Nestled in a remote hillside of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the remnants of a large Chinese settlement continues to endure after almost 140 years. Chinese laborers established this camp while constructing and maintaining the nearby Carson & Colorado railroad, road, and drainage systems. Archeologists date the camp to the 1880’s, because of the presence of square nails, a characteristic of that period when hand-hewn railroad ties were used. In addition, Chinese-style porcelain, medicine bottles, and modified California Powder Works (CPW) explosive cans appear throughout the site. Because of the local anti-Chinese sentiment during the 1870’s and 1880’s, a Chinese contractor, Ah Quong, covertly commissioned two-hundred Chinese laborers from Reno, Nevada to construct the Carson & Colorado Railroad.
With little to no shade in this high desert terrain, protection from cold winters and hot summers was necessary for survival. Large impressions surrounded by low, stacked, rock-walls on the slope of the hill-side, hint at more long-term settlements that utilized the hillside as a partial shelter, likely supplemented with a lean-to tent. Elsewhere in the camp, rocks arranged into several neighboring ovular shapes demarcate a probable burial site for those who died while out in the harsh wilderness.
Other interesting finds at the site include: the metal face of a clock, large metal prisms that once served as loose-leaf tea tins, and two pieces of a wok large enough to cook for the masses. Chinese camps often employed Chinese to cook food and brew tea for groups of 12-30 laborers.
Perhaps the most fascinating feature of the abandoned campsite, is the scattered cans which reveal the creativity and industriousness of the camp’s former inhabitants. Around one hundred CPW cans are found in the area. Almost all have been crafted to serve a utilitarian purpose after they were used to hold the explosive compounds used to blast railroad and drainage tunnels or transportation grades.
Carson & Colorado Railroad halted all of its operations in 1960 and today the entire area is abandoned. Because the campsite is so remotely located in an inconspicuous hillside of the high desert, the scattered cans remain mostly undisturbed. They now leave evidence of the livelihoods of a group of people whose history often went undocumented and untold.