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CHINESE-AMERICAN CONTRIBUTION TO TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD
(Click on image to
HON. JOHN T. DOOLITTLE of
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to honor the Chinese-American community and pay tribute to its ancestors' contribution to the building of the American transcontinental railroad.
8th, the Colfax Area Historical Society in my
Congressional District will place a monument along Highway 174 at Cape Horn,
Chinese labor was suggested,
as they had already helped build the California Central Railroad, the railroad
The first Chinese were hired in 1865 [sic] at approximately $28 per month to do the very dangerous work of blasting and laying ties over the treacherous terrain of the high Sierras. They lived in simply dwellings and cooked their own meals, often consisting of fish, dried oysters and fruit, mushrooms and seaweed.
in the beginning was slow and difficult. After the first
summer of 1868, 4,000 workers, two thirds of which were Chinese, had
built the transcontinental railroad over the Sierras and into the interior
plains. On May 10, 1869, the two railroads were to meet at Promontory,
the efforts of the Chinese workers in the building of
Image of Chinese Worker at CPRR Tunnel No. 8, above, is a detail of Hart stereoview #204, from the Steve Heselton Collection.
[Congressional Record: April 29, 1999 (Extensions); Page E822]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov] [DOCID:cr29ap99-49]
Courtesy Go2Net and Deja News.
The cars now (1867) run nearly to the summit of the Sierras. ... four thousand laborers were at work—one-tenth Irish, the rest Chinese. They were a great army laying siege to Nature in her strongest citadel. The rugged mountains looked like stupendous ant-hills. They swarmed with Celestials, shoveling, wheeling, carting, drilling and blasting rocks and earth, while their dull, moony eyes stared out from under immense basket-hats, like umbrellas. At several dining camps we saw hundreds sitting on the ground, eating soft boiled rice with chopsticks as fast as terrestrials could with soup-ladles. Irish laborers received thirty dollars per month (gold) and board; Chinese, thirty-one dollars, boarding themselves. After a little experience the latter were quite as efficient and far less troublesome. —Beyond the Mississippi by Albert D. Richardson
"Make Masons out of Chinamen? Did they not build the Chinese wall, the biggest piece of masonry in the world?" —Charles Crocker, Congressional Testimony
A large majority of the white laboring
class on the
As a class they are quiet, peaceable, patient, industrious and economical—ready and apt to learn all the different kinds of work required in railroad building, they soon become as efficient as white laborers. More prudent and economical, they are contented with less wages. We find them organized into societies for mutual aid and assistance. These societies, that count their numbers by thousands, are conducted by shrewd, intelligent business men, who promptly advise their subordinates where employment can be found on the most favorable terms.
No system similar to slavery, serfdom or peonage prevails among these laborers. Their wages, which are always paid in coin, at the end of each month, are divided among them by their agents, who attend to their business, in proportion to the labor done by each person. These agents are generally American or Chinese merchants, who furnish them their supplies of food, the value of which they deduct from their monthly pay. We have assurances from leading Chinese merchants, that under the just and liberal policy pursued by the Company, it will be able to procure during the next year, not less than 15,000 laborers. With this large force, the Company will be able to push on the work so as not only to complete it far within the time required by the Acts of Congress, but so as to meet the public impatience.
Pres't C. P. R. R. Co.
Central Pacific Railroad
Statement Made to the President of the
Chief Engineer Montague cites the Chinese in the work force in his message to the Board of the CPRR for 1865:
"It became apparent early in the season, that the amount of labor likely to be required during the summer could only be supplied by the employment of the Chinese element, of our population. Some distrust was at first felt regarding the capacity af this class for the service required, but the experiment has proved eminently successful. They are faithful and industrions, and under proper supervision, soon become skillful in the performance of their duties. Many of them are becoming very expert in drilling, blasting, and other departments of rock work."
