The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 9, Number 2, Pages 18-35
Spring, 1984

The Chinese Must Go! Anti-Chinese Sentiment in Columbia County I870-I910

by Kathryn Evers Meyer

Stage coach from the mining rush period.

University of Idaho, Special Collections.


Typical freight wagon from the mining rush period.

University of Idaho, Special Collections.


On a warm Saturday night, at about eleven o'clock on April 23, 1892, a mob of approximately fifty men, all members of the Mutual Aid Society, marched on the various Chinese houses in Dayton, Washington, and ordered the occupants to leave town by the next Tuesday. The men were not masked, but many held drawn revolvers. In the next few days, a number of the alarmed Chinese made preparations to leave; some even withdrew their money from local banks. The others appealed to Sheriff Albert Thronson, who deputized fifty men to protect the Chinese and announced that "riotous behavior" would earn the full penalties of the law. Although he received several personal threats for his efforts, Thronson merely quipped that he was thankful that his enemies generously had informed him of their plans. and that he was prepared to give then a "genteel reception and quail on toast." In support of the sheriff, the captain of the local militia told his men that anyone who took part in the attempts to run out the Chinese would be courtmartialed.(1)

Faced with this kind of determination, the Mutual Aid Society apparently decided that ridding Dayton of the Chinese was not worth the price, for they made no further attempts at violence. In addition, public opinion against the use of violence to oust the Chinese was growing steadily; however, few protested "peaceful solutions" to the problem. In the following weeks, the Dayton newspapers advocated an organized boycott of both Chinese and white businesses that employed Chinese labor. The best solution to the "Chinese Problem" was to convince them "to leave of their own free will.(2)

On July 4, 1892, the boycott had its first success. A Chinese gardener known as Lee hanged himself in his cabin down by the Fairgrounds. The newspaper applauded this tragedy with the following headline:

One Has Gone by the Suicide Route.

The article stated that the gardener's friends "could give no reason for Lee's action," but they did mention that Lee had been "badly frightened" when the Mutual Aid Society ordered him to leave the city, and had been acting queerly ever since.(3)

This incident marked the peak of anti-Chinese sentiment in Columbia County, and reflected on a small scale, attitudes and activities common not only in Dayton, but throughout eastern Washington and the entire Pacific Northwest. At the same time it marked a turning point as well. Discrimination against the Chinese had grown steadily during the 1880s, corresponding to poor economic conditions and to rampant nativism; but these attitudes peaked in the early and mid 1890s and slowly declined as the economy improved. By 1900 references in the papers to the "Chinese Problem" were very rare indeed. The absence of newspaper stories after the turn of the century was an important indication that public outcry against the Chinese had lessened enormously. Earlier, from 1870 to 1900, local and regional papers were consistently sensationalist, malicious, racist, and inflammatory in their portrayal of the Chinese; after 1900 they were suddenly and curiously quiet. Both the later silence and the earlier invective played powerfully persuasive roles in influencing public feeling for and against the Chinese.

Even before the Chinese entered southeastern Washington in large numbers, the newspapers had taken an actively hostile stand against them. In 1879 the Dayton News urged voters to put a Democratic president and Congress into office so that the anti-Chinese bill could become law. This bill was just one of many which proposed to "cease the importation of coolies" and to "drive all who are here from the land."(4) It had much local support, too, despite the fact that of Dayton's total population of 950, only five were Chinese. A year later the census of 1880 showed a community of 25 Chinese goldminers working a placer operation on the Tucannon River north of Dayton, but by then the total county population had swollen to over 7,000.(5)

The distribution and small percentage of Chinese were very typical for southeastern Washington before the construction of the railroads began in late 1879. All the Chinese in Columbia County were males between the ages of 20 and 35. They worked either as domestic servants doing "women's work" in an area with an acute shortage of white female domestics, or as independent placer miners in marginally profitable areas, often taking over abandoned diggings.

Census Figures for Columbia County

Year Chinese Dayton Total

*The Census was taken before large numbers of railroad workers arrived.

Note: The population of Columbia county today is less than 4,000 and the population of Dayton fluctuates between 2,600 and 2,900.

Chinese miners first drifted into the Territory of Washington after the 1855 gold strike near Fort Colville. They came either from the overcrowded gold fields of California or directly from the Chinese provinces of Fukien and Kwangtung.(6) Americans initially brought "coolie" labor into California to alleviate serious labor shortages, partly due to the Civil War, which had affected economic growth. As a rule, Chinese immigrants performed strenuous menial labor from which whites shied away, so at first they met a general welcome, and the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 officially legalized the right of Chinese subjects to visit, travel, and reside in the United States.

Soon, however, Californians accused them of unfair competition, of lowering wages, and of immoral and unsanitary habits.(7) As the mines played out in California and as the Chinese met increasing hostility in urban areas, many moved northward to seek new opportunities.

