|Chinese Labor Contract
HON. JOHN T. DOOLITTLE of California in
U.S. House of Representatives, Thursday, April 29, 1999.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to honor the Chinese-American community and pay tribute to its ancestors' contribution to the building of the American transcontinental railroad.
On May 8th, the Colfax Area Historical Society in my Congressional District will place a monument along Highway 174 at Cape Horn, near Colfax, California to recognize the efforts of the Chinese in laying the tracks that linked the east and west coasts for the first time. With the California Gold Rush and the opening of the West came an increased interest in building a transcontinental railroad. To this end, the Central Pacific Railroad Company was established, and construction of the route East from Sacramento began in 1863. Although the beginning of the effort took place on relatively flat land, labor and financial problems were persistent, resulting in only 50 miles of track being laid in the first two years. Although the company needed over 5,000 workers, it only had 600 on the payroll by 1864.
Chinese labor was suggested, as they had already helped build the California Central Railroad, the railroad from Sacramento to Marysville and the San Jose Railway. Originally thought to be too small to complete such a momentous task, Charles Crocker of Central Pacific pointed out, "the Chinese made the Great Wall, didn't they?"
The first Chinese were hired in 1865 [sic] at approximately $28 per month to do the very dangerous work of blasting and laying ties over the treacherous terrain of the high Sierras. They lived in simply dwellings and cooked their own meals, often consisting of fish, dried oysters and fruit, mushrooms and seaweed.
Work in the beginning was slow and difficult. After the first 23 miles, Central Pacific faced the daunting task of laying tracks over terrain that rose 7,000 feet in 100 miles. To conquer the many sheer embankments, the Chinese workers used techniques they had learned in China to complete similar tasks. They were lowered by ropes from the top of cliffs in baskets [sic], and while suspended, they chipped away at the granite and planted explosives that were used to blast tunnels. Many workers risked their lives and perished in the harsh winters and dangerous conditions.
By the summer of 1868, 4,000 workers, two thirds of which were Chinese, had built the transcontinental railroad over the Sierras and into the interior plains. On May 10, 1869, the two railroads were to meet at Promontory, Utah in front of a cheering crowd and a band. A Chinese [and Irish] crew was chosen to lay the final ten miles of track, and it was completed in only twelve hours.
Without the efforts of the Chinese workers in the building of America's railroads, our development and progress as a nation would have been delayed by years. Their toil in severe weather, cruel working conditions and for meager wages cannot be under appreciated. My sentiments and thanks go out to the entire Chinese-American community for its ancestors' contribution to the building of this great Nation.
Image of Chinese Worker at CPRR Tunnel No. 8, above, is a detail of Hart stereoview #204, from the Steve Heselton Collection.
[Congressional Record: April 29, 1999 (Extensions); Page E822]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov] [DOCID:cr29ap99-49]
Courtesy Go2Net and Deja News.
Watch the U.S. Forest Serice Video:
"Legacy—a tribute to Chinese railroad workers of the CPRR."
The cars now (1867) run nearly to the summit of the Sierras. ... four thousand laborers were at work—one-tenth Irish, the rest Chinese. They were a great army laying siege to Nature in her strongest citadel. The rugged mountains looked like stupendous ant-hills. They swarmed with Celestials, shoveling, wheeling, carting, drilling and blasting rocks and earth, while their dull, moony eyes stared out from under immense basket-hats, like umbrellas. At several dining camps we saw hundreds sitting on the ground, eating soft boiled rice with chopsticks as fast as terrestrials could with soup-ladles. Irish laborers received thirty dollars per month (gold) and board; Chinese, thirty-one dollars, boarding themselves. After a little experience the latter were quite as efficient and far less troublesome. —Beyond the Mississippi by Albert D. Richardson
"Make Masons out of Chinamen? Did they not build the Chinese wall, the biggest piece of masonry in the world?" —Charles Crocker, Congressional Testimony
"Wherever we put them, we found them good, and they worked themselves into our favor to such an extent that if we found we were in a hurry for a job of work, it was better to put Chinese on at once." —Charles Crocker
"Chinese are faithful and industrious and, under proper supervision, some become skillful in the performance of their duty. Many of them are becoming very expert in drilling, blasting and other departments of rock work" – S. S. Montague, Chief Engineer, CPRR annual report, 1865
'Jupiter' replacement locomotive (detail), exhibition c. 1939 or 1949 with Chinese.
Courtesy Southern Pacific Company.
A large majority of the white laboring class on the Pacific Coast find more profitable and congenial employment in mining and agricultural pursuits, than in railroad work. The greater portion of the laborers employed by us are Chinese, who constitute a large element in the population of California. Without them it would be impossible to complete the western portion of this great national enterprrise, within the time required by the Acts of Congress.
As a class they are quiet, peaceable, patient, industrious and economical—ready and apt to learn all the different kinds of work required in railroad building, they soon become as efficient as white laborers. More prudent and economical, they are contented with less wages. We find them organized into societies for mutual aid and assistance. These societies, that count their numbers by thousands, are conducted by shrewd, intelligent business men, who promptly advise their subordinates where employment can be found on the most favorable terms.
No system similar to slavery, serfdom or peonage prevails among these laborers. Their wages, which are always paid in coin, at the end of each month, are divided among them by their agents, who attend to their business, in proportion to the labor done by each person. These agents are generally American or Chinese merchants, who furnish them their supplies of food, the value of which they deduct from their monthly pay. We have assurances from leading Chinese merchants, that under the just and liberal policy pursued by the Company, it will be able to procure during the next year, not less than 15,000 laborers. With this large force, the Company will be able to push on the work so as not only to complete it far within the time required by the Acts of Congress, but so as to meet the public impatience.
Pres't C. P. R. R. Co.
Central Pacific Railroad Statement Made to the President of the United States, and Secretary of the Interior, on the Progress of the Work. October 10th, 1865. H.S. Crocker & Co., Printers, 92 J Street, Sacramento.
"The United States of America and the Emperor of China cordially recognize the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance, and also the mutual advantage of the free migration and emigration of their citizens and subjects respecctively, from one country to the other, for the purposes of curiosity, of trade, or as permanent residents."
—Treaty with China, proclaimed July 28, 1868
Chief Engineer Montague cites the Chinese in the work force in his message to the Board of the CPRR for 1865:
"It became apparent early in the season, that the amount of labor likely to be required during the summer could only be supplied by the employment of the Chinese element, of our population. Some distrust was at first felt regarding the capacity af this class for the service required, but the experiment has proved eminently successful. They are faithful and industrions, and under proper supervision, soon become skillful in the performance of their duties. Many of them are becoming very expert in drilling, blasting, and other departments of rock work."
