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Author's Rebuttal

by William F. Chew


Date: November 5, 2004
To: Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum
Subject: Authors rebuttal

Dear Editor,
I am the author of the book "Nameless Builders of the Transcontinental Railroad", and the grandson of a Chinese railroad worker. I request equal space on your website to answer the comments and accusations within.
The result of a five year research study entailed the review of all 409 sheets of the CPRR company payroll records. Also the creation of a computer database for large scale data projects. This database was exercised with complex computer tools and relationships in order to obtain the published data.
Your website is the most important source of the Transcontinental Railroad history and is viewed worldwide.
Please acknowledge receiving my attached rebuttal and advise me of the publication date.

Respectfully, William F. Chew

Author William F. Chew's Rebuttal to CPRR.org Book Review
(Rebuttals are taken from the book
Nameless Builders of the Transcontinental Railroad)

I. Website (p-8): An extensive appendix lists by name all of the Chinese CPRR workers…)
Rebuttal: On page 40, I make clear that the named Chinese workers are not all of the railroad workers, but the Gang-Bosses or Headmen, each collecting pay for crews averaging 24-28 Nameless Chinese workers whose names may never be known.

[CPRR.org comment: The complete sentence quoted actually reads: "An extensive appendix lists by name all of the Chinese CPRR workers identified in the payroll records." Consequently, there is no disagreement between the original statement and the "rebuttal."]

II. Website (p-8): Unfortunately, however, the book also, for some analysis, relies upon problematic secondary sources and uses dubious calculations of the estimated total Chinese workforce and number killed.
Rebuttal: My problematic secondary sources for dubious calculations of the estimated total Chinese workforce (#1) and number killed (#2) are none other than the Central Pacific P/R sheets as recorded by the Paymaster (#1) and reports from newspapers of the time (#2). These p/r records show the number of days paid to the Headman each month. Therefore, on payroll sheet #26, dated January 1864, Hung Wah collected pay for 587-1/2 man-days of work. Dividing this number by an average of 26 days per man per month, the total is 23 men. To determine the total of these nameless workers, this calculation was repeated for each payee for man-days worked, and added, resulting in the minimum total workers of 23,004. I say minimum because the data was extracted from only 19 months of p/r records, when the period from Jan. 1864 through Dec.1867 should have yielded a total of 48 months of p/r sheets.

#2: My book reference on page 96, Table II, lists the fatalities total of 1,346 of which 146 or 10% are referenced in detail. Forty-four of these deaths were listed in newspapers The Dutch Flat Enquirer, Omaha Weekly Herald, and The Sacramento Union. J.O. Wilder, a surveyor for the CP-SP reported 58 deaths. The remaining 44 deaths were cited from popular books listing the dates, location and cause of deaths. If these sources are dubious, I ask you why would a journalist fabricate these events and give dates, sites and cause of death? Reporting the events of the day was of great interest at the time. Human tragedies, then and now, still capture our passion.
The 1200 fatalities (89%) were reported by The Sacramento Reporter, June 30, 1870, in its article Bones in Transit. It has been written that there are many more Chinese railroad workers who still remain buried and are unaccounted for. Even if the number of deaths is disputed, adding a reasonable number for these unfortunate ones, would make my figures, I believe, not only conceivable but conservative.

[CPRR.org comment: Our word "problematic" is linked to a list of numerous errors in the secondary source relied upon by Mr. Chew for much of the casualty data in his table showing the number killed. (Making available in one place the original words describing CPRR fatalities transcribed from all the existing primary sources is our goal, so that a more accurate count can be obtained.) More importantly, however, the rebuttal does not address our major concerns: first, that the calculated total is almost entirely due to a single report of 1,200 casualties written a year after the completion of the railroad that does not distinguish construction accidents from smallpox deaths and is inconsistent with numerous earlier contemporaneous reports of small numbers of casualties due to construction accidents, avalanches, etc.; and, second, that adding number killed plus number of bodies exhumed to get a total is incorrect because it double counts some casualties. CPRR payroll sheets are a reliable primary source but do not contain any information regarding casualties. We also still don't understand how adding up man-months worked ever permits calculation of the number of different individuals who worked. Also, the cited death rate is miscalculated because the calculation of peak employment (instead of total imployment) divided by number of casualties is incorrect.]

III. Website (p-9): The following graph was prepared from William F. Chews data found in his Table 1, p.45…..
Rebuttal: Converting this Table to a line graph assumes a continuous function distorting the incomplete monthly data. The data comes from 3 months of p/r records for 1864; 3 months for 1865, 12 months for 1866, and 1 month for 1867.