"Systematic workers these Chinese – competent and
wonderfully effective because tireless and unremitting in their industry. Order
and industry then, as now, made for accomplishment. Divided into gangs of about
30 men each, they work under the direction of an American foreman. The Chinese
board themselves. One of their number is selected in
each gang to receive all wages and buy all provisions. They usually pay an
American clerk – $1 a month apiece is usual – to see that each gets all he
earned and is charged no more than his share of the living expenses. They are
paid from $30 to $35 in gold a month, out of which they board themselves. They
are credited with having saved about $20 a month. Their workday is from sunrise
to sunset, six days in the week. They spend Sunday washing and mending, gambling
and smoking, and frequently, old timers will testify, in shrill-toned quarreling. ... "
—Alta California, San Francisco, November 9, 1868.
Without them it would be impossible to go on with the
work. I can assure you the Chinese are moving the earth and rock rapidly. They
prove nearly equal to white men in the amount of labor
they perform, and are far more reliable.
—E. B. Crocker, 1867.
"When the railroad was completed on May 10, 1869,
an eight man Chinese crew was selected to place the last section of rail – a
symbol to honor the dedication and hard work of these
laborers. A few of the speakers mentioned the
invaluable contributions of the Chinese ... " —National Park
A. J. Russell Stereoview #539. "Chinese at Laying Last Rail UPRR," on O.C. Smith's yellow mount. ... may be the only photographic record of the Chinese role in the Last Rail ceremony; The view clearly shows at least one Chinese worker and a partner with rail-laying tools appearing to adjust the last rail laid (from the CPRR side), with a wooden track gauge stick still in place while 2 others look on; ... showing the moment the last rails were actually laid. ... It really does confirm the eyewitness accounts ... A crowd stands behind and fans away on both sides. UPRR Locomotive "119" is prominent in the background. A couple of ladies are on shoulders to get a better look at the scene. ... Notice the textures in the clothing, a gentleman in the crowd wearing quite stylish sunglasses (the only one), and some tools, shovels and fishplates laying on the ground. Stereoview and Caption Courtesy of the Phil Anderson Collection.
Ging Cui, Wong Fook, and Lee Shao, three of the
eight Chinese CPRR workers who brought up the last rail at Promontory
CPRR foreman, Amos L. Bowsher, who wired the telegraphic connection at Promontory which sent the word out over the wires that the last spike had been driven later recalled: "It was certainly a cosmopolitan gathering. Irish and Chinese laborers who had set records in track laying that have never since been equalled joined with the cowboys, Mormons, miners and Indians in celebrating completion of the railroad."
Find a guide to learning Chinese, as well as overviews of other languages.
A reporter for the San Francisco Newsletter, May 15th, 1869, described the final moments of the celebration at Promontory:
"J.H. Strobridge, when the work was all over, invited the Chinese who had been brought over from Victory for that purpose, to dine at his boarding car. When they entered, all the guests and officers present cheered them as the chosen representatives of the race which have greatly helped to build the road ... a tribute they well deserved and which evidently gave them much pleasure."
"I wish to call to your minds that the early completion of this railroad we have built has been in large measure due to that poor, despised class of laborers called the Chinese, to the fidelity and industry they have shown."
Thanks to the sponsors of our museum website, which include a great site for digital cameras, Digital Camera HQ, and a related site for a number of categories of consumer electronics, DigitalAdvisor.com.