From: "Report of the Chief Engineer upon Recent Surveys and Progress of Construction of the Central Pacific Railroad of California." December, 1865. Courtesy of Lynn D. Farrar.
Watch Bill George video Chinese Builders of Gold Mountain.
"Systematic workers these Chinese – competent
and wonderfully effective because tireless and unremitting in their industry.
Order and industry then, as now,
made for accomplishment. Divided into gangs of about 30 men each, they work
under the direction of an American foreman. The Chinese board themselves.
One of their number is selected in each gang to receive all wages and buy
all provisions. They usually pay an American clerk – $1 a month apiece is
usual – to see that each gets all he earned and is charged no more than his
share of the living expenses. They are paid from $30 to $35 in gold a month,
out of which they board themselves. They are credited with having saved about
$20 a month. Their workday is from sunrise to sunset, six days in the week.
They spend Sunday washing and mending, gambling and smoking, and frequently,
old timers will testify, in shrill-toned quarreling. ... "
—Alta California, San Francisco, November 9, 1868.
Without them it would be impossible to go on with the work. I can assure you
the Chinese are moving the earth and rock rapidly. They prove nearly equal
to white men in the amount of labor they perform, and are far more reliable.
—E. B. Crocker, 1867.
"When the railroad was completed
on May 10, 1869, an eight man Chinese crew was selected to place the last
section of rail –
a symbol to honor the dedication and hard work of these laborers. A few of
speakers mentioned the invaluable contributions of the Chinese ... " —National
A. J. Russell Stereoview #539. "Chinese at Laying Last Rail UPRR," on O.C. Smith's yellow mount. ... may be the only photographic record of the Chinese role in the Last Rail ceremony; The view clearly shows at least one Chinese worker and a partner with rail-laying tools appearing to adjust the last rail laid (from the CPRR side), with a wooden track gauge stick still in place while 2 others look on; ... showing the moment the last rails were actually laid. ... It really does confirm the eyewitness accounts ... A crowd stands behind and fans away on both sides. UPRR Locomotive "119" is prominent in the background. A couple of ladies are on shoulders to get a better look at the scene. ... Notice the textures in the clothing, a gentleman in the crowd wearing quite stylish sunglasses (the only one), and some tools, shovels and fishplates laying on the ground. Stereoview and Caption Courtesy of the Phil Anderson Collection.
The more famous A.J. Russell photograph could not include the Chinese workers photographed earlier participating in the joining of the rails ceremony because at the moment the famous photo was being taken it was after the conclusion of the ceremony and the Chinese workers were away from the two locomotives to dine at J.H. Strobridge's boarding car, being honored and cheered by the CPRR management.
Ging Cui, Wong Fook, and Lee Shao, three of the eight Chinese CPRR workers who brought up the last rail at Promontory Summit on May 10th, 1869 also participated in the Ogden 1919 50th Anniversary Celebration.
CPRR foreman, Amos L. Bowsher, who wired the telegraphic connection at Promontory which sent the word out over the wires that the last spike had been driven later recalled: "It was certainly a cosmopolitan gathering. Irish and Chinese laborers who had set records in track laying that have never since been equalled joined with the cowboys, Mormons, miners and Indians in celebrating completion of the railroad."
A reporter for the San Francisco Newsletter, May 15th, 1869, described the final moments of the celebration at Promontory:
"J.H. Strobridge, when the work was all over, invited the Chinese who had been brought over from Victory for that purpose, to dine at his boarding car. When they entered, all the guests and officers present cheered them as the chosen representatives of the race which have greatly helped to build the road ... a tribute they well deserved and which evidently gave them much pleasure."
While in Sacramento, CPRR Director, Judge Edwin Bryant Crocker in his speech also paid tribute to the Chinese:
"I wish to call to your minds that the early completion of this railroad we have built has been in large measure due to that poor, despised class of laborers called the Chinese, to the fidelity and industry they have shown."
"Long lines of horses, mules and wagons were standing in the open desert near the camp train. The stock was getting its breakfast of hay and barley. Trains were shunting in from the west with supplies and materials for the day's work. Foremen were galloping here and there on horseback giving or receiving orders. Swarms of laborers, Chinese, Europeans and Americans were hurrying to their work. On one side of the track stood the moveable blacksmith shop where a score of smiths were repairing tools and shoeing horses and mules. Close by was the fully equipped harness shop where a large force was repairing collars, traces and other leather equipment. To the west were the rails and line of telegraph poles stretching back as far as the eye could reach. The telegraph wire from the last pole was strung into the car that served as a telegraph office. To the eastward stretched the grade marked by a line of newly distributed earth. By the side of the grade smoked the camp fires of the blue clad laborers who could be seen in groups waiting for the signal to start work. These were the Chinese, and the job of this particular contingent was to clear a level roadbed for the track. They were the vanguard of the construction forces. Miles back was the camp of the rear guard–the Chinese who followed the track gang, ballasting and finishing the road bed. Systematic workers these Chinese–competent and wonderfully effective because tireless and unremitting in their industry ... The rails, ties and other material were thrown off the train as near to end of the track was as feasible, and then the empty train was drawn back out of the way. At this point the rails were loaded on low flat cars, and hauled by horses to end of track. The ties were handled in the same way. Behind came the rail gang, who took the rails from the flat cars and laid them on the ties. While they were doing this a man on each side distributed spikes, two to each tie; another distributed splice bars; and a third the bolts and nuts by which the rails were spliced together. Two more men followed to adjust and sent back for another load ... Back of the track builders followed a gang with the seven more ties necessary to complete the foundation for each rail. These were put into position and spiked by another gang, which also leveled up the track and left it ready for the ballasters. ..." From the report from End of Track, November 9, 1868, quoted in the Southern Pacific Bulletin, August, 1927, page 10. Courtesy G.J. "Chris" Graves.