IV. Website (p.14): just GET THE HISTORY RIGHT!!!!!!….(By G.J. Chris Graves) A thorough searching of the payroll records of CPRR,……reflects at most 9,000 Chinese workers.
Rebuttal to Mr. Graves favorite war chant: The methodology I used to estimate the total number of Chinese workers was scientific and thorough. The computer program I devised, sorted the names alphabetically eliminating duplicates. Without this feature, the total number of Chinese in Table I would yield 42,521 workers instead of 23,004. I don't know how Mr. Graves can be so far off with his thorough search reflecting at most 9,000 Chinese workers.

V. Website (p.43): *Comments regarding the book, Nameless builders of the Transcontinental Railroad, by William F. Chew.
Rebuttal: Mr. Graves refers to an article from the Placer Herald as proof that no Chinese were present at Bloomer Cut, because this article relates an accident, which injured a Portuguese and a Frenchman as well as Supt. Strobridge. He, therefore, concludes that because no Chinese were mentioned (if none were injured??) then, no Chinese workers were on site.

Mr. Chew does not tell us, in his self published book, what the Chinese were doing while employed by Mr. Strobridge,……..
Rebuttal: My primary sources reveal that the Chinese were working on the railroad in January 1864. In April 1864, as confirmed by payroll record #43, Hung Wah and his workers were at sections 30-34 about four miles west of Bloomer Cut heading eastward. ... By March 1865 there were 730 Chinese employed by the CPRR, and were assigned work at section 34 near Bloomer Cut. I believe that the initial excavation was done by non-Chinese and a small crew of about 20 Chinese were doing loading and dumping, and later helped with grading the roadbed. ... Because Mr. Graves denies the presence of Chinese at this site, he wants to know what was the Chinese doing? The majority were coolies, hauling dirt, excavating and grading as a crew under a gang boss. Their coolie status did not merit individual recognition, however, they were being paid as a group, as evidenced by the CPRR p/r records. Refer to pages 74 and 81 of my book.

VI. Website FAQ (p.44, p.45,and p.47): And then in Sacramento, June 30, 1870 the Reporter says: Bones in Transit—
Rebuttal: Statistical medical science states, An adult human body has 206 bones, which account for 14% of the bodys total weight. Calculating this relationship to the average weight of 119 lbs. of a Chinese man during the 1860s, it confirms that the bones of 1200 men would weigh 20,000 pounds. These were being transported in CP railroad cars and had been collected along the RR line of the Central Pacific. Mr.Graves wants us to believe that death was caused by a smallpox epidemic, while I contend that avalanches, explosions and other accidents were the prevailing cause of death. In considering Mr. Graves theory, I propose that if Chinese railroad workers became ill in large numbers, as undoubtedly would occur during such an epidemic, they would not be kept in R/R camps to infect the rest of the labor force. Furthermore, after the harshest sections of the railroad were completed in 1866, thousands of Chinese workers were terminated. In December 1867, only 401 Chinese workers remained on the payrolls. [My only source of information for December 1867 is CPRR payroll record #369 which shows payment for 10,427 man-days which calculates to 401 workers, and 17 gang bosses (Headman) received payment.] To invalidate further this ludicrous argument, assuming that all 401 workers became infected with smallpox, the 30% mortality rate, as given in medical statistics, would have killed 120 workers not 1200! However, according to Mr. Graves, the epidemic occurred in 1868-1869, when even less Chinese would have been exposed. The lives of 1200 Chinese (plus those others who will never surface) are venerated monuments to the building of the Transcontinental.

[CPRR.org comment: Mortality rates from smallpox can be higher in a previously unexposed population that lacks any herd immunity. For example, during the French and Indian Wars (1754-1767) American Indians were deliberately exposed, and epidemics occurred, killing more than 50% of many affected tribes. One report based on American Indian tradition states that "Every one taken with it was sure to die." Similarly, among the Central Pacific Railroad workers, Ed Strobridge reports that " ... during a Jan. 1869 smallpox epidemic ... nearly all that went into the Pest Cars died. ... "]

[G.J. Graves disputes Mr. Chew's claim that only 401 Chinese remained on the payrolls, citing "Through to the Pacific," which compromises a series of articles in the NEW YORK TRIBUNE, May-June, 1869.  In the section of letters entitled Promontory to Sacramento, Richardson says, in writing about the Chinese laborers: "Nearly four thousand are still employed in perfecting the road." ... Those hard workers kept going [beyond the California/Nevada State line] to Toano, where about 4,000 Chinese left, 4,000 stayed, the 4,000 leaving were replaced by 2,500 Mormons, hence the name Mormon Hill. ... Mr. Graves observes that there was an Army unit on the scene, and the commander of same kept a journal, in which he wrote on [May 11 and 12, 1869] of seeing Chinese workers ... The 1870 Federal Census of Promontory Station (Summit) Utah shows a population of 158, of which 26 were Chinese.  In 1880, only 8 were Chinese." See:

VII. Website (p.49) How can you add up worker counts from multiple but incomplete payroll records and eliminate duplicates…………

Rebuttal: All of the numerical facts come from the CPRR payroll records, and the mathematical calculations were computer generated for handling large-scale data technology. Any contradictions of the determination of the size of the Chinese work force by observations and hand calculations would be near impossible. The methodology is explained in detail on page 42 of my book. The total database had 1,507 names including duplicate entries for crews working multiple months. This list was alphabetically sorted with duplicate names removed reducing the list to 972 names. Then the list would search for non-crew direct paid employees further removing another 156 names. The remaining list of 816 gang bosses would then be multiplied by the previously determined average crew size of twenty-eight, and adding back the 156 direct paid employees yielding a conservative total of 23,004 names of Chinese workers.

