Under the red soil of Trinity County, once lied the bodies of six Chinese men, believed to be some who died in the Chinese War of 1854. In this war, the two rival factions, the Young Wo’s and the Ah You’s, otherwise known as the Cantons and Hong Kongs respectively, fought to the death over pre-existing tensions and a dispute that led to the death of one of their leaders. Within ten minutes of combat, the fatalities numbered twenty-six men. The Cantons declared victory over the Hong Kongs and both companies were forced to bury their dead in different areas of Weaverville. From J.J Jackson’s account of the event, it is said that the Hong Kongs buried their dead in this cemetery site.
However, the fallen did not stay buried indefinitely. The Chinese Americans, firm in their beliefs of reincarnation and respect for tradition, often sent the dead back to their beloved home villages in China for burial in family plots. During their lifetimes, they saved for the final voyage. For those who had sufficient funds, their bodies were embalmed for their trip home. Some only had the bones sent back if they were a little less fortunate. On the other hand, for those families and friends who could not afford the passage of their loved ones, their bodies are still buried in Trinity County. A descendant of Chinese pioneers in Weaverville- Moon Lee- noted that these bodies were likely buried in shallow grave pits for a few years until the flesh decayed. When only the bones were left, they would be sealed into a pottery urn for shipment back to their home country.
Besides the exhumation of bodies, the Chinese also practiced other forms of burial rituals. Offerings like rice bowls, wine cups, plates, and cooked food were often buried to feed the deceased and their spirits. The orientation of graves was also very important to the Chinese according to Feng-Shui. Having a proper orientation would ensure comfort for the dead in a place that has a balance of chi’I, or energy.
Today, the site, situated near a housing development and a highway, is overgrown with Manzanita and Buckbrush cover. Although the graves and bones do not remain, there are still depressions. Three of these are very distinct in the earth where the bodies were presumably buried. In accordance to Chinese customs, these depressions are shallow enough to allow the body to decay and later be exhumed.
Submitted by: Sylvia Guan, USFS