I have just finished reading the book “Deep Creek”. It is a fictionalized account of the massacre of 30 plus Chinese miners at Deep Creek in Hells Canyon. This took place in 1887. While the account is fictionalized the story is based on real characters. Much of the action takes place in Lewiston, Idaho. While this happened almost 125 years ago the place and the people are as real to me as if it happened last month.
I have hiked Hells Canyon multiple times. I would usually start at Pittsburg Landing, take a jet boat to Sheep Creek (some sixteen miles upriver) and then a hike my way back along the canyon walls. It is incredibly rugged, stark, and beautiful country. About a mile out from the Kirkwood Ranch is a spot called Suicide. It is a place where the trial is carved into the canyon walls some 300 feet above the Snake River. I have witnessed people crawling on their hands and knees across this section of trail. Hells Canyon is one of the most intimate, hostile, beautiful places in the entire world. I can only imagine what it would have been like before there were any dams on the Snake.
From Publishers Weekly
“The 1887 massacre of more than 30 Chinese gold miners in a remote area of the Idaho Territory provides the real eye foundation for this engrossing look at racial prejudice and the settling the West, the first novel from Dana Hand (the pen name for William Howarth and Anne Matthews). After police Judge Joe Vincent and his 10 year old daughter, Nell, find a body while fishing, more brutally mutilated bodies turn up along the Snake River. The Sam Yup Company, a Chinese labor exchange, hires Vincent to find the culprits. Lee Loi, an ambitious investigator, and the Grace Sundown, a Metis mountain guide who shares a past with Vincent, joined the hunt. The three track a murderous crew to remote canyons and towns. The plot soon evolves into an insightful look at how Chinese immigrants and American Indians became the targets of rage and violence. The subsequent capture and trial of the killers illustrate that how the west was won was neither simple nor fair to minorities.”
Six people were accused. Six people were jailed. Three escaped. Three were brought to trial. No one was convicted.
I was not aware that there was such a significant population of Chinese in Northern Idaho in the 1800s. There were six major labor agencies in San Francisco that contracted out Chinese labor. The workers had to pay 30% of their earnings to these agencies and would be under contract for as much as 20 years at a time. The labors had no legal status. There was a deep hatred of the Chinese throughout the northwest because the white Americans felt they were taking up all the jobs. They were the Mexicans of their day.
I was familiar with the hangings of five Chinese in Pierce, Idaho in 1885. At that time there were very few whites living in Pierce. There were over 750 Chinese working played out gold mining claims. When I used to hunt in that area I would come across mile long trenches called Chinese Canals that were built to bring water to the mining sluices. I digress.
A white merchant by the name of D. M. Fraser was murdered in his store as he slept in his establishment. While no one witnessed the murder, seven Chinese were rounded up and put on trial. There was not enough evidence to convict the suspects so they were sent to be tried by a Federal Judge in Lewiston, Idaho since they were aliens and therefore wards of the government. Three miles outside of Pierce at a place called Hangman’s Creek (I have actually been there) the party was surrounded by masked vigilantes disguised as Indians. A pole was slung between two black pines. All five Chinese were hung on the spot. (actually they were hung twice because the first pole broke.)
This is a quote from a pamphlet titled “And Five Were Hanged”.
“One, two, three, pull and five Chinamen were dancing the celestial can-can, but all too soon the pole refused to bear such weight of rat and poppy and the five were again kicking bunch grass.”
The Indians sought better timber in on the second attempt made a perfect success of a little neck tie party.”
Makes you proud, doesn’t it? No charges were ever brought by any American official although the Chinese government vigorously sought justice.