After white miners chased Chinese miners away from a nearby productive wet placer mining site in 1850, the Chinese settled at Chinese Camp, a mining site that white miners had previously abandoned. Industrious Chinese miners successfully extracted gold at Chinese Camp by using a dry washing technique that white miners thought was too laborious. First, Chinese miners placed dirt with gold dust on a cloth or blanket. Then two Chinese would grab each corner of the blanket, and toss the material up into the air. As the wind blew the lighter material away, heavier material like gold dust would settle on the blanket. Eventually, Chinese Camp became a Chinese commercial hub for nearby communities. Chinese miners from outlying communities would often visit Chinese Camp to escape the harsh conditions of frontier life by visiting saloons, brothels, opium dens, temples, gambling dens, barbers, seamstresses, musicians, butchers, tailors, bakers, or herb doctors for aches and pains.
White businesses in Chinese Camp also depended on nearby Chinese miners. Although Chinese miners imported many goods from China, American freight and stage companies profited from Chinese imports. In addition, white merchants, farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, landlords, and water companies profited by selling Chinese boots, clothing, tools, meat, metal and wooden goods, water, and housing. The California state government also profited from the Chinese by using discriminatory taxes; by 1870, the Chinese supported nearly 3/4 of the State’s revenue through the Foreign Miners Tax despite not using any of the State’s services.
The Catholic Church also had a presence in Chinese Camp. The Catholic Church attempted to convert Chinese miners in Chinese Camp, but failed because of the Church’s misunderstanding and simplification of Chinese culture. In 1865, the Catholic Church assigned a Chinese priest, Father Thomas Cian, to Chinese Camp. However, Father Cian failed to convert Chinese miners because he could not communicate with the Chinese miners, and he returned to Italy. Although Father Cian spoke a Chinese language, he did not speak Cantonese, the Chinese language that the Chinese miners spoke. Catholic leaders erroneously assumed the miners could understand Father Cian.
Nothing remains of the Chinatown portion of Chinese Camp now. Currently, private ranch houses and rangeland west of the current post office occupy what were once Chinese storefronts, residences, churches, and temples. A few old and rapidly deteriorating buildings from the white portion of Chinese Camp still remain on Main Street.
City: Chinese Camp
Submitted by: Fred Wong, Volunteer
California Historical Landmark, Chinatown site, Ghost Town, Gold Rush, Historic Town, Mining