Saturday, February 03, 2007

"Abandoned" Chinese Crews

Is there any evidence to support claims that Chinese crews were "abandoned" in Nevada once CPRR construction was completed?

Some examples of this myth:

Early American History Auctions writes: "The Central Pacific railroad gave birth to the town of Elko in 1868 as it pushed its tracks eastward. On New Year's Day in 1869, there were just a few tents among the sagebrush, but two weeks later, hastily laid out plots were selling for $300 to $500 each. By late 1869, Elko's population had climbed to 2,000. From that beginning, the town grew rapidly as a freight terminus to supply the mines in the region. In May 1869, when the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Point Utah, linking the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads, the Chinese laborers from the Central Pacific's track crew were abandoned. On foot, hundreds headed west and many stayed in Elko. The Chinese built the first water system in Elko." [It turns out that this statement included in an eBay live auction was quoted from a Wikipedia article. When a correction was submitted to Wikipedia, it resulted in the original statement being deleted.]

"Elko is the sixth largest county in the United States, consisting of 17,181 square miles, as big as five of the New England states plus the District of Columbia. In May 1869, when the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Point Utah, linking the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads. The Chinese laborers from the Central Pacific's track crew were abandoned. On foot, hundreds headed west and many stayed in Elko. One of their chief occupations during the summer months was the raising of vegetables for the town. Their gardens were mostly on the northern banks of the Humbolt River and were watered by hand. Eventually the Chinese built the first water system in Elko. They built a reservoir and dug a ditch to carry the water from Osino to the reservoir, a distance of 8-10 miles (right through what is now City Park)." —Elko Area History according to the Eklo Area Chamber of Commerce

Iris Chang wrote: "Of more immediate concern, the Central Pacific immediately laid off most of the Chinese workers, refusing to give them even their promised return passage to California. The company retained only a few hundred of them for maintenance work, some of whom spent their remaining days in isolated small towns along the way, a few living in converted boxcars."

[emphasis added]


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


On the surface, it certainly doesn't seem consistent with other actions by the Central Pacific – such as including Chinese in the Golden Spike ceremony.  I wouldn't say it couldn't have happened, but I'd certainly want to see some contemporary sources on the subject before I'd accept it.

2/04/2007 8:49 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Larry Mullaly"

Two points to add to this discussion:

Conversations about the Chinese and the railroad frequently overlook the fact that Chinese labor was a commodity managed through the Six Companies in San Francisco, and/or firms such as Sisson, Wallace & Co. For the most part Chinese workers were not hired (or fired) as individuals. If track gangs were terminated, they were too valuable to their labor contractors to be simply "turned loose" to walk home. They would have been reassigned to other work such as Idaho, Nevada mining, or brought back to California for levee, irrigation canal or other work. If nothing else they would be returned to that great repository of Chinese labor: San Francisco’s China town.

Given the Chinese penchant for exactitude in making out contracts, I feel confident that there were no loose ends about how they would be transported to other work sites.

Large numbers of Chinese were retained along the Central Pacific as section workers — although not to the extent of one "Chinaman per mile" that I believe Charles Crocker alleged. An examination of the 1870 US Census shows Chinese workers distributed at section quarters all along the line through Nevada and Utah. Initially their housing may have been nothing but tents, with the section "quarters" themselves limited to their white foremen and trackwalkers. But more permanent (wooden) quarters undoubtedly followed. The housing and distribution of Chinese track workers is fairly easy to trace later on the Southern Pacific using the US Railroad Commissioner reports and the 1880 US Census.

—Larry Mullaly

2/04/2007 9:03 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wendell Huffman"

I would suggest it is the responsibility of those making to claims to produce the evidence. If they don't provide it with their claim in some citation, then I would dismiss it as window dressing. Perhaps for some political or social reason they want you to believe the Chinese workers were abandoned. In the absence of evidence anyone can say anything. That doesn't make it true.

For what it's worth, there are reports in the California papers of trainloads of workers being shifted from the eastern end of the CPRR back to California in the spring of 1869 to pick up the work on the Western Pacific. And there were still many Chinese working on railroad construction in the 1880s.

I am coming to believe that there were a number of Chinese entrepreneurs who followed the CPRR construction, providing one kind of service or another to the Chinese railroad workers. The basis for this is the reference in the Elko newspaper about the bodies of women being left in their graves. Perhaps when the railroad workers were relocated, these other felt abandoned, and doubtless the railroad would have felt no obligation to relocate them as well.


2/05/2007 1:11 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Lynn Farrar"

In all my research on early CP history I have never heard so much as a whisper of Chinese being "abandoned". This does not fit the people who were in charge. More and more I think we have the makings of another "Stephen Ambose author" who wants facts to support his biased views. And I will put my hours of research and those of my staff up against anybody.


2/06/2007 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Subject: The Chinese in America by Iris Chang

Poor Iris messed up on the Irish ... this isn't the first time she messed up. In her book The Rape of Nanking she had the Japanese killing more people than the entire population of the city before the attack. At least half of the photographs in the book were also fake – Chinese killed by other Chinese in unrelated incidents. Edgar Snow said 42,000 dead at Nanking – John Rabe, who was there and saved people, said 50,000. Iris said 200,000. She also claimed that the Japanese never acknowledged the genuine atrocity when in fact it's been published in Japanese textbooks for the past 40 years and still is. She was a nice girl but I think she was way off beam as a historian and was being manipulated from China to keep up Japan-bashing. As a Chinese girl two years out of Beijng told me: "The rapes really happened but the numbers were nonsense. You can't trust the Chinese when it comes to numbers. We know white people don't care what happens to us so we always inflate the numbers." Last time I looked, the death toll was 400,000 ...

5/25/2009 5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All very sad ... her suicide bespeaks a very troubled individual.

5/25/2009 5:12 PM  

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