Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series. The first installment looked at Hailey’s railroad-town beginnings.
Between 1880 and 1885, more than 150 Chinese immigrants arrived in Hailey and established a row of cabins along River Street that came to be known as “Chinatown.”
The sojourners opened small Chinese restaurants and planted vegetable gardens near the present-day China Gardens subdivision. They took physically demanding, low-paying jobs in town as laundrymen, vegetable and fruit vendors, wood cutters, domestic servants and cooks.
Most hailed from China’s southern Guangdong province, a Cantonese-speaking region along the Pearl River Delta. Some had been in the U.S. for a few decades already, desperate to escape civil war and famine in Guangdong and encouraged by news of the 1849 Sacramento Valley Gold Rush.
Throughout both waves of immigration in the 1850s and 1880s, men from poor inland villages boarded steamships in nearby Hong Kong. It took them $50 in fare—the equivalent of between $1,500 and $1,800 in today’s dollars—and a grueling two months and nearly 7,000 miles to reach San Francisco.
By 1881, approximately two dozen Chinese men came by wagon from California to the Carrie Creek gold prospect west of Hailey where they found work sluicing out gold from gravel with hydraulic jets.
Others laid track for the Oregon Short Line railroad, mined placer gold at the Atlanta and Rocky Bar camps near the base of the Sawtooth range or cooked for hungry miners at the nearby Bullion, Red Elephant and Triumph mines.
But no matter which lines of work they pursued, Chinese immigrants in the Wood River Valley were met with second-class treatment at best and racial terrorism at worst.
In the summer of 1882, two Chinese vegetable peddlers were robbed and murdered as they traveled in a wagon along the Little Wood River. A white man was strongly suspected but never caught, according to the Wood River Times.
In the spring of 1883, a white foreman overseeing a crew of a dozen Chinese rail workers near Bellevue bludgeoned a laborer to death with a crowbar and badly beat another, apparently incensed by their refusals to obey his orders. A white assistant yardmaster had forced the crew to load ties at gunpoint prior to the beatings, the Times reported.
Other attacks against Chinese laborers at Western railroad and mining camps put Hailey’s Chinese settlers on edge.
In the fall of 1885, unconfirmed reports emerged in the paper of three Chinese men killed by a white mob in Sawtooth City, near Alturas Lake.
That same fall—in September—at least 40 Chinese coal miners were murdered in Rock Springs, Wyoming. The two-day massacre started with the beatings of two Chinese coal miners by a mob of Irish, English and Scandinavian miners and their wives who feared competition from the camp’s 330 Chinese workers.
As reported in the Wood River Times, 80 homes were burned to the ground in Rock Springs and an estimated 40 to 50 Chinese coal miners, some as young as 23, were murdered.
“Women would come out with shotguns and shoot the Chinamen on one side, while miners with picks, shovels, knives, revolvers, etc., would cut down all who sought safety, in flight, on the other side,” the Wood River Times reported.
With such acts regularly making the news, Hailey’s Chinese residents gravitated toward River Street, where they found a sense of safety and belonging. Full-service washhouses began to open on the block.
Around 1882, Hop Chung—who would become one of Hailey’s most prosperous Chinese laundrymen—opened a Masonic temple on River Street. Chung’s “joss house” welcomed some 75 members of the Chinese Freemasons, a fraternity that opposed both the Communist and Nationalist regimes in China.
According to the Wood River Times, Chung and other Chinese laundrymen picked up clothes from homes and delivered freshly folded garments by wagon in the summer and dog sled in the winter.
Chinese live-in domestic servants shopped for groceries and shuttled families to social engagements, according to Lucile Friedman, the daughter of early Hailey settler Simon M. Friedman. They “did all [families’] shopping and cooking and everything,” Friedman recalled in a 1981 interview with historian Teresa Bergin.
Small-scale farming became increasingly attractive option for Chinatown's residents around 1883, when news broke that the Alturas Water Company would finish the Hailey waterworks by the end of the year.
Sure enough, the $10,000 waterworks project was complete by December 1883. Six-inch wrought iron pipeline had been laid in ditches from Indian Creek to the intersection of Main and Carbonate streets, meaning residents no longer had to rely on water carts when wells ran dry.
As snow melted off the hillsides the following spring, several Chinese men decided to collectively lease a 30-acre plot of land in northern Hailey for $450 per year from the Idaho & Oregon Land Improvement Company. They dug an irrigation ditch 1.5 miles long, planting tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage and an assortment of fruits.