"Long lines of horses, mules and wagons were standing in the open desert near the camp train. The stock was getting its breakfast of hay and barley. Trains were shunting in from the west with supplies and materials for the day's work. Foremen were galloping here and there on horseback giving or receiving orders. Swarms of laborers, Chinese, Europeans and Americans were hurrying to their work. On one side of the track stood the moveable blacksmith shop where a score of smiths were repairing tools and shoeing horses and mules. Close by was the fully equipped harness shop where a large force was repairing collars, traces and other leather equipment. To the west were the rails and line of telegraph poles stretching back as far as the eye could reach. The telegraph wire from the last pole was strung into the car that served as a telegraph office. To the eastward stretched the grade marked by a line of newly distributed earth. By the side of the grade smoked the camp fires of the blue clad laborers who could be seen in groups waiting for the signal to start work. These were the Chinese, and the job of this particular contingent was to clear a level roadbed for the track. They were the vanguard of the construction forces. Miles back was the camp of the rear guard–the Chinese who followed the track gang, ballasting and finishing the road bed. Systematic workers these Chinese–competent and wonderfully effective because tireless and unremitting in their industry ... The rails, ties and other material were thrown off the train as near to end of the track was as feasible, and then the empty train was drawn back out of the way. At this point the rails were loaded on low flat cars, and hauled by horses to end of track. The ties were handled in the same way. Behind came the rail gang, who took the rails from the flat cars and laid them on the ties. While they were doing this a man on each side distributed spikes, two to each tie; another distributed splice bars; and a third the bolts and nuts by which the rails were spliced together. Two more men followed to adjust and sent back for another load ... Back of the track builders followed a gang with the seven more ties necessary to complete the foundation for each rail. These were put into position and spiked by another gang, which also leveled up the track and left it ready for the ballasters. ..." From the report from End of Track, November 9, 1868, quoted in the Southern Pacific Bulletin, August, 1927, page 10. Courtesy G.J. "Chris" Graves.
"Never tire to study – And to teach others." —Confucius
• "Chinese Labor." From Central Pacific Railroad. Statement made to the President of the United States, and Secretary of the Interior of the Progress of the Work. Leland Stanford, Pres't C. P. R. R. Co. October 10th, 1865.
The background image for this page is a portion of a labor contract between hopeful Chinese laborers and an American shipping company in 1850. The company agrees to give them passage from
Courtesy P. Steve Neeley, Shap Luk Kon Tseung Kwan, a software game relating to the Chinese railroad workers.
Dedication Ceremony for Historic
"Dedicated to the memory of thousands of Chinese who worked for Charles Crocker on the Central Pacific Railroad. They were lowered over the face of
[Chris Graves advises that the first reference to the use of bosun's chairs is in the Southern Pacific Bulletin c. 1927.]
Williams, John Hoyt. A Great and Shining Road: The Epic Story of the Transcontinental Railroad. Times Books, 1988. pp. 93-118:
"In early September , Strobridge
turned his Celestials loose on Cape Horn with their picks, drills, shovels,
tiny wheelbarrows, and blasting powder. The "crumping"
of explosives reverberated through the valley below as the Chinese — who either were not susceptible to acrophobia
or possessed a singular wealth of fatalism — began to sculpt the
mountain, great chunks of which were blasted or pried loose to tumble
earthshakingly into the
Professor Williams also cites the following: "Documents
and censuses relating to the Chinese in
Chinn, Thomas W., et. al.
(Ed.). A History of the Chinese in California: A
Kraus, George. "Chinese Laborers and the Construction of the Central Pacific." National Golden Spike Centennial Commission Official Publication "The Last Spike is Driven" (Utah Historical Quarterly, winter 1969, Volume 37, Number 1, 1969).Mr. Chew's book likely will be of very great interest, as he has for the first time extracted much detailed information about the Chinese workers from the recently available primary source CPRR payroll records at the California State Railroad Museum. For example, he found that "Central Pacific Payroll Sheets No. 26 and No. 34 dated January and February 1864, are the documents that record the first Chinese railroad workers, Hung Wah and Ah Toy, who supervised a crew of 23 unnamed workers." An extensive appendix lists by name all of the Chinese CPRR workers identified in the payroll records. Mr. Chew is to be congratulated for this important contribution. Unfortunately, however, the book also, for some of the analysis, relies upon problematic secondary sources and attempts calculations of the estimated total Chinese workforce and number killed that appear not to be as precise as implied. [Contrary to the book's conclusion, the engineers' and contemporary newspaper reports were (with one exception) of only few casualties. The book attempts to calculate the size of the workforce despite presenting reseach showing names of only the many headmen listed but almost none of the "nameless" Chinese laborers that were left unrecorded and finding that more than half of the monthly payroll documents were missing. Supt. Strobridge's 19th century testimony was that "our maximum strength ... very nearly approached 10,000 men on the work" while Mr. Chew instead is attempting to calculate that total number of Chinese who worked for the CPRR over time.]