"Never tire to study – And to teach others." —Confucius
"Chinese Laborers and the Construction of the Central Pacific." Utah Historical Quarterly, 1969. Geography of Chinese Workers Building the Transcontinental Railroad: A virtual reconstruction of the key historic sites "The Central Pacific Railroad and the Legend of Cape Horn." Book Review "A History of the Chinese in California: The Railroads." "History of Chinese Americans in California." "The Chinese at Promontory, Utah, April 30 - May 10, 1869." "The Quest to Protect California's Transcontinental Railroad Tunnels" by Shoshi Parks, Smithsonian Magazine, January 12, 2022. "Chinese Workers Strike, 1867" "The Chinese Workers' Strike" "Report of the Joint Special Committee Investigate Chinese Immigration." U.S. Senate, 1877. "California: A Book for Travellers and Settlers." by Charles Nordhoff, 1873. "Chinese Laborers In The West." "Chinese-American Trade Tokens" "Fusang: The Chinese Who Built America: The Chinese Railroad Men." "Cathay in Eldorado: The Chinese in California." Keepsake Series, 1972. [CPRR] Courtesy The Book Club Of California. Stanford University Chinese Railroad Workers of North America Project – Oral Histories and Interviews Chinese Railroad Workers Project Introduction Video 150 Years Ago, Chinese Railroad Workers Staged the Era’s Largest Labor Strike by Chris Fuchs "The Chinese in Winnemucca, Nevada." by J.P. Marden. "The Chinese in America: Transcontinental Railroad," by Iris Chang, 2003. Chinese Newspapers in 19th Century California. "Chinese by the Numbers," Chapter 4, from Nameless Builders of the Transcontinental Railroad by William F. Chew, © 2004, Courtesy of the author. "Another Theory or Myth on Cape Horn." April 19, 2004. Chinese objects from California, c. 1890. "Chinese Labor." From Central Pacific Railroad. Statement made to the President of the United States, and Secretary of the Interior of the Progress of the Work. Leland Stanford, Pres't C. P. R. R. Co. October 10th, 1865. "Chinese Workers and the First Transcontinental Railroad of the United States of America" by Yen, Tzu-Kuei, St. John's University (New York), 1977, 208 pages; Ph.D. Dissertation, ProQuest #7714436, pdf $38 Discussions about Chinese railroad workers on the Central Pacific Railroad Fudging the facts doesn't promote tolerance: The Chinese at Promontory How much were the Chinese workers paid? "The First Railway in China." Engineering News and American Railway Journal.1896. New! " The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroad, edited by Gordon H. Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin" New! " Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad by Gordon H. Chang "
Madeline Hsu. "Contribution of Chinese in the 19th Century"
Sue Fawn Chung. "Railroad Construction Workers"
Bill Chew. "Locating descendants of the Central Pacific Railroad"
Ken Yeo. "Railroads of Placer County, then and now"
Dedication Ceremony for Historic
"Dedicated to the memory of thousands of Chinese who worked for Charles Crocker on the Central Pacific Railroad. They were lowered over the face of Cape Horn Promontory in wicker bosun's chairs, 1,332 feet above the canyon floor. The ledge created for this railbed was completed May, 1866. They are honored for their work ethic, and timely completion of the transcontinental rails ending in Promontory, Utah, May, 1869. "
[Chris Graves advises that the first reference to the use of bosun's chairs is in the Southern Pacific Bulletin c. 1927.]
Chinese Railroad Worker Camp, Dugout with Tent Frame
From the Exhibit: "Along the CPRR Old Grade in Nevada, August, 2005" by G.J. Graves
Williams, John Hoyt. A Great and Shining Road: The Epic Story of the Transcontinental Railroad. Times Books, 1988. pp. 93-118:
"In early September , Strobridge turned his Celestials loose on Cape Horn with their picks, drills, shovels, tiny wheelbarrows, and blasting powder. The "crumping" of explosives reverberated through the valley below as the Chinese — who either were not susceptible to acrophobia or possessed a singular wealth of fatalism — began to sculpt the mountain, great chunks of which were blasted or pried loose to tumble earthshakingly into the American River so far below. Hundreds of barrels of black powder were ignited daily to shear away the obdurate granite and form a ledge on which a roadbed could be laid; but no matter the volume of explosives, progress was too slow to suit Stro[bridge] and his boss. While as many as half that work crew was engaged in building two massive retaining walls just above the emerging ledge (one a hundred feet long, the other two hundred feet), Montague suggested to Strobridge a new tactic, to which the Chinese headmen agreed. Beginning amidst the chill winds of late October, as snow swirled over the higher peaks in the distance, scores of Chinese were lowered by ropes from Cape Horn's summit to the almost vertical cliff face. There, nestled in flimsy-looking but strong woven baskets, the workers, sometimes swaying and swinging in the wind like ornaments on some bizarre outdoor Christmas tree, bored holes in the cold rock with their small hand drills. Dangling, they tamped in explosives that had been lowered to them, set and lit the fuses, signaled the men above by jerking a rope, and, wrote Thomas W. Chinn [ed., A History of the Chinese in California: A Syllabus (San Francisco, 1969), p. 45.], "then scrambled up the lines while gunpowder exploded underneath." [James McCague. Moguls and Iron Men: The Story of the First Transcontinental Railroad (New York, 1964), p. 18.] This was a hazardous business at best, and some of the Celestial acrophiles were not agile enough to escape the blasts or were hit by flying rock and followed the chunks of granite into the valley below. Notwithstanding the casualties there was no lack of volunteers, and to the surprise and relief of all, the basic work on Cape Horn was completed before winter's rather tardy fury forced a four-month halt to outside work. Track would be laid around Cape Horn the following May, well ahead of schedule. Most Cape Horn Chinese were shipped back to Sacramento for the winter, with a few score experienced rock men sent up the line to the tunnel facings." [Williams, p. 114]Professor Williams also cites the following: "Documents and censuses relating to the Chinese in California," University of California, Berkeley, Bancroft Library, C-B 761, box 1.
Immigrant and Ethnic Americans at Harpweek.com:
Kraus, George. "Chinese Laborers and the Construction of the Central Pacific." National Golden Spike Centennial Commission Official Publication "The Last Spike is Driven" (Utah Historical Quarterly, winter 1969, Volume 37, Number 1, 1969). (This article is on the CPRR website with the permission of the Utah State Historical Society.)
Gillis, John R. Tunnels of the Pacific Railroad. Van Nostrand's Eclectic Engineering Magazine, Vol. II, 1870 pp. 418-423.
New! Examples of Pottery Used in 19th century CPRR Chinese Worker Camps
Builders of the Transcontinental Railroad" by William F.
Chew, 2004. Mr. Chew's book likely will be of
interest, as he has for the first time extracted much detailed
information about the
Chinese workers from the recently available primary source CPRR
payroll records at the
State Railroad Museum. For example, he found that "Central Pacific
26 and No. 34 dated January and February 1864, are the documents that record
the first Chinese railroad workers, Hung Wah and Ah Toy, who supervised a crew
of 23 unnamed workers." An extensive appendix lists by name all of the
CPRR workers identified in the payroll records. Mr. Chew is to be congratulated
for this important contribution. Unfortunately,
the book also, for some of the analysis, relies upon problematic secondary
and attempts calculations of
the estimated total Chinese workforce and number killed that appear
not to be as precise as implied.
to the book's conclusion, the engineers'
and contemporary newspaper reports were (with one exception) of only
few casualties. The book attempts to calculate the
size of the workforce despite presenting reseach showing names of
the many headmen listed
but almost none of
the "nameless" Chinese laborers
that were left unrecorded and finding that more than half of the monthly
were missing. Supt. Strobridge's
19th century testimony
was that "our maximum strength ... very
men on the work" while Mr. Chew instead is attempting to calculate
of Chinese who worked for the CPRR over time.]