In Washington the Chinese met no better treatment than they had in California. By 1866, the territorial legislature was collecting a tax of $16 per year on each "Mongolian," and had denied the Chinese the right to give evidence.(8) These measures were unsuccessful in keeping the Chinese from entering Washington Territory - nearly every area of mining activity saw penetration of the Chinese. During the 1860s and 1870s, Chinese mining camps and villages were a frequent sight up and down the Columbia and Snake Rivers and their tributaries. The success of the Chinese miners soon aroused hatred and jealousy, and by an act of Congress, May 10, 1872, the federal government limited ownership of land and mining claims to United States citizens, which the Chinese, of course, were not.(9)

Denied the rights and privileges of European immigrants, the Chinese became the victims of unmerciless exploitation as cheap, but reliable, labor. Their impressive record building the Central Pacific caused that railroad to recruit thousands of Chinese laborers; in fact, it employed over 9,000 at the peak of construction.(10) It was no surprise, therefore, that several thousand laborers entered Walla Walla and Columbia counties in the late summer and early fall of 1880, when new railroad construction in that area began in earnest.(11)

Ironically, the very newspapers which had earlier decried "coolie labor" now failed to protest the large numbers of "Chinamen" who poured into the area to build the long-awaited railroads. Only one regional paper reported the arrival of the first 630 "Chinamen" in Walla Walla. Further incoming Chinese almost immediately increased that number to 1600, as work crews on their way to the line between Walla Walla and Grange City, on the mouth of the Tucannon, arrived in the area. They were accompanied by 300 white men, according to the Northwest Tribune, which also disclosed that "China bosses receive $75 per month" while "Chinamen are paid $1.12 1/2 per day."(12)

Though the prospect of large numbers of Chinese aroused little comment, their actual arrival prompted complaints almost daily. These took the form of brief news items with editorializing comments interspersed. The Walla Walla Statesman noted one day that three incoming wagon loads of "Chinamen" were "as hard a crowd as may be found outside of stone walls." In September, one of the earliest reports of trouble on the work crews announced that "Mr. Hamilton, a boss of Chinamen, was assaulted by Celestials and severely injured." It concluded casually that "the white men afterward drove the Chinese to the woods and shot several." The Walla Walla papers gave no reason for this assault, or for the "railroad melee" which occurred two days later at Waitsburg, ten miles south of Dayton. Trouble started when the shovel brigade heard "Mongolians" shouting as they rushed upon the white man in charge, The brigade quickly sped to his rescue "taking their instruments of labor with them," which turned out to be useful weapons. "The brigade used them as battle axes and chopped off a mug here and an ear there until the almond eyes thought 'discretion the better part of valor.'" Another typical example of racial prejudice appeared after the main street of Waitsburg burned, in one of the fairly common conflagrations of the time. Headlines proclaimed the news - "WAITSBURG IN ASHES AND A CELESTIAL BARBEQUED!"(13)

Comments which defended the Chinese were rare, and were either condescending or begrudging in tone. For example, in December after the first snowfall, a gang of teenage boys in Walla Walla amused themselves by pelting the "harassed Chinamen" with snowballs whenever they ventured into the streets. An editorial came down hard on the boys. "Although the Chinamen are not desirable citizens," it said, "they at least behave themselves on the streets, which cannot be said of a certain crowd of young hoodlums that infest this town. Of the two classes, the Chinamen are the most desirable."(14)

There were fewer Chinese on the streets after the railroad construction ended; some headed to other construction sites (which were becoming more scarce with time), while others went to major urban centers which supported large Chinese populations, such as Spokane, Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland. Even Walla Walla had a substantial Chinatown. Even so, small but significant numbers remained in the small towns of eastern Washington.

In Columbia County, most of the Chinese left by the end of the summer of 1881, but a few remained.(15) They settled in Starbuck, and in two parts of Dayton. "Chinatown" consisted of a block of shacks, laundries, "eating houses," and a "honky-tonk house" on the southest side of the Touchet bridge, and the "China Gardens" or "China District" comprised mostly truck gardens just downstream.(16) This latter area had earned its name because an adolescent "half-breed Chinamen" had lived there with the Lambert Hearn family in the early 1870s. In the fall of 1871, he had "created a disturbance by presuming to attend school." The effrontery of this act outraged settlers from nearby Whetstone Hollow (whose children did not attend school in Dayton), and provoked them to march on the one-room schoolhouse in Dayton, demanding the immediate removal of schoolteacher E.H. Orcutt and the ejection of the offending student. Orcutt thwarted the angry mob when he pulled a Colt's revolver from his desk drawer, and "in the face of its persuasive eloquence, the crowd beat a hasty and inglorious retreat." A short time later, however, a new teacher replaced Orcutt and the "Chinese scholar" left the schoolroom.(17) The China District was never the same, and it became the first area in Dayton to see the construction of Chinese cabins and "shanties."

The Chinese who remained in Dayton after the railroad construction ceased received far more attention from the local press than those who had been there beforehand. The papers made no distinction between truth and rumor, and reported every anti-Chinese tidbit that came their way. Despite the fact that whites employed the Chinese in their homes, restaurants, and laundries because of their reputation for cleanliness, it was popular to condemn them for their filth and associate them with exotic diseases like bubonic plague and leprosy. This "news item" reflected such proclivities:

The Sacramento Record Union has discovered the cheerful fact that Chinese workers, tainted with leprosy, continue their vocation in hotels, restaurants, and private houses. mixing bread and preparing food with their diseased hands. Upon investigation that paper learns that a large percentage of these male domestics are more or less affected, though they may not show it, and a white man is not able to detect it on them.(18)

Sometimes complaints of this kind were more local in origin, and possibly represented genuine health problems. E.T. Wilson, owner and editor of the Columbia Chronicle, took a walk past "Chinatown" one day and could not help noticing "the filth and garbage. dead dogs and dead cats" which covered the banks of the Touchet River behind Lang's washhouse. "Every variety of Chinese smell is there in profusion," he observed, "and if it is not cleared away before hot weather, we may look for much sickness in the neighborhood." Other editorials were less realistic, such as the one about "the latest example of Chinese thrift" - the "fact" that they drank their wine hot because they thought it would make them drunk sooner. The writer moaned, "What chance has a competition with frugality like this? The Chinese must go!"l"