Spangenburg, Ray and Moser, Diane
K. The Story of American's Railroads.
New York, Facts On File, 1991, p. 37, states that
"in 1855 the Oriental [was] one of two Chinese bilingual newspapers in
[The Oriental is available at the Huntington Library and was published until c. 1857.]
Steiner, Stan. Fusang: The Chinese Who Built America. New York, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1979. pp. 128-140. (These railroad pages are reproduced in full on the CPRR website with the permission of Vera John-Steiner, Ph.D.)
Taylor, B. H. A World on Wheels. S. C. Griggs, 1874.
"Across the Continent." Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, February 9, 1878, p. 389.
Young, Alida E. Land of the Iron
Dragon - A novel about the Chinese who labored to
build the first transcontinental railroad in
workers and the first transcontinental railroad of the
Chinese Immigration to the United States, 1851-1900. Library of Congress.
The Library of
Congress states that: "No first-person memoirs of
the Chinese experience in nineteenth-century
The lack of even a single first-person memoir of the Chinese experience is quite surprising, if Mark Twain was correct when he observed in Roughing It (1872) that "All Chinamen can read, write and cipher with easy facility".
The Chinese and the Transcontinental Railroad. By Robert Chugg. The Brown Quarterly, Volume 1, No. 3, Spring 1997.
"Among the Chinese who came in the year 1850 was
a twenty-five year old man from
"My paternal great, great, great- grandfather Man Lung departed from the 19th century colonial port city of Hong Kong ... Kwangtung Province ... bound for America as a laborer for the construction of the Sierra Nevada segment of the Transcontinental Railroad."
The Central Pacific had made
wonderful progress coming east, and we abandoned the work from Promontory to
Humboldt Wells, bending all our efforts to meet them at Promontory.
U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), in prepared remarks during Senate debate on September 5, 2000 on granting permanent normal trade relations to China, summarizes the history of Chinese immigration to the United States as follows:
"It is not a pleasant history and it is painful to recount it. But
it is necessary. It begins in
By way of background,
the Immigration and Naturalization Service reports that only 46 Chinese
emigrated to the United States in the three decades between 1820 and 1850.
Chinese immigration exploded in the 1850's, fueled by
Such was the demand for
Chinese labor that the
But there was an almost
immediate backlash from workers in
In the 1870's, the
anti-Chinese movement gained momentum in the face of an economic downturn and
the near-completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. In
And in July 1876, the
Do they [the Chinese] prevent white immigration? We know that most assuredly they do, as of our personal knowledge we know numbers of laboring-men during the past year that have come to the coast, and have had to leave the coast for lack of employment, in consequence of their inability to compete with Mongolians, and thus sustain a loss, through their influence, when they return to their old homes, not yet cursed by the presence of the Chinese. [Report of the Joint Special Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration, S. Rep. No. 689, 44th Cong., 2d Sess. at p. 1172 (1877)] ...
The Joint Committee's final report[*] makes painful reading:
To any one reading the
testimony which we lay before the two houses it will become painfully evident
that the Pacific coast must in time become either American or Mongolian. There
is a vast hive from which Chinese immigrants may swarm, and circumstances may
send them in enormous numbers to this country. These two forces, Mongolian and
American, are already in active opposition. . . The American race is progressive
and in favor of a responsible representative
government. The Mongolian race seems to have no desire for progress, and to
have no conception of representative and free institutions. . . .
It further appears from the evidence that the Chinese do not desire to become citizens of this country, and have no knowledge of or appreciation for our institutions. Very few of them learn to speak our language... To admit these vast numbers of aliens to citizenship and the ballot would practically destroy republican institutions on the Pacific coast, for the Chinese have no comprehension of any form of government but despotism, and have not the words in their own language to describe intelligibly the principles of our representative system. [Report of the Joint Special Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration, S. Rep. No. 689, 44th Cong., 2d Sess. at pp. v and vii (1877)]
The Joint Committee's
report paved the way for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which suspended
immigration by Chinese laborers for 10 years. The
scope of the Act was expanded in 1888, and renewed for another 10 years in
( ... Ah Toy was listed as a Chinese Foreman in the Jan and Feb 1864 CP payroll sheets ... If it is the same person [who 12 years earlier worked for James H. Strobridge on his farm, and who is recorded in the Calfornia Special Census of 1852], he would be [about] 43 years old in 1864.)
