Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Chinese Massacre of 1871

The transcontinental railroad finally reached Los Angeles and mong the other immigrants to arrive on it were the Chinese. They settled in an older area of L.A, away from the Anglos and set up laundries, restaurants and gambling places. In that area was a 500 foot ‘alley’ called the ‘wickedest street on earth’. It was also called Calles de los Negros since many of the residents were the darker-skinned mestizos, Indians and half-breeds. Colloquially, it was called Nigger Alley. It averaged a homicide a night and that tally didn’t include Indians. It was home to brothels, saloons and adobe and wood hovels filled with the dregs of the city. In later years it was renamed and became part of North Los Angeles Street.

On October 26 or 27th a battle between two tongs erupted. When some sheriffs and other Anglos attempted to break up the fight, one of them, a rancher Robert Thompson was killed in the cross-fire.

In his first person account of the Chinese Massacre of 1871, recorded, “News of the attacks and counter-attacks spread like wild-fire, and a mob of a thousand or more frenzied beyond control, armed with pistols, guns, knives and ropes, and determined to avenge Thompson's murder, assembled in the neighborhood of the disturbance.” This mob embarked on a frenzy of lynching, shooting, stabbing and looting every Chinese man they encountered.

In his own words, Newmark said, “Besides Judge Widney, Cameron E. Thom and H. C. Austin displayed great courage in facing the mob, which was made up of the scum and dregs of the city; and Sheriff Burns is also entitled to much credit for his part in preventing the burning of the Chinese quarters. All the efforts of the better element, however, did not prevent one of the most disgraceful of all disturbances which had occurred since my arrival in Los Angeles.”

By morning, 19 Chinese men were laid out on the street near city hall, some still had the ropes they had been hung with around their necks. At the coroner’s inquest it was determined that only 1 of the men had been involved in the original tong war. Around 111 witnesses were called to testify before the Grand Jury. Blame for the incident was originally put on the police for not moving in and controlling the mob sooner. At the time a state law forbade a Chinese man from testifying against an Anglo.

There were 49 men indicted for the deadly attack, 23-25 men were charged with murder or incitement to murder and 7 were found guilty. They were given sentences between 2 and 6 years. The sentences were later over turned on appeal and the blame was shifted to the Chinese for not alerting the authorities sooner.

Newmark concluded with, “Following this massacre, the Chinese Government made such a vigorous protest to the United States that the Washington authorities finally paid a large indemnity. During these negotiations, Chinese throughout the country held lamentation services for the Los Angeles victims; and on August 2d, 1872, four Chinese priests came from San Francisco to conduct the ceremonies.”

Harris Newmark (1834-1916), son of a modest Prussian Jewish merchant, who arrived in America in 1853 and joined his older brother in Los Angeles.

Ref: American Memory. Sixty years in Southern California, 1853-1913, containing the reminiscences of Harris Newmark. Edited by Maurice H. Newmark; Marco R. Newmark: CHAPTER XXIX THE CHINESE MASSACRE 1871

L.A. El Pueblo Grande by John Weaver, the Ward Ritchie Press, Pasadena, 1973


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