Chinese Camp

The first camp here, Salvado Camp, was located just east of present day Chinese Camp at the head of Shawmut Grade and named for the large number of Salvadorean placer miners there. In 1849, some thirty-five Cantonese miners arrived at Salvado Camp and found gold. Before long, white miners rushed to the camp and pushed the Chinese out; nearby Washingtonville or Camp Washington accepted the Chinese. Camp Washington proved also to be rich, and the perseverance of Chinese miners caused the camp to grow and gain the nickname "Chinese Camp" or "Chinese Diggins."

In 1854, a post office was established and the camp was officially renamed Chinese Camp. Its location made it a strategic transportation hub, and several freight and stage lines stopped daily. Some three-to-five thousand lived here in the mid-1850s, and Chinese Camp had several stores, hotels, joss houses, and other businesses including a Wells Fargo office.

Perhaps the most notable event in Chinese Camp's history is the tong war that happened on September 26, 1856 at nearby Crimea House. A few days prior, a minor dispute occurred in which a large boulder rolled off a claim where six members of the Yan-Wo Tong were working and onto a claim where twelve members of the Sam-Yap Tong were working. It was decided that, in order to settle the dispute with honor, the two tongs would meet for battle. Local blacksmiths forged weapons and a few firearms were obtained. On the morning of the 26th, some 900 members of the Yan-Wo Tong and 1200 members of the Sam-Yap Tong met at Crimea House and went battle with one another while other miners took bets on who would win. Law enforcement quickly broke up the event, but not before four were killed and another four wounded. Nevertheless, honor had been restored.

By 1860, one diary made mention of Chinese Camp as a metropolis with urban comforts. Although placer mining had diminished in most places by the 1860s, it lasted here until 1870. An 1899 mining bulletin places total production at nearly $2.5 million. Today, the sleepy town is easily missed by those traveling along Highway 49. Historic buildings and stone ruins line Main Street, appropriately shaded by a plethora of Chinese "Trees of Heaven."

I Visited Chinese Camp
9.9.2018

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