Nestled in a deep bend of the South Fork of the Merced River on the Sierra National Forest, beneath the shadow of a towering, craggy peak known as Mt. Diablo, is a narrow strip of habitable ground in an otherwise inhospitable area. Isolated and hellishly hot in summer months, this became the location of the hard rock gold mining venture known as Hite’s Cove that spanned 27 years.
John Hite began a small mining operation on the banks of the river at this remote location in 1862. The area would grow into a town of over 250 people at the peak of mining operations. The Chinese represented almost 20% of this population, the second largest ethnic group of the community.
The Chinese lived primarily in a Chinatown at the south end of Hite’s Cove, although some individuals lived within the main part of the community. According to census records, they were employed as miners, mill workers, laborers, storekeepers, blacksmiths, cooks, and in the laundry service.
The Chinese also constructed roads. A flume brought water that was needed for ore processing and hauling supplies, construction materials, and mining equipment down steep canyon walls to the growing community.
During the 1800s, California passed many anti-Chinese laws and ordinances, culminating in the passage of an 1879 law prohibiting corporations from employing Chinese. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, limiting Chinese immigration into the country. The voting population of the Cove overwhelmingly supported these laws. However, the Chinese were never actually expelled from the community. Interestingly, the Chinese population at the Cove doubled during the 1870s – 1880s, while their population in the rest of Mariposa County declined by half. This was probably because they had become an integral part of the Hite’s Cove operations and community. There appears to have been a greater tolerance of ethnic diversity at the Cove than elsewhere.
By 1889, after millions of dollars in gold had been removed, the gold was played out, and the Cove was mostly deserted. In 1924, a fire ripped through the area, destroying the abandoned wooden structures and objects associated with the mining town. What is left of the once bustling community, are scattered remains of mining equipment, roads, rock walls, and the crumbling remains of the rock houses of the Chinese neighborhood.