years after the original construction, the great curved Secret Town trestle
(the largest structure of its type on the railroad) was completely buried and
the valley filled in with dirt from the mountainside by Chinese laborers! This was done to eliminate the fire hazard and
avoid replacement of the aging timbers. The Southern Pacific
Bulletin later reported that: "a large force of Chinese
laborers [was] kept busy during the summer of 1877
making the fill across the canyon to replace the hastily constructed trestle.
The trestle was
One of the earliest
employers of Chinese was James Harvey Strobridge,
later to become the Construction Superintendent on the
Chris Graves also
reports that following a recent fire in the Pequots
that cleared away the brush he has observed black powder cans, bottles, and a
number of holes in the ground about 3-
Graves further explains that the reason few Chinese were at the Promontory Summit ceremony is that the CPRR's Stanford contracted with Brigham Young for Mormon workers in place of the Chinese to complete the construction of the rail line and consequently the Chinese were pulled back once the construction reached "Mormon Hill" at Toano, Nevada, where the Mormon crews took over.
work as a "basket man" suspended by ropes over
> sheer cliff faces, planting explosives, lighting fuses and then scrambling up
> the rope before the explosion. He says that many of these workers were 15
> year old boys, chosen because they were light enough to be held by the wicker
> baskets, and because they were agile. How to document this? Where would
> names, ages, of workers, other accounts of these dramatic scenes be? One
> special place they worked was at Cape Horn Passage, in the fall of 1865.
No photographs of the Chinese constructing Cape Horn are known to exist, but the detail of A.J. Russell, stereoview #27 at the left shows Mormon workers suspended on ropes at the cliff face at the East portal of UPRR Tunnel No. 3, Weber Canyon. Kyle K. Wyatt, Curator of History & Technology, California State Railroad Museum, comments that "Personally, I do think it possible that the workers may have used ropes to support them in some places. A nice rope around the waist (or tied to something like a boson's chair) that one can lean back against (with feet planted firmly on the ground) might be a real asset while swinging a double jack hammer, or holding and "shaking" a drill steel."
Several historians have
commented that "ropes" are mentioned in multiple 19th century
guidebook accounts describing the Chinese workers suspended during the
"Great Trans-Continental Railroad Guide ..." By Bill Dadd, The Scribe. Chicago,
Geo. A. Crofutt & Co., 1869. Section
" ... When the road was in course of construction, the groups of Chinese laborers on the bluffs looked almost like swarms of ants, when viewed from the river. ... When the road-bed was constructed around this point, the men who broke the first standing ground were held by ropes until firm foot-holds could be excavated in the rocky sides of the precipitous bluffs."
"Morford's Scenery and sensation Handbook of the Pacific
Railroads and California," by Henry Morford, c.
1878, beginning on p. 160 relates a story told by a "General" who was
a passenger with him on a train trip from Junction to Truckee that Stanford had
taken him up the line to show "the General" what they had done. Under
the heading "the General's sensation at
West," by William Minturn. London,
Samuel Tinsley, 1877, p. 227:
"The first workmen on this elevated rocky point — hardy industrious Chinese — were held and steadied by the aid of rope securely tied round their bodies. Thus they hammered away at the rock, until they made for themselves standing room, appearing like swarm of ants on a loaf of sugar."
