III. Quong Fat, 1885
Quong Fat was born in China poor. He was determined to die in China rich. In order to meet that goal he traveled to America to earn his fortune. So far, by extreme discipline and frugal living he was close to achieving his goal. Actually, by some other person’s standards, he had achieved his goal. And others would even say he exceeded his goal.
When he first landed on the shore of San Francisco thirty years earlier, he felt he landed in a new world. A world he didn’t understand. The first month he lived on the street. The second month he noticed young men selling newspapers on the corners of the street would get coins dropped at their feet. He began selling newspapers. The third month he noticed if he spoke English he sold more papers. So he learned a few phrases of English. The fourth month he was able to move into a small boarding house that other Chinese men lived in.
His progression in America moved slowly but steadily. Because of the English phrases he picked up he was able to get work as a dishwasher. Slowly. Steadily. Frugally he managed to accumulate. Ever saving.
After living in San Francisco for about thirteen years, a new opportunity opened up. The railroad needed sturdy workers for their race to meet the East line. The promises of a steady pay were offered.
Quong Fat still considered himself a young man and able to work so he joined the railroad. He was tired of living in San Francisco anyway. By the time he finished he was sure he would have enough money to retire to China. Imagine that! Moving back at such a young age. He’d be able to start a family and preserve his family line.
The first month working for the railroad he realized that probably wasn’t going to be the case. The second month he strained his back. The third month he realized he was probably going to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
He was at Promontory Point when the two railroads converged. Unfortunately, he did not amass nearly as much as he had working in San Francisco. When the railroad was completed the company needed fuel. Jobs were offered working in coal mines to those who had helped build the railroad.
That is how Quong Fat ended up in a small coal camp called Rock Springs.
The first month working in the coal camp he became sick. The second month he developed a chronic cough. The third month he noticed his eyesight dimmed. The fourth month he knew he needed to get out of the coal mines. So he fell back on his skills he learned in San Francisco and worked as a dishwasher. He managed to save enough to start his own laundry service. Of course, years of living frugally and disciplined helped him save. He continued to save money.
At the end of summer in 1885, he took his money from its hiding place and counted it. Thirty years in America and he had done well. He could return to China and live the remainder of his years comfortably. As comfortable as an old, broken man could anyway. He could leave for China before Autumn and be home before winter. That was a possibility. Or he could work one more winter and return in spring. Ah, spring! That would be much better to return home. He wanted his first sight (of what he could still see) of his homeland to be in beautiful late spring or early summer. Not winter.
He carefully put his small fortune back in its hiding place.
Unfortunately, what he didn’t foresee is an event largely forgotten except to local history as the Rock Springs Riot or Chinese Massacre. While Quong was amassing his retirement fund tensions were brewing with the miners. If Quong hadn’t lived such a disciplined life he probably would have been more aware of the trouble in his community. As it was, he chose to ignore the hostility in the air. After all, there was always hostility toward the Chinese.
But on September 2, 1885 tensions escalated to the point of no return.
The ruckus started in the mine between two teams of miners. One partnership was white and accused the second partnership, Chinese, of mining in their area. A fight ensued that spilled out into the street. A cooling down was ordered for both sides but neither side cooled down.
After a few hours, citizens in the camp descended upon the small Chinatown across from the creek. Their intentions were not honorable. The mob destroyed homes and businesses. Men were killed. Most Chinese miners were driven out of the area. They walked west along the railroad until a train picked them up and took them to another town 100 miles away.
It is not one of the finest moments in history.
Quong Fat had a first row seat. First he watched nervously from his dugout as the miners swept into the town. He watched as structures were burned and members of the mob entered abandoned homes. Why didn’t he leave for China when he had the chance?
He looked at his treasure’s hiding place and acted quickly. As quickly as a broken, old man could act. He grabbed a burlap sack and emptied it. A last look around his old home strengthened his resolve. He knelt by his hiding place and opened it. There was no time to count it instead he scooped the silver coins into the sack. Even though he was in a hurry he made sure he did not leave any coin behind. Then he walked to his door and cracked it open.
After a few moments, he took a deep breath and slipped out the door. Instead of heading to the tracks like the rest of the townsfolk he thought it would be wiser to go in the opposite direction. So, while everyone else focused on the tracks, he set his sights on the mines. The Number 4 entry was the closest so he slipped inside. He lived long enough to know no trouble lasts forever. His intent was to hide in a back tunnel until things settled down. Then he could go back to his dugout after the miners had ransacked it and hide his life’s work again. Unfortunately, Number 4 was known for its unsteadiness. Within a year it would be abandoned because of unsafe conditions. It had frequent cave-ins.
A neighbor noticed Quong Fat slip into the mine. Fourteen years later, the neighbor would tell Ed Thomas about Quong Fat ducking into the mine when Ed asked about the Number 4 nonchalantly. “Why yes,” the neighbor would say, “an old Chinese man by the name of Quong Fat hid in the mine during the riot. Saw him duck in there myself. No, didn’t actually see him come out but there was a lot of confusion that day. I headed into the hills and hid in a cave myself. I assume he must have left the cave and the area at some point. No one ever saw him again.”
IV. Ed Thomas, 1899
V. K.J. Malone, 1924…coming October 31