Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Spring Festival, Tujia style

Dishes prepared by Betty's mother

Mai Wah President Pat Munday’s grad student, Ding Kedan (丁科丹) aka “Betty” writes about the upcoming Spring Festival/New Year celebration. Compare this to the meal Huie Pock shared with his Butte guests in 1896.

"I'm going home for the Chinese New Year~Yeah~It is my last winter vacation as a student. Still remember I'm Tujia People? Our celebration for New Year might be a little bit different than that in big cities. Before the New Year, the elders will make Ziba (a kind food made by sticky rice),sausage, and smoked bacon. They make so many food to make sure that when New Year comes, we still have enough food to eat which means richness for the whole year.

"On the New Year Eve, when it comes to 12 o'clock, we are going to set the firecrackers to celebrate, the first one who set the firecrackers will be the luckiest guy.

"In my home, on New Year Eve, my father and I will paste the antithetical couplet and my Mum will cook a lot of dishes (usually 12 dishes). Then on the first day of New Year, we will climb mountains (which means you will get better in life and higher in job) and bring wood (in Chinese Pronunciation, we call it 柴 chai, which has a homophonic meaning with 财 cai (means money in English)) back home. Then in the following days, we are going to go to relatives' houses and give New Years' greetings. I will get a lot of 压岁钱 yasuiqian,which means gift money for children. Although I'm already 26, in elders' eyes, I'm a little kid.”

Pat adds some clarification:

We Americans often think of China as composed of a single ethnic group, but in addition to the majority Han population there are about 56 other minorities. These minorities include well known groups such as Tibetans, Mongolians, and Uighurs as well as less well known (to Americans) groups such as Ding Kedan’s Tujia People. Somewhat like American Indian Tribes, Chinese minorities tend to be localized to specific geographical areas although — again like Native Americans — socio-political forces have often scattered them far from their ancestral home.

Antithetical couplet
The “antithetical couplet” (对联 or “duilian”) that Ding Kedan refers to is a set of two poetic phrases brush painted on paper or fabric and hung outside the front door. It is a rhythmic, visually symmetrical couplet that expresses a wish for happiness and good fortune in the coming year—a little like the “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Birthday” banners that Americans hang at parties.

In China, words with similar sounds are often believed to express similar meanings. For example, the number 8 (Bā) sounds like the word for fortune/wealth (Fā) and therefore 8 is a lucky number. My wife and I attended a Chinese wedding, and the ceremony began at 8:08 p.m. to insure good luck for the happy couple.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Chinese New Year Dinner – 1896 style

Dr. Huie Pock
By Richard I. Gibson

On February 12, 1896, Dr. Huie Pock and another prominent Chinaman, Tom Lee, gave a dinner in honor of the Chinese Year of the Monkey. The guest list reflected Huie Pock’s station in Butte, even though he had only been here for four or five years.

The guests included Judge R.F. Turner, Justice of the Peace, whose office was at 24 N. Main and residence at 117 West Woolman. James Dingevon, a real estate developer, roomed at the Stephens Hotel, 144 West Park. Burr C.W. Evans was a stock broker specializing in mining stocks whose office and residence were at 16 N. Main Street, within the Owsley Block that had been completed about 4 years earlier. The Owsley Block also held the offices and lodgings of John Grice and John McClernan, law partners. John G. Vigeant, a bookkeeper who attended the party, lived at 544 South Wyoming.

Dr. Pock’s second wife, “recently arrived from China,” was present along with Miss Huie Loy (Huie Toy) and Master Luie Pock (Huie Shaw) – the doctor’s children by his first marriage – as well as Camp Sing, another Chinese-American.

The 13-course meal included different imported Chinese wines and liqueurs with each course. Here is the menu – and remember, this was Butte in February 1896.

Bird’s Nest Soup
Bird’s Nest and Chicken Fricasee
Fish Fins with Minced Ham and Chicken
En Ka Va and Liquorine
Rice a la Chinese
Imported Chinese Pork
Cooked a la Pekin, with Coffee Sauce
Maccaroni and Chinese Dried Oysters
Chicken, seasoned with Dates and Chestnuts a la Hong Kong
Dried Abalone, seasoned with Corean Dates
Jelly Fish seasoned with Lily Root
And Mushrooms a la Wah Hai Wai
Stewed Octopus and Dried Star Fish
With Haw Rinds a la Kong Suie
Imported Chinese Oranges and Liquor Extract of Lily Root

The meal was served on Chinaware of “the best imported hand painted kind and the cutlery was coin silver.” Following the meal the guests smoked imported Siamese cigars.

Dr. Pock in 1896 lived at 119 South Main, the site where later (1909) the building housing today's Pekin Noodle Parlor was constructed. It’s likely that his home was the site of the gathering.