Frequently, a fine line distinguished between genuine editorials and editorialized news stories. For instance, the case of Lock, who stubbed his toe on a boardwalk on Main Street, gave another editor the opportunity to attack his speaking ability. "The heathen Chinee," he said, "learns the English language proper with difficulty, but masters the usual cuss words with astonishing rapidity." When a Chinese doctor left Dayton to move north to Colfax, the paper reported that his deserted house showed no visible signs of the "moon-eyed Celestials who were busy compounding their nauseous medicines but a few months ago." The item ended with thanks that the community "had got rid of him" and stated that in the future "it would be better to investigate...all those who settle here."(20)

The press also published allegedly true stories about "characteristic" Chinese behavior. From the Dalles, Oregon, came the story of a laborer whose companions had killed him because he had lost his leg in a railroad accident. " 'No legee, no good; heap cost; no work: they declared."(21)

Occasionally, the Chinese became involved in serious or petty crime. The papers covered these incidents with enthusiasm. After two pigs disappeared from Morris Brothers & Sarjent, Sheriff A.1.. McCauley immediately located the animals in the Chinese Gardens. It was the "natural" place to look because they already had thirty of forty pigs in their field, said the Chronicle. The Chinese returned one stolen pig and paid fifty dollars for one which they had just butchered.(22) No one apparently questioned why the Chinese would risk stealing two pigs if they already had thirty of forty; and, ordinarily, the Chinese went to great lengths to avoid trouble with the law, rarely pressing charges themselves when the victims of theft or assault.

Raids of opium dens were another favorite subject for reporters. The first and most thorough in Dayton took place one Sunday night in October, 1883, when the sheriff and a group of special deputies conducted a search of all Chinese residences and businesses. The result: 26 arrests and the confiscation of 20 opium pipes but only after several bouts of resistance because "the pigtails objected to being searched." At the house where the railroad section hands lived, there was an exchange of name-calling, which disintegrated into a brawl and gunfight after "one of the moon-eyed devils" struck deputy John Church across the hip with a board. Another deputy, Joe Cavanaugh, had several clear shots at the "Chinamen" while trapped behind a barrel, but "unfortunately" his pistol would not fire. Reinforcements arrived soon, the Chinese went to jail, and the papers had a field day detailing the incident. "OPIUM FIENDS JUGGED! 26 Celestials Ruminate Behind Bars!" proclaimed the headlines. A side article noted that Ketchum John, an Indian who was in jail on a charge of horse stealing, "took great delight in the troubles of the heathen." He also helpfully pointed out where the prisoners had hidden their money. This was an inadvertant, but accurate, indication of exactly how low the Chinese were placed in the social pecking order.

The raid in Dayton was so successful that the authorities in Walla Walla imitated it and captured several of their own "opium fiends" the very next night. Unfortunately, according to the newspaper, Sheriff Hosler had to return the impounded property to its owners because he could find "no law whereby the opium and pipes captured from the Chinamen may be confiscated."(23) The legislature reacted to public pressures a month later, in November, and made opium smoking (but not consumption of laudanum) a misdemeanor.(24)

Stereotyping, like that which abounded in the "opium fiends" articles, was very common in the popular press and everyday conversation. Writers and speakers rarely referred to the Chinese by name, even when they were well-known to the community. Only the writers' imaginations limited their use of assorted nicknames, which included, among others: "coolies," "crafty Mongolians," "Mongolian lepers," "disciples of Confucious," "almond eyes," "pigtails," "foreign devils," and the most common, "Celestials," an allusion to the "Heavenly Kingdom" of the Manchu Dynasty. Quotations which appeared in print always emphasized the accent or broken English with which many Chinese spoke.

Verbal hostility was perhaps less serious than the persistent harassment and practical jokes. One reporter had a good laugh when a hired rig ran away with the frightened Chinese doctor. It seemed that a hostler at Dick Learn's Livery had "accidently hitched the near animal on the off side and vice versa." The animals took the bits in their teeth and "made some good time through Main Street." Another time a "laughable thing occurred in the store of Jones & Kribs." A Chinese man entered the store with a can and asked for "Oilee, oilee." The clerk, not understanding exactly what he wanted, filled the can first with coal oil and then with molasses, without rinsing it, before he realized that the man wanted peanut oil. "It is now somewhat flavored with coal oil and molasses," snickered the Chronicle, "but that, perhaps, will make but little difference."(25) Other types of more serious harassment occurred, as well. A favorite sport of cowboys in town for a day was to tie a "Chinamen's" queue to a saddle, make the horse run down Main Street to the bridge, and watch the amusing antics of the unfortunate man. And, predictable, the Chinese Gardens were the most popular spot from which mischievous boys could obtain watermelons and other summer produce.(26)

Sometimes anti-Chinese activities back-fired, however, as they did when "unknown incindiaries" set fire to Hop Lee's Washhouse on September 25, 1884. Hop Lee sustained a $250 loss, but the fire spread, burned a good-sized section of the business district, and caused $31,000 worth of damage.(27) Not only did the Chronicle ignore the cause of this embarassing fire, but the authorities failed to apprehend the arsonist.