See William Chew's Rebuttal
The following graph was prepared from William F. Chew's data found in his Table 1, p.45 (maximum is 6,190 Chinese workers, with 160,958 man-days paid in April, 1866):
Men Who Moved Mountains
Spangenburg, Ray and Moser, Diane K. The Story of American's
Railroads. New York, Facts On File, 1991, p. 37, states that
"in 1855 the Oriental [was] one of two Chinese bilingual newspapers in
[The Oriental is available at the Huntington Library and was published until c. 1857.]
Steiner, Stan. Fusang: The Chinese Who Built America. New York, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1979. pp. 128-140. (These railroad pages are reproduced in full on the CPRR website with the permission of Vera John-Steiner, Ph.D.)
Taylor, B. H. A World on Wheels. S. C. Griggs, 1874.
"Across the Continent." Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, February 9, 1878, p. 389.
Young, Alida E. Land of the Iron Dragon - A novel about the Chinese who labored to build the first transcontinental railroad in America. Doubleday 1978. [hardcover - 213 pp; children's]
Chinese workers and the first transcontinental railroad of the United States of America. Tzu-Kuei Yen, Ph.D., St. John's University. Dissertation, 1977.
Chinese Immigration to the United States, 1851-1900. Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress states that: "No first-person memoirs of the Chinese experience in nineteenth-century California are known to survive. There is always hope that further research in the United States and the People's Republic of China will produce such a narrative, but for the time being, readers must content themselves with studies such as Robert McClellan's The Heathen Chinee: A Study of American Attitudes toward China, 1890-1905 (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1971) or Betty Lee Sung's Mountain of Gold: The Story of the Chinese in America (New York: Macmillan, 1967)."
The lack of even a single first-person memoir of the Chinese experience is quite surprising, if Mark Twain was correct when he observed in Roughing It (1872) that "All Chinamen can read, write and cipher with easy facility".
"Asian Pacific American Labor Organizing: An Annotated Bibliography, Part I: Historical Struggles, 1840s – 1960s" By Glenn Omatsu
The Chinese and the Transcontinental Railroad. By Robert Chugg. The Brown Quarterly, Volume 1, No. 3, Spring 1997.
Dr. Yee Fung Cheung’s Fiddletown, California Chinese Herbal Medicine Shop (A Museum on the National Register of Historic Places):
"Among the Chinese who came in the year 1850 was a twenty-five year old man from Toisan, China named Yee Fung Cheung. ... Like his father, Yee Fung Cheung was an herbal doctor ... Yee Fung Cheung attended to the medical needs of the Chinese miners, and later to those of the Chinese laborers working on the transcontinental railroad. ... While practicing in Sacramento, Yee Fung Cheung produced “a famous cure.” In 1862, Governor Leland Stanford’s wife lay dying from a severe pulmonary disorder. After conventional medical treatments failed to restore her health, the Stanford’s Chinese cook went to the Chinese section of Sacramento searching for the famous herbalist and found Yee Fung Cheung playing a game of mahjong at the Wah Hing grocery store. Hearing about Mrs. Stanford’s illness, Yee ran to his shop and brewed an elixir that ultimately saved her. The primary herb in the concoction was later identified as “majaung,” a natural source of ephedrine commonly prescribed for pulmonary diseases. Not knowing his real name, the governor’s staff called Yee Fung Cheung, Dr. Wah Hing after the store he was found in. It was the name that non-Chinese were to call Yee Fung Cheung for the rest of his life."
KQED Center for Education & Lifelong Learning: Chinese Historical & Cultural Project Curriculum, Golden Legacy - Railroad Building
Working on the Railroad the Chinese Way
"A Story from the Chinese Diaspora: The Chung Family" by Michelle Chung, The Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles:
"My paternal great, great, great- grandfather Man Lung departed from the 19th century colonial port city of Hong Kong ... Kwangtung Province ... bound for America as a laborer for the construction of the Sierra Nevada segment of the Transcontinental Railroad."
The Chinese in Utah (Utah History Encyclopedia)
Posed photograph of Chinese Laborers on a Handcar, stated to have been taken during construction between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, 1876
The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California by Alexander Saxton
Library of Congress' Chinese in California Timeline
Ancestors in the Americas - Crossing the Continent - Anti-Chinese Laws - Timeline - Asian Studies Links
Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882; Repealed 1943
Why historians disbelieve UPRR Chief Engineer Grenville M. Dodge's tale about CPRR Chinese and UPRR Irish railroad workers trying to blow up one another.
U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), in prepared remarks during Senate debate on September 5, 2000 on granting permanent normal trade relations to China, summarizes the history of Chinese immigration to the United States as follows:
"It is not a pleasant history and it is painful to recount it. But it is necessary. It begins in California, as is logical, where the movement to put an end to Chinese immigration began in the 1850's.Tucson Arizona's Chinese Heritage: Building the Southern Pacific Railroad
By way of background, the Immigration and Naturalization Service reports that only 46 Chinese emigrated to the United States in the three decades between 1820 and 1850. Chinese immigration exploded in the 1850's, fueled by the California gold rush and the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. From 1851 to 1880, 228,899 Chinese emigrated to the United States. By 1880, Chinese immigrants in California alone numbered 75,000 ? about 9 percent of the state's total population.
Such was the demand for Chinese labor that the United States reinforced its "open door" policy by treaty: the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 guaranteed to the Chinese Government the unrestricted immigration of its citizens to the United States. The State of California applauded the arrangement at the time.
But there was an almost immediate backlash from workers in California, who had organized themselves into so-called "anti-coolie" associations beginning in the mid-1850's.
In the 1870's, the anti-Chinese movement gained momentum in the face of an economic downturn and the near-completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1876, a special committee of the California State Senate examined the problem and issued a report to the United States Congress entitled "An Address to the People of the United States upon the Evils of Chinese Immigration."
And in July 1876, the United States Congress established the Joint Special Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration, chaired by Senator Oliver Morton of Indiana. The Joint Committee held 18 days of hearings in San Francisco in October and November 1876, and issued its final report in February 1877. A statement presented to the Joint Committee on October 26, 1876 on behalf of the "Labor Union of San José, California," was typical:
Do they [the Chinese] prevent white immigration? We know that most assuredly they do, as of our personal knowledge we know numbers of laboring-men during the past year that have come to the coast, and have had to leave the coast for lack of employment, in consequence of their inability to compete with Mongolians, and thus sustain a loss, through their influence, when they return to their old homes, not yet cursed by the presence of the Chinese. [Report of the Joint Special Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration, S. Rep. No. 689, 44th Cong., 2d Sess. at p. 1172 (1877)] ...
