Hells Canyon Massacre 1887

Deep Creek (above)— located along the Oregon side of the Snake River in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, was the stage of an epic mishap. Chinese immigrant miners once used this area. They found it as a convenient place to camp out while they mined gold in Hell’s Canyon. Around May of 1887, 34 Chinese miners were massacred at this very location. The culprits? Seven horse thieves. Every man camped at the location was killed. Some victims were shot down from the cliffs; others were slaughtered by attackers along the river. One Chinese man tried to escape in a boat after the criminals had ran out of ammunition. The horse thieves chased him down and finished him off with a rock. It was said that the Chinese had very little weaponry to fight back during the surprise attack. One man had a pistol, but was only able to fire six shots before running out of ammo. The bodies of the victims were tossed into the river, and their gold dust stolen. The amount of gold they had mined estimated to be between $4,000-5,000, an absolute fortune by the standards of the time. Three of the seven horse thieves were arrested and charged with murder. One of them was only fifteen years old. The others fled and were never seized. The three that were arrested stood trial and were eventually discharged, even with eyewitness testimony. It wasn’t long before the horrendous crime was nearly forgotten. The seven horse thieves had gotten away with the crime of the century. In 2005, the area was renamed the Chinese Massacre Cove.

Depicted above is a Chinese gold miner, mining the river. Anti-Chinese sentiment was very high in the west during the late nineteenth century. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, which made it impossible for the Chinese to become U.S. citizens. It seemed to be part of an American movement to eliminate the Chinese from American life and culture. As soon as the Gold Rush began (after the construction of railroads) the Chinese provided cheap labor for mining. This stirred up more racial hatred towards them, as they were blamed for causing a decrease in wages for the other groups involved in mining (Europeans, Americans, etc.). The details of this full story of this tragedy are forever lost in history. However, we know that this was an era of American history where justice was denied to the most deserving of victims, simply because of their race. We are lucky to live in a generation where this is much less likely to happen.

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