating about Chinese deaths in the construction of the Central Pacific. Having just reread a sampling of the discussions on the CPRR site related to Mr. Chew's conclusions and the counter arguments, I must say that I am not exactly comfortable with either side.

Further, I think the central question has not even been asked:
How does the Chinese death rate on the Central Pacific compare with that of other workers (especially White workers) of the period?

While I cannot prove it at this point, my gut feeling is that Chinese death rates were no greater than White worker deaths of the period.

Death was commonplace in the period, regardless of race. I've looked for Union Pacific construction death rates statistics, but have yet to fine anything that even mentions the topic. It took a lot of searching before I found a passing reference stating that in 1868 the Union Pacific employed 20,000 workers, and I must say I'm not entirely confident in the accuracy of the source.

I did find some interesting statistics from the Civil War:

Federal Army Casualties
Killed in action or mortally wounded 110,100
Died of disease 224,580
Died as prisoners of war 30,192
Other types of non-battle deaths: 24,881
Total Deaths 389,753
Wounded in Action 275,175
Total casualties, 1861 to 1865 664,928

Confederate Army Casualties
(statistics incomplete)
Killed in action or mortally wounded 94,000
Died of disease 164,000
Died as prisoners of war 31,000
Total Deaths 289,000
Wounded in action 194,026
Total casualties, 1861 to 1865 483,026

Another source has the following:

At least 618,000 Americans died in the Civil War, and some experts say the toll reached 700,000. The number that is most often quoted is 620,000. At any rate, these casualties exceed the nation's loss in all its other wars, from the Revolution through Vietnam.
The Union armies had from 2,500,000 to 2,750,000 men. Their losses, by the best estimates:

Battle deaths: 110,070
Disease, etc.: 250,152
Total 360,222

The Confederate strength, known less accurately because of missing records, was from 750,000 to 1,250,000. Its estimated losses:

Battle deaths: 94,000
Disease, etc.: 164,000
Total 258,000

Another source:
Medicine in the Civil War

Early in the war it became obvious that disease would be the greatest killer. Two soldiers died of disease (dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, and malaria) for every one killed in battle. Soldiers from small rural areas suffered from childhood diseases such as measles and mumps because they lacked immunity. Outbreaks of these "camp and campaign" diseases were caused by overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the field. To remedy this, the U.S. government created the U.S. Sanitary Commission in June 1861.

The commission was directed by Frederick Law Olmstead. Preaching the virtues of clean water, good food, and fresh air, the commission pressured the Army Medical Department to improve sanitation, build large well-ventilated hospitals, and encourage women to join the newly-created nursing corps. Despite the efforts of the Sanitary Commission, some 560,000 soldiers died from disease during the war.

Second to disease as a cause of death was battlefield injuries, totaling some 200,000 casualties.

Still another:
Deaths During the Civil War

Total forces 1,556,678
Deaths from Wounds 110,070
Deaths from Disease 249,458
Death Rate 23 percent
Wounded 275,175

Total forces 1,082,119
Deaths from Wounds 94,000
Deaths from Disease 164,000
Death Rate 24 percent
Wounded 100,000

Note the deaths from disease were about double those killed by the fighting – and the war had people actively trying to kill each other. Statistics show a death rate of 23-24 per cent of the total forces of soldiers, with about 2/3 of the deaths (say about 16%) by disease, not the battle field.

Comparing what we know of the Chinese on the Central Pacific suggests that they appear to have done better than soldiers in the Civil War, even after eliminating the deaths from actual warfare.

None of this is conclusive, but it does suggest some important lines of questioning before we can really make any valid statements about the working conditions of the Chinese on the Central Pacific.

My personal feeling is that the Union Pacific workers had rather higher death rates than the Central Pacific crews. We know the Chinese had a healthier diet than the White workers (including vegetables, and using tea of boiled water). Also, the Central Pacific (under teetotalers Crocker and Strobridge) did not tolerate the "Hell on Wheels" that the Union Pacific construction camps were known as, with their regular death rates high enough among workers that White observers commented on it in surprise.

As to construction-related deaths, I see no evidence that the Chinese were exposed to any more dangerous conditions than White workers of the period were. Construction was dangerous work, regardless of race, and death was an accepted part of construction well into the 20th century. In fact, construction remains dangerous today, even with modern safety measures.

Kyle K. Wyatt
Curator of History & Technology
California State Railroad Museum
111 "I" Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

My work address is:
My personal address is:

8/29/2005 6:23 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Don Snoddy"

I have never seen anything that suggests how many deaths there were on the UP. Mostly I suspect because there were so many contractors building the road and it was of no particular interest to UP how many died. There was always somebody else to take their place. The contractors records have not been found, if they still exist, except for Casement and I saw nothing there in any of his reports that said how many died. I find it very difficult to believe that UP had 20000 workers in 1868. They had a few thousand at the Omaha shops but that was their largest location. North Platte, Cheyenne, Laramie and Rawlins were just beginning to bustle but not to that extent.


"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." —Groucho Marx
"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go." —Oscar
"There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure." —Jack E.
"Laughing helps. It's like jogging on the inside." —Ship High In Transit

8/29/2005 4:51 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

I had assumed that the reference to 20,000 UP employees specifically was the construction workers (actually working for contractors), not actual UP employees engaged in operating the railroad. That seemed to be the context of the reference.

