National Forest Surveys


Chris Merritt and the University of Montana received a Heritage Stewardship Enhancement grant from Region 1 (Northern Rockies) of the United States Forest Service to undertake a survey and revisit project in regards to the Chinese heritage of Montana and Idaho. The HSE program within Region 1 is the only such granting avenue in the United States, and has been fruitful in forwarding the USFS goal of site stewardship and partnerships. During the summer of 2008, Chris Merritt and Brent Rowley, another UM graduate student, traveled to five National Forests in Montana in an attempt to find any pieces of the region's Chinese heritage. In particular this partnership includes the Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Gallatin, Helena, Lewis & Clark, Lolo, and Clearwater National Forests.

Bedrock Flume, Ophir Cr.
Hand-stacked rock-lined ditch, Ophir Cr.
Hand-stacked rock placer tailings, Ophir Cr.
1930s Mining equipment, Ophir Cr.



The focus of the Multi-Forest HSE project was to assess currently recorded Chinese sites on the National Forest components through revisits, perform pedestrian survey in areas determined to have a high potential for Chinese sites through historical research, and to produce a management/interpretive plan for these sites across the region. In addition, another outgrowth of this project was the creation of a public-oriented brochure for inclusion to the USFS interpretation efforts.





















During the course of this summer's activities, 3 new Chinese sites were discovered and recorded. In addition, a total of 12 other non-Chinese archaeological sites were found and recorded as targets of opportunity. Besides these numbers we revisited and monitored nearly 60 other archaeological sites.

While the overall new site numbers are small compared to how many Chinese inhabited these targeted areas, there is a reason for this disparity. While performing this research and subsequent surveys, we determined that many of the areas that once had Chinese archaeological sites have been re-mined since their departure (largely during the 1920s-1930s), or other types of developments (roads, subdivisions, dams, etc.) have destroyed them. This means that every known site, and any future discovered site, are even more valuable to our understanding of America's and Montana's past. Together, the University of Montana and the United States Forest Service are helping to piece together this past for the "greatest good for the greatest number".


Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest

Forest Archaeologists Tammy Cherullo and Mark Sant manage the expansive areas encompassing the B-D National Forest. The landscape around Butte & Dillon hold some of the most significant historic Chinese populations of anywhere in Montana, and our hope was to discover some physical remnants of this forgotten past. The two main areas where Chinese populations congregated on the B-D National Forest was at German Gulch near Butte, and Jeff Davis Gulch near Dillon. Both areas were heavily placer mined during the 1870s through 1890s by the Chinese and Euroamericans, with German Gulch having a peak population of Chinese at nearly 200. It is not suprising then that German Gulch had perhaps one of the most significant rural Chinese communities in the state, and archaeology has shed light on this facet of history.

In the late 1980s archaeologists based out of Butte did extensive archaeological excavations at German Gulch and discovered numerous features including homes and businesses relating to the Chinese and Euroamerican occupations. Hundreds of artifacts were found including Chinese ceramics, opium pipe paraphenalia, Chinese olive pits, and even half a coconut. These artifacts told a detailed story on how these pioneers lived in the Treasure State. We are in process of creating a public display for these artifacts at the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Supervisor's Office in Butte.














In the southern zone of the B-D National Forest, there were significant Chinese populations around the mining districts of Bannack and Virginia City. One of the most significant populations, and is still referenced on maps today as "Chinatown" was 5o miles southwest of Dillon, in Jeff Davis Gulch. In the 1870s Chinese miners took over worked out claims held by Euroamericans and performed heavy placering and hydraulic mining, and establishing a substantial community in the bottom of the gulch. However, during the 1890s-1910s the area went through a period of re-mining by means of dredging. The dredging removed most of the gold-bearing gravel in the bottom of the gulch, including the area of Chinatown. Today, there are few reminders of the Chinese in Jeff Davis gulch besides a road sign, and archaeological sites around the periphery of the drainage. During 2008, archaeologists discovered that a previously recorded cabin outside the dredged bottom contained what appears to be an opium can relating to the Chinese occupation. Further work including excavation might recover even more information.