Other Chinese immigrants became “truck gardeners,” growing vegetables on small patches of land near Lions Park and peddling the produce in wagons from house to house, sometimes as far as Bellevue.
In 1885, Wood River Times editor T.E. Picotte published an interview with resident Charley Sing in which he asked the man why so many had departed China for the Wood River Valley.
Picotte quoted Sing’s reply in pidgin English:
“Too many poor people [in China]. Same as America, see? New York poor place. Can’t make money fast … In Hailey, in Idaho, make money easy; in China, in New York, belly hard.”
Violence was a part of daily life
The Chinese in Hailey were frequently threatened, robbed, and pelted with eggs, rocks and other objects, as reflected in hundreds of daily articles published by the Wood River Times.
In September 1882—just months after President Chester A. Arthur halted all Chinese immigration into the U.S. via the Chinese Exclusion Act—a hotel patron threatened a Chinese domestic servant with a pistol.
“Late yesterday afternoon, considerable excitement was created at the Merchants’ Hotel by a man deliberately holding a revolver pointed at Sam Lee, the Chinese male chambermaid … and snapping the hammer several times,” Picotte reported. “As it happened there was no load in the pistol and the Chinaman still lives.”
The perpetrator, a white man, “only did it in sport” and “paid $10 for his fun” at the Old Blaine County Courthouse, the paper stated.
“He is in doubt even yet as to there being any moral crime in or law against killing Chinamen,” the article continued.
Discrimination was embedded not only in newspaper propaganda, but daily life. Hailey residents held “snowballing parties” on Main Street after snowstorms, for example—a pastime that involved hitting as many Chinese men with snowballs as possible.
“This was a bad day for Chinamen, and any one of them unlucky enough to come across one of the snowballing parties on Main Street, has cause to remember the occasion,” Picotte reported after one snowstorm in February 1884. “This is probably reprehensible; but, then, the snow balled so easily that the temptation to throw was irresistible.”
Both Hailey’s and Ketchum’s newspapers reflected growing anti-Chinese attitudes in the valley. Articles accused Chinese immigrants of eating dogs and rats, griped about the money they sent abroad and denounced their loud cheering during rounds of Fan-Tan and Mahjong, two gambling games. Reports also poked fun at their hairstyles and “baggy” clothing.
Picotte and Ketchum Keystone editor H.E. Cook, in particular, mocked the men's traditional Manchu hairstyles—shaved foreheads and braided ponytails—and frequently called them “pig-tailed heathen.”
(Picotte made an exception for a merchant named Willie Lee Chong, who spoke English fluently, wore “American clothes, has cut off his [ponytail] and belongs to a church.”)
In April 1883, Picotte reported with amusement that passersby had tried to tie a clothesline around a Chinese man during a windstorm.
“As he stood there with his long tail flying in the wind … They never had a better chance to fly a Chinese kite,” the editor wrote, “but the fellow slipped the cord off and scooted.”
While Chinese lives and property were frequently threatened, the offenders were almost never prosecuted. In May 1883, for example, two cabins in Hailey’s Chinatown were intentionally set on fire with coal oil, but no investigation was carried out.
The Chinese were also regularly jailed on charges of smoking opium, using illegal nets to catch fish on Silver Creek and a spectrum of other offenses.
Thirteen men were thrown in the county jail in April 1885 for smoking opium, fined $100 each and put to work stacking stones outside of the jail under the command of the deputy sheriff, according to the Wood River Times. A Chinese restaurant cook, “Asa,” was also jailed for pulling out kitchen knives after a white waiter, James Gordon, punched him.
“The Chinaman, two immense carving knives in his hands, threatened to then and there carve Mr. Gordon into Giblets. Mr. Gordon protested at such a proposition, and had the Chinaman arrested on a charge of threatened assault with intent to kill,” Picotte stated.
According to historian Mae Ngai, prosecutors in mining towns rarely paid attention to Chinese witness accounts “from result of both a lack of concern and their own prejudices—most notably the claim that they could not distinguish one Chinese person from another.”
“Even sincere efforts on the part of prosecutors and judges were hampered by the problem of translation,” Ngai wrote in her 2021 book “The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Rushes.”
Discrimination had deep roots
Anti-Chinese sentiment in the West took decades to crystalize into the anti-Chinese leagues that sprouted up across the West in the 1880s, according to Ngai.
White American and European miners had “used long ropes to sweep down and drag off the tents” of Chinese gold miners at camps in Weaverville, California, as early as 1852, Ngai noted in her book.