The Joint Committee's final report[*] makes painful reading:
To any one reading the testimony which we lay before the two houses it will become painfully evident that the Pacific coast must in time become either American or Mongolian. There is a vast hive from which Chinese immigrants may swarm, and circumstances may send them in enormous numbers to this country. These two forces, Mongolian and American, are already in active opposition. . . The American race is progressive and in favor of a responsible representative government. The Mongolian race seems to have no desire for progress, and to have no conception of representative and free institutions. . . .
It further appears from the evidence that the Chinese do not desire to become citizens of this country, and have no knowledge of or appreciation for our institutions. Very few of them learn to speak our language... To admit these vast numbers of aliens to citizenship and the ballot would practically destroy republican institutions on the Pacific coast, for the Chinese have no comprehension of any form of government but despotism, and have not the words in their own language to describe intelligibly the principles of our representative system. [Report of the Joint Special Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration, S. Rep. No. 689, 44th Cong., 2d Sess. at pp. v and vii (1877)]
The Joint Committee's report paved the way for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which suspended immigration by Chinese laborers for 10 years. The scope of the Act was expanded in 1888, and renewed for another 10 years in 1892. In 1902, Congress indefinitely renewed the Chinese Exclusion Acts."
*Chinese Immigration Report, 1876 (portions of the voluminous testimony):
Gov. Frederick F. Low pp. 76-77 and 78-79; and Charles Crocker pp. 666-667 and 668-669. [Click to see full pages.]
Chinese-Americans & the U.S. - Lincoln High School: Railroad Building
The Chinese Historical Society of America
Chinese Historical and Cultural Project - Links
California Geographical Survey - Chinese Population Map of the San Francisco Bay Area, 1990
How many actually died building the railroad? – likely no more than 150 were killed by construction accidents and smallpox.
Kyle K. Wyatt, Curator of History & Technology, California
State Railroad Museum reviewed their available early Central
Pacific Railroad payrolls, and
1. The collection at CSRM is incomplete, with gaps. It appears to start in Jan 1864, with multiple payroll sheets per month (the number varying according to how many were people were employed, and at how many locations). Earliest sheet I looked at was Payroll #22, Jan 1864. Some sheets specify general duties, such as "Tracklaying", or "Filling Front Street", but others have no such designation. Most list the division and the Sections (generally on the title block on the back).
2. Chinese appear in the following 1864 payrolls:
No. 26, Jan 1864, Division 2, Section 30 & 31, (general duties not specified).
Hung Wa, Chinese laborer; Ah Toy, Chinese Foreman
No. 34, Feb 1864, Division 2, Section 30 & 31, (general duties not specified).
Hung Wa, Chinese laborer; Ah Toy, Chinese Foreman
I also noted a Westerner listed as Chinese foreman
[A number of March sheets are missing, including the one I'd expect the Chinese to appear on.]
No. 43, April 1864, Division 4, Section 34, (general duties not specified).
Hung Wa & Co., Chinese laborer – at different pay rate than before (probably because more than one person).
Subsequent 1864 sheets show a progressive decline in employment. No Chinese were noted.
Large-scale employment resumes in Jan 1865. It is unclear whether or not CSRM has a complete set of Jan 1865 sheets (we do have a large number of Jan sheets). There are no Feb 1865 sheets. The series resumes in March 1865 - again unclear if CSRM might be missing any March sheets.
No. 103, March 1865 - a whole sheet of Chinese – recorded in a different way than earlier sheets – actual duties not listed. Includes entry for Hung Wah (maybe same person?), and also Ah Tong (less clear if same person). ... Payroll No. 103 of March 1865 was the first one with large numbers of Chinese that I saw (in fact the entire sheet is of Chinese). However, all of February 1865 and possibly some of January 1865 payrolls are not in the collection, so we have no idea whether or not Chinese were employed in large numbers before March. There were also some individual Chinese employed in January-April 1864, as shown on earlier payrolls.
No. 106, March 1865 - includes a group of Westerners listed as "China Foremen."
( ... Ah Toy was listed as a Chinese Foreman in the Jan and Feb 1864 CP payroll sheets ... If it is the same person [who 12 years earlier worked for James H. Strobridge on his farm, and who is recorded in the Calfornia Special Census of 1852], he would be [about] 43 years old in 1864.)
Vivian Chan of San Marino, California, has grand uncles who worked on the railroad in the 19th century and remembers hearing stories about how her relatives had to cut their braided queues and wear the same work clothes every day. Her grand uncles did manage to make a lot of money laying track. They enriched their villages in the Guangdong province when they came back.
From newspaper article, "Chinese Scions Take Root" Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2006.
Twelve years after the original construction, the great curved Secret Town trestle (the largest structure of its type on the railroad) was completely buried and the valley filled in with dirt from the mountainside by Chinese laborers! This was done to eliminate the fire hazard and avoid replacement of the aging timbers. The Southern Pacific Bulletin later reported that: "a large force of Chinese laborers [was] kept busy during the summer of 1877 making the fill across the canyon to replace the hastily constructed trestle. The trestle was 1100 feet long and 90 feet high and was constructed over the divide between the American River and Bear River when the original lines of the Central Pacific were being extended over this section of the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the spring of 1865."
(Watkins photograph, 8 1/16 x 12 3/8 in.)
C.E. Watkins #1115 (New Series [after 1874]), "Filling in Secret Town Trestle, C.P.R.R."detail.
[For comparison, see the earlier A.A. Hart #48 construction photograph taken in 1865.]
Please honor the memory of these heroic Chinese transcontinental railroad workers by telling their story with historical accuracy.
G.J. "Chris" Graves implores authors writing about the Chinese railroad workers to please avoid the common myths and:
"just GET THE HISTORY RIGHT!!!!!!! ... No Chinese in baskets at Cape Horn; fewer than 100 worker related deaths on the CPRR; ... powder barrels were wooden, and weighted 25 lbs." ...
