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In Pursuit of Gold

In Pursuit of Gold: Chinese American Miners and Merchants in the American West

Sue Fawn Chung
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    In Pursuit of Gold
    Book Description:

    Both a history of an overlooked community and a well-rounded reassessment of prevailing assumptions about Chinese immigrants in the American West, In Pursuit of Gold brings to life in rich detail the world of turn-of-the-century mining towns in the Northwest. Sue Fawn Chung meticulously recreates the lives of Chinese immigrants, miners, merchants, and others who populated these towns and interacted amicably with their white and Native American neighbors, defying the common perception of nineteenth-century Chinese communities as insular enclaves subject to increasing prejudice and violence._x000B__x000B_While most research has focused on Chinese miners in California, this book is the first extensive study of Chinese experiences in the towns of John Day in Oregon and Tuscarora, Island Mountain, and Gold Creek in Nevada. Chung illustrates the relationships between miners and merchants within the communities and in the larger context of immigration, arguing that the leaders of the Chinese and non-Chinese communities worked together to create economic interdependence and to short-circuit many of the hostilities and tensions that plagued other mining towns. _x000B__x000B_Peppered with fascinating details about these communities from the intricacies of Chinese gambling games to the techniques of hydraulic mining, In Pursuit of Gold draws on a wealth of historical materials, including immigration records, census manuscripts, legal documents, newspapers, memoirs, and manuscript collections. Chung supplements this historical research with invaluable firsthand observations of artifacts that she experienced in archaeological digs and restoration efforts at several of the sites of the former booming mining towns._x000B__x000B_In clear, analytical prose, Chung expertly characterizes the movement of Chinese miners into Oregon and Nevada, the heyday of their mining efforts in the region, and the decline of the communities due to changes in the mining industry. Highlighting the positive experiences and friendships many of the immigrants had in these relatively isolated mining communities, In Pursuit of Gold also suggests comparisons with the Chinese diaspora in other locations such as British Columbia and South Africa.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09334-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    Not so many years ago historians wrote as if whatever economic contribution Chinese workers might have made to the development of the American West ended with the completion of the transcontinental railroads. That myth was demolished by the 1986 publication of Sucheng Chan’sThis Bittersweet Soil: The Chinese in California Agriculture, 1860–1910, which transformed the nature of Chinese American history by showing that, in addition to being exploited toilers, Chinese had made important entrepreneurial contributions.

    The great virtues of Sue Fawn Chung’s fine study of a handful of small mining towns in Eastern Oregon and Nevada are that she...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxviii)

    Tens of thousands of Chinese came to the United States in pursuit of gold in the late nineteenth century. A popular late nineteenth-century Cantonese song described how “the Spirit of Money” graced a miner’s home so that “in one blink” he had become a rich young man with gold and silver, no longer facing a desperate financial situation.¹ Few Chinese gold seekers were that fortunate however, and most faced many adversities. By examining the miners and merchants living in three small, relatively isolated, predominantly Chinese mining towns and other contemporary mining camps scattered throughout the American West, some insights into...

  6. Note on Transliteration of Names
    (pp. xxix-xxxiv)
  7. 1 The Coming and Early Challenges
    (pp. 1-45)

    Chinese migrated to the United States for many reasons. Upon arrival, they faced many challenges and established organizations to assist in coping with their new environment while preserving some traditions. The miners left few or no records about their experiences, but several different types of government documents provide some insights. The merchants in the mining towns and camps played an important role; some became very wealthy from their selling of both domestic and imported goods. In western societies they would be considered literate because they knew arithmetic and some reading and writing. (But, since knowledge of the Chinese classics was...

  8. 2 Onward to Eastern Oregon
    (pp. 46-81)

    By the mid-1850s as the gold became harder to find in California, some Chinese miners remained in California or returned to China while others moved into unchartered territories in the nearby regions. There was an advantage in going to new areas because they might have the opportunity to mine unhindered by animosity and anti-Chinese mining regulations. The Chinese who traveled to new boomtowns either followed EuroAmerican miners or knew enough about finding gold to strike out on their own. Some, like those who went to Idaho, were guided to placer sites by friendly Native Americans; many more were killed by...

  9. 3 Eastward to Northeastern Nevada: Tuscarora
    (pp. 82-121)

    By the mid-1850s Chinese miners migrated to remote parts of Utah Territory, now called Nevada, from various parts of the West, especially California because of the new gold discoveries along the Carson River. Most of the Chinese lived in western Nevada in the Carson City and Comstock Lode areas where mining and lumbering were major industries. After the completion of the transcontinental railroad, they moved eastward. Between 1870 and 1890 the third-largest concentration of Chinese in the state was in northeastern Nevada, in Elko County, where new mining sites were discovered.¹ The Chinese miners and merchants in the new boomtown...

  10. 4 Farther East: Island Mountain and Gold Creek
    (pp. 122-170)

    The completion of the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869 opened numerous other potentially rich placer gold sites in northeastern Nevada. Island Mountain, and the later town of Gold Creek that encompassed it, was first settled in 1873 and abandoned between 1918 and 1930. It exemplified the boom-and-bust mining towns of a shorter duration than did eastern Oregon towns and nearby Tuscarora. Island Mountain, located twenty-five miles south of the Nevada-Idaho border on the main stage coach route, was a major stop between the Central Pacific train stations of Carlin and Elko, Nevada, to the south, and the transportation centers at...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 171-184)

    Chinese miners and merchants in the three relatively small, isolated communities of John Day, Oregon, and Tuscarora and Island Mountain, Nevada, faced situations similar to those in other mining towns elsewhere in the American West, and in mining communities elsewhere in the Chinese diaspora, most notably British Columbia and New South Wales, Australia. In sharp contrast, the Chinese in South Africa were “coolie laborers” and suffered harsh treatment during their short tenure there. This experience resembled some of the attempts to use Chinese workers to replace African American slave labor in agriculture in the southern United States.

    Because many of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 185-214)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-242)
  14. Index
    (pp. 243-258)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-262)