In 1887, more than 30 Chinese gold miners were massacred on the Oregon side of Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon in North America. They wanted the gold dust that the Chinese had painstakingly accumulated. Historians and scholars debate the exact number of miners. Only 11 names are known. The gold was never recovered.
The crime was discovered weeks after it happened, but no charges were brought for nearly a year. Six men and boys in northeastern Oregon were charged — three fled and the others were found innocent.
A cover-up followed, and the crime was all but forgotten for the next 100 years, until a county clerk found hidden records in an unused safe. R. Gregory Nokes, a former reporter and editor for The Associated Press and The Oregonian, was the first to write a story about the murders of the Chinese miners in his 1995 article. His extensive reporting on the subject was a personal mission. This year, he detailed the information he uncovered about the massacre in his book, “Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon.”
We are happy to report that Nokes’ book has been selling well. Its first printing of 3,000 has sold out and a second printing is underway. This goes to show that books that are thick with facts and information don’t have to be left for university students in ethnic studies classes. These books should be part of the mainstream, part of the popular nonfiction novel genre.
This is a book of American history and is especially valuable as it details an event that is virtually unknown — the brutal crime against Chinese by whites, a crime that was swept under the rug for a very long time. It makes us wonder how many other events in history have been ‘forgotten’ in this way. We hope that Nokes’ book will inspire other writers to dig for stories in unexpected places, about people who have been written about before.
Many books about early Asians in America are memoirs, which, though valuable, are limited in scope. Without Nokes’ detailed research, the story of the Chinese miners would never have been known, as they weren’t able to tell their own tale, and there is no one left who remembers them. This is a worthy memorial for the Chinese miners.
As Nokes writes in his epilogue, “We owe the Chinese laborers a great deal. They helped build railroads, drained land, farmed crops. … But their reward in the nineteenth century was too often mistreatment and abuse. The least we can do is fill blank pages. We owe them their names.” ♦