Failure to report something that reflected badly on the white anti-Chinese faction was not unusual; in fact, it was common. The Dayton papers did not cover the massacre of thirty-two Chinese placer miners at Deep Creek in Hell's Canyon in the spring of 1887, although it created an uproar in Lewiston, only seventy miles to the east, where local papers called it the crime of the century. An international incident followed and ended with China receiving a claim for $275,000 from the United States government, but the Chronicle remained silent on the subject.(28) Nor did the papers cover earlier events outside the Inland Empire in September, 1885, when coal miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, killed 28 Chinese and drove out 500 more.(29)

The Walla Walla papers did much the same thing after the anti-Chinese riots in Tacoma and Seattle in November, 1885, and February, 1886. Mobs stirred up by the Knights of Labor forcibly evicted the Chinese from their cities, amid burning, bloodshed and disorder. Governor W.C. Squire had to declare martial law and request troops from Vancouver to protect the Chinese from hostile whites, and President Grover Cleveland condemned the events in Washington Territory.(30) Yet all that the editor of the Walla Walla Statesman printed about any of the violence was to grumble, "This seems to be a Chinamen's Heaven, while at Tacoma and Seattle they are hunted down and fired out; here in Walla Walla, they copiously celebrate their 5935th New Year's Day, illuminate the heavens, feast on roast pig, and shoot off firecrackers by the ton." He concluded ominously, "Let them celebrate, every dog has its day." A regional Spokane paper reported that after 27 men returned from their indictments at Vancouver for taking part in the expulsion of the Chinese, Tacoma citizens welcomed them home with bonfires, a procession, bands, and a banquet. "This shows the public's opinion!" declared the writer triumphantly.(31)

The public's opinion of the Chinese was indeed unfavorable. Washington residents feared and hated the immigrants, and viewed them with a mixture of suspicion, distrust, and curiousity. The contrasts between the immigrants from Asia and those from Europe were great. Although many Europeans were Catholic or Jewish, they at least worshipped the same God; but the Chinese wore strange clothes, practiced foreign customs, and worshipped heathen gods. Furthermore, Europeans immigrated with their wives and children, but the Chinese were almost entirely working-age males. Most whites viewed their lack of family life as abnormal. More than half had wives and families in China, but only wealthy merchants on the coast could afford to bring them to America. The few Chinese women who did live in the interior usually worked as prostitutes. It was also common conviction that Chinese traders were responsible for the opium trade, although American and British profiteers were largely to blame.(32)

Another wide-spread belief was that China was so crowded that the excess population would come to America, and millions of Chinese would soon overwhelm the country, but just the opposite was true. Most Chinese left their country with one goal: to make money and return to China with their fortunes. Many did, and even those who never returned to their homeland tended to think of themselves as sojourners and of their moves as temporary. It was this kind of thinking that prevented most Chinese from adopting American ways, another source of contention. People who realized that Chinese laborers were not intent on taking over the country accused them of exploiting it, as nearly all sent a percentage of the earnings to their families in China.(33)

Americans also attributed various heinous crimes to a group of family associations led by San Francisco merchants called the Six Companies (properly titled the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Associations). Charges of wage slavery were the most common, as the Six Companies frequently collected and arranged for money to be sent home to China, and often financed loans to help pay for passage to America. The idea of slavery of any kind threatened post-Civil War values and institutions. Many also confused the Six Companies with the tong warfare which grew out of attempts of smaller family groups to combat the domination of the larger families.(34)

More than any of these things, however, people hated the Chinese because of their perceived threat to the white working man. The completion of the railroads, which made it easier for white labor to reach the West with less expense, compounded the general economic depression of the 1880s and early 1890s, as thousands of immigrants flooded to eastern Washington seeking better opportunities and found unemployment and hard times instead. The result was that competition for unskilled labor and jobs which whites had previously scorned became fierce. The railroads' discharge of hundreds of Chinese construction workers further heightened social tensions. Many of those who feared the Chinese "hordes" belonged to an already exploited minority. It was much safer for the exploited groups to heap their resentments upon another minority than upon the exploiters. But, even middle and upper class farmers cried out against Chinese competition in produce and truck farming.(35)

Not surprisingly, labor movements led the move to oust the Chinese. In 1881, the American Federation of Labor declared that "the presence of Chinese and their competition with free white labor is one of the greatest evils with which any country can be afflicted," and announced the "absolute necessity of passing laws entirely prohibiting the immigration of Chinese into the United States."(36) A year later, the Knights of Labor called the Chinese "more slavish and brutish than the beasts that roam the field. They are groveling worms."(37) An editorial in a Walla Walla paper explained why the Chinese "invasion" was so dangerous:

The Chinese when he first came to our shores was docile and content with small wages. We showed him how to make cigars, pick and pack fruit, and also to serve as cook and chambermaid in our house. The Chinese are apt pupils and acquire knowledge readily. As soon as one had mastered a branch of business, he devoted himself to the instruction of others. The result was Chinese competition in every department of trade. Chinese who had been apprentices soon became proprietors. The whites who had instructed them had to contend against their encroachments and to do so employed more cheap Chinese. The inevitable result was the crowding out of the native population by a cheaper element to whom the comforts and refinements of American civilization are unknown.(38)

Like many other immigrants, they were labeled inferior if they did not succeed, but were branded threatening if they did. In many ways, the dominating white class castigated the Chinese simply because they practiced the "American" work ethic so well.

