Rocks, Rails and Ranches: Chinese expulsion became model for other communities

By: Daniel DeFoe, special to the Placer Herald
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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a three-part series focusing on the expulsion of the Chinese residents of Rocklin in 1877.

On Sept. 16, 1877, lawmen from Rocklin and Roseville arrested 10 Chinese miners on suspicion of the grisly murders the day before of three ranchers — two men and a woman — at a ranch in Secret Ravine.

A jury charged two of the 10, but evidence against them was weak. There were suspicions the murderer might have been the ranch’s teamster, who had disappeared on the day of the crime.

Ultimately, Rocklin authorities made no further arrests and the real murderers were never brought to justice.
In the end, the Chinese never returned to Rocklin.

By 1879, one local account bragged, “No chinaman can rent a house or obtain employment in the town.”

The Rocklin way of expurgating its Chinese residents — giving them a deadline and threatening violence and fire — became a model for other gold country communities, among them Loomis, Penryn and Grass Valley.

The town of Truckee came up with its own method. Instead of threatening violence, which could have legal ramifications, the city fathers decided instead to “starve them out.”

The Chinese were offered no employment at all and any white person who employed or used the services of the Chinese would be “publically shamed and threatened with worse.”

The treatment of the Chinese in gold country communities reflected a larger nationwide hostility toward immigrants and foreigners generally.

Americans made targets of the Chinese, Japanese, Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans and others who, in unprecedented numbers, came to American shores in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They came to take jobs in the expanding American factory system and, in so doing, often encountered the same bigotry and racism long endured by African Americans and American Indians.

The diversity of races, cultures, religions and, yes, opinions that many today see as the hallmark of American pluralism was, in our past, something to be feared by the majority of white America.

(Author’s Note: Among other sources, this account relies heavily on one of the more recent works concerning the Chinese in the gold country of California. It is “Driven Out: the Forgotten War against Chinese Americans” by Professor Jean Pfaelzer, which is an excellent addition to the genre.)