One of the earliest employers of Chinese was James Harvey Strobridge, later to become the Construction Superintendent on the Central Pacific Rail Road. Mr. Strobridge had 18 Chinese employees in 1852, working on his hay ranch in Sacramento County. One and one half years after ground breaking, on June 6, 1864, scheduled trains were running between NewCastle and Sacramento (31 miles from Sacramento) and on May 15, 1865 (28 months from ground breaking) rails reached Auburn, 35 miles from Sacramento. On May 31, 1865, Mark Hopkins wrote, in a letter to C P Huntington "There are today not above 1,600 men on the work. Two thirds of them are Chinamen...." A thorough searching of the payroll records of the CPRR, now located at the Library of the California State Railroad Museum, reflects at most 9,000 Chinese workers. As the work progressed, and the difficulty increased in supplying these workers with food and materials, Leland Stanford contracted with Brigham Young to bring in Mormon workers. Letters between Hopkins, Stanford and Crocker describe a "pulling back" of at least 5,000 Chinese workers at "Mormon Hill," now known as Toano, Nev., Mile Post 562, in the Spring of 1869. So, fewer than 5,000 Chinese workers were employed by the CPRR when Promontory Summit was reached, on May 10, 1869. When writing of Cape Horn, "The Great Trans-Continental Railroad Guide", published by Geo. Crofutt and Co. in 1869 says in part:" the men who broke the first standing ground were held by ropes." William Minturn in 1877, writing "Travels West", says "...hardy industrious Chinese were held and steadied by the aid of rope securely tied around their bodies." The "Pacific Tourist", again in 1877 "...the narrow ledge was gained by men who were let down by ropes from the summit." Cape Horn is not granite, it is shale — soft, easily broken, shale. The Official Report of the Engineer, dated December 1865, which when writing of Cape Horn, says in part "...The work at Cape Horn has proved less difficult and expensive than was first anticipated." So, who invented the baskets? In 1919, Edwin L. Sabin wrote "Building the Pacific Railway" in which he wrote "...laborers, yellow and white, were suspended by ropes while they hacked, drilled and blasted." But, in 1962. Wesley Griswold got carried away in "Work of Giants: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad" and wrote "...lower Chinese from the top of the cliff in wicker baskets ..."
Chris Graves also reports that following a recent fire in the Pequots that cleared away the brush he has observed black powder cans, bottles, and a number of holes in the ground about 3-5 feet across that the Chinese workers slept in curled up to protect themselves from the elements. In one of these depressions in the ground there was a pile of rocks in the center still holding a vertical stick in place which he believes was used to support a tarp covering the hole. "Mark Zwonitzer wrote, that he too, saw the holes: 'Along the grade, there is evidence of dozens of little dugouts — maybe three feet deep and five feet in diameter — where the Chinese workers took some measure of shelter from the winds. To this day the ground yields artifacts the Chinese workers left behind more than a century before.' "
Graves further explains that the reason few Chinese were at the Promontory Summit ceremony is that the CPRR's Stanford contracted with Brigham Young for Mormon workers in place of the Chinese to complete the construction of the rail line and consequently the Chinese were pulled back once the construction reached "Mormon Hill" at Toano, Nevada, where the Mormon crews took over.
See William Chew's Rebuttal
Madeline Hsu wrote:
> You can find information about Chinese American newspapers in Chinese
> Newspapers Published in North America, 1854-1975 by Karl Lo and Him Mark
> Lai. It was published by the Center of Chinese Research Materials. Job
> opportunities on the railroad were well publicized by newspapers in Hong
> Kong and Guangzhou during the 1860s so it is probable that U.S. based
> Chinese-language newspapers also covered the Central Pacific.
Can you assist with the following inquiries?
Mel Brown wrote on July 2, 2002:
> Greetings from Texas.
> I'm writing a book which will detail the history of the Chinese
> community in San Antonio, Tx which is a great story, rich in history.
> Chapter 1 naturally describes the first Celestials to be brought into
> the state for post Civil War RR construction in East Texas, then thru
> El Paso for the EsPee half of the southern transcontinental. I am
> pleased to see your discussion of the actual number of fatalities
> involved on the various rr projects and have questions relating to this
> I'm currently trying to authenticate an incident which is
> occasionally cited here wherein 11 Chinese surveyors were massacred
> by an Apache band of raiders near Eagle Pass, Tx. in Dec. of 1881. This
> account contradicts the record in a couple of significant ways, so I
> would appreciate your comments in regard to it. First, we know from the
> available histories that the Chinese were not normally tasked with
> surveying or any other of the "professional" jobs necessary on the
> projects. Secondly, the Army provided protection for surveyors and
> others when necessary. Where were they?
> I should add that I've spent hours going thru San Antonio newspaper
> microfilms from the period with no luck. There's no mention of this
> event, even though there were regular stories coming out of Eagle Pass
> that time on a weekly basis.
> Another equally apocryphal anecdote from the same time and place
> is that concerning Judge Roy Bean. He supposedly made a finding of
> "innocence" for an Irish railroader in the murder of a Chinaman there
> at his Vinagaroon saloon and court house. The story goes that the
> "Judge" consulted his one and only law book and declared that there was
> "no law against killing a chink" in the state of Texas. Author/ rancher
> Jack Skiles tells us in his neat little book Judge Roy Bean Country,
> that this incident may or may not have happened, even though it is
> regularly mentioned in the literature.
> Any thoughts you might share on these subjects in most welcome as
> I'm committed to setting it right. There are at least two documented
> incidents of Chinese workers killed in the RR projects of the
> trans-Pecos which I am using in my book. Three if you count an apparent
> lynching in El Paso of a Chinese in 1882.
> Lastly, why are there apparently no photos extant of Chinese
> workers anywhere on the southern transcontinental line from LA to
> Langtry? I've looked just about everywhere I can think of with no luck.
> Please advise and thank you for the opportunity to ask questions.
> Cordially, Mel Brown, Austin, Tx.
Phil Hoose wrote:
> What a fabulous website! I'm an author, working on a book about young
> people — children and teens — in US history. I have read in surveys that
> some of the Chinese workers on the [Central Pacific] were quite young — in their
> teens, but I don't have any names or stories. Can you help me find any
> account of a young Chinese railroad worker of the time? Also, any
> photos of Chinese railroad workers that might have depicted youthful
> workers among the crews? All help greatly appreciated!
> ... A question: Who really knows the most about the construction of the Central
> Pacific Spur. I found a section in Maxine Hong Kingston's book, China Men,
> describing her grandfather's work as a "basket man" suspended by ropes over
> sheer cliff faces, planting explosives, lighting fuses and then scrambling up
> the rope before the explosion. He says that many of these workers were 15
> year old boys, chosen because they were light enough to be held by the wicker
> baskets, and because they were agile. How to document this? Where would
> names, ages, of workers, other accounts of these dramatic scenes be? One
> special place they worked was at Cape Horn Passage, in the fall of 1865.
> ... Incidentally, the best account of the "basket men" that I've
> read is in Maxine Hong Kingston's "China Men" in the chapter about her
> grandfather entitled, "The Grandfather of the Sierra Nevada Mountains." The
> event itself — people in wicker baskets being raised and lowered along a cliff
> face — is so dramatic that it's hard to believe someone didn't photograph it.
> If you ever hear of such a photo, I'd be very interested.
> Can you help me?
> Phil Hoose
[The children's book by Phil Hoose about young people in American History, will be titled WE WERE THERE, TOO!]
