The Chinese in early Nevada |

The Chinese in early Nevada

The Chinese Free Mason Hall in old Chinatown, Carson City.
From the Daun Bohall collection

A War in Carson Valley in 1868? Well sort of, the “Woodchoppers War of 1868” took place even though there was a wood shortage at the time. Partners James W. Haines (credited with inventing the famous V-flume), Charles A. Van Gorder, and William Leete (or Leet) in April of 1868, hired Chinese woodchoppers to cut cordwood from the once plentiful stands of timber near Daggett Creek for the Comstock. Though the partners and their Chinese laborers were alleviating a huge wood shortage it was not treated as a positive by any means, according to Valley historian Laurie Hickey.

May (1868) Gold Hill News reported: Word came last night to Charles Van Gorder at Gold Hill, that a mob intended to go today or tonight to drive out the Chinese chopping for him and his partners south of Genoa, near Kingsbury grade on land belonging to their employer (J.W. Haines). The mob was primarily made up of Irishmen and Frenchmen who formed an “anti-coolie association” in Carson yesterday. Van Gorder, Leete and a posse of men left this morning. Learned from Bill Wilson at noon today that the sheriff of Douglas County was out in the woods with the Chinese and had a posse of 20 armed men with him. With threats from the Governor and armed troops of militia on standby, the attempt to drive out the Chinese failed, and violence was avoided. Haines apparently talked the mob down with the offer of all the work they wanted at a fair wage.

It is assumed from archaeological evidence that the Chinese continued to work for the partnership probably working in separate and more remote locations away from the non-Asian workforce. As per a newspaper article in the winter of 1868: 50 Chinese woodcutters buried by a snow-slide in the mountains near Genoa, 28 of whom were killed.

The Gold Hill News article and others that appeared in the Territorial Enterprise, The Daily Trespass, and Nevada Appeal were the earliest written documentation of Chinese working in the lumber industry.

Chinese in the Utah Territory, Early Nevada

The first Chinese in this area were recruited from California in 1856/57 by John Reese and associates to dig the Rose Ditch aka the Reese Ditch. John Reese hired about 50 Chinese to dig a ditch from Slippery Gulch aka Gold Canyon to the Carson River for the purpose of providing water to miners for sluicing and other uses.

After 1856 Chinese workers continued to trickle across the Sierra to placer mine and do menial labor for the small white population in the area. Between 1856 and 1858 nearly 200 Chinese miners worked placer deposits at the mouth of Gold Canyon. The Chinese primarily made Dayton their home, during this time period Dayton was known as “Chinatown.” By 1859 the placer deposits had played out. Capt. James H. Simpson reported only 50 Chinese were living in Chinatown in 12 houses and two stores. By 1861 Chinatown became Dayton, it remained an important stopping place for Chinese people on their way to western mining camps and towns from the 1860s into the 1880s.

It is likely that John Reese employed some of his Chinese ditch digging workforce in Carson Valley, digging irrigation ditches, chopping wood and building fences etc. As late as about 1910, there was a small area where several Chinese lived in little shacks located on the east side of Mormon Station Stockade in Genoa.

Chinese migration into and around our area became a flood with the building of the Central Pacific Railroad over the Sierra above Truckee. Thousands of Chinese coolies were hired. In 1869, 1,000 Chinese were hired to build the Virginia & Truckee Railroad which was also very controversial at the time.

Those with questions about this topic or other local histories may email Laurie Hickey at

Contact Anita Kornoff at