Eureka’s Chinatown, 1884

Eureka's Chinatown, c. 1884

Chinese immigrants faced discrimination from the moment they arrived on the West Coast.

In February 1885, the racial tension reached its peak in Humboldt County when Eureka City Councilman David Kendall was accidently shot during a conflict between two rival Chinese gangs.  An angry Eureka  mob initially demanded the lynching of many Chinese but eventually settled with the forced, permanent explusion of all of Humboldt County’s Chinese residents, including those in Eureka’s Chinatown, pictured above.  [Source: Wikipedia, confirmed by Driven Out, The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans, Jean Pfaelzer].

According to Pfaelzner, the  Chinese were driven out of Humboldt County again in 1906, but I couldn’t find her explanation. 

The County photo is dated 1885, but Pfaelzer dates hers 1906...

And then there is this photo, also in the County Collection

"Oct. 4, 1901, Exit Chinese. Eureka, Cal"


Any explanation/clarification would be appreciated…


12 Responses to Eureka’s Chinatown, 1884

  1. olmanriver says:

    I can’t help with your question Lynette, but I have something new to add about where some of the Chinese landed after expulsion.
    A grand-daughter of Judge Frank A. Whipple family from the Ft. Bragg coast left a story about her grandfather’s philanthropy.
    “…Frank was a humanitarian who could not stand to see an underdog kicked around. He befriended the Chinese people even when it was a very unpopular thing to do.
    When they were run out of Eureka and started walking down the coast to try and get to San Francisco, they got as far as Kisbellah late in the night and were going along with the children hungry and crying and all of them wet to the skin– they were terrified as they thought men were following them. Frank opened up a big barn for them and enlisted some women to cook for them and got fires and blankets for them, allowed them to stay there until they could go down to Ft. Bragg where a lot of them settled and made the largest Chinatown on the west coast with the exception of San Francisco. Mrs. Pinion recalls while growing up the Chinese remembered all family birthdays with great big fruitcakes, and, on almost all Chinese holidays, they brought her grandparents gifts and the most elaborate cakes she has ever seen… according to her uncle the Chinese were almost worshipful with Frank A.”

    This unknown bit of the story was from a letter found at the Mendocino Historical Society.

    • Lynette M says:

      What a wonderful addition to the post ! I guess I just assumed they all continued to San Francisco-and that they were ferried down there in a ship. Can you imagine the heartbreak and trauma to those poor families ! Thanks again, ‘River, for the info.

  2. olmanriver says:

    Kibesillah is the more common spelling.

  3. Judy says:

    Does any one know what street China Town was on in Eureka…?

    • Lynette M says:

      I posted this photo:

      A while back, not realizing it was China Town (it looks the same, yes?).

      So, if the county info on that photo is correct, we’re looking at 4th and E Streets, Old Town Eureka.

      The chinese street sign is gone, making me wonder if this might be after the explusion-
      According to the book I have, property owner CS Ricks rented the houses and storefronts out to whites for a while after the chinese were gone.
      Then, apparently, all the buildings in that area were demolished…

  4. Kevin Flannery says:

    Nice site, Lynette!

    I have a book by local historian Andrew Genzoli from 1967, and it has the whole sad story of Eureka’s Chinatown. It says that 4th and E was the center. A local attorney and City councilman named David Kendall was killed by a stray bullet while walking by (it sounds like a real rough and nasty little slum) in 1885. After years of wanting an excuse, the locals finally had a good one, and they ran the Chinese out of town. It sounds like there was a history of harassment by rednecks, and the area was a powder keg by then. Towns like Rohnerville, Ferndale, and Fortuna followed, and then the mills and canneries joined in.

    By 1906, the “Starbuck-Tallant Canning Company” at Port Kenyon was bringing back Chinese laborers until they were discovered.

    It was nearly 75 years, I think, before we had any more local Chinese residents. I read a news story once that said the restaurant at 14th and Broadway was the first business locally owned by Chinese after they returned.

  5. Kevin Flannery says:

    Sorry….I see that you already had most of that info. Nice work!

    • Lynette M says:

      Hi Kevin,
      Most, yes, but I didn’t have the 1906 info and wondered why the Chinese were driven out again.
      Thanks for your info !


  6. Taylor S says:

    Hello, my name is Taylor Shughart and my partner Erin Knight and I are working on a digital historical mural of humboldt county from 1850-2000 in Ronald Perry’s EAST class at Eureka High School. You have a lot of pictures that would be useful to us, so we were wondering if there would be any way we could use them…I don’t know if you really give out your pictures, but we wouldn’t be making a profit off of the mural–it would be hung in local elementary schools and project partners for students to access.
    Thank you very much, I hope to hear from you soon.

  7. olmanriver says:

    The History And Business Directory Of Humboldt County, published in 1890 has this boast on every town page:

    • Lynette M says:

      I don’t even know how to respond to that ‘River. Ugh.
      Terrible piece of history, but one that shouldn’t be forgotten.
      My daughter has a a friend of Asian descent who still sometimes feels the …. looks of others and feels different from the “white” folk.
      It is history-but not.
      Thank you for sharing.

  8. […] The first expulsion of the Chinese happened here in February 1885- when Eureka City Councilman David Kendall was accidentally shot during a conflict between two rival Chinese gangs.  An angry Eureka  mob initially demanded the lynching of many Chinese but eventually settled with the forced, permanent expulsion of all of Humboldt County’s Chinese residents, including those in Eureka’s Chinatown. […]

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