1860s-1880s, Chinese Presence in Early Idaho

“America wouldn’t have been built if it wasn’t for the Chinese, because the railroads opened up the country.”

Linda Jew, Great Granddaughter of Chin Lin Sou, A Chinese Miner who Immigrated to America in the 1800s

Chinese were among the thousands of miners who came to Idaho for gold, discovered in the fall of 1860 in Pierce. By the 1870 Census, 28.5 percent of Idaho’s population was Chinese.

Chinese people made up between one-quarter and one-third of Idaho’s total population. In 1885 through 1886, an Anti- Chinese attitude exploded and was often led by the Knights of Labor, an early labor union. Laws were enacted to prevent Chinese men from owning property, returning to the United States once they left, or bringing their wives and parents to the country with them. In 1886, a large Anti-Chinese convention was held in Boise and violent expulsion of Chinese people spread through the state.

As it pertained to housing, Idaho history was rife with what would now be considered egregious violations of the Fair Housing Act. In 1883 when Lewiston’s Chinatown caught fire, the fire department refused to extinguish the flames until they were a threat to white-inhabited structures.

National Miners Day was established in 2009 to remember miners who died working in the mines and to honor the hard work and commitment of today’s miners. We would be remiss to omit from Idaho’s history the mistreatment of Chinese miners in particular when observing this day.

by IFHCIdaho June 30, 2021