[CPRR.org comment: The calculation described is wrong and Mr. Chew's estimate of 23,004 is an error, not a count of the actual total number of Chinese workers, because the calculation assumes without evidence that each un-named individual worker (crew member) – in every month examined – had the same named crew boss. The calculation – number of named bosses times average crew size – would give the same result (for the number of nameless individuals who ever worked), if no nameless worker ever left the job and was replaced by another as it would if no nameless worker ever worked in more than one month, which is clearly wrong. Put another way, there is no way to ever actually know how many different nameless Chinese individuals worked, because double and triple counting un-named workers is unavoidable when attempting to calculate from monthly payrolls. But, because the crew bosses are named, perhaps you could estimate the month-to-month named crew boss turnover, assume that the turnover rate for nameless crew members was the same (a bit dubious), and thus try to correct the calculation – but this was not done. (Superintendent Strobridge's 19th century testimony was that "our maximum strength ... very nearly approached 10,000 men on the work.")]
See reply.

A wax-sealed bottle provided the identity of only the Chinese workers with the full name of the worker written in Chinese and placed in the burial site as reported by Iris Chang in her book The Chinese in America.

The argument of the number of incomplete payroll records is not an issue since the facts and figures have repeatedly established the conditions and period of which the data is presented, and re-enforces that the results are minimum!

It appears that some informants has a relentless quest to belittle the recognition of the Chinese contribution and sacrifice of building the western route of the Transcontinental Railroad. If ones goal is to minimize and possibly deny the unequalled accomplishments of these nameless builders, facts can be misunderstood, manipulated, and reinterpreted by extrapolating out of context what support ones position. Ludicrous rhetoric and meaningless diatribe do not serve History!!!

[CPRR.org comment: What the CPRR Museum website instead actually says is:
"Honor the memory of the heroic Chinese transcontinental railroad workers ... Chinese-Americans whose ancestors built the difficult mountainous and arid western portions of the first transcontinental railroad should look back with well justified enormous pride at their brave ancestors' amazing accomplishment – the manual construction of the greatest engineering project of the 19th century that united our nation. Those Chinese construction workers on the Central Pacific Railroad should be honored and cheered today, just as they were by the railroad officials on the day the rails were joined ... don't miss the significance of the Chinese-Americans' unimaginably difficult and pivotal contribution towards creating today's transcontinental America ... "]

Rebuttal to counter argument by CPRR.ORG (11/9/2004)

1.0 CPRR.org comments: I have not seen any records showing the number and method for calculation for the 10,000 total number of workers. A quotation from the same source "Report of the Joint Special Committee, Feb. 27, 1877" states:
"Q. (By Mr. Bee) You say that you employed ten thousand Chinamen?
A. (Charles Crocker), About that number, I never knew exactly how many."
We will never know the exact number of unnamed workers. Often times a solution requires both the demographics as detailed in the book, and the exogenous. The notion that these workers would work for different gang bosses thereby being counted more than once is very unlikely because of three exogenous facts of cultural reasons:

a. Upon arrival in San Francisco, the new immigrants would seek a representative from their own family association from the same district in China who spoke the same dialect (Say yup, Sam Yup, and Hakka). The early Chinese were clannish and even refused to work with each other unless they were from the same village. Crocker’s testimony attests to it: "When two different gangs of those men get into the same neighborhood they may clash, but by separating them there is no trouble."
b. The workers were contract laborers who promised to pay the contractors for their passage with interest from wages earned each month. The Chinese Headman would collect these fees along with his commission. The Chinese worker most always pays his debt, but only to the person who advanced the loan. Again, Crocker’s testimony was: "Each gang has a book-keeper to keep the account among themselves. We have a foreman and he keeps the account with the gang and credits the rest, comes up with his book, and he says so many days for that gang…..When pay-day comes the gang is paid for all the labor of the gang, and then they divide it among themselves."
c. The gangs were established at the association along with a trusting gang boss who would never allow switching a worker and loose his commission to another gang boss because of distrust.

