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Oregon / Washington

China Ditch People

A 19th century Chinese Miner From Southern Oregon: taken by Peter Britt

The Chinese are the ones who built the majority of the ditch, and that is where the name "China Ditch" comes from. There were 200 Chinese digging the 5 foot deep ditch that ran for 26 miles. The Chinese Miners were hated by the 19th century white miners.

It is thought that the white miners hated the Chinese because they would work claims that have already been worked, and still make more money than the white miners. Chinese miners have contributed many new ideas to mining technology. The Chinese invented pans with riffles in them. They would heat up the pans until they were red hot and then hammer riffles in them. These riffles have proved to be a very successful way of recovering fine gold. This was the gold that the white miners would usually miss and later regret.

Chinese man standing outdoors, near Glendale, Oregon.  ca. 1909

The average Chinese miner was paid 25 cents a day (and a bowl of rice.) The average white miner was paid $1 a day. The Chinese were very smart when it came to mining. In the Siskou Mountains, during the late 1800s, there was a surplus of jade laden in the rivers. Of course, the white people did not know its value to the people in China, so the Chinese miners shipped this jade out in huge quantities. It wasn't until the early 1900s that the white miners found out what they were doing with all those "rocks", and this enraged them more.

The Majority of the Chinese are now long gone from Douglas County, Oregon. Some went back to their homelands, others moved to larger cities, and many moved to places with a more congenial climate. The Chinese workers, the 200 that dug the many miles of the China Ditch, leave behind their mark in the history of Douglas County, Oregon. True, many parts of the ditch are taking their toll to the natural elements, but the history of the ditch will remain forever. In publications, newspaper articles, museums, and recently through the use of computer technology and the internet.

Referring to the Chinese miners of the days in his book, "Roughing It", Mark Twain wrote this:

Studio portrait.  Chinese boy in three piece suit. ca. 1890s
"They are a harmless race when white men either let them alone or treat them no worse than dogs; in fact, they are almost entirely harmless anyhow, for they seldom think of resenting the violent insults or the cruelent injuries. They are quiet, peaceable, tractable, free from drunkeness, and they are as industrious as the day is long. A disorderly Chinaman is rare, and a lazy one does not exist."

photos on this page are provided by the Douglas County Museum. Roseburg, Oregon. 1998