Chinese Heritage Tour of the American West

Exploring the uncovered heritage of early Chinese American pioneers over a seven-day tour

Browsing Posts tagged U.S. Forest Service Chinese history tour

On Sunday, the day before the Chinese Heritage Tour ended and people flew back to Seattle, I watched at least three participants shed tears.

It’s OK to do that, you know. In many ways, crying is a healthy form of communication. It shows that your mind and heart are linked up and in good working order – that you have emotion.

The three people - all Chinese Americans - were thinking about their family histories, loved ones, lessons learned and the new stories and friends gained on this year’s one-week Heritage Tour through Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada.

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The Chinese Heritage Tour of the American West – a project of the Wing Luke Museum and the USDA Forest Service – had historic moments, personal reflections about Chinese pioneers, thoughts about family histories and, well, hours and hours of life on the bus.

This post is primarily for the 35 or so people who participated in this year’s rolling history project which included visits in Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada. It’s for the public, too.

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Even before gold was discovered in Virginia City, Nevada – a mile above the sea – the Chinese had arrived in the area.

After the Comstock Lode, which sparked the big gold rush in 1859, more Chinese pioneers arrived, enduring the dry heat, winds and frontier life for a chance to help families across the Pacific Ocean.

But for the most part, they could not unearth it from the deep mines. The reason: Powerful unions for other miners blocked the Chinese from going underground, said Ron James with the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office.

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Tour participants might not have noticed it on Day 1 of the Chinese Heritage Tour of the American West. But food and water magically appeared at different intervals as the bus rolled down the highway.

Think sandwiches, cookies, Vitamin C candy, Chinese candy, chips, chocolate mints, fruit gummies, crackers, bottled water, peanuts and granola bars (different kinds). In fact, you might have forgotten that some of these munchies existed had you not sat down on the tour bus.

So what do these supplies look like?

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The Chinese Heritage Tour had a bit of a bus ride Saturday from Idaho to the gold-mining area of Virginia City, Nevada – but this is the morning view participants can see from this mountainous area approximately 6,000 to 7,000 feet above the sea.

At one point in the 19th century, Virginia City had so much gold that, as the visitors center said, the precious metal was in “every hill.” Those two words drew prospectors from around the world – including China.

The group today will go on a walking tour of this town with Ron James from the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office. He will talk about the Chinese Americans who arrived centuries ago.

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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.

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A group of us from the Chinese Heritage Tour went out for dinner Thursday to a Chinese restaurant in Eastern Oregon.

I think many of us had cravings for some tasty Chinese food – fresh vegetables, braised meats and the like. I sat at the end of the longish table and looked up to see a plate full of three browned patties with what looked like gravy or cheese on top.

I thought: Who ordered salisbury steak?

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We crossed the Oregon-Idaho border today and stopped in Idaho City to visit a placer mining site near the Granite Creek Trailhead. One thing we learned quite fast: It can get hot – as in at least the 90s plus range.

So, many members of the Chinese Heritage Tour of the American West were smart. They broke out what they needed to stay relatively cool or the sun out of their eyes and off their heads.

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The Chinese gold miners who worked the land north of Granite, Ore. starting in the 1860s left traces of their work and existence - shards from bowls, glass medicine bottles and items with Chinese characters.

When the members of the Chinese Heritage Tour visited the Ah Hee Diggings on Thursday, several used their Chinese reading skills and understanding of Chinese American history to help interpret and better understand artificats collected by the USDA Forest Service.

Those members included Ron Chew, a Seattle resident and former Wing Luke Museum executive director, and Dorothy Ng, a Wing Luke staff member and coordinator for the Heritage Tour.

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Our bus snaked up the mountains of Eastern Oregon on Thursday and arrived at our destination around noon - an unmarked rocky site in the Whitman National Forest about a mile north of Granite.

Members of the 2010 Chinese Heritage Tour exited the bus, carefully made their way across a narrow wooden bridge and gathered under a small clump of trees. That provided a bit of relief from the dry summer heat in this area about 5,000 feet above the sea.

At least by 1867, Chinese miners had arrived, too, in search of gold discovered that decade, researchers have said. Many of the miners had made their way from the Toisan, or Taishan, area of southern China.

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