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Expelled Chinese workers find a home at Whitney Ranch

By: Gary Day, Special to the Placer Herald
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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a three-part series detailing the expulsion of the Chinese residents from Rocklin in 1876. In September 1876, Rocklin and other south Placer County residents expelled their Chinese neighbors. The uproar followed the Placer County Sheriff’s claim that a Chinese cook had murdered three Euro-Americans over a mining claim dispute. Residents used the arrest as an excuse to force the Chinese out. Their anger was based, at least partially, on the Chinese residents’ willingness to compete with Euro-Americans for scarce jobs during economic hard times. One business owner took advantage of the eviction of the Chinese. Joel Parker Whitney schemed to hide Chinese workers from angry Euro-Americans and census takers while continuing to exploit their willingness to work hard at menial jobs for low wages. Joel Parker Whitney’s biographer Richard Miller claimed that even though census evidence showed no Chinese residents in the Rocklin area through 1910, 1,000 Chinese were employed on the Whitney Ranch — building water courses, and stone fences — at least through 1880. Whitney Ranch correspondence from October 1887 shows that five Chinese domestics arrived at the animal loading gate on the western side of the ranch — far from Rocklin’s passenger terminal and the angry Rocklin citizens who had evicted them. Joel Parker Whitney’s diary of 1899 describes his assignment of seven Chinese men to work in the vineyards of his neighbor, Otis Brown. Elizabeth Whitney, wife of Joel Parker Whitney’s grandson Vincent Parrot Whitney, remembered seeing dilapidated remnant of a Chinese temple on the ranch when she visited in the mid 1930s. The Whitney family history indicates that 19th Century Chinese domestics were interred near the Whitney family’s pyramid mausoleum. In 1879 the California legislature attempted to allow municipalities to remove their Chinese residents to outlying areas, thus giving legal sanction to Rocklin’s expulsions of 1876. But, the California Supreme Court voided the law in 1880. Two years later, the Federal Chinese Exclusion Act severely limited Chinese immigration and access to citizenship. Congress repealed the act in 1943 in an effort to cement the U.S. alliance with China against the Japanese at the beginning of World War II.