Chinese Heritage, Baker County, Oregon

The Chinese Heritage

    Baker County retains memories of the Chinese who were active here in gold mining days.
    While the Oriental Exclusion Laws were strict, they were temporary workers, strangers in a strange land.  They had little chance of becoming citizens; few women came; many workers came in work “gangs” for mining or railroad construction;  Tongs were important in their control and welfare.  Since they were mostly non-citizens, they could be victimized by rowdies or the unscrupulous.  Citizen men could not bring their wives here.
   Some who wished to remain in the country commuted to China every tow years by working “steerage” and produced a family there attempting to attain citizenship for their children.
   The Chinese Association headquarters remained in Baker until the early 1950’s.  Several families continued to live here and their children earned excellent reputations as students in American universities.
   During WWII, some Orientals were eager to join the amend forces so they could bring their families here from the homeland.
   The Fongs, Lees, Engs, and others are well remembered.  Their heritage remains in such names as Shanghai Gulch or China Diggings or China Creek.  Stories remain, some no doubt fanciful, of their wisdom, life styles, or of individuals like “Old Wong” who owned a store at McEwen.

Chinatown, Baker, Oregon

   Virgil Wunder told about Chinatown in Baker:  ‘It was between the Powder River on Bridge Street on to Resort Street, to Valley Avenue, then east on Valley to the Powder River.  The Joss house was a large building, painted white, located on the north side of Auburn Avenue next to Powder River’.
   “Stories describe the escape hatches in the floor of individual opium-smoking cubicles which gave access to underground tunnels ending at the river bank – handy in case of raids.”
   (The “Opium Dens” remained until after World War II when a state building was constructed there.  This historian explored the tunnels, carefully.  (JRE)
   Some shacky little buildings between the Joss house and Resort Street comprised the Chinese Red Light District.

Returned To Their Native China

     Herman C. Webb recalls working for Cook and Emele Sheet Metal Works and making galvanized sheet metal boxes.  The boxes were about 8’ square on the end, and ranged from 24’ to 30’ in length, dependent upon the length of the longest bone of the body.    Their use?  To return the last remains of the Celestials to their homeland.
   Virtually all Chinese graveyards were only temporary resting grounds, including the one at Sparta and the one at the end of Campbell Street in Baker.  Chinese custom asks that the body be returned to the family.
   To that end, bodies were exhumed, purified, and encased in sealed metal containers to prevent possibility of spread of disease.

Chinese Memorial | Chinese in Baker County

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