History & Culture

Payette's Past - Fook Sing Mining Company

USDA Forest Service
Payette National Forest, Heritage Program, July 2002
Kathleen Prouty

On the slope of a hill above the scars of the Warren Gold Rush lie the remains of a once thriving mining camp.  If you listen closely, you may hear the sounds of the past echoing across the hillside.  Men's voices speaking Chinese, laughing, gambling and arguing.  You may catch the squeal of a pig, the sound of butchering, wood chopping, someone hoeing in a garden and perhaps a spirited song.  In the distance are the sounds of shovels on gravel or of large water canons cutting into the hillside.  You might even smell food cooking or catch a whiff of smoke from an opium pipe.  You have stepped back in time to the Fook Sing Company mining camp.

The Warren Mining District was organized in 1862 after gold was discovered in Warren Meadows and tributaries to Warren Creek.  The Chinese arrived in Warren in the spring of 1870 when Euro-American miners voted to allow Chinese immigrants and Chinese mining companies to acquire mining claims.  Between 1870 and 1900 the Chinese reworked existing claims and placered new mineral rich ground within Warren Creek and its tributaries.  Chinese placer miners used labor-intensive methods to extract gold nuggets and flour gold.  Many Chinese miners in Warren worked for Chinese mining companies although some worked independently or were hired by Euro-American companies.

Newspaper reports relate the success of the Chinese mining companies.  A report by Horatio C. Burchard on the production of gold and silver in the United States for 1882 gives the following information; "Placer mining in Warrens is mostly done by Chinese.  Five companies in Warrens own over a mile of creek bottom, and employ about 200 men.  They have reported the following production: Took Sing company $14,120, Lin Wo Company $21, 500, Hung Wo Company $17,400, Wing Wo Company $15,000, Shun Lee Company $11, 260 for a total of $79,280.  In addition to this amount, other small companies produced $22,500, white men $12,500, and individual Chinese about $1000 making the total production of the district $126,450. (Elsensohn, 1979:77)"

The Nez Perce News, March 18, 1886 mentions activity at the Fook Sing Mining Company camp.  It states that, "The principle lodging and storehouse of the Fook Sing claims on the Meadows was burned to the ground this morning.  The Chinamen, twenty-five or thirty in number, stood by perfectly paralyzed and saw the building slowly consumed with all their blankets, clothes and grub.  Loss about $5000.  Fire commenced in the chimney.  Bad for Chinamen but good for the merchants."  Archaeologists found evidence of the burned architecture at the Fook Sing site.

The Grangeville Free Press, March 4, 1887, notes about the Warren District, "As usual, the placer mining is mostly in the hands of the Chinamen.  Nine companies have acquired by purchase about two miles of the bed of principle creek.  They keep about 300 men at work for seven months of the year.  The production is reported as follows:  Fow Wing Co. $5,500, Fook Sing Co $31,000, Lin Wa.$17,700, Hung Wa. $7,000, Wing Wa $3,000, Shun Lee $21, 500, Sing Wa $11,000, Total $96,700.  In addition to this sum, small companies and single Chinamen have produced $12,500."

Again on February 20, 1891, the Grangeville Free press reported, "The yield from Idaho county can only be approximately stated.  Five Chinese companies in Warrens take out more than half the gold of the camp.  From diligent inquiry made of the principle members, the following estimate may be stated as nearly correct.  Shun Lee Company $7,150, Wing Wo Company $16,600, Hung Wo Company $9,800, Lini Wo Company $14,250, Fook Sing Hung $22,700,  Twelve minor companies $22,800, Single Chinamen $2,000, White men $13,500, Four quartz mills $, Total $127,472."

Although the written record tells us about mining activities, the archaeological record gives us insight into the daily lives of the Chinese miners.  In the summer of 2001 a Passports In Time Project was conducted at the Fook Sing Mining Company camp.  Though the site had been previously looted, the excavators were able to find small clues to the historical use of the camp.

The remains of food cans, bottles, jars, cooking utensils and food remains represent evidence of the domestic life of miners at this site.  Butchered bones located outside the structure and bone fragments inside the hearth indicate that meat was an important part of the miner's diet.  A butcher identified most of the bone uncovered as deer and bovine, though a pig jaw with the incisor present was recovered.  Historical records indicate that pigs were grown, butchered and sold to miners (Reddy, 1994). It is unclear whether the remains of pigs and cow found at the Fook Sing camp were raised in the camp but the presence of jawbones indicates they were butch ed in camp.  Terraced gardens at the site indicate that vegetables were being grown and consumed at the campsite.  Fruit pits, probably peach, indicate that foods were shipped from places like Grangeville and the Boise Valley where fruit trees could be grown.  Meat, vegetables, and other food items grown locally or brought in by pack train were sold at stores in Warren.  Chinese manufactured items were often packed in ceramic jars.  Shards from two different kinds of ceramic jars and ceramic bowl fragments, both of Chinese manufacture, were recovered.

Resources were scarce in the isolated mountain environment.  Tin cans of all sizes were often recycled to be used for various purposes including cooking and as cosmetic utensils.  A scoop fashioned and riveted out of metal from a large can was found near the hearth.  Wire pothooks of different shapes and sizes also indicated this improvisation.  Reshaped tin can parts were found throughout the site.

A general reconstruction of the attire of the miners is possible from artifacts recovered from the testing.  There were a variety of clothing related items that suggest that the miners were wearing buttoned shirts and suspenders.  They wore runner boots or leather shoes.  Some boots contain hobnails inserted for traction.  Fabric was found that was thick and blue (possibly wool) that may have been a blanket or clothing.  Buttons were widely distributed throughout the site.  A brass ring with gold overlay was found along with a toothbrush, indicating that even in the dirty work of mining that personal hygiene and appearance were attended to.

The social atmosphere in the camp is apparent from the material remains.  Liquor bottle, opium tin, lamp, and pipe fragments are evidence of alcohol and opium use.  Gaming pieces indicate that a game called Fan Tan or GO (Wegars 1988) was being played.  Whatever the reason, this site yielded a large amount of ammunition.  A mining camp was not a safe environment, especially for the Chinese who were sometimes discriminated against by their non-Chinese counterparts or were feuding with other chinese.  A miner had to protect his gold and perhaps hunt for game to feed himself and his crew.  Bullets may have been used to slaughter domestic animals for meat.

Little evidence remains today of the once thriving camp.  All that remain are a few rusty cans and broken bottles, a couple of stone fire places, some depressions in the ground where buildings once stood, ditches, and traces of a terraced garden.  Looters have stolen away the relics and archeologists have excavated the site, sifting out the bits and pieces that tell the story of what happened there.

 

Bibliography

  • Elsensohn, Sister M. Alfreda, Idaho Chinese Lore, Idaho corporation of Benedictine Sisters, Cottonwood, Idaho. 1979.
  • Prouty, Kathleen and Gayle Dixon, Archaeological Investigations at the Fook Sing Mining Camp 10-1H-1961/PY-920, USDA Forest Service, Payette National Forest, Heritage Program, July 2001.
  • Reddy, Sheila, Mountain Gardens, Mountain Stew, USDA Forest Service, Payette National Forest, Heritage Program, 1994.
  • Wegars, Priscilla, Chinese and Japanese Artifact Terminology, Asian Comparative Collection,  Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, 1988.

Back to Index





https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/payette/learning/history-culture/?cid=fsm9_031024&width=full