The majority of these gangs would only work for a short time, one to three months as explained by my book (p.46), ... – Chapter Four** discusses the short time employment tenure – ... thereby reducing the multiple count if any. Get Adobe Acrobat Reader for PDF Files

**"Chinese by the Numbers," Chapter 4, from Nameless Builders of the Transcontinental RailroadPDF by William F. Chew, © 2004, Courtesy of the author.

[CPRR.org comment: Have you found any documentation of the amount of money that the workers needed to pay the contractors for their passage? Wondering how many months they needed to work for the railroad before breaking even.]

... I do not a specific reference about the amount or time to payoff the passage loan, but I have read that the cost was $40 by steamship and $25-35 for sail. I estimate that the monthly loan payment for P/I was $2.00 which would be about two years payback. —William F. Chew, 11/10/2004

> ... THANKS for writing ... your rebuttal!  You made a number of good points, some of which were not known to me – you did a nice job.  As to the Chinese in March 1865 at Bloomer,  I don't have too much of a challenge with that, as the cut was finished that month (according to the Placer Herald) ....  The CPRR could not have been built with the hard work and sacrifices of the Chinese workers. A quick note:  you say only a few hundred workers were still employed in 1868-1869 – I am staggered by that, as my thoughts ran that the Chinese were pulled back at Toano (Mormon Hill) and were correcting errors made between Sacto City and Toano.  You are certain these numbers correct?   About 50 miles East of Wells, Nev. there are still (1999) holes in the ground where Chinese workers camped out; in some a person can still find artifacts – teapots, eating utensils, etc. ... As to the number of Chinese workers following the Mormon takeover at Mormon Hill, (Toano), if only so few were there, why would the Elko Independent, in January, 1870 say that there were SIX CARS picking up deceased Chinese between Elko and Toano?  Six cars could hold a LOT of bodies. ... Best wishes,. —G J Chris Graves, NewCastle, Cal. 11/7/2004

> The CPRR company management were aggressive in cost saving and schedule keeping. After the Summit tunnel was graded and tracked in November 1867, the company no longer needed the three shifts of Chinese railroad workers so they started the layoff of thousands of workers. The Chinese worker population had dwindle down to seventeen Headmen managing an average of 24 workers in December 1867. The CPRR payroll record # 349 dated Dec. 1867 listed these seventeen Headmen with a calculated 408 total workers. The reduction of Chinese workers continued since the hard and dangerous work was near completion. If one assumes the 408 workers were still employed in 1868-1869, and the 30% smallpox mortality rate suggest that possibly only 122 workers died from this epidemic, not accounting for the thousands reported in the six railcars. Does it really make a difference how these human beings died? These men travel almost halve way around the world to find a better life building this railroad which helped developed America! ... The total number of Chinese listed on all 19 months of the payroll records from Jan. 1864 to Dec. 1867 were only 1,570 names which included duplicated entries for more than one month of employment. The peak or maximum number of Chinese was 6,190 for the month of April 1866 because of the tunnel work. There were 169 Headmen managing an average of 36.6 ... workers (probably three shifts). ... —William F. Chew 12/12/2004

[CPRR.org comment: Without knowing the employee turnover from month to month, doesn't the calculation imply an upper bound not of 122 total (which assumes no turnover), but rather 122 per month (if there were high turnover)? {This is just an observation about the limitations of the calculation; it does not imply that there actually were 122 per month.}
We are asked: "Does it really make a difference how these human beings died?"
Yes, the actual numbers and the causes of death really do make a huge difference, because natural causes (such as smallpox) that cannot be blamed on the CPRR management do not support attacks on their character, for example baseless claims that the the railroad was responsible for mass casualties due to preventable construction accidents because they were supposedly indifferent to loss of human life. For example, one website (containing numerous factual errors) seems to have this premise. ... Or, when Iris Chang writes: "This accomplishment created fortunes for the moguls of the Gilded Age, but it also exacted a monumental sacrifice in blood and human life. On average, for each two miles of track laid, three Chinese laborers were killed by accidents." Attempts to demonize the "moguls" as reckless and uncaring are seen to be flawed and misguided, if construction accidents were few in number, and most of the deaths were not the result of any human failing.]

> ... [James H. Strobridge] never worked on that portion through Rio Linda. He was hired in early January 1864, reconstructed three miles of roadbed in Sections 1-3. C. Crocker Superintended Section 4-15 to Antelope and moved on to Newcastle where [Strobridge] joined him in late Feb. 1864. No Chinese were employed by Crocker until 1865. [J.H. Strobridge], in his testimony says "I do not think we had any Chinese (employed) in 1864, if so, then very few." The associates were out of money and Crocker had reduced his forces to nearly nil during late 1864. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the CPRR in January 1865 then construction again took off. NO Chinese were employed before C. Crocker & Co. hired them and that did not occur until he had the new infusion of money in 1865. ... —Edson T. Strobridge 1/4/2005

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