Rev. Dr. Alvin Louie wrote:
> Greetings! Great website! I just came back from the 150th anniversary of
> the Gold Rush and Celebration of the Chinese Laborers of the CPRR with a
> dedication of a plaque at the Cape Horn area. The railroad festivities
> took place in Colfax on May 7-8.
> I also attended with three friends, the 130th anniversary of the Golden
> Spike in Promontory, Utah on May 10. There were 55 Chinese represented,
> the largest gathering at any Golden Spike anniversary celebration. After
> that, we return to Emeryville from Salt Lake City, taking the California
> Zephyr which was its 50th anniversary. Great trip!
> Another interesting note is that a friend from our church and I were able
> to walk all the way through Summit Tunnel (No. 6) some 1,600 plus feet.
> It was an awesome experience. Union Pacific no longer uses this route and
> the tracks have been taken out and the public is welcome to walk through it
> near Donner Summit. I believe it is located on an elevation of close to
> 7,000 feet. You can also walk to 'Bloomer's Cut' in Auburn. We were also
> able to visit the exact site in Dutch Flat were Theodore Judah and Dr.
> Strong had their conversation about the best route over the Sierra which came
> to be the 'Dutch Flat' route. There is a small railroad museum in Dutch
> I pastor at the Chinese Independent Baptist Church in Oakland, CA.,
> about two or three blocks from the old terminus of the First
> Transcontinental RR that connected from Sacramento to Oakland via ferry
> to San Francisco.
> I have a question, in fact, several in which you may help me or direct me!
> I hope to write a book on the 10,000 Chinese laborers that help built the
> First Transcontinental Railroad from 1865-1869. Do you have a specific
> bibliography on the Chinese laborers alone? Secondly, according to 'Chris'
> Graves, he does not think that the Chinese laborers hung over Cape Horn in
> baskets to chisel and to blast with black power the mountain side? I am
> trying to trace the historicity of this feat or act. It is recorded in
> secondary sources and there is a drawing picture of it, but are there any
> first hand sources confirming or denying this feat, of the Chinese laborers
> hanging over the cliff at Cape Horn in wicker (bosun) baskets?
> I been researching this topic as a hobby for the past 13 years, and
> started writing the past year. The research has been painstakingly slow!
> Perhaps you can help me in this area. I know that first-hand sources from
> the Chinese laborers themselves are non-existing (They either did not have
> time to write or they did not know how to write being illiterate or the
> materials may be lost in the Chinese language). Most first-hand sources
> would be from Anglo writers: 'The Big Four', newspaper reporters,
> eye-witness accounts, etc.
> Once again, great website! Please include me in in any future development
> or information on the Chinese laborers of the CPRR during the building of
> the First Transcontinental Railroad. Please connect me with those
> interested in this topic!
> Rev. Dr. Alvin Louie, San Leandro, CA.
ADDITIONAL ILLUSTRATIONS OF CHINESE RAILROAD WORKERS:
Rev. Alvin Louie identified an artist's illustration of three Chinese railroad workers in wicker baskets chiseling away at the granite cliffs (it is an illustration only, not a photo). He writes that it is found in Helen Hinckley's book, Rails From The West ... A Biography of Theodore D. Judah (Golden Spike Edition), 1969, p. 184. The description of the illustration has it: 'Chinese laborers were let down in buckets to chisel away at the granite cliffs. - John Garmany Collection.' He also noted that this same artist's depiction appears in the two volume book, Evans, Cerinda W. "Collis Porter Huntington" Newport News, Virginia, The Mariners' Museum, 1954. Volume One, un-numbered page with illustration opposite p. 115 entitled "Chinese Cutting a Path for a Track Around 'Cape Horn'" courtesy of the artist, Richard Houghton.
Another painting (by the artist Jake Lee) produced for Kan's Restaurant in San Francisco, "depicting the wicker baskets used by coolies on the Central Pacific Railroad (Kem Lee Studio, San Francisco)" can be found in a series of un-numbered pages of illustrations between pages 94 and 95 of Howard, Robert West. "The Great Iron Trail: The Story of the First Transcontinental Railroad" New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1962. Opposite the reproduction of this painting is also a photograph of Secrettown trestle with Chinese construction workers (Southern Pacific Historical Collection). The beautiful, if not completely historically accurate, Jake Lee watercolor paintings were missing for years after the Chinese restaurant in San Francisco was closed, but have been rescued, rediscovered, and most were acquired by the Chinese Historical Society of America.
Griswald Wesley S. "A Work of Giants: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad" New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1962 also has yet two more illustrations on an un-numbered page between pages 86 and 87. These show Chinese doing grading, one an engraving from Harper's Weekly (date unspecified), and another a photograph taken at Prospect Hill Cut (Calif. State Library).
Cape Horn: Ropes or Baskets?
No photographs of the Chinese constructing Cape Horn are known to exist, but the detail of A.J. Russell, stereoview #27 at the left shows Mormon workers suspended on ropes at the cliff face at the East portal of UPRR Tunnel No. 3, Weber Canyon. Kyle K. Wyatt, Curator of History & Technology, California State Railroad Museum, comments that "Personally, I do think it possible that the workers may have used ropes to support them in some places. A nice rope around the waist (or tied to something like a boson's chair) that one can lean back against (with feet planted firmly on the ground) might be a real asset while swinging a double jack hammer, or holding and "shaking" a drill steel."
Several historians have commented that "ropes" are mentioned in multiple 19th century guidebook accounts describing the Chinese workers suspended during the construction of Cape Horn, but state that there is no mention of "baskets" :
"Great Trans-Continental Railroad Guide ..." By Bill Dadd, The Scribe. Chicago, Geo. A. Crofutt & Co., 1869. Section entitled "Cape Horn" p.202:Courtesy Edson T. Strobridge, Charles Sweet, Wendell W. Huffman, and G.J. "Chris" Graves.
" ... When the road was in course of construction, the groups of Chinese laborers on the bluffs looked almost like swarms of ants, when viewed from the river. ... When the road-bed was constructed around this point, the men who broke the first standing ground were held by ropes until firm foot-holds could be excavated in the rocky sides of the precipitous bluffs."
"Morford's Scenery and sensation Handbook of the Pacific Railroads and California," by Henry Morford, c. 1878, beginning on p. 160 relates a story told by a "General" who was a passenger with him on a train trip from Junction to Truckee that Stanford had taken him up the line to show "the General" what they had done. Under the heading "the General's sensation at Cape Horn" (p.163-4) he told how Stanford had shown him "the greatest spectacle that [he] ever expect[ed] to see, until they commence putting up that great tramway to the moon. Down from the face of the very worst peak to be surmounted, they had that day commenced lowering men, with ropes around their waists and pickaxes in their hands; and there, at the point you passed when you came over, now called Cape Horn—there they hung, five hundred feet of rock almost sheer above them, and about twenty-five hundred feet of sharp precipice below, picking away in that solid granite to make places into which to put their feet to begin picking, drilling, and blasting for the road."