Pacific Tourist. Adams & Bishop's Illustrated
Trans-Continental Guide." New York, Adams & Bishop, 1884,
p.252 (same description in the 1877 edition):
"Around the Cape, the railroad clings to the precipitous bluff at a point nearly
A letter, written by
Caroline Amelia Clapp Chickering, dated in Oakland,
Cal. on Thursday, Nov. 9, 1876 (published in THE CALIFORNIAN, volume 12, No. 1)
to her mother, after she came to Calif. in 1876 by
train: "At 7:00 we were to to round 'Cape
Horn'. Miss Carmony and I were disturbed
though, and could not sleep after three, so we rose and dressed, but when we
went out on the platform the snow sheds shut out everything. So after a
while we concluded to lie down until nearer dawn. Between six and seven
we made our way to the last car, notwithstanding the fact that we had to pass
through some emigrant cars, and there we had a glorious view. The track
is laid around this point,
"A Lady's Life in
the Rocky Mountains" by Isabella Bird, trip over the Sierra Nevada taken
in September 1873, text excerpted from her letters to her sister, published in
book form in 1879 (Letter I):
"The light of the sinking sun from that time glorified the Sierras, and as the dew fell, aromatic odours made the still air sweet. On a single track, sometimes carried on a narrow ledge excavated from the mountain side by men lowered from the top in baskets, overhanging ravines from 2000 to
"Building The Pacific Railway," by Edwin L. Sabin.
J.B. Lippincott, 1919, p.119:
"Early in the Spring, throwing forward one of those high, curving trestles (in this case
"From Trail to Rail." by Earl Heath. Southern Pacific
Bulletin, May, 1927.
"At a point on the line called "Cape Horn," the road was cut out of almost perpendicular mountain side about fifteen hundred feet above the
[The definition of a Bosun's Chair is "a wooden plank or canvas chair for a worker hung by ropes over the side of a ship, Building or Bridge." But it is also a rope sling made to support ones thighs and rump while hanging from a rope as any sailor can tell you, like those used by rock climbers of today.]
However, Nelson's Pictorial Guide-Book (1871) states that:
"The line is carried along the edge of declivities stretching downwards for 2000 or
See: "The Central Pacific Railroad
and the Legend of Cape Horn." by Edson T. Strobridge, 2001.
and the Book Review of this book.
See: Cape Horn Slope.
The Cape Horn track overlooked the
North Fork of the
"Here," Griswold says, "[James H.] Strobridge had to lower Chinese from the top of the cliff in wicker baskets." They "chipped and drilled holes for explosives, and then scrambled up the fines while the gunpowder exploded beneath. Inch by inch the roadbed was gouged from the granite" (Chinn, 1969). After the Chinese had cleared the grade, "the work train cam nosing after them, its grab irons and journal boxes literally hanging over space"
the Chinese diet was healthier than that of the Caucasian workers, and that the Chinese workman bathed and changed clothes daily, "to the astonishment of his white neighbors."
The Chinese who came to offer his
plan to Strobridge "politely waited, hat in hand
... The carving of roads that clung to cliffsides
like birds' nests on inaccessible ledges, was very ancient art to Chinese
engineers. Feats of road construction such as this had been commonplace in
To start with, the terrain, Cape
Horn, so named by railroad surveyors, is not a "huge mountain" but a
south-facing nose or rib on an irregular ridge between Bear River and the North
Fork of the
The average downhill slope to be
dealt with was not vertical, not 75°, but about 50°. The length of the sidehill cut is about
Since the slope was too steep to stand on, men-first the surveyors who marked the ascending line of roadbed, then laborers-were let down on ropes, walking backward. They may have been slung in a boatswain's chair, but more simply and more probably tied a padded rope harness around their waists. The laborers would have used picks to cut out a secure footpath at the prescribed grade, and drills to blow away projecting masses. With the path cut, work would have moved inward on the rock face, with more drilling and blasting of the high obstructions, more filling of two deep natural draws that cut into the outside of the grade.
Chinese by the Numbers
Research resulting from the payroll records of the Central Pacific
Railroad Company becomes significant because it changes currently accepted
historical data concerning the initial employment date and total number of the
Chinese employed. The original records are archived in the basement of the
The basic issues have, from time to time, raised several questions, which I hope to answer with my findings.
1. When and who were the first Chinese employed?
2. What was the maximum number employed?
3. How was this number quantified and qualified?
Employment of the First Chinese Workers
Four of the most popular books about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad overlooked documents that pointed to the exact date of the hiring of the first Chinese railroad workers.