Tong Achick—one of the first settlers to come to San Francisco from Hong Kong—and businessman Chun Aching captured the morale at the Weaverville camps in a letter to California Gov. John Bigler in 1852:
“We are informed that grown men may sometimes be seen, sitting down alone in the wildest places, weeping like children,” they wrote.
Two years after they penned that letter, in 1854, a $4-per-month foreign miners’ tax was imposed on Chinese miners only—Europeans were immune—making it hard to afford hand tools and food.
As California’s gold reserves depleted in the 1860s and anti-Chinese sentiment grew—stoked by politicians and white labor unions—as many as 5,000 discouraged Chinese laborers left the goldfields and returned to China.
Others turned to farming, found work in factories in San Francisco or moved to Oregon, Idaho and Nevada to take ostensibly better-paying mining and railroad jobs.
Conditions in the gold fields and rail camps weren’t much better, Ngai wrote.
“Violence and threats of violence were pervasive on the diggings, part of a hypercompetitive environment in which miners of all ethnic backgrounds quarreled and fought over claims,” she wrote.
In San Francisco, too, race relations were coming to a boil. Four-hundred Irish cigar factory workers threw bricks at their Chinese coworkers and burned down scores of Chinese shanties in San Francisco in 1867. The following year, the California Legislature drafted a resolution asserting that Chinese laborers were “pagans” who shouldn’t become citizens:
“Our entire Chinese population is composed of slaves and their masters, or agents of their masters,” the Legislature stated.
By the mid-1870s, anti-Chinese clubs were ubiquitous across California. They proclaimed the same rallying cry: ‘The Chinese Must Go!”
Hailey’s adoption of the “Chinese Must Go” slogan around 1885 wasn’t an isolated event, according to historian Beth Lew-Williams.
Four-hundred thirty-nine towns across the U.S., in fact, attempted to oust Chinese immigrants between 1885 and 1887 with “harassment, bombing, arson, assault, roundups, murder and lynching,” Lew-Williams wrote in her book “The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America.”
Making matters worse, Geo Parsons, the district judge of Blaine County—then known as Alturas County—was a member of Hailey’s “Anti-Chinese League” headed up by prominent businessman J. C. Fox.
The league, already underground for years, held its first public meeting in February 1886 at the Hailey Theater to brainstorm how to expel Hailey’s Chinese citizens.
They came up with three options for the Chinese residents—move further east, go home, or starve—and set a three-month deadline of May 1, 1886.
Ultimatum had immediate effects
Other towns, like Shoshone, preceded Hailey with their expulsion orders.
In August 1884, Shoshone residents resolved to rid the town of all Chinese and replace all servants and cooks with poor white women, mostly Mormons and Scandinavians.
“The [laundrymen] were also advised to go take a walk, which they all did immediately,” the Wood River Times reported.
Farmers Ah Sem and Ah King, who tended a garden between Bellevue and Shoshone, were “given time to sell their vegetables.” The last Chinese resident of Shoshone “shouldered his rice sack” in November 1885, the Times reported.
On Feb. 1, 1886, Hailey’s Anti-Chinese Committee—following Shoshone’s lead—gave Chinese residents 90 days to board up their businesses and leave.
Within a day of the league's announcement, Picotte wrote that Chinese laundrymen and merchants saw a dramatic dip in patronage.
One laundryman called the paper to report that he had $1,400 in unpaid washing bills, the Times reported. Hop Chung—who owned a laundry near present-day Broadford Road—also reported a large falling-off of customers that forced him to lower prices, Picotte wrote.
“If the number of those who refuse to pay their wash bills increases in the same ratio, in the next few months, as it has in the past, the anti-Chinese problem will be solved, as far as Hailey is concerned, as the Chinese will be starved out,” the editor wrote.
In response to Hailey's expulsion order, 12 Chinese residents from across the valley placed an advertisement in the paper declaring they would not leave. A few Chinese gardeners also told the newspaper that they would remain in town, living off their own produce.
“A few weeks ago [laundrymen] lived high-toned, and had three to six assistants and every washhouse. Now, there was not over one [employee], on an average, besides the bosses,” the Wood River Times stated in February 1886. "Most of those here would go if they could pay their [ship fare]; but they are broke, out of work, and get along the best way they can on a few potatoes and a little rice."
Chung and other laundrymen sent out postcards that month begging customers to pay their bills.
“They are only written in English on a well-laundered cuff and read: ‘Please call and pay your wash bill. Your Chinese laundryman,” the Times reported.
