Friday, 7 November 2014

Old West Photo Friday: Chinese Firefighters of Deadwood

When we think of the Chinese in the Old West, we tend to think of three things--the railroad, laundries, and opium dens. While all of these were indeed a big part of the Chinese-American experience, that's nowhere near the whole story.

Take the Chinese community in Deadwood, for example. This roaring gold rush town in South Dakota grew out of nothing in the 1870s. People came from all over to work the hills, including a large number of Chinese. They worked as miners and also at the more profitable job of "mining the miners." Soon there was a Chinese laundry, grocery store, herbal medicine shop and yes, an opium den. Manual laborers, both Chinese and non-Chinese, took opium to ease the pain of their 15-hour work day and to get a good night's sleep. Generally they were hard at work the next morning.

Soon there was a flourishing Chinatown with its own police officers and fire brigade. You can see them in this photo, which was taken after they had won the great Hub-and-Hub race at Deadwood on July 4th, 1888. If you needed a quick response to your fire, these were the guys to call.

I'm curious about the Chinese medicine shop. I've heard of other Chinese medical practitioners in the Old West but know little about them. Does anyone out there know what kind of medicines they dispensed and if the non-Chinese community went to them too? Did Wild Bill Hickok get acupuncture to limber up his shooting finger? Did herbal cures from Asia work better than patent medicine? Drop me a line if you have some answers!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm sure most of that Chinese medicine you can't get here now due to our over-regulation.

D.G. Hudson said...

Very interesting, Sean. And creating their own Chinatown was one way of retaining some of their own traditions. They knew a 'market' when they saw it. I like the words, 'mining the miners'.

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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