Political parties and politicians responded to labor's dissatisfaction and popular anti-Oriental feeling in the western states and territories. From 1867 to 1890 virtually every party platform contained at least one plank in favor of Chinese exclusion, and most used Chinese hysteria to drum up support for their own causes and candidates. For example, in 1886 the voters of Oregon unexpectedly elected Sylvester Pennoyer governor when the press discovered that his opponent had once employed a "Chinaman" to wash some shirts. The papers called it an unpardonable offense against good government and the rights of the laboring man.(39)

National legislation naturally reflected western political preoccupation with Chinese exclusionist sentiments. Between 1882 and 1902, the United States Congress passed 13 discriminatory laws against the Chinese, although the total Chinese population in the United States was less than one per cent. Ignoring the Burlingame Treaty of 1868, Congress passed the first Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, in response to pleas like the one which Washington delegate Thomas H. Brents made before the House of Representatives:

The people of Washington ... with unbroken unanimity, beseech Congress in the name of free labor and free government, to stay the oncoming tides of Chinese.
Most of them are criminals or prostitutes of the most groveling instincts, many are infected with loathsome diseases; the very scum of the dregs of the most degraded part of humanity, who bring with them their degraded habits, vicious manners, customs, and practices, and maintain them here; they reduce wages of the American laborers through their starvation rates, then huddle together by hundreds in filthy huts and dens of vice. No laboring free man who has the least regard for health or decency...can compete with these brutish Mongolian slaves.(40)

The Exclusion Act barred all Chinese laborers, but permitted the continued entry of students, merchants, and tourists. Congress intended it to be temporary, but made it permanent in 1902, and did not repeal it until 1943. The Scott Act, which followed in 1888, prohibited the re-entry of Chinese returning from trips to China to visit relatives, and the Geary Act of 1892 required registration of all Chinese, with deportation provided for anyone found without a residence certificate.(41)

Such legislation did much to sanction mob violence, harassment,and organized activities against the Chinese on state and local levels, and one result was that the "crafty Mongols" began entering the country by way of Mexico and Canada, which only added to the ferment in small towns across eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana.(42) Many erupted into violence. In 1886, only two weeks after the Seattle riots, Eureka, Washington, and Oregon City, Oregon, physically expelled their Chinese residents, and Livingston, Montana, followed suit a year later.(43) Tekoa, Washington, sent its Chinese population packing in 1888, and in nearby Farmington, where the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company was building a branch line, a Chinese man was hanged for inquiring about employment. That same year, masked residents of Spangle ran out a crew of Chinese section men, but the railroad brought them back.(44) In the early 1890s, mobs evicted Chinese populations from Milton, Oregon, and Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and stoned all the windows in Chinese houses in Pullman, Washington.(45) In the mining districts of northern Idaho, both Post Falls and Coeur d'Alene conducted vigorous campaigns to keep out the Chinese, as did Mullan, where local miners hosed Chinese arriving to work in the mines.(46) Agitators in Walla Walla attempted to burn out their China quarter, and in Pasco unemployed white railroad workers unsuccessfully tried to run out a Chinese crew which the Northern Pacific had just hired.(47)

In comparison to the activities in some of these towns, Dayton's disastrous attempt to eject the Chinese, altough ugly, was fairly restrained. More importantly, the authorities effectively blocked the efforts of the Mutual Aid Society and received help from some of the leading citizens.(48) In Dayton one factor, which contrasted with "successful" attempts to oust unwanted Chinese elsewhere, was the highly organized nature of the attack. "Successful" expulsion of the Chinese usually relied on spontaneous violence, but the threats of the Mutual Aid Society were no surprise to anyone. The Society had been planning a course of action since early February, when organizers from the three-month-old Mutual Aid Society in Walla Walla met with members of the Farmers Alliance and Knights of Labor to form a committee to "devise some practical and effective means of ridding Dayton" of all its Chinese. A week later a spokesman from the Walla Walla Society told a reporter, "We have organizers at Milton, Dayton, and Waitsburg at work, and we hope soon to be in a position to compel every subject of the Flowery Kingdom to leave the United States." He also informed the reporter that the Walla Walla group had nearly 800 "decent, honest, hard-working" members. The Mutual Aid Society circulated notices which announced boycott against anyone who patronized or employed "Chinamen, and charged the Walla Walla papers with being "pro-Chinese."(49)

While all this was going on in Walla Walla, a "mad Chinaman" named Onn tried to shoot Fred Dorffer, the head steward at the McIntosh Hotel in Starbuck. His wife had been supervising Onn in the hotel kitchen, when he overheard the cook calling her bad names. The outraged steward siezed a good-sized teacup, smashed it into Onn's mouth, then "took a pick standing near the door and struck the Chinaman another blow." Dorffer then left, considering the matter settled, but when he returned Onn fired a shot at him which missed. Onn was arrested and brought to Dayton to jail, and the ensuing stir added to building racial tensions.(50)

The final catalyst for the events of April 23 in Dayton was the formation of the Anti-Chinese League in Spokane in late March. It received thorough coverage in at least one Dayton paper. At a meeting of 150 businessmen at the Trades Council Hall, the League elected Louis Davenport president and decided to "consider as Chinese all those who refuse to employ union help...regardless of absence of pigtails." They proclaimed a boycott against Chinese laundries and butchers, and stated that their avowed purpose was to preserve employment in Spokane for "white working men and negroes."(51)

