Plumas County experienced an influx of Chinese in the 1850’s similar to other counties affected by the California Gold Rush. Most major Plumas County settlements had “Chinatowns” through the second half of the 19th century. Silver Creek, located north of Spanish Ranch, had been mined for placer gold during the early years. By the mid-1850s, Chinese miners were already re-working the diggings with considerable success. A Chinese community emerged here that was independent of any caucasian settlement. Silver Creek had a population of around 200 Chinese by 1860. Extensive vegetable gardens were planted; and hogs, cattle, horses and burros were raised. A mule packing business transported fresh vegetables and meat to the mining camps in the surrounding area. As time progressed, hastily constructed shacks gave way to more permanent houses. Businesses included a butcher shop and a large general store. Most unusual was the construction of a Joss House, that was present by the 1860s. It was the only one ever built in Plumas County. There was also a substantial Chinese cemetery not far from the settlement.
This community was largely closed to non-Chinese with the exception of a few selected businessmen, and during times of celebration like the Chinese New Year. Residents were characterized as hard-working and industrious. There were few conflicts with the outside community but there were some reports of internal strife among the population at times.
The Silver Creek community persisted for many decades. With the Joss House, and being something of a closed community, it was a haven for Chinese from all around the area. Individual Chinese were often employed in the surrounding towns as cooks, servers, gardeners, or laundrymen who would call Silver Creek home. The population was dominated by males, but women were present as well. Several prominent Chinese families that contributed significantly to the development of the county, had their beginnings at Silver Creek.
After 1910 the population began to diminish. Mining had ceased to be economically viable, and younger generations tended to move to more populated areas—like San Francisco—to seek a better life. The entire community burned down in the late-1920s, and Silver Creek was later dredged for gold, erasing all evidence of the old community. Only the cemetery site, with all of the old burials long removed and shipped back to China, remains today. The Plumas County Museum in Quincy, CA maintains an excellent display on local Chinese heritage that includes Silver Creek.
Submitted by: Hilda Kwan, USFS
Cemetery, Chinatown site, Mining