These Chinese stoneware pieces, above and below, from a recent excavation site in Jacksonville are on display at Southern Oregon University’s Hannon Library in Ashland. - Jamie Lusch

An Asian legacy

The Chinese who inhabited Jacksonville have been gone for more than a century but remnants of their daily lives in the historic mining town are still being unearthed.

Chinese pottery, opium boxes and other artifacts discovered during an archaeological dig last fall in Jacksonville will be displayed and discussed Monday during the free lecture, "Hidden Heritage: Revisiting Jacksonville's Chinese Quarter" at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

The event begins at 4 p.m. in the Meese Meeting Room of the Hannon Library on campus.

"The Chinese who lived here are not only important in Southern Oregon but in the West," said Chelsea Rose, one of the presenters and staff archaeologist at SOU's Laboratory of Anthropology. "They represent a community that was here in large numbers."

Joining her in the presentation will be SOU associate professor Mark Tveskov, director of the laboratory.

The lecture is co-sponsored by the Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association as part of its all-day Year of the Dragon celebration scheduled for Feb. 4, in Jacksonville.

This year, the Chinese New Year is on Monday, with the annual two-week celebration continuing through Feb. 6.

Rose led an archaeological dig last fall in the southwest section of Jacksonville, which housed the Chinese community from the early 1850s into the 1880s. The SOU staff worked with the city of Jacksonville and the Oregon Department of Transportation on the project.

"We found a dense deposit of Chinese artifacts that may be related to a house or a laundry," Rose said, noting the items are still being studied at the lab.

Two previous archaeological digs in Jacksonville — in 2004 and 2007 — by her counterparts at the University of Oregon also found Chinese artifacts, she said.

"We were able to build on those two investigations," she noted.

Last fall's dig unearthed items characteristic of a Chinese occupation site from that era, Rose said.

"We found stoneware that carried things like dried vegetables and other stuff imported by the Chinese," she said. "There were rice bowls, wine cups and pieces of a large barrel jar. Most of these things were pretty inexpensive back then. They were very commonly found among Chinese miners."

A small bottle which once likely contained opium, portions of opium tins and pieces of opium pipes also were found.

"Contrary to popular belief, opium use amongst the Chinese was similar to alcohol use amongst Euro-American miners," she explained. "Opium was used as a pain reliever, appetite suppressant and social drug."

It was not illegal in the United States until 1909, she said, adding that much of the opium available to Chinese miners in Jacksonville was probably of poor quality and not likely to drug them into a stupor.

"They would smoke it amongst friends, much like their white neighbors would share a bottle of whiskey," she said.

In addition, they found part of a Chinese coin and an intact 1850 dime made in the U.S.

"Something that was exciting to us but less flashy were the food remnants — pork, cow, fish and poultry bones," she said. "We also found burned remnants of what looks like seeds."

The point, she said, is that the artifacts reflect the daily lives of Chinese who lived in the area.

According to the 1870 census, 3,330 Chinese lived in Oregon, including 634 in Jackson County.

"But the census didn't always count them accurately," Rose said. "The population fluctuated a lot. People would come in to work special jobs, like the Sterling ditch, for example."

She was referring to an old mining ditch built half a dozen miles south of Jacksonville shortly after gold was discovered in the region in 1851.

"In Jacksonville, we tend to think everything has been preserved, but the Chinese were marginalized back then," she said. "As a result, a lot of history related to their lives has been lost.

"By the 1860s, the Chinese quarter in Jacksonville was well established," she added. "They came shortly after the first wave of gold miners. Like other miners in California, many Chinese headed north when they heard about the gold discovery here."

Upon their arrival, most Chinese worked as laborers.

"They could not stake new claims but could purchase claims others felt were tapped out," she said, noting that few Chinese owned mining claims. An exception was Gin Lin, a Chinese businessman who owned a large mine in the upper Applegate Valley.

After Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, barring additional laborers from immigrating from China, many local Chinese left the area, she said.

"A lot of the Chinese in smaller towns started leaving because of the racism they felt," she said. "It was not safe for them in small numbers."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

Share This Story