Chinese Immigrants

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"Wah Chong Tai Company, tea store, Butte." Courtesy of the University of Montana - Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library via Big Sky Country Digital Network.

Chinese people fleeing civil unrest in China came to America’s west coast looking for refuge and new opportunities. Many found work with the railroads. Chinese immigrants settled in Montana territory first as miners. Chinese settlements sprang up near mining towns, where Chinese worked abandoned mines searching for any remnants of gold. When the Chinese were successful at mining these played-out claims, they were often accused of stealing. Dan Haffie, an angry miner, committed the first recorded hanging in Butte when he claimed a Chinese man was getting all the luck and hung him from a nearby tree.

The mining boom towns gave the Chinese an opportunity to open businesses such as restaurants, pharmacies, boarding houses, stores, and laundries. The largest Chinese population in Montana was centered in the city of Butte. The labor unions tried to force the Chinese out of town through a series of business boycotts. The first boycott in 1891–1892 failed due to popular support for Chinese businesses. A more organized and aggressive boycott was launched by the labor unions in 1896. Hum Fay, Dr. Huie Pock, and Quon Loy filed suit against the instigators and eventually won an injunction. They were reimbursed their legal fees, but were not able to collect the estimated $500,000 in damages incurred during the boycott from 1896 to 1901. During the boycott, hundreds of Chinese left Butte. Some moved to other Montana communities, but many left the state.