Immigration, but there’s more to the story.
After 1849 and before the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, thousands of Chinese, mostly male, arrived in the US at first to participate in the Gold Rush. Most did not find fortunes waiting for them; instead they found themselves working on the railroad and in the mining industry of the West. By 1870, the Chinese population of Helena, Montana was at least 10% (conservative estimate).
“So?” You ask? Well, I had the good fortune last week to take a very small part in a research project on a historical mystery discovered by Mark Johnson, NHD coordinator in East Asia and teacher at Concordia International School Shanghai. Mr. Johnson spends his summers back home in Montana and a couple of years ago stumbled upon a gravestone for John Bitzer, died 1870. On his gravestone is the epithet, “Here he lies, his life cut short, his death avenged.”
Intrigued, Mr. Johnson poked around the Montana Historical Society and found, “that Aw Chow, a Chinese resident of Helena, had shot Bitzer during a domestic disturbance in January 1870. Ah Chow disappeared, fearing vigilante justice.” He was caught and lynched six days later. As Mr. Johnson continued to dig around, questions about the shooting, the reason behind it (Bitzer’s account and Aw Chow’s were, of course, different), issues of racism, frontier western history, etc. kept popping up. And that’s when Mr. Johnson took the case back to his students in Shanghai to pursue “the truth.”
And since many of his students were NHD students, they knew exactly what to do–read secondary sources, ask questions and conduct a long-distance correspondence with the staff at the Historical Society. As new information is discovered, new questions arise and the research continues.
Last week, Mr. Johnson brought two students with him to take pictures of the newly discovered documents written in Chinese. They are sending the photos back to Shanghai where a group of Chinese students and parents are translating the items. Stay tuned…..
With Alex and Mr. Johnson, examining a delicate map of China.
With Maddy, reading a headstone in the “China Row” section of a Helena cemetery.
Stay tuned….. Cathy