Monument marking site of Chinese massacre fitting

By Observer editorial December 08, 2011 10:23 pm

On May 25, 1887, a gang of white Oregon horse thieves gunned down nearly three dozen Chinese gold miners in Hells Canyon and took their gold.

The killers probably stole about 312 ounces of gold dust valued at about $5,000 based on the 1887 exchange rate of $16 per ounce, according to R. Gregory Nokes, who wrote the book “Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon.”

The crime was particularly heinous because the killers apparently mutilated the bodies of the Chinese miners and even hacked their victims’ bodies into little pieces that showed up downstream 65 miles away in Lewiston, Idaho.

A judge at the time named Joseph K. Vincent, quoted in Nokes’ book, said, “It was the most cold-blooded, cowardly treachery I have ever heard tell of on this coast. Everyone was shot and cut up and stripped and thrown in the river.”

 The spot now known as Chinese Massacre Cove on the Snake River is not much more than a gravel bar overgrown with vegetation. But Nokes and a group called the Chinese Massacre Memorial Committee want to change that.

The group plans to have a helicopter fly a 4-by-5-foot granite monument to the cove in time for a June 21-22 ceremony commemorating the massacre.

The marker will be engraved with the following words, in English, Chinese and Nez Perce: “Chinese Massacre Cove. Site of the 1887 massacre of as many as 34 Chinese gold miners. No one was held accountable.”

Six Oregon men faced murder charges in the massacre but none were convicted. Hiram Maynard, Hezekiah Hughes and a 15-year-old schoolboy named Robert McMillan, all of Wallowa County, were tried and found innocent in 1888. The ringleaders, 21-yeard-old  J.T. Canfield, who was supposed to sell the gold for cash and probably ended up with most of it, as well as Homer LaRue and Bruce “Blue” Evans, fled Wallowa County and were never caught.

No one knows what led to the massacre, whether it was just greed for gold or was racially motivated.

But a year after the massacre, Congress paid $276,619 to the Chinese government for “losses and injuries sustained by Chinese subjects within the United States.” The Chinese massacre wasn’t mentioned in the settlement.

Now, 125 years after that awful event, the Chinese miners who were slaughtered will get the monument they deserve.