Chinese businesses targeted to meet a ‘desired end’
Two-hundred fifty bushels of potatoes and 75 chickens were reportedly stolen from Quigley Ranch by Chinese men in February 1886, further angering the anti-Chinese league.
On Feb. 2, 1886, a “person or persons” placed a can of Hercules powder—an explosive containing nitroglycerin—within a few feet of Chung’s laundry on River Street and detonated the can, destroying part of the building, the Times reported. No charges were filed.
“There was another [anti-Chinese league] meeting last night, but very few persons attended, as they seemed to be afraid of being suspected of causing the explosion,” Picotte wrote.
In a Feb. 13 article headlined “Former Haunts Abandoned and Quiet as Graveyards,” Picotte wrote that the league—led by J.C Fox, Judge Parsons and sheriff's deputies—paid frequent visits to Chinatown to inspect homes for signs of opium consumption.
The vigilante group found the block "quieter than they ever saw it before.” Fifty Chinese residents had left by the end of February, the newspaper stated, leaving "about 100."
By June 1886, only three laundries were left, including Hop Chung’s on River Street and Sam Lee’s on Bullion Street. Both laundries were heavily damaged in targeted explosions that month, Chung's for the second time.
“Sam [Lee] huddled himself in a corner and began to call on Confucius,” the Wood River Times reported on June 11, 1886. “When daylight broke Sam examined the premises having first satisfied himself that he—Sam—was not dead … Sam has no idea who did it, but there is one Chinaman in Hailey who will not return to Bullion.”
On June 24, 1886, Hop Chung narrowly escaped the second explosion of his business along with two employees:
“The three China men were in the house when the fuse was lighted. The time necessary for the fuse to burn saved the three men’s lives, for they smelt the burning powder and escaped—two unhurt and one wounded … the explosion tore the house badly and scattered portions of its timber all around. It was by a flying piece of timber that [one employee] was wounded.”
Undeterred, Hop Chung stayed in business through at least 1891, when his laundry was finally "doomed" after a fire broke out on River Street. Chung still managed to save most clothing in the blaze, the Times reported.
By the early 1890s, Chinatown’s population had declined to around a dozen. The falling price of silver had sent the Wood River Valley’s economy into a tailspin, and ranching and sheep-rearing had become the new lifeblood of the area.
It was around this time that Hailey’s remaining Chinese settlers looked to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles for work as cooks, laundrymen, barbers and store owners. A few ended up in South America.
To Picotte and other members of the anti-Chinese league, this was the “desired end.”
"Drive these heathen from Wood River and within two years 200 homes, occupied by civilized, intelligent, industrious human beings, will supplant the miserable hovels of the detested and detestable Mongolians," Picotte wrote.
Friedman family offered friendship, respect
One of Hailey's last-remaining settlers was a vegetable peddler named Hong Art, whom Lucile Friedman warmly remembered from her childhood during a taped interview at The Community Library in 1981.
As Friedman recalled, she ran into Art by chance in San Francisco's Chinatown while studying at the University of California, Berkeley. The man had successfully opened a store on "Dupont Gai," or Grand Avenue.
“Of course I was as homesick for him as he was for me. He was just so tickled that I had stopped to talk to him there in San Francisco," Friedman said. "He said, ‘You come to my store, 300 Grand Avenue' ... at Christmastime he sent me a great, huge basket of Chinese candy and nuts and things.”
Friedman also remembered a Chinese servant, "Lim," who had been a longtime family friend. Along with her brother, Leon, the siblings were able to track down Lim in Hong Kong after learning through an FBI agent that the man had been deported. They traveled to Hong Kong, determined to find him.
"He had on a little cotton pair of white cotton pants and a shirt [and] came running out as thin as a rail, tears streaming down his face … When he came down and he saw us in the car, he just cried and he just hugged and kissed us. He was just overcome," Friedman remembered.
“Leon said, ‘Now Lim, you have to come down to our hotel and you have dinner with us.' ... So Lim came down and he was all dressed up. Oh, he looked so nice. He had on his suit, his shoes were all polished," Friedman continued.
"I said, 'Oh, Lim you look so nice.' He said, 'You like it? Same suit I had in Hailey.'"
Today, the whereabouts of Hailey's Chinese residents and their descendants are largely unknown.
By all accounts, Hop Chung stayed in Hailey until at least May 1893, when his wife, Sue Yee “Mary,” died of a hemorrhage at their home on River Street, according to the Wood River Times. ￼His son, Uie Hop Chung, also lived in Hailey, according to Friedman.