Statewide Database


Between 2006 and 2010, Dr. Chris Merritt created a database of Chinese archaeological and historical sites across the state of Montana.  Merritt’s dissertation focused on documenting the Chinese experience of Montana through both history and archaeology.  Many Montanans do not know the scale of influence that the Chinese had on shaping Montana history, and this project is first systematic attempt to document this heritage.  Working in partnership with the Montana State Historic Preservation Office, the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and numerous private land owners, Merritt traveled the state and recorded sites and stories relating to the Chinese in Montana. 


Granite Ghost Town

Pedestrian Survey during the fall of 2007 found numerous cultural remainders of the Chinese who lived at Granite, MT during the last decades of the 19th century. Granite is located on private land, and with permission of the private landowner researchers were allowed to collect some artifacts from Granite's Chinatown. These artifacts will be used to create an interpretive exhibit at the Granite County Historical Museum located in Philipsburg, MT. The exhibit will be under construction during the spring of 2009, and will highlight the forgotten histories of these Chinese immigrants. Granite has been severely looted over the years, and it is hoped that increased interpretation at the museum and on-site, will help to protect the priceless cultural materials at the town. Granite definitely needs additiona professional work, and thanks to the landowner it is now a real possibility. Read more about the Chinese in Granite as captured in the Granite Mountain Star, found on the "Research Resources " page.













Marysville Chinatown

Archaeological work by Dan Hall and crew of Western Cultural Inc. during the 2004-2005 field seasons, uncovered thousands of artifacts from Marysville, MT's Chinatown dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The project was part of an effort to revitalize Marysville with road improvements by the Montana Department of Transportation. Encompassing portions of state and private land, archaeologists excavated the remnants of a Chinese laundry and dwellings. Artifacts included Chinese gaming pieces and poker chips, Chinese ceramics, various metal fragments, and a broad variety of animal bones that relate to food and pets. The collection is now housed at the University of Montana is available for study.

Information about the project from:

Billings Gazette, Nov. 27, 2005

Helena Independent Record, Nov. 13, 2005


China Row at Forestvale Cemetery

Between 1900 and 1956, over 200 Chinese individuals were buried at Forestvale Cemetery, just north of Helena, MT. The site includes a few headstones bearing the name and place of birth of the deceased, written in a mixture of English and Chinese characters. In addition, the area has a partially intact brick funerary burner used by the Chinese to honor their dead through various cultural rituals. In addition, there is a large assemblage of Chinese artifacts on the surface of the cemetery that can help shed some light on the funerary practices of the Chinese during this period. Today, the cemetery is in dire need of rehabilitation, and Merritt is in the process of acquiring funds to do this work in partnership with Forestvale Cemetery, the Montana Historical Society, and the University of Montana.

Translation of Chinese Characters
--Thanks to Ed Tennant, U of FL





Weeksville was founded during the early 1880s as crews worked on the Northern Pacific Railroad along the Clark Fork River. The town was a lawless place, and in only one day local vigilantes hung ten suspected criminals. Specifically, the town was a temporary home to hundreds of Chinese railroad

workers that were laying rail and blasting rock. By completion of the railroad in 1883, Weeksville vanished from the landscape, and today there are no standing buildings left from this once bustling town of hundreds. Excavations by the University of Montana during the late 1970s uncovered a few artifacts of Chinese origin, including a wok. Today, the archaeological deposits of Weeksville are part of private, state, and railroad properties. Unfortunately, due to railroad and highway expansion and private building episodes, there is probably very little left of intact deposits.

China Ditch--Sanders County

During the silver rushes of Idaho during the 1870s and 1880s, towns and mine operations required a substantial amount of water to feed boilers and to wash the gravels for paydirt. In the early 1880s, Chinese workers were paid to build a ditch from a high mountain lake just across the border into Montana, and to connect to mining operations in Murray, Idaho. Chinese crews excavated the fifteen mile ditch to a depth of six to seven feet in some places, and even constructed rockwork to add extra support. However, just as the crews finished their work a rival mining company used explosives to destroy the dam at the lake, and the ditch was never used again. The site is now located on the Thompson Divide on the Lolo National Forest.















German Gulch--Silver Bow County

In the late 19th century, hundreds of Chinese immigrants came to German Gulch and established a small community that included a store and numerous homes. In 1988-1989, GCM Inc., a Cultural Resource Management firm out of Butte excavated portions of German Gulch's Chinese community during a project to widen the road to a mining property. Through this excavation, GCM archaeologists discovered hundreds of artifacts that once belonged to the resident Chinese. The German Gulch archaeological collection is now on permanent loan from the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest at the University of Montana's Department of Anthropology. This collection is by far the most significant archaeological assemblage from a rural Chinese community in Montana, and warrants reanalysis.


Artifact Catalogs:
Locality 9
Locality 18
Locality 19: 1988
Locality 19: 1989
Locality 30: 1988
Locality 30: 1989
Locality 48: 1988
Locality 48: 1989