In 1880, the California State Legislature passed a statute protecting residents from the ‘evils arising from the presence of aliens, who are, or may become vagrants, paupers, mendicants, criminals, or invalids afflicted with contagious or infectious diseases, and from the aliens otherwise dangerous or detrimental to the well-being or peace of the State.’
(Section 1, Article XIX, Chinese) The statute added, ‘No corporation… shall employ, directly or indirectly, in any capacity, any Chinese or Mongolian.’ (Section 2, Article XIX)
The main hotel in Kelseyville was typical of the undisguised prejudice against Chinese. The name, ‘Uncle Sam Hotel’ was in recognition of the establishment’s location near Mt. Konocti, which was, at one time, was called Uncle Sam Mountain. A prominent sign in the front of the establishment made their prejudice known:
UNCLE SAM HOTEL
Good Hunting and Fishing Close Proximity to the Hotel
Table Always Supplied with the Best the Market Affords
NO CHINESE EMPLOYED
While they were here, their living conditions were meager. Six hundred Chinese laborers lived for a time on Rattlesnake Island or on the mainland near the Island. Their camps were clusters of ramshackle wooden hovels with no sanitation and surrounded by debris. The structures were made of uncut lumber, strap wood, canvas, and local vegetation.
There was a large, square, barn-like structure, known as The Joss House. That place served the Chinese mineworkers as a social hall and a religious center. On the inside, large pictures of the various Chinese gods lined the walls. The area in the front of the Joss house was reserved for celebrations of the Chinese New Year.
We know, because from conversations between Elem Captain James Brown and Archaeologist John Parker, the Chinese workers, from time to time, were on Rattlesnake Island. The presence of parts from two Chinese Brown Glazed Stoneware food vessels suggests that Chinese, possibly from the mainland, at least visited the island. This notion is supported by the existence in historical times of matrimonial ties between this group and local Indians.
Henry Mauldin observed: ‘During the days of the Sulfur Bank Mine when there were a number of Chinese working there, it was the custom for them to make up a concoction of skunk gall and rattlesnake fat. The Orientals did not care to find their own live ingredients but would pay twenty-five cents each for skunks or rattlesnakes. White boys, living at the mine, found no trouble to row over to Rattlesnake Island come back with a reptile or two.’
Originally mined for Borax, Sulfur Bank produced a million tons of Sulfur in four years from 1875 to 1879. When sulfur mining became too much of a problem because of contamination by mercury or Cinnabar, as the ore is called, it reopened as the Sulfur Bank Quicksilver Mining Company, headed by Tiburcio Parrott.
Parrott challenged the ‘No Chinese’ law. With an average of 550 workers in the mine, Parrott was not about to let the unconstitutional law pass without a fight. Parrott was arrested and tried by a Federal Court. When the trial ended, and the dust settled, the court found that the State Statute was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and a violation of the Burlingame Treaty between the U.S. and China. It was a huge Civil Rights victory that, finally, gave the Chinese the right to work.
Next episode; Beautiful Ladies
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