In Chapter Seven, "The Central Pacific Attacks the Sierra-Nevada, 1865," Stephen E. Ambrose writes in Nothing Like It In The World:
In February, a month after Strobridge's all-but-fruitless call for labor,
Charlie Crocker had met with him and raised the question of hiring Chinese. He
said some twenty of them had worked, and worked well, on the
However, the Central Pacific Payroll Sheets No. 26 and No. 34 dated January and February 1864, are the documents that record the first Chinese railroad workers, Hung Wah and Ah Toy,3 who supervised a crew of 23 unnamed workers.
How Many Chinese Worked for the Central Pacific?
It was the railroad's policy that a headman or labor contractor collected pay (in coins) for all the workers in his crew. George Kraus states in his article "Chinese Laborers and the Construction of the Central Pacific," that a method was used by the railroad company to count the total number of workers at the beginning of the morning shift, at lunch, and at the end of the shift to compare the total hours of wages turned in by the gang boss to prevent overpayment. It was said that one could not tell the difference between the Chinese and the Indian workers. Because of this policy it is improbable that the individual names of the actual laborers will ever be known.10
It is commonly reported that peak employment of Chinese workers by the Central Pacific ranges from 10,000 to 20,000. For instance, Kraus states in his book, High Road To Promontory: "The force at work on the road probably averaged from six to ten thousand, nine-tenths of them being Chinese. . ."11
The Insignificance of Life
It has been said that an ordinary life
is as insignificant as a grain of sand is to a desert. This cynical hyperbole
may apply to the estimated 1,200 Chinese railroad workers who died from 1864 to
1869 while working on the western route of the Transcontinental. This
approximates five Chinese deaths for every three miles of track laid from
Deaths were caused by blasts, avalanches, landslides, rail accidents, falling trees, fatal falls, pneumonia, and freezing to death. But not a single death was reported as being caused from sun or heat stroke, because of the protection that "coolie" straw hats gave the Chinese. The lack of reported deaths from dysentery is attributed to their custom of boiling ground water to make tea while the Irish who drank directly from the streams, suffered from dysentery resulting in many deaths. In general, there was little, if any, news or concern of the Chinese who died. Was it because they were expendable?
Hundreds of barrels of black powder were ignited daily to form a ledge on which a roadbed could be laid. Some of the men were lost in accidents, but we don*t know how many: the CP did not keep a record of Chinese casualties.1
The Chinese volunteered to be lowered in handmade reed baskets
In 1866 the Central Pacific tried using nitroglycerin instead of black powder, because of its greater explosive force.2 However, the use of nitroglycerin was soon abandoned because too many workers were dying from the blast or falling rock. The Central Pacific could not afford to lose workers. Maintaining the schedule of the railroad was more important.
Snowdrifts from 30 to
No official records of the deaths of Chinese railroad workers were kept.
Thousands of these young men gave their lives in building of the
railroad. The dead were never counted, nor have they been memorialized. Some
twenty thousand pounds of bones were gathered from shallow graves along the
roadbeds and rights of way, according to an 1870 newspaper article quoted in The
History of the Chinese in
1860 and 1880, the majority of the approximately one hundred thousand Chinese
arriving at the
The emigrants made their way to Hong Kong and from there to
A number of those original Chinese immigrants found their way to Utah first as construction workers on the Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento, California, to Promontory, Utah, in the late 1860s. More than twelve thousand Chinese were employed in the building of the Central Pacific. They not only laid track with consistent precision but also became legendary through their blasting of tunnels and ridges with nitroglycerin, sometimes while lowered in baskets over cliffs, such as those fourteen hundred feet above the
Promontory became the gateway for most Chinese coming into
As the railroad center for
Wong Leung Ka was one of the first Chinese merchants in
Wong Leung Ka had a shop in
Since 1900 the largest Chinese population in
Another Utah Chinatown existed in
Despite the anti-Chinese sentiment found especially in
"I like the idea of your getting over more Chinamen ... It would be all the better for us and the state if there should a half million come over in 1868." —Collis Huntington, 1867
#90, detail. "Bank and Cut at Sailor's Spur.
Hart Stereoview #88. Horse Ravine Wall, detail. Courtesy Steve Heselton Collection.