The placer – or surface – mining site that eight Chinese men once worked sits near Idaho City, Idaho or about 39 miles from Boise.

It’s officially called the Granite Creek Trailhead and is part of the Boise National Forest. On Friday, the heat was so high that local residents played on rafts or in innertubes in creeks and rivers. The grass had turned dry, yellow.

Around the 1880s, eight Chinese men worked this rocky, approximately 10-acre area to find gold. What they also did was leave evidence of their existence, giving researchers better clues to piece together this region’s history and contributions of Chinese pionners in the American West.

For example, pictured above is a Chinese tea can and some type of strainer.

The eight men were part of what was recorded as the Hop Lee Tong, said Susie Osgood, a USDA Forest Service archaeologist with the Boise National Forest.

“We don’t know much about him,” she said, referring to the man. Tong typically meant group, organization or association.

Records also show that Hop Lee and his crew leased this rock-filled, sloping land for 25 years from Chris Constance, who has been listed as a hose maker, for $1,500.

That slope was important because water could go down it – something gold miners needed in search of the precious metal.

In 1994, when Osgood was doing work in the area, she came across a treasure trove of sorts – the men’s trash dump which still existed from the 19th century.

Among the items eventually found: A Chinese toothbrush made of wood, gaming pieces, rubber boots, tunic buttons, a sardine can and coins with Chinese writing on them.

So why do these artificats exist today?

“What we think happened was that a water event buried these artificats,” she said.

There is other evidence – a store’s ledger – which includes the Hop Lee Tong name, she added. It might be directly to this mining site – and it might not.

But the name is the same.

In this ledger, a note shows that the Hop Lee Tong served as some type of security for Pon Yam, who operated a store in nearby Idaho City.

Who was Pon Yam?

According to an essay in Bricks & Boardwalks: A Walking-Tour Guide To Historic Idaho City, he was:

…a successful businessman and a respected leader in the community. It was reported that he owned the largest diamond in the mining camp, and he was often called upon to settle disputes among the Chinese tongs (fraternal organizations).

Back in 1870, Idaho City had 1,751 residents from China, or about 45 percent of the total population, according to the historic guide.

In the 1860s, territorial lawmakers in Idaho passed a bill which required “All Mongolians” to pay $4.00 each month they stayed in what is now a state. Still, the Chinese miners remained.

Another question is: What route did these Chinese miners take to get here after they arrived on what is now the U.S. West Coast?

Dale Hom, a USDA Forest Service supervisor who has studied the region’s history, offered this likely route: Chinese pioneers went by paddle boat along the Columbia River.

After that, they took the Snake River. At a certain point, they took wagons to various places. Some might have headed north to Spokane, Wash. Others went south, ending up in Pendleton, Ore.

Others headed to Idaho to places such as the Boise Basin, where this mining site sits.