Eureka's China Town
During the 1850s, there was a political upheaval, called the Taiping Rebellion. This, added to the many natural disasters that were occuring, caused catastrophic harm and the death of over 20,000,000 people. Drawn by prospects of gold and a better life, many desperate Chinese began emigrating to California in search of this valuable commodity. The laborers first went to minding camps, but soon they were in demand throughout the West by businesses looking for cheaper labor. Many Americans were unable to find jobs because they could not compete with the low wages that the Chinese would work for. This began fuling the flames of racism against the Chinese. By 1855, over 20,000 Chinese laborers were counted in California and other parts of the Western United States. Chinese immigrants with a set of skills moved to cities where they set up trade and service businesses, but most often the Chinese who came to America were laborers.
Many Chinese immigrants settled in Eureka, and a Chinatown formed. At it's height, Eureka's Chinatown housed as many as three-hundred men and twenty women. Usually, only men came to America, leaving their family at home, in hopes of earning money to send home. Unlike most other towns where the Chinese lived a short distance from the city, the Chinatown in Eureka was in the center of the business district.
The Chinese self-built their shack-like homes from the refuse lumber, costing from $20-$50 each. These homes were poorly built and often were overcrowded, making living conditions unfavorable. There was a gulch that ran through the city blocks diagonally, and during the winter, it directed moving water, but during the summer it became something of a swamp. Because many Chinese residents threw ill-smelling items like dried fish, sewage, opium, rotten vegetables, and slumgullion into the now-stagnant water would exude a vile odor. The inhabitants apparently were not bothered by the smell, but others in the area were disgusted, causing racial tensions to rise. Many opium dens were created, much to the astonishment of townspeople who called them a "moral blight." The Chinese were never thought of as part of the town, and differences in habits and culture spurred hatred for the Chinese among citizens.
The Tong Rivalry
During the initial few years of the Chinese's presence in Eureka, they lived peacefully with Eureka residents, fighting only in defense when attacked. In 1883, however, a different class of Chinese arrived in the city, and two rival Tongs, or gangs, soon formed. Before long, riots, murders became a common occurrence. The gangs were armed with a variety of weapons, but the most often weapon used was the revolver. Between August and December of 1884, five outbreaks occurred, and during these bullets would fly in all directions, and in some cases would go through the houses of people living near the Chinese neighborhood. These riots infuriated the citizens, who were beginning to think of the Chinese as "an intolerable nuisance," and wished for the Chinese to leave. Further complicating the matter, the courts were unable to convict or punish any gang members because they would not speak truthfully and evidence was difficult to find. These Tong fights continued to escalate, and on February 1st, 1885, the most severe fight yet took place. Scores of shots were fired, and two gang members were killed, three were injured, and eight were arrested. Five days later, more violence took place between two Chinese men. They were walking separate directions and when they met, one began hurling insults which soon escalated into gunfire. While shooting at each other, a stray bullet hit City Councilman David Kendall as he was walking home from eating dinner. Kendall was carried home, and after a short time, he perished. This was the last straw for the citizens of Eureka. -Trent McGowan