The Anti-Chinese League in Spokane and the Mutual Aid Societies in southeastern Washington were not the first attempts to organize boycotts against the Chinese. As early as 1886 "AntiCoolie" Leagues had formed in Hailey, Idaho, and Helena, Montana; however, these earlier boycotts did not gain momentum like the later ones and were rarely effective in smaller towns. For example, in 1883 the Chronicle sponsored a boycott of the three Chinese laundries in Dayton with a campaign to send all Dayton's dirty shirts by train to the newly-opened "white" steam laundry in Walla Walla. It was a rousing failure, as was the Dayton White Laundry, which opened six months later, and closed in only two months, even though the paper attested to the fact that "garments when they leave this house are sweet and clean, not having the sickening odor of opium and other drugs about them."(52)

If the Dayton White Laundry had opened 10 years later, perhaps it would have remained in business, for after their narrow escape from open racial violence, Dayton residents who were still anti-Chinese came out strongly in favor of a general boycott. "THE CHINESE MUST GO! But not by Force of a Mob" proclaimed the paper.(53) Other small towns in the area shared this sentiment. "There is no better way of settling this vexed question than by a united boycott against these pigtailed heathens in every city and community on the coast," said the Colfax Commoner. "With such a boycott...these obnoxious residents could be compelled to return to their native land, or emigrate into the eastern states where the evils of their presence are not now understood."(54)

The general boycott and percieved threat of the Chinese to labor were completely out of proportion to the actual number present. In 1890 there were 48 Chinese in Columbia county, which had a total population of 6,709. Walla Walla county had 351 out of over 12,000 and Whitman county had 155 out of 19,000. In fact, the total number of Chinese in the state of Washington amounted to only .93 percent. Furthermore, the Census of 1900 showed practically no change in Chinese population. Columbia County's Chinese population dropped by only three, and Walla Walla's total actually increased, as did the state's, though the percentage dropped to .7 percent because of continuing white immigration to the Northwest.(55)

Obviously, the general boycott of the early 1890s was a failure. In Dayton, once the initial uproar simmered down, there was no further mention of a local boycott in any of the papers. In fact, the papers began to back away from the whole issue of the Chinese entirely, and even began to support them occasionally. Three weeks after China Lee's suicide, the editor reported that three boys had been arrested and fined for stealing berries from the Chinese Gardens and for using rocks and clubs on the "Chinamen" who had ordered them out. In December of the same year, a small item appeared which announced that S. Wah Sing would open a store of Japanese goods next to the furniture store. It was the first mention of a non-white business in a Dayton newspaper for advertising purposes, though many had existed. And in November, the young people of the Baptist Church opened a school "for the education of the Chinese boys of Dayton, in the English language." This general trend continued, illustrated by the arrest in 1894 of the "Tweedy boys" after they had assaulted two "Chinamen" near the wash houses on Main Street.(56)

In 1894, according to provisions in the Geary Act, a government inspector visited Dayton to register all Chinese and Japanese residents. The only trouble occured when he arrested two men who had already registered, but who had not yet received their papers. The Chronicle reported the mistake, without once referring to the Chinese in derogatory terms. This was unusual, especially because most area papers were at the time ranting against the Chinese in Walla Walla and Colfax, all of whom had refused to register. Estimates placed early registration in Washington at less then 10 per cent.(57) Despite this, anti-Chinese sentiment continued to decline in Columbia County for the rest of the decade. In 1900 a reporter consulted some local Chinese for their opinions on a story he wrote entitled "Local Chinese Dislike Idea of Russian Supremacy."(58) Ten years earlier the respectful tone of this article would have been inconceivable.

For the most part, the Chinese were simply ignored; so much so, in fact, that most of them disappeared, moved away, and died without attracting any attention. In 1906 one report credited Dayton with a "thriving Chinese community," but by 1911 Chinatown was vacant and a new owner was preparing to tear down the "eyesore."(59) Only one or two Chinese Gardeners remained near the Fairgrounds, which the Fair Association had purchased in 1910. After 1910, most of the county's 13 Chinese residents lived either in Starbuck or in the country, southeast of Dayton, where several raised produce by the Touchet River.(60) By 1920 only two remained in the whole county.

Several factors explain the decline and ultimate disappearance of Columbia County's Chinese. For one thing, the Chinese were not rooted to particular places because they seldom owned land, therefore obstacles to moving on were few. In the early 20th century the Chinese converged in urban centers, where healthy Chinese communities continued despite the nationwide drop in Chinese population which resulted because of the Exclusion Acts.(61) The same Exclusion Acts prevented further immigration of Chinese laborers, and made it very difficult for wives and children to join their men in America. For this reason, many who had managed to save money enough used it to return to China. Those who remained simply grew old and died.(62) The disproportion of male and female prevented a natural increase in the Chinese population, particularly when compounded by severe white attitudes against mixed marriages. These attitudes were encouraged by the federal government, which revoked the citizenship of women who married Chinese men who were themselves not citizens.(63)

Few traces of the Chinese have remained in Dayton. Not even their graves have remained to show that they were there.(64) All that has survived is a local legend which has distorted three vaguely remembered stories and combined them into one: The Ku Klux Klan ran the Chinese out of town because they blamed them for starting a smallpox epidemic.(65) All three elements of the legend are based on actual events. There was a smallpox epidemic in Dayton in the early 1900s, and the Klan did organize in Dayton in the 1920s, but the story as a whole, of course, can be traced back to the efforts of the Mutual Aid Society on April 23, 1892.(66) The blame has shifted from the town itself, the instability of the times, and the racist and inflammatory nature of the 19th century press, to a group which no longer has a link with the community. Histories of the area have either glossed lightly over the subject of the Chinese or omitted them entirely.

