Chinese immigrants arrived by the thousands during the prime gold mining years of the 1850s. They helped build the railroads, worked in mining camps and later labored on farms and ranches.
Chinese Camp was home to 5,000 Chinese miners in addition to as many Americans and Europeans. Many of the Chinese immigrants were servants to Englishmen. The mines were rich with gold; a value of $2.5 million was removed from the area. The Chinese were pushed out of Sonora, located a few miles to the north, and settled in what would be called Chinese Camp in 1849. The original names were Camp Washington and Washingtonville.
The first post office and store opened in 1854. As the town grew, Chinese Camp became a transportation hub for stage coach lines and express offices. The town was composed of a store, hotels, two joss houses (Chinese temple of worship), blacksmith shop, church, school, bank, the Wells Fargo Express office, Masonic Lodge and cemetery. Adams Express began in Chinese Camp before Wells Fargo was established as a viable business.
The gold lay just below the surface of the ground but the work was hard because there was no water nearby. All the gold had to be hauled to a creek to be washed. The Chinese worked the mines and were successful where other miners had given up. When they had an argument, they settled it with a “Tong.” Instead of using guns, the men used pitch forks, rakes and other mining tools as weapons. A few Chinese were killed and many wounded during their fights.
None of the descendants of the original Chinese miners live in this rural town today where the remaining buildings whisper their stories of a glorious past.
The historical landmark is located at the Northwest corner of State Highway 120 (P.M. 15.9) and Main Street in Chinese Camp. This site is part of the Mark Twain Bret Harte Trail.
A treasure of natural wonders and lively gold rush history, Tuolumne County offers visitors vivid scenery. A portion of Yosemite National Park lies within the county, along with giant redwood groves and impressive geological features. Both Bret Harte and Mark Twain wrote stories set in this area during the Gold Rush.