Perhaps one of the most unique chapters in Montana Chinese history is the life of Tommy Haw. Tommy was an orphaned Chinese boy in the goldfields of California when he was adopted by the wealthy Orr family. In the 1860s the Orr family came to Montana and set up a large cattle ranch near Dillon, MT. Tommy made the trip with the family and helped with the ranch operations. By the time he was an adult, Tommy was set up in his own cattle and sheep operations and was one of the wealthiest residents of Beaverhead County. Beginning in the 1890s Tommy began investing his considerable wealth in mining ventures throughout southwest Montana. Unfortunately, Tommy was a better rancher than mining entrepreneur and his investments failed, and he died poor in 1913. During historical research we discovered that one of the mine operations he owned was located on B-D National Forest property and had never been recorded. The site consists of several log cabins and a large accumulation of historical artifacts relating to the 1890s development of this mine. Tommy's life influenced many aspects of Montana history, and this site is just one part of that story.


















Due to Tommy's adoptive status, he is most likely the only Chinese person in Montana to have ever owned a hard rock mining claim. Territorial law in 1872 forbid any non-American citizen from owning hard rock claims, thus barring Chinese from entering that field of enterprise. The site recorded, which is named the Blue-Eyed Annie Claim, is the only new Chinese site on the B-D National Forest. However, archaeologists determined at least 3-4 other sites on this National Forest have the potential to hold Chinese materials that were not previously thought to have had such influences.


Helena National Forest

The Helena National Forest has an abundance of Chinese history in and around its landholdings. For the most part, the Chinese influenced the Big Belt Mountains to the east of Helena far more than any other area on the National Forest. In particular, there were substantial Chinese populations working and living in Cave, Magpie, Cooper, Oregon, and Confederate Gulches throughout the 1860s through 1890s. After a devastating wildfire in the early 2000s, archaeologists discovered a number of Chinese sites brought to view for the first time due to the fire. These sites are a lasting reminder of the Chinese workers who dominated mining in this area, but since had been forgotten. Sites on National Forests overlap with other public land agencies including the Bureau of Reclamation's Chinaman's Cove Recreation Site on Canyon Ferry Reservoir. Chinese and Euroamerican miners constructed extensive ditches to bring water from high in Cave and Cooper gulches down to Chinaman's Gulch to allow hydraulic mining. There is a great opportunity to interpret an entire Chinese mining landscape that transcends property boundaries.















Besides in the Big Belt mountains, Chinese had a presence down the Prickly Pear River, including an area known as Ruddville located in a remote part of the Elkhorn Mountains. Little is know about the development of Ruddville, and besides a few scraps of historical information about the buying and selling of mine claims at Wilson Creek, the location of Ruddville, there are no references to an actual town being established. Interestingly, in September of 1871 a man named Simmons purchased and consolidated all the claims near Wilson Gulch for $100. By November of 1871 he sold the same group of claims as a whole to a Chinese group led by Ah Chong for $3,000. This is perhaps more evidence of the swindling of Chinese in Montana during the 19th Century. There is some surface evidence of Chinese occupation of Ruddville but more works needs to be done at that location.


Gallatin National Forest

While the Gallatin National Forest never had per capita the same number of Chinese within its land holdings, there were some located along Emigrant & Bear Creeks north of Yellowstone National Park. There were no previously recorded Chinese archaeological sites on the Gallatin NF before the summer of 2008, but this changed with the help of an improtant find in Livingston. While perusing the Water Rights Books at the Park County Courthouse, we discovered a purchase record for a ditch in the West Fork of Emigrant Creek, east of Chico Hot Springs. On April 30th, 1897 Wong Chong, President of the Quong Chong Company, declared rights to water from Emigrant Creek for mining purposes. The water right claim even detailed the length of the ditch, and the basic location of the mining claim.












