Saturday, March 11, 2006

Articles about Summit Tunnel

Articles about Summit Tunnel From: KyleWyatt@aol.com

The article Jack White sent prompts me to wonder about other articles describing the work on Summit Tunnel (Tunnel 6), and the others in the area – including Tunnel 8. I've been wondering if there might be articles about construction in this area with workers (Chinese) lowered over cliffs on ropes ("in baskets").

Also I'm interested in articles about the construction of Summit Tunnel itself. For one thing, can we confirm that a group of Cornish miners was brought over from Virginia City and tested against the Chinese – and lost?

Also, what about articles telling of the avalanche that swept away a construction camp?

Finally, after re-reading some of the discussions about how many Chinese died, I remain firmly of the conclusion that we simply don't have enough information to make any kind of reasonably conclusive (or even valid) statement about the subject. I do strongly believe that to get a clearer picture we need to look in depth at some comparative examples, and to differentiate causes of death.

We need to see what we can find about other examples of 1860s railroad construction deaths – Union Pacific; Union Pacific-Eastern Division (a separate company later called Kansas Pacific); several roads buiilding across Iowa to Council Bluffs; and finally the Civil War and its various causes of death (notably including non-warfare related deaths - there are some good statistics on that).

I believe the lack of Central Pacific payroll sheets for 1868-69 means we cannot in fact make any truly conclusive statement about the number of Chinese employed in that period. (Low counts in December 1867 mean little, since I'd expect winter in the mountains to be a low employment period after the end of the tunnel work (which they could protect from the weather). We know from testamony that there were a number of Chinese still working on the railroad, and they clearly had crews near Promontory from which to draw their crew of eight to lay the last rail. We also know from testamony that they employeed a number of Indians across Nevada. And Leslie's 1876-77 excursion recorded Indians still employeed by the railroad in Nevada in track work - as well as Chinese.

My personal opinion (barring evidence to the contrary) is that Chinese on the Central Pacific were treated no worse than White works on the CPRR – and all of them were rather better off than the White workers on the UPRR. I suspect the UP "Hell on Wheels" towns were much harder on the workers than the CPRR camps under tea-totaling Strobridge.

On diseases, smallpox and the like were not new diseases to the Chinese, so I would expect their death rates to be nominally comparable to Whites. As a cross-check, there must be articles and information about smallpox outbreaks in towns where information about death rates can be gathered – for Chinese and for Whites. As to few coming out of the pest cars alive – I'm wondering how many normally survive the pest houses in other locations – Chinese or White. I think conditions in such places were pretty grim, and the survival rate pretty low, regardless of ethnicity.

In reviewing what has been written, I found a lot of sound and fury, and gnashing of teeth (as it were), but very little evidence with a solid foundation. I believe the newspapers simply didn't report anywhere near all deaths – White or Chinese. So counting up those listed in the newspapers really tells very little. Counting up only those specifically listed probably severely undercounts the deaths. On the other hand, taking those same individual newspaper counts and then indiscriminantly adding in the 1200 estimate from the 1870 "train of bones" is like randomly throwing in a huge dose of "Finagle's constant" (that is arbitrarily adding in that amount which, when added to what you have, gives you what you want). Finally, all these death estimates mean next to nothing until they are compared to what the norm of the times was for deaths in similar construction. Life was hard and harsh for all working people, whether Chinese, Irish, English or any other ethnis group.

Just some thoughts.

—Kyle