"Travels West," by William Minturn. London, Samuel Tinsley, 1877, p. 227:
"The first workmen on this elevated rocky point — hardy industrious Chinese — were held and steadied by the aid of rope securely tied round their bodies. Thus they hammered away at the rock, until they made for themselves standing room, appearing like swarm of ants on a loaf of sugar."
"The Pacific Tourist. Adams & Bishop's Illustrated Trans-Continental Guide." New York, Adams & Bishop, 1884, p.252 (same description in the 1877 edition):
"Around the Cape, the railroad clings to the precipitous bluff at a point nearly 2,000 feet above the river and far below the summit, and where the first foot-hold for the daring workmen on the narrow ledge was gained by men who were let down by ropes from the summit."
A letter, written by Caroline Amelia Clapp Chickering, dated in Oakland, Cal. on Thursday, Nov. 9, 1876 (published in THE CALIFORNIAN, volume 12, No. 1) to her mother, after she came to Calif. in 1876 by train: "At 7:00 we were to to round 'Cape Horn'. Miss Carmony and I were disturbed though, and could not sleep after three, so we rose and dressed, but when we went out on the platform the snow sheds shut out everything. So after a while we concluded to lie down until nearer dawn. Between six and seven we made our way to the last car, notwithstanding the fact that we had to pass through some emigrant cars, and there we had a glorious view. The track is laid around this point, Cape Horn, on the side of a mountain so precipitous that the first workmen had to be lowered from the bluff above by ropes. Away below is the American River, called beautiful in the Guide book, ... "
"A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains" by Isabella Bird, trip over the Sierra Nevada taken in September 1873, text excerpted from her letters to her sister, published in book form in 1879 (Letter I):
"The light of the sinking sun from that time glorified the Sierras, and as the dew fell, aromatic odours made the still air sweet. On a single track, sometimes carried on a narrow ledge excavated from the mountain side by men lowered from the top in baskets, overhanging ravines from 2000 to 3000 feet deep, the monster train snaked its way upwards ... "
"Building The Pacific Railway," by Edwin L. Sabin. J.B. Lippincott, 1919, p.119:
"Early in the Spring, throwing forward one of those high, curving trestles (in this case 1100 feet long) with which the road strode across the deep gorges and ravines, the rails moved out from Colfax for the attack on the gigantic Cape Horn. Here a bed had been literally chiseled from the granite slope so sheer that the laborers, yellow and white, were suspended by ropes while they hacked, drilled and blasted, 2500 feet above the rushing American River."
"From Trail to Rail." by Earl Heath. Southern Pacific Bulletin, May, 1927.
"Collis Potter Huntington" by Cerinda Evans, 1954. Vol. 1, p. 156.
"At a point on the line called "Cape Horn," the road was cut out of almost perpendicular mountain side about fifteen hundred feet above the American River. To enable the Chinese to drill and blast out a foothold, they lowered over the cliff in "Bosun's Chairs supported by ropes to do the preliminary cutting."
[The definition of a Bosun's Chair is "a wooden plank or canvas chair for a worker hung by ropes over the side of a ship, Building or Bridge." But it is also a rope sling made to support ones thighs and rump while hanging from a rope as any sailor can tell you, like those used by rock climbers of today.]
However, Nelson's Pictorial Guide-Book (1871) states that:
"The line is carried along the edge of declivities stretching downwards for 2000 or 3000 feet, and in some parts on a narrow ledge excavated from the mountain side by men swung from the top in baskets."
See: "The Central Pacific Railroad and the Legend
of Cape Horn." by Edson T. Strobridge, 2001.
and the Book Review of this book.
See: Cape Horn Slope.
[Can you help? Please let us know if you find any 19th century verification of the use of baskets for the construction at Cape Horn.]
Alan R. Hardy, Ph.D. wrote (12/9/2000):
> All one has to do is travel over the Cape Horn route, and it is plain to
> see that the old engravings of "Chinese in Baskets" would never work;
> the angle of the cliffs here are NOT vertical. The origin of this
> legend appears to have come from engravings made of construction of a
> railroad in China and subsequently lifted for american publication (cf.
> Dick Denison, California State Railroad Museum, who has researched the
> subject). ... Denison has not published this, but it is used in the docent training
> program at CSRM. The use of ropes is most likely. Being lowered down a
> slope while fastened above with ropes seems to be the logical means of
> working on a slope of perhaps 60°, as opposed to baskets, which would
> just bounce or roll down the hill.
> As you may know, the CSRM is the repository of a lot of original CPRR
> material, most not on public display. This includes the original
> financial records as kept by Hopkins, many paper items, up to the Gov.
> Stanford locomotive (on loan from Stanford U.) and C. P. Huntington
> I am currently working on attempting to verify the type of hammer used
> to drive spikes on the CPRR during construction (the silver "spike maul"
> of Promontory ceremony fame is a hammer used in shipbuilding!). The
> current type of maul seems to have come into use around the turn of the
> century or slightly earlier.
> Enjoyed your website.
> Alan Hardy
> Roadmaster (track), Sacramento Southern Railroad, and
> Volunteer, California State Railroad Museum
Dana Scanlon wrote (12/15/2000):
> ... [Regarding] Chinese hanging from baskets to
> build the track bed around Cape Horn. I was an invited guest at the
> rededication of Cape Horn, in the company of the retired State
> Archeologist, a specialist in the history of the area, and another well
> known RR history expert. Both stated that there is no known evidence to
> support the fact that the Chinese were hanging from baskets during the
> construction of the RR. Some think it is a fanciful story created by a
> reporter to increase readership.
Peter Crush, author of WOOSUNG ROAD - the Story of China's First Railway wrote (10/25/1999):
> I wish to introduce my privately published book
> "WOOSUNG ROAD - the Story of China's First Railway" which is now available...
> [Click for] details about the book.
> (there was no connection with this railway's workers and the Chinese labourers who
> went to the US to help build railroads)
> Peter Crush
[Mr. Crush is also seeking a U.S. distributor for his new book about China's first railroad.]
"I like the idea of your getting over more Chinamen ... It would be all the better for us and the state if there should a half million come over in 1868." —Collis Huntington, 1867
Hart Stereoview #90, detail. "Bank and Cut at Sailor's Spur. 80 miles from Sacramento".
Hart Stereoview #88. Horse Ravine Wall, detail. Courtesy Steve Heselton Collection.
A.A. Hart stereoview #317, detail, "End of Track, on Humboldt Plains." Courtesy Barry A. Swackhamer Collection.