Chinese loggers helped build the West

Chinese loggers helped provide the lumber that built the West, according to Terry Birk, an archeologist for the U.S. Forest Service.

Researchers are excavating a Chinese logger's cabin at Spooner Summit through June 28.

Wood was important to the Nevada area in developing and building mines, said Dr. Sue Fawn Chung, a professor of Chinese history at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and expert in Chinese lumbermen in the region.

Log slides on skid tracks, flumes and steam trains, helped move the wood.

Chinese laborers made up 80 percent of the loggers in the Sierra. In addition to cutting wood, they built flumes, cut fuel and dug ditches for water transport.

"Carson City was the main lumbering focus between Lake Tahoe and Virginia City," said Chung.

Jessica Smith, 25, a doctoral student in archeology mainly interested in mining towns, has been digging at the site.

"It gives us the opportunity to learn about different ways that the Chinese woodcutters live that we wouldn't be able to get from historical documents," said Smith, who has known she wanted to be an archeologist since age 14.

According to Smith, rice bowls, soy sauce jars and ginger jars have been found. Using other collections, these pieces have been identified.

"It was probably a boarding-type of situation for men," she said of the building structure. "We haven't found any artifacts that indicate the presence of women or children."

Bill Simington is volunteering at the site through the Passport in Time program. Along with about 15 other individuals, the dig is progressing and will continue through June 28. What the retired Simington finds fascinating is the convergence of the Chinese and American lifestyles.

"When these two cultures come together, they learned to get along," he said. "They adapted."

Chung said, in southern China, peasant rebellions "forced a lot of Chinese to think about relocating elsewhere." Many of the Chinese who relocated came to San Francisco.

"When a family said goodbye to a loved one," Chung said, "they never knew if he was going to come back."

Many of the Chinese moved from San Francisco to smaller towns, working as servants, launderers, vegetable peddlers, cooks, fortune tellers, merchants, and cowboys. Most important, many of them helped cut wood ties for the Central Pacific Railroad.

About 30 people attended a presentation Wednesday by Chung on the Chinese lumbermen at the Nevada State Library and Archives.


The public is welcome to tour the site at 10 a.m, Tuesday, June 25. Meet at the Spooner Summit Rest Area on Highway 50. Bring drinking water.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment