Wednesday, June 15, 2011

St. Helena Historical Society-" From Canton to St. Helena"

Last evening I attended a wonderful program organized by the St. Helena Historical Society, "From Canton to St. Helena -Chinese Immigration in the Nineteenth Century ." My wife Liz and my Auntie Soo-Yin and her husband Ed were also in attendance.
In a previous post I have discussed Jue Joe's early years working in the vineyards around St. Helena .
Last night's program included famed Chinese American historian Philip P. Choy giving a great overview of Chinese immigration from Canton to California in the 19th century and earlier.
This was followed by a fantastic presentation by St. Helena historian Mariam Hansen who has spent many hours pouring over old microfilm records of the St. Helena Star Newspaper archived by the historical society. Mariam gave a wonderful talk about the history of the Chinese in St. Helena. She also has complied a wonderful timeline of the Chinese in St. Helena which is fascinating . I have included it below. I was happy to be able to share some stories about Jue Joe with the attendees as well . I have included a written summary of my remarks after Mariam's time line . The summary adds some additional information to the comments I made at the St. Helena get together .

Here is a transcript of Mariam's talk :
I’m going to focus on St. Helena’s Chinese heritage.
In 1868 the Napa Valley Railroad construction crews reached St. Helena. They needed large amounts of gravel from our gravel quarry to lay down the base for the tracks.
Although a few Chinese were previously living in Napa, the need for a large labor force to move gravel brought the first large group of Chinese immigrants to the upper Napa Valley. They were housed where they worked, next to the gravel pit, which is now owned by Harold Smith & Sons.
In the economic downturn of 1873, wine sales dropped. Vineyardists wanted to cut costs and have a large labor force available whenever needed. A request to a labor contractor in San Francisco would bring a train car load of men on the next day’s train.
In 1872 it was written “grapes in the northern portion of the state are picked by Chinamen, who will pick an average of 1500 pounds a day. They board themselves and are paid $1 a day” (overland monthly Jan 1872 p41). During a time of huge increase in vineyard development here, a large farm labor force was needed to clear land and plant vines.
The contribution of Chinese to the wine industry was not publicized in those days. When Harper’s Weekly published a drawing of the harvest of 1878 showing Chinese stomping grapes with their feet, the industry was outraged. Partially because of the unclean image, but also because grapes were in fact crushed in a press.
Only when an accident or death was reported, were vintners who employed Chinese named in the newspaper. A man got his finger caught in a grape crusher owned by St. Helena’s first mayor Henri Pellet in 1876.
Chinese also worked in fields, hopyards and mines. Some were household servants, cooks, laundrymen, merchants and clerks. They dug the caves at Beringer and Schramsberg. About 100 Chinese worked on the railroad between Napa and St. Helena in 1880. The Sage Canyon Road, now hwy 128, was being graded by 125 Chinese in 1886.
There were some who spoke English, became labor contractors, and developed good relations with grape and hops growers, mining companies, builders and quarries. Quong Goon Loong was one and he also sold tea, sugar, rice, slippers, and bamboo hats. Wah Chung was a prominent labor contractor in 1875. At harvest time he had 300 men waiting to harvest grapes and hops, so many that the 3 wells went dry in Chinatown. Wah Chung had business cards printed by the St. Helena Star printers.
The ghetto was located on what is now West Charter Oak Avenue, set back from Main Street and parallel with it, described as a smoky dragon. It was the first thing a visitor would see on approaching St. Helena. Home to about 400 men at its height, there were open sewers and slaughtering between the shacks.
Chinese were not allowed to own property, so their landlord was John Gillam, who provided rude, hastily thrown up shacks made of scrap lumber. By 1870 there was a China store and Cantonese restaurant (Dillon p224). By 1884 there were boarding houses, a hotel, more stores, the employment office and a Taoist temple.
Ginger’s China Store was in business for 25 years and contracted labor. His ad in 1877 read “Chinese help furnished-San Sing at Ginger’s will furnish all kinds of Chinese help. Good men at cheap prices.” Mow Hing advertised “Charley’s Wash House” on Oak Avenue every week in the newspaper in 1875, promising “no mistakes”.
In 1882 the delinquent tax list included a long list of locals, but also Ah Jim, Hop Wah &Co, Mow Fung, Yee Kay, Quong Yuen Lung, and Quong, Wing & Co.
Chinatown’s Taoist temple was completed in 1891, located at western end of the ghetto. A grand dedication was held with entertainment by a Chinese band from Napa. During the three days 10 roast pigs were consumed by the over 100 attendees. The newspaper described the interior: “ a large table with a bronze pedestal topped by a gold-mounted dragon, surrounded by four bronzed vases and several incense burners. On both sides of the room were two long boards artistically painted with the names of the Napa and Calistoga members engraved there on. The building cost $5000, all donated.
White locals objections stemmed from the bad impression visitors got from Chinatown’s location at the approach to town. But it also stemmed from Chinese willingness to work for lower wages and longer hours than whites, plus they did not expect room and board. Local merchants were incensed that Chinese only shopped in Chinese stores.
The Anti-Chinese movement spread throughout California. In 1877 slumlord Gillam received a letter threatening to burn down Chinatown if he not stop employing Chinese workers. The letter was printed in the newspaper, written by a barely literate agitator.
The St. Helena Star contributed to the hysteria by writing things like “tallow colored rat eaters of the celestial kingdom are buying many guns in Napa” and “the filthy den of disease breeding Chinamen”. A group of St. Helenans attended a speech by Denis Kearney, the labor rabble rouser, in Napa in 1878, riding there in a rail car decorated with a banner declaring “Chinese must go!”
Editorials often espoused hiring white men and boys for farm labor instead of Chinese. In December 1885 300 locals met at city hall and formed an Anti-Coolie league. Vintners cautioned that the grape harvest would not happen without Chinese labor. The Knights of Labor passed around a petition in 1886 in support of restricting Chinese immigration.
By February 1886 the Anti-Coolie league decided the best way to remove Chinatown was to buy it. Four members, Sciaroni, Simmons, Logan and Davis, pooled funds and obtained title from John Gillam. The Chinese Six companies almost beat them with a higher price. The four had acquired another property elsewhere and requested all Chinese to move there within 30 days, offering free rent for 99 years. Merchants proved they had valid leases, hired a Napa lawyer, and refused to move. The case went to US District Court, was drawn out for several years, during which time no rent was paid and the tenants stayed.
The Chinese were very willing to share their culture. Ginger organized the Chinese New Year festivities for several years, providing fireworks and inviting the whole town with an ad in the newspaper. Local residents often attended the elaborate funerals. When Lee Hau, a prominent St. Helena resident, was killed by a falling tree at Niebaum’s farm in 1894, his extraordinary funeral was attended by many locals. After a long service in Chinatown, the body was conveyed to the cemetery with a procession consisting of a wagon filled with foods for the afterlife, a hearse accompanied by six Chinese men and 50 men wearing bands of red and white. There were about 10 vehicles and another band at the end. A Chinese section at the cemetery had a large number of plots near the creek. It was important to every Chinese man to be buried with his ancestors. The bodies of those who could afford it were exhumed later and sent home.
There are several reasons the large Chinese population of St. Helena disappeared. The violence and discrimination throughout the state made many feel vulnerable and they moved to larger cities.
About the time Chinese were demanding higher wages, Italian immigrants began to arrive in the early 1880s. They replaced the Chinese for another reason too: grape vines began to be planted with the trunks pruned to waist height to protect delicate vines from frost and heat. A taller man could harvest the crop without stoop labor. (Heintz p176).
A series of fires damaged Chinatown and finally destroyed it completely. The 1884 fire started in the upper floor of Quon Loong High China Store, which was a sleeping quarter. The big fire lit up the whole night sky and was in a line of “four old rookeries sitting back from the street”. Three Chinese stores and lodging houses with their contents were destroyed. The landlord was uninsured, but quickly rebuilt the stores at the tenants’ urging. The 1898 fire was caused by a resident who, after cooking his dinner over an open fire, left the fire burning unattended. Half of the ghetto, 8 buildings, was completely destroyed.
Four stores lost everything, including cash on hand. The responsible party was ejected by his angry neighbors. Finally in 1911 the last fire burned the eight remaining buildings, causing $7000 loss. The landlords who bought the property with the intent of evicting the residents in 1886, finally got their wish 25 years later.

Here is Mariam's timeline of Chinese in St. Helena :
1857-61 Chinese begin working for grape growers in Napa & Sonoma
1860 45,000 Chinese in Calif-20,000 miners, 20k railroad, 5k misc
1862 Anti-chinese "Coolie" Clubs exist as political groups
1867 most wheat labor done by Chinese and Indians
1869 Railroad jobs end-10K C.unemployed, move to agric areas
1870 Chinese are 10% of farm laborers
1871 Chinese harvesting grapes in Napa Valley
1872 Jan Overland Monthly writes "grapes in the northern portion of the state are picked by Chinamen, who will pick an average of 1500 pounds per day"
1874 24-Jan Anti-chinese anarchists set fire to Occidental Winery hay barn
1874 12-Nov Locals are outraged that Chinese have requested to use public schools in the evening for classes, when they don't pay taxes.
1874 10-Dec "tallow colored rat eaters of the celestial empire buy guns, shoot their way to the Flowery kingdom"
1875 19-Aug Wah Chung, the labor contractor, says he has 300 Chinese waiting to pick grapes
1875 26-Aug There are so many Chinese in Chinatown waiting to pick grapes and hops, all 3 wells have gone dry
1875 At harvest time 300 Chinese arrived in SH, contracted to pick grapes
1876 22-Apr Quong Goon Loong advertises "China Labor Furnished", and China goods for sale
1876 1-Sep SF Chronicle condemns use of Chinese for grape harvest, when 3000 unemployed boys 16-20 yrs old are willing to work for $15-20 a month.
1876 1-Sep Charles Storey began picking hops with 60 Chinamen employed
1876 15-Sep H.A. Pellet (first mayor of SH) owns Manzanita Winery. His Chinamen got his finger caught in a grape crusher
1876 20-Sep Editorial espouses hiring local boys for vineyard work, not Chinamen.
1877 25-May Slumlord Gillam received a threatening letter, saying his premises will be torched because he employs Chinese (he doesn't)
1877 8-Jun Chinaman killed at Rudolf Lemme's La Perla Winery when a hillside collapsed on him as he was excavating for a wine cellar.
1877 27-Jul "San Sing, at Ginger's China Store, furnishes help for cooking, railroad work, chopping wood, etc. at Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Calistoga. Good men at cheap prices!"
1877 29-Jul Chinaman working for John Lewelling burned a pile of brush, which got out of control due to dry conditions. Heavy fire damage.
1878 8-Feb Chinese residents invite the public to a "Grand Display of Fire Crackers" on Sunday at 4pm"
1878 7-Jun "Workingmen's Picnic" held in Napa with Denis Kearney, supremacist organizer as speaker. A load of St. Helenans rode south in a large bus decorated with a sign "Chinese Must Go".
1878 30-Sep "Ginger" the Chin merchant went bankrupt, debts of $1000
1878 majority of farm labor in Napa Valley still white
1879 22-Mar Mock You, married 28 yrs old woman died at Rutherfordof natural causes- no obituary
1879 9-May Editorial writes of Harpers Weekly "the paper did its best to break down the wine interest of California..with your fancy sketch of Chinamen treading out the wine with their feet"
1879 new Calif constritution discriminates against Chinese
1880 30-Jan Chinese laborers are plenty. Don’t patronize local merchants. Send money to china. Complaints about them always finding work.
1880 10-Sep 100 Chinamen working on the railroad between Napa and St. Helena. When poll taxes were due,they refused to pay. Railroad workers pass poll tax receipts from one to another, so that 100 receipts will do for 2000 Chinamen.
1881 28-Jan "John Weinberger made wine from wild grapes, but his Chinese drank it all (Chinese must go)"
1881 27-Jun Citizens "will be glad to know that..effort is being made to remove the filthy den of disease breeding Chinamen from the main street to a more retired situation..the entrance to town is marred by stench, noisy confusion, fighting, etc.
1881 list of Cal Italian vine growers: 141
1882 13-Jan Eddie Butler murdered at Occidental Winery by two Chinese who demanded payment of their wages. Butler refused to pay until the wine was sold.
1882 10-Mar Large anti-chinese meeting held at the Palace Hotel. Resolutions supported bills in Congress restricting Chinese immigration of persons who are "a curse and a blight upon the industries and morals of this country"
1882 2-Jun Newspaper warns against a white mechanic teaching his Chinese assistant,enabling him to undercut the price of white man's work.
1882 15-Sep Chinese worker on Ink's farm brutally assaulted. Editor urges prompt prosecution of the evil perpetrators, who are not named.
1882 20-Oct Chinese labor camp at the Washington Mine in Pope Valley burned down. Chin miners lived separately from whites.
1882 Oct Witness for prosecution Ah Chuck in Butler case was murdered in San Francisco
1882 24-Nov Ad for Quong On Lee's Chinese Intelligence Office-Men for picking, clearing, ditching, chopping,etc. Look for house in back of stores in Chinatown
1883 17-Jul Edwin Angwin rented land on Howell Mtn to Chinese farmers, who raised over $300 worth of strawberries on half acre.
1883 3-Aug Town marshal and a large posse of citizens arrest 13 gamblers,while about 50 escape. Prisoners are marched up Main Street, escorted by 100 or so whites, and put in jail.
1883 10-Aug "Celestial lawbreakers" have all pleaded guilty to gambling: casino owner fined $30, each gambler $15. Four were unable to pay and remain in jail.
1883 26-Oct Local boys assaulted an old Chinaman on Main Street in SH. Four boys arrested, given stern warning by judge and released. Editor warns these incidents will tarnish town's good name.
1883 2-Nov "Lively rumpus in Chinatown resulted in Ah Chung hitting Ah Kate over the head with a revolver. Ah Chung was arrested by Officer mcGee and brought before Judge Elgin, Fined $25. Being unable to pay, he went to jail in Napa."
1883 26-Nov Police raided a gambling parlor in Chinatown
1883 Napa County collected poll tax from 400 Chinese
1884 3-Jan "A gang of 15-20 men mounted on horse back and mules rode through town looking like a bunch of lawless Indians. They rushed into Chinatown, frightening a team of horses hitched to a Chinese vegetable peddler's wagon, causing a runaway and smashup"
1884 13-Mar Chinese Free Masons met in Justice Hunt's court to initiate 13 members, there being no hall in Chinatown large enough. 40 prominent Chinese from other parts in their brightly colored costumes conducted the ceremony, followed by a feast and fireworks.
1884 14-Jan Charles Krug has a gang of Chinamen on Howell Mtn clearing forest fo plant grape vines
1884 31-Jan Residents complain of their chickens being stolen by Chinese who are preparing the Chinese New Years feast.
1884 3-Mar 3,000 Chinese cigar factory workers were fired in San Francisco
1884 7-Apr Chinese man of high standing died of consumption, given a stately funeral procession with band, hearse, 50-75 men on foot, wagon with food for afterlife, 4 leading merchants of Chinatown.
1884 14-Apr Editorial complaining Chinese increasing wage demands from $1 to 1.50 per day. Alleged that Chinese contractors skim off a large share from the laborers.
1884 14-Aug Huge fire in Chinatown started in upper story of Quon Loong High China Store. Hook & Ladder boys arrived, followed by the hose company. 3 stores, lodging houses and contents destroyed. $5000 total lost.
1884 18-Aug Slumlord John Gillam is rebuilding new store on site of fire. The other stores will be rebuilt at once, as tenants are waiting.
1884 8-Sep Ah Choo died. Service held at temple in Chinatown, 100 men marched to the cemetery in fine costume, Musicians played at the grave in rites of their secret society.
1884 15-Dec movement afoot to evict all Chinese from their tenements and wash houses
1884 Fire in Chinatown
1884 Napa County collected poll tax from 500 Chinese
1885 16-Feb Chinatown "den of infamy" constructed in Chinatown, 2 story 10X12 foot building a disgrace to the town.
1885 19-Feb Chinese New Year began Saturday, when our "celestials" are good natured, giving candy, nuts and cigars to white friends.
1885 23-Apr Old Chinese man was run over by the train while walking on the tracks. No name given.
1885 4-Sep Editorial encouraging hiring white men tramping the roads looking for work, saying they work harder than Chinese and spend their money in white owned stores.
1885 4-Dec Sh protest against Chinamen held and Anti-Chinese League formed by 300-400 taxpayers, prominent citizens who want to rid the town by any lawful means. Editor cautions that grapes could not be harvested without them.
1885 11-Dec Anti-Coolie League of SH has 300 members. Rumor that Mongolians are preparing to leave town. League meets at city hall. VP-H.C. Rammers, Sec-A.B. Swartout, Sgtat arms-A.B. Williams.
1885 11-Dec Chinaman arrested for riding his horse on the sidewalk due to a passing funeral. Employer Parrott hired a lawyer to defend him. Charges dropped.
1885 18-Dec Editorial urges boycott of Chinese vegetable peddlers, servants and laundrymen. The Anti-Chinese League held a regualr meeting at city hall. Dr Davis evicted his Chinese tenants.
1885 Napa County collected poll tax from 687 Chinese
1886 2-Feb 300 Anti-Coolie marchers descend on Chinatown and demand residents leave in 10 days, residents lock up and leave, bosses requested to listen to group's demands. Vintners urge restraint, as other sources of farm labor not available.
1886 12-Feb Slumlord John Gillam writes to editor defending his ownership of Chinatown, saying the rents support his family. "No Chinatown in state is so well located but out of the way as SH"
1886 12-Feb Vineyardists call meeting to discuss labor question. Speakers say violence against Chinese is wrong, threats against employers is un-American, demanding they leave Chinatown is unlawful, labor and employers should coopeate on a solution, and all should find another site for Chinatown.
1886 19-Feb "Chinatown sold-Moon-eyed Denizens must find other quarters"-Anti-Coolie league reps buy property, narrowly beating out the Chinese Six Companies who were willing to pay more. Buyers are Simmons, Logan, Sciaroni and Davis
1886 9-Apr Anti-Chinese meeting held at Turner Hall, 400-500 locals attend, urge opening a white employment agency, urge boycott of those who employ Chinese.
1886 9-Apr New owners of Chinatown complain Chinese refuse eviction by showing their leases and hiring a lawyer. Deny accusations they bought to collect the high rents from the Chinese, but were fulfilling wishes of the town.
1886 9-Jul A new road from Rutherford to Lake County is being graded by 125 Chinamen, presently working in Sage Canyon.
1886 wheat gone, first trainload of fruit shipped east
1886 17-Sep Height of harvest, roads lined with grape wagons. Difficult to get enough white men and Chinese to work. "Chinese are insolent and are asking $1.25/day. They must be treated with respect, or they quit."
1886 Chinese are 88% of farm laborers
1886 24-Dec Logan & Sciaroni, owners of Chinatown, defend their actions and attempt to move Chinese residents to another piece of property, tenants owe 6 mos rent, hired a lawyer, case in US District Court.
1887 7-Jan Marshal Spurr & deputies raid Chinatown lottery game,capture 3 celestials with lottery box & tickets, Chinese deny charges.
1887 7-Jan Ah Joey is in the county jail for stealing and tried to hang himself with his queue. Henry Lange opend the Napa Valley Laundry. Ad proclaims "No Chinese Employed"
1887 14-Jan Chinese arrested last week plead guilty , pay fines, released
1887 1-Jul Fire at Dr. Dawsons started when a boy threw a firecracker on the roof. His Chinese servant put it out
1887 2-Sep Chinese hop pickers demand $1.25/day and strike. Editor urges white boys and girls to apply for work.
1887 23-Sep great scarcity of vineyard labor. Whites pd $2/day, Chin $1.25, some demand $1.50
1887 30-Sep Chinese grape pickers strike in Rutherford-want $1.50/day
1888 1-Jun Chinatown landlords still in court in procedural issue. W.T. Simmons may drop the case, collect rents until leases expire.
1888 29-Jul Yung Hong Sing died at Josephine Tychson's of burns
1888 Northern Italians from Genoa, Lombardy, Turin begin arriving to work
1889 8-Mar Editor of newspaper says Ch gambling unchecked in Ch-town
1889 9-Aug
1890 24-Jan Deputy Constable Frank Sciaroni (part owner of Chinatown) requests residents not to light firecrackers at night, waking people up. Can light all they want in the daytime. At 2am they do it anyway. Town govment passes new law.
1891 1-Oct remains of 3 Chinese removed from SH Cem to China
1893 23-Jul Tong Sing died at Josephine Tychson's of burns-body sent to China
1893 17-Aug White laborers union formed, fight C. workers in prune orchards
1894 11-Jan Lee Han died at Niebaum Winery when a tree fell on him
1896 7-Jan Won You died in Rutherford of rheumatism at 70
1897 12-Mar Sam Kee was denied a permit to open a laundry on Pope Street near the railroad tracks. New city ordinance. Aetna Mine report describes Chinese laborers drilling holes for dynamite.
1897 45,625 Italians in Calif operate 2,726 farms
1899 17-Dec Qung Sing Lung General Store & Laundry sold to Wah Chung, who will not honor debts of seller. Ginger departs for China.
1913 2-Jun remains of 20 Chinese removed from SH Cem to China
1920 50% of farm labor is Mexican
1921 Portugese operate 8000 farms in Cal
1939 21-Jan Ah Joe last on list of Chinese burials, died at 89 in SH of heart ailment

Jue Joe (1860 to 1941) - St. Helena Resident circa 1878 to 1886

remarks by Jack Jue Jr. Great Grandson
"Descendant of the 2nd emperor of the Song Dynasty (Zhao Gunagyi), Jue Joe was born and raised in a chicken coop, in 1860. He grew up dirt poor and vowed that his descendants would never suffer as he had. So at the age of 14 he sailed alone to California, working as a cabin boy, and jumped ship in San Francisco. He sailed with 16 lbs of rice and landed with 1/4 lb left. So he went to the Chinese Six Companies for help. They sent him to St. Helena and Marysville to work the vineyards."-Auntie Soo-Yin

After arriving in San Francisco in 1874 at the age of 14 Jue Joe was first sent to work in the vineyards of Marysville in the central valley .
“Marysville had a fairly large Chinese population between 1850 and 1900 in comparison to other towns in the Northern Sacramento Valley. In businesses, it was ranked among the busiest and largest in the Northern Sacramento Valley and, at times, ranked second only to San Francisco.
Marysville's Chinatown, which is one of the oldest in the United States still in existence, was ideally located, offering merchandising services to mining camps to the north and east. It was regularly supplied with goods and materials by river boats via the Sacramento and Feather Rivers and stage coaches.
According to a business directory of Wells Fargo Bank in 1878, Marysville's Chinatown boasted some two dozen Chinese firms.

The Chinese found abundant employment in the mines in the early days. Soon after their first appearance, a prejudice against them began to gain ground among the miners, although with a few exceptions, they were allowed to work peaceably on their claims. After claims were deserted by white miners, the economical Chinese located them again, and by diligent toil managed to make them pay handsomely
When the railroad construction and mining activities diminished, many of the Chinese moved to Marysville and into the surrounding areas, working at various occupations. They worked as gardeners, toiled in clearing some of the present-day irrigation canals, labored on hop and other farms, cooked and laundered clothes., and worked in local wineries."
Unfortunately the 1870's were a period of severe anti Chinese agitation in the Marysville area.and elsewhere. Jue Joe arrived in the United States in 1874 just as anti Chinese sentiment against coolie labor was reaching a fever pitch . He spent his early years living and working in a California in which a race war against his countrymen was at its peak . The anti -chinese era was fueled by a depressed economy in which out of work white laborers scapegoated Chinese laborers as the cause of their problems . Mob violence , burning of Chinatowns, and rioters driving Chinese laborers out of towns were regular occurences in California in the 1870's and 1880's .

How Jue Joe survived and succeeded against all odds is a fascinating story.

Just as Jue Joe arrived in Marysville the area was undergoing an economic downturn with many Caucasians out of work . The Chinese were natural scapegoats . In Chico just north of Marysville. , the Supreme Order of Caucasians was formed and began harassing the Chinese and employers who continued to hire Chinese .Just 3 years after Jue Joe's arrival in Marysville , the infamous Lemm Ranch Murders occured in Chico . On the night of March 14, 1877 six Chinese farm workers were in their bunk house. Six caucasian men burst in , drew their revolvers shot the farm workers point blank, drenched the farm workers clothes in oil and then set fire to the oil drenched clothes torching the cabin and fled . Four of the Chinese men died and only two survived the night . The two that survived did so by playing dead.

The Marysville Daily Appeal declared : "It is a war of the races here . "

Violence against Chinese was a fact of life in the labor camps of the 1870's and 1880's where Chinese could be attacked in their sleep in their cabins by anti -Chinese mobs.
Indeed, Jue Joe suffered injury in the anti-Chinese riots following 1874. Immigration papers noted a gash at the end of his right eyebrow, and a crooked little finger on his left hand. Jue Joe told his son San Tong of attacks he had received at the hands of nogooders when he was a young man working the vineyards of Northern California.

A life long habit of self protection became ingrained in Jue Joe. Armed with a Colt.45 and a cleaver under the pillow he could sleep in relative peace . As violence got too bad , Jue Joe, like other Chinese would move on looking for work elsewhere. .

Jue Joe moved on at that point to find work in nearby St . Helena .

The Napa valley countryside is beautiful today and it was beautiful back in Jue Joe's time .

In the late 1800's there was wine boom going on in Napa Valley just like there is now .

At one point , Cantonese workers accounted for 80 to 85 percent of field hands in the wineries .After harvesting the grapes , Chinese laborers were used to press grapes with their feet on top of giant wine barrels.

I found a wonderful book in the St.Helena library . It is called “Napa Valley Heyday” by Richard Dillon. It’s a limited edition published by the Book Club of California. This book provided a lot of detailed information about the Chinese history in St. Helena which dovetailed with Jue Joe’s oral history of these times.

“Since Asiatics, by law were not allowed to own property but only to lease or rent it. John Gilliam became Chinatown's landlord-or slumloard. He had started out locally by supplying firewood to the railroad and cordwood for local consumption as fireplace fuel . He also sold redwood"grape sticks"(grapestakes) and by 1879 ran a manganese mine. In the late 1860's , Gilliam began to supply Asian newcomers with "temporary" housing : rude , hastily thrown -up shacks. By 1870, the dwellings had been joined by a China Store and a Cantonese restuarant.

Chinatown continued to grow , and by 1884 contained boarding houses, a hotel , more stores, the essential employment office or hiring hall , and even a " joss house" (temple) and cemetery. "

In 1884 the local white population in St. Helena was around 2,500. The Chinese population was near 1000 .So more then 1 in 3 people in St . Helena at the time were Chinese !

During St. Helena Chinatown's heyday, most field hands lived in its ghetto and traveled by foot between ranches , farms, and vineyards starting at dawn and returning at sunset.” They worked generally 6 ½ days a week for a wage of 50 cents a day .” Most Chinese laborers worked in fields, vineyards, hopyards, or mines. But some were household servants, cooks , laundrymen, storekeepers, and clerks. Still others dug the winery tunnels at Schramsberg and the Beringers' place , and laid rock walls to fence off agricultural fields and pastures “

However, anti Chinese sentiment began rising in St. Helena as it had in Marysville and many other towns in the American West and there was agitation on a national level to pass exclusionary laws prohibiting Chinese immigration .

Auntie Soo Yin writes :"My father San Tong told me that in early 1882, in San Francisco, Jue Joe had asked the Elders of the Chinese Six Companies if he should become a U.S. Citizen. He had given it serious thought. He'd heard a rumor about impending legislation against Chinese immigrants and so he thought he'd be better off becoming a citizen. And besides, China was beginning to fall apart. But because of extensive anti-Chinese incidents in California, and bitter hostilities growing daily, the Elders of the Six Companies told Jue Joe, "No! Don't do it." They told him to remain a Chinese citizen and be proud. They told him Chinese stand together and he would be better off. Four months later, the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1882 was passed and Jue Joe had to get a certificate of Identity. He would never again be allowed to become a U.S. citizen "
The 1882 law provided a system to identify Chinese who remained exempt from exclusion. Resident Chinese laborers, for example, received a certificate of identity—known as a “return” certificate—before they left the United States and presented the certificate for readmission upon their return. Jue Joe obtained one of these certificate of identities in St. Helena . It proved that he had legally immigrated to the United States prior to 1882.

According to Dillon ,

“In 1885 an Anti-Chinese League was formed in St. Helena with the focus of agitation against Chinese being employed as vineyard laborers.

In St Helena:

" boys chucked rocks at inoffensive 'Mongolians' downtown, while older youths shoved the hapless Chinese about. Some adults set their dogs on them . “

“In February of 1886 there was a protest march on Chinatown by the anti -coolie crowd , assembled at City Hall by the signal of whistles and bells. The Chinese had been forewarned and had deserted Chinatown and all the buildings were shuttered tight..Anti Chinese agitators demanded that all of Chinatown be condemned by the Board of Health as a public nuisance. Gilliam , the slumlord owner of the Chinatown property , penned a long letter to the St . Helena Star after the protest march indicating that he was willing to ask his Asian renters to leave, if someone would buy the "improvements", the shacks, on his land from him. “

I think that 1886 was a very good year for Jue Joe to leave St . Helena and seek work elsewhere . In that year the Southern Pacific Railroad was actively hiring Chinese crews for construction of the Coastal route of the railroad with hiring being done by labor bosses in Oakland . Over 1000 Chinese workers were hired .

After construction was halted on the Southern Pacific Railway in 1889 at the Cuesta grade near San Luis Obispo , Jue Joe found his way to Los Angeles, and began working as a household domestic for Otto Brant , the first president of the Title Insurance Company in Los Angeles. Household employee and employer, a humble Chinese man with broken English, Jue Joe and one of the early movers and shakers of Los Angeles society , Otto Brant , became fast friends.

Through Brant , Jue Joe met and became friends with many other prominent men in Los Angeles such as Harrison Otis and Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times. Brant helped Jue Joe get started in potato farming in the San Fernando Valley on leased land .
He was successful at this and realized his dream of moving back to China in 1902. He was married in an arranged marriage to a young woman , Leong Shee and had two sons. He built a western style house in his village . He left his farming operations in the San Fernando valley in the hands of his younger brother Jue Shee .
Jue Joe paid for his brother's education first at Pomona college and then at UC Berkeley where Jue Shee obtained a PHD in mining engineering . Jue Shee was ill suited to managing the farming operations and sold the farm and left for France. Jue Joe discovered this and realized that no further money would be coming from his American farming operations and decided to return to the United States to remake his fortune in 1906 . His wife and sons did not hear from him for 9 years . Finally he sent for his family 12 years after he left in 1918 . By that time he had restarted his potato farming operations. Later, even though Chinese were not allowed to own land because of the Alien Land law, my great grandfather was able to buy land under Otto Brant's name in the San Fernando Valley and began a very successful Asparagus farming business in the Van Nuys area ,at one time growing Asparagus on 700 acres of land and being one of the largest Asparagus growers in Southern California. He was called the Asparagus King by the Los Angeles Times in 1934. . Along the way he also operated a western style saloon in downtown Los Angeles before the prohibition.My grandfather as a young man remembered with amazement the scene of his father , Jue Joe holding court in his western style saloon a colt 45 strapped to his waist.

I like this quote

"Luck comes to a man who puts himself in the way of it. You went where something might be found and you found something, simple as that."

— Louis L'Amour
To the Far Blue Mountains

I also like this other quote in an article about the Chinese immigrant experience -

“Entrepreneurship is the ability to see value where others do not. It is also the ability to "make lemonade when life hands you lemons......Many seized the entrepreneurial moment and made a successful life for themselves in a strange land among a strange people."

Jue Joe like many other Chinese of the time were pragmatists, first and foremost, trying to survive in any way they could .

San Tong said that his father Jue Joe was ..."very unconventional. He did not follow the crowd, he always stood out...and people remembered him." Jue Joe taught his son to think creatively, to look ahead of what life dealt you, and to make the most of opportunity. Although Jue Joe appeared to be cranky and demanding of his family, always lecturing to them, he operated on a different level with his friends and his associates. They saw in him an unconventional and gifted man. A man with humor behind his serious eyes.”

“Jue Joe preferred a simple lifestyle and independence. My father San tong told us that Jue Joe always wore a khaki shirt and pants, knee high boots, and lots of keys dangled from his waist belt. He fired his Colt.45 once a year to clean its barrel, wore it in a holster around his waist, and slept with a cleaver under his pillow in his one-room cabin with a dirt floor on the Van Nuys ranch. In that cabin there was an indented hole under his desk where he always rubbed his barefeet on the dirt floor. His lawyers came to conduct business with Jue Joe in that cabin, too. There was a pot-bellied stove that served as a heater and on the walls were hung horse's bridles and yokes. When Jue Joe left to work in his fields he always locked his cabin door.
On the Van Nuys ranch San Tong recalled seeing Harry Chandler , publisher of the LA times and Jue Joe sitting on stools in front of a round wash tub near Jue Joe's cabin. They were talking and drinking Jue Joe's "moonshine" through a rubber hose dipped into the tub.”-- Auntie Soo-Yin
It was not only the rich and powerful that were important to Jue Joe . My Dad at the age of 13 helped his 81 year old Grandfather pay the Jue Joe Ranch farm workers. Dad says Jue Joe could not read or write English so he had my Dad write the checks for him. Jue Joe had a great memory , and identified each worker by personal characteristics and remembered exactly who they were , and how much work they did and was careful to pay them exactly what he promised. My Dad wrote the checks as the men came up to be paid .

Jue Joe passed away in Los Angeles in 1941 .


  1. I am writing a novel about Chinese immigrants in Napa Valley. This has helped me with my research. Many thanks!