Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chinese and Charles Savage

From: "Todd Shallat" tshalla@boisestate.edu

Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question.

In Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler's Photographing the Frontier and again in Bradely Richard's biography of Charles Savage, historian say that the Chinese workers were spooked by Savage's camera. As the Chinese workers were position the rail, according to this story, someone yelled, "Now's the time, Charlie! Take a shot!" Allegedly the workers dropped their tools and scattered.

Could this possibly have any basis in fact? ...

—Todd Shallat, Center for Idaho History and Politics

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your question and for the healthy skepticism.

Accurate information about the Chinese workers who built the Central Pacific Railroad is hard to come by because there are no surviving first person accounts written by Chinese and much of what is written in recent books and online is simply made up and wrong.

Those stories about the supposed inability to photograph CPRR Chinese railroad workers seem to be tall tales that have no basis in fact. But we don't have to guess because the responsibility for proving that something actually happened is entirely on the author who makes the claim and nobody else has to disprove anything. So unless those writings that you cite have accompanying references that are ultimately backed up by primary source first person accounts, they should be discarded as entirely unreliable.

These whoppers seem to be an attempt to provide an answer to the question: "Why were no Chinese photographed at the Joining of the Rail ceremony at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869 when the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad were completed?" But the premise of the question is untrue!

We can be certain that these fabrications are untrue because we have a have photographs of the Central Pacific Railroad's Chinese workers taken at the ceremony at Promontory and earlier.

We also know exactly where the Chinese workers were located (dining in J.H. Strobridge's boarding car with the railroad management) and therefore why they could not have been included in the famous large format photograph taken by A.J. Russell just after the ceremony (or the stereographs of Charles R. Savage and Alfred A. Hart taken at almost the same time).

1/15/2012 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Todd Shallat" tshalla@boisestate.edu

Marvelous. I figured as much. —T

1/15/2012 2:16 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kyle K. Wyatt" kylekwyatt@gmail.com

It was AJ Russell, not Charles Savage, who actually took a photo of the Chinese workers laying the last rail. Three of the eight Chinese in the rail crew are clearly visible (the others presumably obscured by the crowd), and none show signs of fright.

It is always possible that Savage also intended to take a photo of the Chinese laying the last rail, but I think the more common version of the story associates the event (frightening the Chinese) with Russell – and it is not clear that it actually happened. It's right up there with Crocker and Durant swinging and missing the spike. Both stories often repeated, but scant contemporary evidence to support them.

—Kyle

1/16/2012 12:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are a number of myths, fables, lies, mis-statements of truths, etc. re: the Chinese folks on the CPRR. What you are relating is just one.
The others? Thousands died in industrial accidents. My friend, I'll pay you $100 for the name and burial place of every Chinese that died IN AN INDUSTRIAL ACCIDENT on the railroad grade, when that number exceeds 140. I don't count shootings, fights, snow slides when the workers were asleep nor small pox. JUST INDUSTRIAL ACCIDENTS. To collect my money, you must give me the date of the accident, the name of the deceased, the method of his death,the source of your finding must be a first person reporting of unimpeachable background. And, there must be no contridictory evidence given by others. For example, in Sacramento a local newspaper tells us that 20,000 pounds of bones went thru town, bound for burial in China. All of those bones, according to the paper, were the remains of Chinese rail workers.
However, the VERY NEXT day, another paper in Sacramento, reporting on the same train of bones, says that the train contained 50 bodies, to be buried in Sacramento.
No mention how the folks died. Or when then they died. NOr their names.
Good friend David H. Bain in "Empire Express" speaks of Chinese in baskets at Cape Horn. Then, bless his soul, in his next book, "The Old Iron Road" he apologizes for the basket story.
Lots to know, Friend, the discovery of true fact is often buried by the fibs told many years ago.
G J Chris Graves, Chairman, Committee for the protection of "What is Truth" in railroad history.

1/16/2012 5:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although saying "shoot" to refer to taking a picture may not have caused alarm at the 1869 railroad ceremony, the same cannot be said for October, 1974.

Former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon had an x-ray venogram for life threatening thrombophlebitis performed at Memorial Hospital in Long Beach, California by cardiovascular radiologist Dr. Scott Driscoll. As is standard practice, Dr. Driscoll was ready to start injecting the iodine x-ray contrast into President Nixon's leg veins and called "3, 2, 1 ... shoot" to the x-ray technician to coordinate the start of the x-ray exposures and the film changer. The result was a bit of miscommunication with the Secret Service Agents guarding Mr. Nixon who hearing "shoot" immediately followed by the loud noises of the rapidly cycling x-ray film changer rushed into the x-ray room with guns drawn!

If that was not exciting enough, Scott also tells a rather harrowing tale of his solo voyage across the Pacific in a yacht.

1/16/2012 11:05 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: Bob_Spude@nps.gov

The earliest reference to this quote I could find was Edwin Sabin's Building the Pacific Railway, 1919. Unfortunately, he did not provide references for his work. Sabin included much period local color and folklore, which is where I would put this quote.

—Bob Spude – Historian – Cultural Resources Management – National Park Service – Intermountain Region

The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage.

1/17/2012 1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Todd Shallat" tshalla@boisestate.edu

Thanks. I have Sabin's book. The story is revealing anyway. —T

1/17/2012 8:26 PM  

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