Chinese massacre of 1871
Los Angeles, corpses of Chinese victims, Oct 1871.jpg
Chinese immigrants who were murdered during the massacre
LocationLos Angeles, California, U.S.
Coordinates34°03′24″N 118°14′16″W / 34.056583°N 118.237806°W / 34.056583; -118.237806
Date24 October 1871
TargetChinese immigrants
Attack type
Massacre
Deaths17 to 20
PerpetratorsMob of around 500 non-Chinese men
MotiveRacially motivated, greed, revenge for the accidental killing of Robert Thompson, a local rancher

The Chinese massacre of 1871 was a race riot that occurred on October 24, 1871, in Los Angeles, California, when a mob of around 500 white and mestizo persons entered Chinatown and attacked, robbed, and murdered Chinese residents.[1][2] The massacre took place on Calle de los Negros (Street of the Negroes) also referred to as “Negro Alley”. The mob gathered after hearing that a policeman had been shot and a rancher killed by Chinese.

An estimated 17 to 20 Chinese immigrants were hanged by the mob in the course of the riot, but most had already been shot to death. At least one was mutilated, when someone cut off a finger to get his diamond ring. Ten men of the mob were prosecuted and eight were convicted of manslaughter in these deaths. The convictions were overturned on appeal due to technicalities.

Background

Discrimination had been rising against the increasing number of Chinese immigrants living in California. It has been described as a root cause of the massacre.[3][page needed] White and mestizo residents of Los Angeles resented the expansion of the Chinese population, considering them an alien group. In 1863 the state legislature had passed a law that Asians (defined as Chinese, Mongolian, Indian, etc.) could not testify in court against whites, making them vulnerable to abuse and injustice, and putting them beyond reach of the law.[4] In 1868 the United States had signed the Burlingame Treaty with the Chinese Empire, setting conditions for immigration.[4] In this period, most Chinese workers who immigrated to the United States were men, intending to stay only temporarily. The small Chinese community in Los Angeles numbered fewer than 200, and 80% were men.[4]

Another factor was the rough frontier nature of Los Angeles, which in the 1850s had a disproportionately high number of lynchings for its size, and an attachment to "popular justice." (This was a period of violence across the country as well.)[5] It attracted transients from across the country, and alcohol use was high among the predominately male population.

In Los Angeles in the few days preceding the riot, two Chinese Tong factions, known as the Hong Chow and Nin Yung companies, had started a confrontation from a feud over the alleged abduction of a Chinese woman named Yut Ho (also documented as Ya Hit), who was announced in the paper as having married. Most women in the community served as prostitutes and had essentially been sold into sexual slavery. Previously the police department had assisted the Tongs in keeping their confrontations over the women internal to the community, and sometimes capturing and returning women who had escaped, in exchange for payment by the Tongs, but in this case, things got out of hand. Two Chinese men were arrested for shooting at each other, and were released on bail, but the police kept watch on the Chinatown neighborhood. It had developed along Calle de los Negros, which was named in the colonial period.[4][6]

Calle de los Negros was situated immediately northeast of Los Angeles's principal business district, running 500 feet (150 m) from the intersection of Arcadia Street to the plaza. The unpaved street was named by Spanish colonists for Californios (pre-annexation, Spanish-speaking Californians) of darker complexion (most likely of multiracial ancestry: Spanish, Native American, and African) who had originally lived there.[citation needed] The neighborhood had deteriorated into a slum by the time the first Chinatown of Los Angeles developed there in the 1860s.[4]

Early 20th-century Los Angeles merchant Harris Newmark recalled in his memoir that Calle de los Negros was "as tough a neighborhood, in fact, as could be found anywhere."[7] Los Angeles historian Morrow Mayo described it in 1933 as

a dreadful thoroughfare, forty feet wide, running one whole block, filled entirely with saloons, gambling-houses, dance-halls, and cribs. It was crowded night and day with people of many races, male and female, all rushing and crowding along from one joint to another, from bar to bar, from table to table. There was a band in every joint, with harps, guitars, and other stringed instruments predominating.[8]

October 24

As Los Angeles police officer Jesus Bilderrain was patrolling the street, an altercation broke out in which he was wounded and he blew his whistle for reinforcements. Some bystanders got involved, including rancher Robert Thompson, an ex-saloon keeper, who pursued a Chinese man up to the door of a house in the alley, despite warnings from others. He was fatally shot there, dying about an hour later at 6 pm at a nearby drugstore. Law men, including chief of police Francis Baker, came and went as a larger crowd gathered along the edges of Chinatown, acting as a guard to prevent any Chinese from escaping. Informed of the growing crowd, three-term Mayor Cristobal Aguilar, a longtime politician in the city, also surveyed the situation and then left. When news of Thompson's death passed through the city, along with the rumor that the Chinese in Negro Alley "were killing whites wholesale", more men gathered around the boundaries of Negro Alley.[4]

Events

By the end of the riot

The dead Chinese in Los Angeles were hanging at three places near the heart of the downtown business section of the city; from the wooden awning over the sidewalk in front of a carriage shop; from the sides of two "prairie schooners" parked on the street around the corner from the carriage shop; and from the cross-beam of a wide gate leading into a lumberyard a few blocks away from the other two locations. One of the victims was hanged without his trousers and minus a finger on his left hand.[4]

Historian Paul de Falla wrote that the trousers were taken to get to his money, and his finger was cut to take a diamond ring.[4]

The mob ransacked practically every Chinese-occupied building on the block and attacked or robbed nearly every resident. A total of 17 to 20 Chinese immigrant men were hanged by the mob.

Victims

The following people were lynched:[6]

  • Ah Wing
  • Dr. Chee Long "Gene" Tong, physician
  • Chang Wan
  • Leong Quai, laundryman
  • Ah Long, cigar maker
  • Wan Foo, cook
  • Tong Won, cook and musician
  • Ah Loo
  • Day Kee, cook
  • Ah Waa, cook
  • Ho Hing, cook
  • Lo Hey, cook
  • Ah Won, cook
  • Wing Chee, cook
  • Wong Chin, storekeeper

The following people were shot and killed at the Coronel Adobe building:[6]

  • Johnny Burrow
  • Ah Cut, liquor maker
  • Wa Sin Quai

The Associated Press sent a report that night at 9 pm to the San Francisco Daily Examiner, detailing an on-the-spot account. It estimated the mob was about 500 persons, which would have constituted eight percent of the city's population of nearly 6,000 persons, including all men, women and children.[4]

A few contemporary 21st-century sources have described this as the largest mass lynching in American history.[2][9]

Aftermath

Authorities arrested and prosecuted ten rioters. Eight were convicted of manslaughter at trial and sentenced to prison terms at San Quentin. Their convictions were overturned on appeal due to a legal technicality. The eight men convicted were:[10]

  • Alvarado, Esteban
  • Austin, Charles
  • Botello, Refugio
  • Crenshaw, L. F.
  • Johnson, A. R.
  • Martinez, Jesus
  • McDonald, Patrick M.
  • Mendel, Louis

The event was well-reported on the East Coast, and newspapers there described Los Angeles as a "blood stained Eden" after the riots.[11] A growing movement of anti-Chinese discrimination in California climaxed in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.[citation needed]

Calle de los Negros was incorporated into Los Angeles Street in 1877. The adobe apartment block where the Chinese massacre occurred was torn down in the late 1880s. In the 21st century, the area is part of El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument, a national historic district.

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