Archaeologists find evidence of Chinese logging camp near Sawtooth Road |

Archaeologists find evidence of Chinese logging camp near Sawtooth Road

Colin FisherLeft to Right: Carrie Smith, district archaeologist for the Truckee Ranger District of Tahoe National Forest, works with archaeologists Kimberly Wooten and Scott Baxter of Past Forward Inc., an archeological firm out of Jackson, Calif. The group believes the findings at a site near Sawtooth Road indicate a Chinese logging camp.

Archaeologists digging in an area near the Sawtooth Road on US Forest Service land found evidence of what they believe to be a Chinese logging camp dating from the 1870s.Artifacts found at the site include an ax head, metal files, opium can fragments, a Chinese medicine bottle, firearms cartridges and fragments of Chinese food storage vessels and tableware.The excavation is being done by archaeologists Scott Baxter and Rebecca Allen from Past Forward, Inc., who specialize in historic resource evaluation, and are especially knowledgeable about historic Chinese settlements. Joining the Past Forward team at the site are Baxter’s wife Kimberly Wooten, an archaeologist with CalTrans who volunteered to help with the excavation, and Carrie Smith, the district archaeologist for the Truckee Ranger District.The current excavations are being done as an attempt to determine the historical importance of the site and whether it may be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. With that in mind, the scientists began digging in selected locations throughout the site looking for evidence of a cabin or structure as well as what kind of activity went on there.”We’ve already found a lot more artifacts than I expected,” Baxter said, “and it’s pretty diverse stuff related to logging, metal working and recreation. We’ve also got a lot of firearms cartridges, which I’m kind of surprised about.”Also found at the site were remnants of an old two-person “misery whip” saw of the sort used by loggers during the 1870s, a piece of a grinding wheel for sharpening metal tools, a padlock from the Central Pacific Railroad, fragments of a ceramic tobacco pipe and numerous nails that may have been used in the construction of a cabin or other structure.According to Smith, “This area is just covered in artifacts.”The abundance of artifacts at the site has led the archaeologists to presume that either the site housed a large number of people for a relatively brief amount of time, or else it was a more permanent camp and was used for a significant length of time.Evidence of historic Chinese camps has been found in many areas around Truckee; however, this is the first site found on US Forest Service land managed by the Truckee Ranger District.According to Smith, “it’s an ongoing battle to preserve these sites.” Especially frustrating to archaeologists are collectors who might pick up historic artifacts without appreciating the damage they are doing to a valuable resource.”The really sad thing about archaeology sites is that if people come and collect things, it’s like little pieces of puzzles getting picked up and taken away,” Smith said. “You wind up with a Swiss cheese type of picture of what went on here.” Smith would like to remind people that collecting artifacts on public lands is illegal and can carry fines of up to $10,000.When the initial assessment of the Sawtooth Road site has been completed, Baxter and Allen will clean and label the artifacts found at the site. After determining what all the artifacts are and where they were found, they hope to be able to better understand how this camp relates to the history of Chinese settlements in this area.With that goal in mind, the archaeologists will conduct further historical research to try to determine whose logging camp it was. Often searching for the chain of title on a property can turn up important information about who operated a site such as this one; however, in the present case the title search revealed that the property was always owned by the federal government.Researchers know that both the Truckee Lumber Company and the Sisson & Wallace Company often employed Chinese laborers to cut cordwood as well as in charcoal production. They intend to consult local archives, historic maps, assessment records and newspaper accounts to try to determine which company was responsible for this camp.Depending upon their conclusions, the archaeologists may recommend that the site’s historical significance and integrity warrant its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that would require the Forest Service to manage the site differently than if it was deemed less important.”Basically we’re out here trying to determine if this site is important or not,” Baxter said. “Does this site have the data potential to tell us how it fits into the greater scheme of all the logging camps in the area.”

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