Flying lead in Truckee’s old Chinatown
November 28, 2005
Truckee’s Chinese population was mostly a quiet, well-behaved, hard-working community. Their sense of community led them to usually get along with one another. In general, in the early days, they got along with the American population who grudgingly put up with their presence, though hostility was always just below the surface. The shootout of the winter of 1872 was one of the few exceptions to that peacefulness. The Truckee Republican of the time recorded the American view of the events, but no one knows the true Chinese version. Unrest and court casesIn December of 1872, Chinatown was located along West Main Street, now Donner Pass Road, just west of Downtown Truckee and extended up the hill toward High Street. It was mostly men who lived in the densely packed town. These men labored for the railroad and in the lumber and fuel wood industry.The shortage of women led to females of all ages being bought and sold – and occasionally being kidnaped – with many being forced into prostitution. The Chinese population felt it had a right to buy and sell women, even against their will. It would lead to half a dozen incidents in Truckee over the years the Chinese were in town. That practice was the beginning of a period of in 1872 of unrest and court cases.Language and cultural barriers often led to Chinese names being shortened in American documents. The Ah in most of the records and newspapers is equivalent to our Mr., so actual Chinese names are hard to verify.
A Chinese woman, Sin Moy, was taken from her man, Ah Quee, in North San Juan, north of Nevada City, and brought to Truckee. Ah How of Truckee was hired to kidnap her and bring her to town – by whom wasn’t clear. When Sin Moy was taken, she took Ah Quee’s valuables with her. Ah Quee considered her his most valuable possession, having recently paid $600 for her. Constable called upon Ah Quee tracked the pair and followed them to Truckee. Quee went to Truckee Constable Jake Cross with a warrant for the arrest of Sin Moy. Ah Quee insisted on going with Cross to identify and help in the arrest of Sin Moy. Cross anticipated some trouble, so he deputized four additional men. A wagon was brought with them for security and to take Sin Moy back with them. Cross had to rely on Chinese informants to tell him which house Sin Moy was in. Since the Chinese were warned ahead of time that trouble was brewing, they were restless and not very cooperative. Sin Moy was being hidden in one of the confusing maze of shacks and sheds. Cross finally got the information he was looking for with threats of jail time.When Cross arrested Sin Moy, a large crowd of angry Chinese men gathered, some armed with pistols. Some of them pushed their way into the house, trying to stop Constable Cross from taking Sin Moy, whom they now felt was their woman. Ah Quee had warned Cross that the Chinese men were going to resist the arrest.Sin Moy was very uncooperative and resisted being removed from the house. Finally, it took all of the deputies to forcefully remove her. Pistols were being waved around by both the constables and the Chinese, so it appeared that violence was not going to be avoided.
Flying leadWhen Sin Moy was placed in the wagon, one man, On Sing, ran up, placed his pistol on Ah Quee’s side and fired point blank. Firing then broke out on both sides, with about 20 shots fired by the Chinese. Lead was flying in just about every direction and men were running and ducking for cover. Another 30 shots were fired back at the Chinese by Cross and his deputies.As fast as it started, the shooting stopped. Three Chinese were shot and wounded, with Ah Quee injured critically. He was quickly taken to W.J. Shinn’s Drug Store where Dr. Jones began to look for the pistol ball. He found that the pistol ball had traveled up his shoulder blade nicked his lung, and lodged in the skin in his neck. Dr. Jones removed the pistol ball, and dressed Quee’s life-threatening injury the best he could. The wound and internal injuries were serious and Ah Quee wasn’t expected to recover. The two other Chinese who were shot were treated by local Chinese doctors. One, Ah Quong, had two shots in his body and was in serious condition. This was the liveliest fight Truckee’s Chinese had been involved in, and even the American population was both impressed and concerned about the level of violence that occurred. It was a wonder that more hadn’t been injured by the flying lead. There were enough bullets fired to have killed 20 men.Truckee contained two different Chinese companies opposed to each other. They were fond of using the law and the courts to settle their differences in addition to threats of violence. These divisive factions supported the two different versions of the shootout. Between that and the language difference, it would be tough for Truckee Justices of the Peace Hogan and John Keiser to sort out who had committed crimes that could be tried.Sorting out the facts
For the next month almost everyone involved in the shooting was tied up in various court cases, as either defendants or witnesses. The day after the shootout Jake Cross was taking Sin Moy back to Nevada City when he received a telegram at Dutch Flat telling him to return to Truckee. Constable Cross was being charged with shooting a Chinese man during the shootout. A hearing in Truckee Justice Court was held that day by Justice Hogan, but testimony quickly exonerated Cross. The American population was incensed that Cross had even been charged and let it be known that even if Cross had killed a half dozen Chinese, he would still not be guilty of any crime.Ah How, the man who had kidnaped Sin Moy in the first place, was jailed on assault and attempted murder charges. Charges were soon dismissed because of conflicting testimony that could not produce enough evidence. Sin Moy, the kidnaping victim, was arrested and charged with larceny and sent to Nevada City. The newspaper was silent on her after that.On Sing, who shot Ah Quee, was charged with assault but in the end he was acquitted. Ah Quee would eventually recover from his injury, after which he was brought up on kidnaping charges, but he too was acquitted. The witnesses in the cases could not agree on any part of the incident. The two opposing Chinese companies spent a great deal of time and money to influence the outcome in favor of their members. Many Chinese laborers took time off of work to testify or sit in the audience. Even the American population took up seats in the audience and viewed the court proceedings as both great entertainment and an insight into the Chinese culture.The Chinese in Truckee would continue their practice of buying, selling and kidnaping women until they were boycotted and expelled by the white labor movement in 1886. Truckee would remain a somewhat violent place for the next several years, but the reputation of the Chinese for violence helped fuel the anti-Chinese feelings in town. Jake Cross’ reputation as a lawman continued to grow among both cultures.Gordon Richards is the president and research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments and history information are always welcome. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society web site at http://truckeehistory.tripod.com. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Past articles by Gordon Richards are available at sierrasun.com in the archives.