Nevertheless, a fairly large group of Chinese men lived in Columbia County in the years between 1870 and 1910. On the whole, they were hard-workers and did their best to avoid trouble. For their efforts they were exploited, abused, assaulted, and made the objects of cruel jokes and prejudiced, biased news stories. And yet, after all this, perhaps the most damning thing of all is that it can still be said - and truthfully - that Dayton treated its Chinese "better" than a great many others.


1. Dayton Columbia Chronicle, 30 April 1892. The name of the captain of the militia was Carr, but his first name is unknown.

2. William D. Lyman, Lyman's History of Old Wal1a Wal1a County Embracng Wal1a Wal1a, Columbia, Garfield, and Asotin Counties, (Chicago, 1918), 350; Columbia Chronicle, 30 April 1892.

3. Ibid., 8 July 1892.

4. Dayton News, 12 May 1879.

5. "United States Census of 1880," Washington State Standard Community Survey. Dayton, (Olympia, 1978). The United States Census of 1870 reported five Chinese males employed in domestic service, and the Census of 1880 reported the same Chinese still in residence.

6. In the provinces of Fukien and Kwangtung conditions of flood, famine, general poverty, high taxes, political chaos, foreign penetration, and oppression which followed the T'ai P'ing Revellion (1851 to 1864) were a powerful incentive for men to seek their fortunes in the United States_

7. "Coolie" is derived from the Anglo-Indian word kuli meaning "burden bearer." The English, who used Chinese labor extensively in their colonies, introduced it into China during the middle of the 19th century, where it was used as a phrase: koo meant to hire, and lee meant muscle in the Chinese language. [Source: Alexander McLeod, Pigtails and Golddust, (Caldwell, 1948), 72]. From 1847 a "coolie trade" flourished because parents discovered that Spanish and Portugese traders would pay good prices for their sons, and occasionally for their daughters. The United States did not prohibit American citizens and vessels from engaging in the transportation of "coolies" until 1862, when every Chinese subject entering the country was required to provide certified proof that his emigration was voluntary. See J.E. Spencer, Asia East by South, (New York, 1954); and ChengTsu Wu, "Chink," (New York, 1972). Cheng-Tsu Wu, 198-199; and Robert E. Wynne, "Reaction to the Chinese in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia 1850-1910," Ph.D. dissertation (University of Washington, 1964), 74-75.

For a complete though somewhat prejudiced account of Chinese mining see Alexander Mcleod, Pigtails and Golddust; and for additional, more detailed information on the Chinese in other parts of the Inland Empire see William F. Wilbert, "The Chinese in Whitman County 1870-1910," Bunchgrass Historian, Vol. 10, (Colfax, 1982); Nancy K. Feichter, 'The Chinese in the Inland Empire During the Nineteenth Century," M.A. thesis (State College of Washington, 1959); and Christopher H. Edson, "The Chinese in Eastern Oregon 1860-1890," M.A. thesis, (University of Oregon, 1974). For contemporary arguments for and against the Chinese see James A. Whitney, The Chinese and the Chinese Question, (New York, 1888); L.T. Townsend, The Chinese Problem, (Boston, 1876); The Other Side of the Question, Testimony of California's Leading Citizens to the People of the United States and the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives, (San Francisco, 1888); and S.L. Baldwin, Must the Chinese Go? (New York, 1890).

10. William L. Tung, The Chinese In America 1820~1973, A Chronology and Fact Book, (Dobbs Ferry, 1974), 11.

11. Dayton Standard Community Survey. Chinese labor built the railroad between Walla Walla and Dayton, laid the tracks for the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company from the Tucannon to Riparia, changed the narrow gauge to standard at Ainsworth, and completed the Texas Ferry railroad north to Colfax.

12. Colfax Northwest Tribune, 18 August, 1880.

13. Walla Wal1a Statesman, 9 September 1880, 11 September 1880, 9 December 1880.

14. Ibid., 14 September 1880.

15. Dayton Standard Community Survey. It is difficult to determine how many Chinese remained in the county. The 1880 Census showed 38, with five in Dayton, but was taken before large numbers entered with the railroads later that year. By 1885, the county Census shows only 50 in the entire county, but it is hard to say how many stayed for a short time then left. In 1883 the Chronicle estimated that there were over 50 in Dayton alone, and that figure is probably fairly reliable.

16. Interview with Hugh Jackson, (Dayton, March 1982); and Harriet McCauley, "Early Dayton Days," unpublished manuscript, Manuscript and Archives Division, Holland Library, Washington State University (Pullman), 5.

17. F.A Shaver, An Illustrated History of Southeastern Washington Including Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, and Asotin Counties, (Spokane, 1906), 344; and Columbia Chronicle, 7 April 1898, letter from O.C. White, who replaced Orcutt, about events in fall 1871.