There were no recorded archaeological sites in the suspected area of the claim, so we performed a detailed pedestrian survey of the area. At the mouth of Huckleberry Creek, where it flows into Emigrant Creek, we discovered a mostly collapsed cabin with a large scatter of historical artifacts. Some of the artifacts discovered were of Chinese origin including some fragments to a Chinese celadon rice bowl. The isolated location of this site has protected it from the ravages of development and widespread looting, and offers a tremendous opportunity to learn more about the Chinese experience. In addition, this site is a rarity as it is an extremely late placer mining camp (1897) when most other Chinese had already left Montana due to the shift towards hard rock mines.















Lewis & Clark National Forest

The Lewis & Clark National Forest, much like the Gallatin National Forest, did not have the same number of Chinese miners and entrepreneurs as other forests. However, many of the mine camps in the Little Belt Mountains had Chinese laundries and stores to service the miners. Both geology and mining district laws negatively affected Chinese migration into the area. First, the mines in the Little Belts were largely only accessed by hard rock mining, and placer mining was rare. This kept Chinese miners, who were only allowed to do placer mining, out of many districts. In addition, Neihart, the central mining camp in the Little Belts, passed legislationin 1885 that barred any Chinese from living or working in the boundaries of the mining district. This racially exclusionary law forced all Chinese out of the area, and kept any others from entering. Click on the link below to read the resolution passed in 1885 as found in the The River Press, out of Fort Benton, MT.

Chinese Exclusion in Neihart, The River Press, 1885
Thanks to Cascade County Historical Society and Overholser Research Center

Outside the main mining districts of the Little Belt Mountains there were quite a few Chinese living in White Sulphur Springs, and Lewistown. However, while performing historical research at the Meagher County Courthouse, we could locate only two references to Chinese purchasing any property. This is quite different than the successful searches at other Montana Courthouses. For some reason, perhaps racism, dealings of the Chinese were not officially recorded. This is a facet of the Chinese experience that was not known before. Thankfully, we had the 1880 Federal Census which mentioned the presence of two Chinese at Yogo Town, employed as laundry operators.

Yogo Town, located along Yogo Creek home to the world famous Montana sapphires of the same name, was previously recorded as an archaeological site but there was not mention of any Chinese presence. Upon survey of the Yogo Town site, which dates to a gold rush in the late 1870s and early 1880s, we discovered what appears to be a Chinese rock hearth on the outskirts of town. Further archaeological investigation should be able to prove this hypothesis.















Lolo National Forest

While there has been lots of work done on the Lolo National Forest over the past three years of partnership, there were still areas that needed survey and revisits. In particular, we received a tip regarding the presence of more hearths similar to those found at China Gulch that relate to Chinese construction. Only one mile to the south of China Gulch and Louiseville we discovered a series of six additional Chinese hearths at the area supposed to be Forest City, the next largest town in Cedar Creek. These hearths are in a range of conditions, but most appear to have been looted. However, they still provide a wonderful opportunity to compare and contrast archaeological materials from the two sites in Cedar Creek, and the one hearth found on the Lewis & Clark National Forest at Yogo Town. There is potential for even more Chinese sites in the Cedar Creek drainage as many areas have yet to be surveyed.





























As is detailed in the pages dedicated to Cedar Creek, the Cedar-Quartz Mining District was largely abandoned by Euroamerican miners in 1874 when gold was found at Ninemile, near Missoula. Chinese also rushed to the new Ninemile district at the same time, and there is some evidence of their occupation of homes near the town of Martina and Montreal. In particular, the townsite of Montreal (also called "Old Town") archaeologists discovered Chinese ceramics and opium cans in the piles of dirt excavated by equipment building a fire line during a recent wildfire. Our revisit to the site of Montreal did not uncover any additional Chinese artifacts, but the area has revegetated over the past few years.

Clearwater National Forest

During the summer of 2009 archaeologists will investigate the Chinese presence on the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho. This National Forest has a lot of previously recorded Chinese archaeological sites, and there is a potential for even more. Keep checking back.