Next year will mark the 125th anniversary of the massacre of as many as 34 Chinese gold miners in Hells Canyon at what is today named Chinese Massacre Cove. A memorial to the miners is being developed and will be dedicated at the site next June 22.
“We cannot give the victims justice after so many years, but we can honor their memory,’’ said R. Gregory Nokes, chair of the Chinese Massacre Memorial Committee.
The massacre was the worst of the many crimes committed by whites against the approximately 300,000 Chinese who immigrated to the American West in the 19th century in search of work. The Chinese helped build the railroads, worked in mines and salmon canneries, cleared land, and engaged in many other pursuits.
No one was held accountable for the massacre, although evidence pointed to a gang of seven northeastern Oregon horsethieves and school boys. Three were found innocent at a trial in Wallowa County. Three others fled and were never caught. A seventh turned state’s evidence and wasn’t charged.
The massacre was the subject of Nokes’ 2009 book, “Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon,” published by Oregon State University Press.
Lyle Wirtanen, co-organizer with Garry Bush of the annual Chinese Remembering gathering in Lewiston, said the memorial will be a granite stone marker of approximately four by five feet with engravings in three languages: English, Chinese, and Nez Perce. The English wording will read:
Chinese Massacre Cove
Site of the 1887 massacre of
as many as 34 Chinese gold miners.
No one was held accountable.
The memorial will overlook the Snake River at Deep Creek on the Oregon side of Hells Canyon, not far from walls built by the Chinese miners who worked at the site until they were ambushed, robbed, and killed in May of 1887. The United States Board of Geographic Names officially named the location Chinese Massacre Cove in 2005.
Wirtanen said the committee plans to have the memorial installed and ready to dedicate at the fifth Chinese Remembering gathering next June 21-22. Following a program in Lewiston the first day, the group will travel to the site by jetboat on June 22 for the dedication and a healing ceremony
Wirtanen said as many people will be welcome as can be accommodated at the site. More information on the project and the conference, including a video, is available on the website, www.chineseremembering.org The project has been approved by the U.S. Forest Service.
Coincidentally, plans for the memorial coincide with a national campaign called the 1882 Project, supported by major Chinese American organizations, to get an official apology from Congress for the 1882 Exclusion Act. The act barred additional Chinese laborers from entering the country and was the first such law to exclude a specific group on the basis of race. It wasn’t lifted until 1943. The Senate has approved the apology; the House is yet to act.
Chuimei Ho, vice chair of the memorial committee, said there is a direct connection between the Exclusion Act and the outbreak of major violence against the Chinese that occurred after the act was passed.
“Partly because they felt sanctioned by the 1882 Exclusion Act, the terrorists and murderers involved in much anti-Chinese violence actually came to believe that they were heroes helping to rid the nation of social evils,’’ Ho said.
The Chinese Massacre Memorial Committee: Greg Nokes, chair; Chuimei Ho, vice chair; Ben Bronson; Garry Bush; Bill Hall; Patricia Keith; Craig Lesley; Alan Pinkham; Bettie Luke; Rich Wandschneider; Priscilla Wegars; Lyle Wirtanen.
For more information, contact Nokes at firstname.lastname@example.org.