A memorial to the nearly three-dozen Chinese gold miners massacred in 1887 was dedicated on June 22, 2012 at Chinese Massacre Cove on the Oregon side of Hells Canyon where the massacre occurred. The crime, for which no one was held accountable, was the worst of the many crimes committed by whites against 19th century Chinese immigrants.
A memorial stone of native Snake River granite was dedicated on June 22, 2012 at the site of the 1887 massacre of nearly three-dozen Chinese gold miners at Chinese Massacre Cove in Hells Canyon. It bears the following inscription in three languages, Chinese, English, and Nez Perce:
Chinese Massacre Cove
Site of the 1887 massacre of
as many as 34 Chinese gold miners
No one was held accountable
A diverse gathering of about 135 people traveled in four jet boats from Lewiston to Chinese Massacre Cove for the impressive and colorful dedication. It included participation from the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho and from Chinese American communities in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Bettie Luke of Seattle and Master E-man, a Taoist priest from Los Angeles, presided.
The memorial is on a bluff overlooking the Snake River 65 miles south of Lewiston. The five-acre site, surrounded by the steep basalt walls of Hells Canyon, was designated as Chinese Massacre Cove in 2005 by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. The area was part of the traditional homeland of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce tribe.
The year 2012 marked the 125th anniversary of the massacre in which a gang of northeastern Oregon horse thieves ambushed and killed as many as thirty-four defenseless Chinese miners. Before fleeing with the miners’ gold, the killers threw the bodies into the Snake River. Some of the bodies floated north to Lewiston where the crime was discovered. Three of the killers fled and were never apprehended; three others were charged with murder but found innocent at trial by a white jury.
A full account of the crime and its aftermath can be found in the book, Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon, published by Oregon State University in 2009.
The memorial was a project of the Chinese Massacre Memorial Committee. It was made possible by donations from Chinese American organizations, from supporters throughout the nation, and by generous in-kind contributions from Garlinghouse Memorials of Lewiston, River Quest Excursions of Lewiston, and Columbia Basin Helicopters of Baker City, Oregon. The committee extends its thanks to the contributors, as well as to the U.S. Forest Service, which provided the necessary permits for the memorial on federal land.
The committee also thanks the sponsors of the Chinese Remembering gathering, under whose auspices the dedication was held. These included the Monastery of St. Gertrude, Lewis-Clark State College, the LCSC Center for Arts & History, and the Idaho Humanities Council.
Photographs above are credited to Gary Bush and Deston Nokes.