Much has been written about the poor treatment of the Chinese miners and merchantmen by the rest of the people in early California. The dislike and jealousy for these people who worked so hard and could find gold in played-out claims, resulted in laws such as the Foreign Miner’s Tax.
But it wasn’t only the other miners that had difficulties with the Chinese, within their own communities there were problems that often ended in extreme violence.
Major cities, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, had what were called “Tong Wars,” which started in the days of the Gold Rush and continued right into the 1920s. These were the result of gangs fighting over the control of the most lucrative of businesses around, gambling and prostitution, within these city’s “Chinatowns.”
Throughout California there were also fights between groups from different areas of China, sometimes over mining claims, an argument or just to settle, for the moment, old family feuds. Because they were often fought with Chinese style weapons were too were called “Tong Wars.”
Pausing in the review of the local newspapers of the Gold Rush era on a day by day basis, let’s take a look at one such event that took place near the town of Weaverville, Trinity County, in July of 1854, through the words of the people and newspapers in that area. The information is courtesy of a Trinity County archaeologist and historian, Gay Berrien.
“Shasta Courier – July 1854.
“We told you in our last communication [issue missing from the file] that the Chinese were preparing for a general fight – the cause fro such preparation is the same here as in other parts of the State, a sectional hatred and clannish difference, brough from their native land. From day to day these differences have increased, although numerous attempts have been made by their leaders an Americans to settle them, but all endeavors were in vain. Patience with them ceased to be a virtue on Saturday last, when they met to fight out their ‘pent’ up wrath – a bloody fight it was.
“The parties met in all of their accustomed modes of warfare; – their banners, shields, lancers and helmets, the same as used in their wars at home. On Saturday morning both parties went out skirmishing and drilling; they were designated by the small party and the large party; the former consisting of 140 men, the latter of about 400.
“At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon the small party charged at the other – the conflict was short, but destructive. The small party was victorious, killing 8 of the large party and driving them from the ground a capturing their flag as a trophy of war. The small party had two men killed. Some 10 or 12 on each side were severely wounded. One white man, who was interfering in the fight by discharging his pistol at one of the parties was shot dead by some spectator, of which there were about 1000.
“All day the greatest excitement prevailed throughout town; some were for, others against their fighting. Our sheriff done all in his power to stop the difficulty up to the very latest hours, but he could accomplish nothing – fight they wound and fight they did. But their differences are in no better condition now than they were before. Neither dare to work, one is afraid of the other. Consequently both are idle. So matters at present.
“On Sunday the large party collected their dead together and burnt them, in the same manner as do the Indians of this country, and then buried their ashes. The small party buried theirs with all the imposing ceremonies of war – they all turned out in funeral procession and followed the bodies to their graves, accompanied with music, as white men would.
“The white man killed was also buried the same day. it was a day of funerals.”
This story was followed later with an explanation by the Chinese residents.
“Shasta Courier – August 5, 1854.
“We have received a communication written by 3 intelligent Chinamen, in their native language, together with a translation thereof into “English, setting forth the causes of the recent difficulty between those Chinamen now living in and near Weaverville.
“Editor Shasta Courier: – Your paper being the one upon which the people of this county rely for intelligence in regard to their local matters, we trust you will permit us, through your columns, to correct some of the groundless rumors that prevail in this vicinity, in regard to the origin and nature of the difficulties prevailing among our fellow countrymen here. We take this liberty, believing that many of your readers will be glad to know the facts, and that a brief statement of the cause of this quarrel among the Chinese will do away with many of the obstacles that have so far prevented a reconciliation of the parties and restoration of quiet among them.
“There are 4 separate companies of Chinamen in this country, namely the Yong-Wa, the Se-Yep, the Neng-Yong and the Sam-Yep companies. The Yong-Wa call themselves the Hong-Hong men, and the other 3 companies are called Canton men.
“These companies are as independent of each other as so many American mining companies would be in their ordinary business.
“In April last these 4 companies, by mutual consent, became the joint proprietors of, and opened a public gaming house in this village (Weaverville). In June a Chinaman belonging to the Yong-Wa company, was playing against the bank at a table kept in this house by a Canton man, when a dispute arose as to who was the winner of a small stake (less than a dollar). The Hong-Kong man snatched the money from the table and ran into the street, pursued by the owner of the table. A squabble ensued, in which several engaged on each side; but no considerable injury was sustained by any of them. The Young-Wa company took side in favor of their companion, and the other 3 companies sided against him.
“From this small beginning a very serious quarrel grew up. Taunts, threats and challenges were sent by the Young-Wa company, and that company began to prepare arms. The frequently came in front of the houses of the Canton men and dared them to fight,. The other 3 companies after his prepared arms, and the result was the fight of which the community are already advised.
TO BE CONTINUED