Kyle K. Wyatt
Curator of History & Technology
California State Railroad Museum
111 "I" Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

My work address is:
My personal address is:

8/29/2005 5:39 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Edson T. Strobridge"

... These payroll records are only from the Charles Crocker and Co. and do not include the Contract and Finance Co. who took over the contract at the State line in late December 1867. All those records were destroyed.

The Payroll Records also do not count the number of Chinese employed, they only report the number of hours worked so be careful with your numbers. They were reported as "Chinese Labor" with the number of man hours worked. It depends on how the information was extrapolated. Your conclusions as to numbers are probably as close as any one else's but it is only your best guess based on the number of man hours reported. ...

Those that you list are only the surviving payroll records in the CSRM Museum for the CC&Co. They do not represent every payroll record for the month you list. Your reader may come to the wrong conclusion that these records are complete and your interpretation is totally accurate. In my opinion and of many others the maximum number of Chinese employed at one time was over 10,000, probably between 10,000 and 11,500 at the peak. Of course there is no documented evidence of that number but the estimates coming from the principals during the time of construction as well as later testimony in 1877, 1887 and 1915 before Congressional Committees indicate those numbers. There will always be differences of opinion as to the accuracy of that number but the peak number you use for April 1866 is only 6,190 Chinese and the construction had not yet hit its stride.

Wouldn't you be safer in describing your results as indicating the rapid increase in the employment of the Chinese over those years you quote from with the Charles Crocker and Co. and only include the surviving records in the CSRM collection? There are no surviving records after Dec. 1867.

... Charlie Crockers Contract and Finance Co. took off in full stride in late December 1867 with thousands of Chinese employees and contemporary reporting is full of that information.

... the Mormon Contract to (near) Toano was completed and the Mormon crews returned to Salt Lake before the Chinese even arrived at Toano. The Chinese forces were certainly reduced by the time they arrived at the Mormon grade at Toano but many of them were sent back along the line for other work. ...


9/01/2005 6:15 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Subject: Value of Life

As a comparison to the discussion of the Chinese on the Central Pacific, I copy the following from the R&LHS list. Note the number of Irish who reportedly died in the 1830s, mostly from disease. John Decker translated the works of Von Gerstner from German, and they were published by Stanford University.

Kyle K. Wyatt


Date: Tue, 6 Sep 2005 09:21:33 -0400
From: "John Decker"
Subject: von Gerstner's chilling findings regarding New Orleans

In volume II of his great work about American transportation, published in German in 1842-3, Franz Anton Von Gerstner reported that the New Orleans Canal & Banking Company, colloquially called the Pontchartrain Canal, employed thousands of Irish males to do the digging. 1833 was such a bad year for cholera that "About 6,000 Irish workers who had been employed in earth moving perished and were buried along the canal!"

He also said, in a sentence that resonates today, "On Lake Pontchartrain, the canal's mouth is protected by embankments that form a spacious harbor in which ships can be fully sheltered from storms ... the embankments that enclose it are 25 feet thick and formed of double walls; the space between them is filled up with tree branches, mud and oyster shells." (page 746). Even then, they thought that it was not an excessive measure to have doubled levee walls as a precaution.

The Pontchartrain Railroad was also open for business at the time von Gerstner wrote, and "is among the most lucrative public enterprises in the United States," paying terrific dividends. To ride over the four and a half miles of road, passengers paid $0.375.

—John Decker

9/08/2005 6:43 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See additional comments.

10/30/2005 12:19 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves"

Question: Where did [the Chinese described in the Jan. 1870 Elko, and the June, 1870 Sacramento newspaper articles] die, and what did they die off? How many women were along on the construction, and how many of women died, and of what cause?


1/28/2006 5:43 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See the additional discussion.

12/08/2006 3:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the Report of the US Pacific Railway Commission hearings of 1887-88, James H. Strobridge testifed (see pp. 3107-3108):

"I do not think we had any Chinamen in 1864. In 1865 we commenced at Newcastle. [Earlier he had testified that his work was doing grading in 1864; he became in charge in 1865, at MP 33 ... just West of Auburn] ...with a small force there, and increased to nearly 14,000 men."

"During the years 1866 and 1867, and along there, we had a very large force. After we got out of the mountains and on the the plains our force was considerably lighter. As I recollect it now, we had in 1866 and in 1867 about 13,000 or 14,000 men, something about 11,000 Chinamen the balance white men. In 1868 I think we had about 5,000 Chinese, as I now recollect it. We had that same force, pretty much, in 1869."

12/30/2006 3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A newly discovered newspaper report shows that the notion of large numbers of Chinese casualties in building the Central Pacific Railroad is almost certainly a myth based on a single erroneous newspaper article. (On June 30, 1870, the bodies of 50, not 1,200 Chinese dead were reported to have arrived in Sacramento by train for reburial, and not all of this much smaller number had died of construction accidents.)

Consequently, any claims of more than 150 Chinese killed building the first transcontinental railroad now seem extremely dubious.

1/17/2007 9:47 AM  

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