18. Columbia Chronicle, 15 September 1883.

19. Ibid., 8 March 1884; Wal1a Walla Statesman, 15 February 1882.

20. Columbia Chronicle, 22 December 1883, 9 February 1884.

21. Dayton Democratic State Journal, 2 February 1883.

22. Columbia Chronicle, 9 February 1884.

23. Ibid., 20 October 1883.

24. Wynne, 78.

25. Columiba Chronicle, 7 July 1883, 7 December 1895.

26. Jackson Interview.

27. Shaver, 360.

28. Deep Creek is six miles up the Snake from its confluence with the Imnaha. Stories which circulated in the fall and winter of 1886-87 credited the Chinese miners with possession of extremely large quantities of gold dust, though the area would produce only a marginal living from gold. In the spring, seven men from a nearby cattle ranch rode into the camp at the Deep Creek Bar and shot all the Chinese at close range, then loaded the bodies on a boat which they sank in the rapids. The uproar began when the bodies began to float past Lewiston. The details of the massacre itself became public knowledge after the deathbed confession of one of the participants. See David H. Stratton, 'The Snake River Massacre of Chinese Miners, A Taste of the West, ed. Duane A. Smith, (Boulder, 1983).

29. Wynne, 60.

30. Seattle's Chinatown recovered quickly, but Tacoma did not permit Chinese residents until 1915. See Jules A. Karlin, "The Anti-Chinese Outbreak in Tacoma," Pacific Historical Review (August 1954), and 'The Anti-Chinese Outbreaks in Seattle 1885-6," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 39 (April 1948); also W. Wilcox, "Anti-Chinese Riots in Washington," Washington Historical Quarterly, Vol. 20, (July 1929).

31. Walla Walla Statesman, 10 February 1886; Spokane Northwest Tribune, 26 November 1885.

32. Feichter, 120; Baldwin, 6-27; and Wilbert, 16.

33. Dayton Inlander, 21 October 1885; Baldwin, 6-27; and Gunther Barth, Bitter Strength; A History of the Chinese in the United States, (Harvard University. 1964), 1.

34. Edson, 25, 40-41; Feichter 121; and Karen C. Wong, Chinese History in the Pacific Northwest, (1972). 50.

35. Feichter, 77.

36. Feichter, 77. Quotation from Rosalie Jones, The American Standard of Living and World Co-operation, (New York, 1923), 92-93.

37. John Higham, Strangers in the Land, (Rutgers University, 1955), 25. Quotation from Journal of the Knights of Labor, Vol. 20, (October, 1900). 1.

38. Walla Walla Statesman, 16 September 1890.

39. Feichter. 76, 87.

40. Spokane Northwest Tribune, 28 April 1882.

41. For a detailed analysis of these Oriental exclusion acts see Cheng-Tsu Wu and Tung.

42. Spokane Falls Review, 24 August 1887.

43. Walla Walla Statesman, 27 February 1887, 23 February 1886; Spokane Northwest Tribune, 27 January 1887.

44. Spokane Morning Review, 18 July 1888.

45. Spokane Falls Review, 23 June 1891; Spokane Review, 7 June 1892, 23 June 1892.

46. Spokane Falls Review, 4 March 1890; Spokane Morning Review, 6 July 1888; Spokane Review, 29 July 1891; Spokane Spokesman Review, 5 July 1894.

47. Walla WaIIa Statesman, 20 October 1893; Portland Oregonian, 14 November 1895.

48. In some areas, however, those who defended the Chinese were often landlords who leased property to Chinese tenants for higher-than-usual rents, railroad companies, and districts which took in huge tax revenues from the Chinese.

49. Columbia Chronicle, 6 February 1892; Spokane Review, 18 February 1892, 26 February 1892; Walla Walla Statesman, 17 February 1892.

50. Columbia Chronicle, 5 March 1892.

51. Spokane Review, 26 March 1892; Columbia Chronicle, 16 April 1892.

52. Spokane Northwest Tribune, 18 February 1886, 10 December 1885; Columbia Chronicle, 18 August 1883, 16 February 1884.

53. Columbia Chronicle, 30 April 1892.

54. Colfax Commoner, 17 November 1893.

55. Figures are compiles from the Thirteenth Census of the United States of America, and compendium of the Ninth Census, table VI, p. 18.

56. Columbia Chronicle, 22 July 1892, 10 December 1892, 19 November 1892, 28 July 1894.

57. Ibid., 14 July 1894; Spokane Spokesman Review, 6 May 1893; Colfax Commoner, 24 March 1893; Portland Oregonian, 19 March 1893.

58. Columbia Chronicle, 14 July 1900.

59. R.O. Sayres purchased the buildings known as Chinatown from Arthur Jobe in February, 1911. They were torn down and replaced. Columbia Chronicle, 18 February 1911; Spokesman Review, 17 February 1911. See also Lyman's History,

60. Minutes of the Touchet Valley Agricultural Fair Association, William Weatherford, Secretary (14 March 1910); Jackson Interview; and Barbara Hanger, Interview with LealIa Leighty, (Dayton, May 1982).

61. Feichter, 123.

62. According to calculations made from information on Census records, the age of the average Chinese male in Columbia County increased from 29 in 1880 to 47 in 1900. (The Census records for 1890 were destroyed by fire in Washington D.C. and individual Census information is not yet available for 1910 and after). This strongly suggests a community of elderly men by 1910 and later.

63. Rose Hum Lee, "The Decline of Chinatowns in the United States," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 54, (March 1949), 424.

64. Norma Evers, Interview with Frances Spoonemore, Dayton Historical Society, (April 1982).

65. I have also heard rumors that tong wars drove them out of town.

66. There is a detailed account of the smallpox epidemic in Dayton in Lyman's History, and the Ku Klux Klan donated seats to the High School auditorium when it was built in 1922. The plaques commemorating the donation were removed sometime in the late 50s or early 60s. Interview with Marvin Evers, retired teacher, (Dayton, March 1982).