Source: Butte Miner, Feb. 14, 1896; city directories; Sanborn maps.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The people in the poster

By Richard I. Gibson

The digital poster I made to announce Butte Chinese Heritage Week (June 23-29, 2014) and our open house June 28 contains historic photos relating to the Butte Chinese. Here’s a brief report on the people in those photos. The photos are from the Mai Wah collection or were provided by family members.

From left to right, top to bottom.

Top row: First is the 1912 immigration photo of Chin Yee Fong (later known as Albert Chinn), and his wife Liu Fong Loon (Lou Chinn). With them is their seven-year-old adoptive daughter, Sue Kee, who was Liu’s niece adopted when Liu’s sister died.

The second photo shows Lily Chew Huie, Kui, and baby Foot (Frank). Lily was the wife of Sam Huie, a tailor and restaurant owner in Butte. Sam was probably a nephew of Dr. Huie Pock.

The right image is inside the Chinese Baptist Mission and includes several children of Dr. Wah Jean Lamb.

Row Two: At left is a photo of Rose Hum Lee, born in Butte. She became a prominent sociologist and expert on America’s Chinatowns.

Next is a family portrait of the family of Dr. Lamb, circa 1914. It includes Dr. Lamb’s wife and children Gertrude, Gladys, Esther, Ruth, Paul, John, and Faith.

The centerpiece is a family portrait of the Chinns, about 1926. At far right is one of the Chinn sons in his U.S. army uniform, about 1945.

The bottom row includes a photo of an unidentified Chinese man, circa 1900, taken by Dusseau the photographer whose studio was at the corner of Broadway and Main, where the Hirbour Tower stands today. 

Dr. Lamb’s advertisement appeared in Butte newspapers for many years between about 1908 and 1920.

The lower right corner is a family portrait of the Hum family.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Chinatown rocked by explosion

China Alley looking north.
This location is featured in a virtual walking tour of Butte's Chinatown on HistoryPin.

By Richard I. Gibson

Mon Tow, a self-proclaimed Chinese doctor, arrived at the Northern Pacific depot in Butte in the early hours of November 8, 1914. He reportedly came from Omaha, and Omaha officials had telegraphed Butte sharing their suspicion that Mon was smuggling opium to Butte. The man was arrested on arrival by Deputy Sheriff Wonnscott, who took him to the County Jail, but a search revealed no opium and Mon was released. Twenty minutes later, a blast from China Alley rocked Chinatown, and was heard and felt all over Butte.

Butte Miner, front page, Nov. 9, 1914
Police had noted a 10-ounce container of transparent fluid – medicine, Dr. Mon said. Following the explosion, Sheriff John Berkin theorized that the “medicine” was nitroglycerine, which exploded when Mon dropped it.

This explosion took place in the basement at 104 China Alley, the west end of 111 S. Main Street, a building that is gone today (vacant lot north of Pekin Noodle Parlor). Besides killing Mon Tow, the blast seriously injured a 52-year-old Butte resident, Sing Sue, who was apparently assisting Mon. The building caught fire, but it was extinguished easily. Police Chief Jere Murphy believed that “a Tong war was brewing,” and that Mon had come to assassinate a prominent but unnamed local Chinese involved in opposing the opium traffic. Murphy felt that the explosion headed off that impending war.

1914 Sanborn map. Red dot at 104 China Alley.
The photo at top shows China Alley during the police investigation after the blast. The building at far right is the rear of the Pekin Noodle Parlor, a building that was just 5 years old when this event took place. The cross, enhanced on the photo, shows the basement entrance of 104 China Alley where the blast occurred. 104 China Alley held various stores over time, generally dealers in Chinese goods. In 1928, it was the meeting place for the Ring Kong Tong, the Chinese Freemasons. The building (111 S. Main-104 China Alley) survived into the 1960s or 1970s.

Resources: Butte Miner, Nov. 9, 10, 1914; Sanborn maps; city directories. All available at Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Inside the Box: Immortal Flower

By Richard I. Gibson
Translation by Siwen Liu

The Immortal Flower in the Wah Chong Tai Mercantile is from the closing of the store in the 1940s when Charlie Bovey bought the contents and took everything to Nevada City. Most of the boxes and packages still hold their original contents. Loan from Montana Heritage Commission. MW L2010.01.338


The interpretation of the label on this box is “Immortal Flower.” Immortal is certainly the second character; the first leaves something to the imagination. And “Immortal Flower” has different connotations in various traditional Asian cultures, and may refer to more than one plant.

The most likely candidate is probably the Amaranth, a widespread plant used by Incas and ancient Greeks as well as in traditional Chinese preparations. In China, the leaves and stems are used as a stir-fry vegetable, or in soups, and are believed to enhance eyesight. Amaranth flowers were used by the Hopi of southwestern North America for dyes.

Butterfly pea
Another possible candidate is Clitoria ternatea, the butterfly pea, although it is native to tropical zones and would not have been grown commonly in much of China. It’s a herbaceous perennial with bright blue flowers, used to dye foodstuffs such as rice in Burmese, Malay, Thai, and Khmer (Cambodian) cuisine. As a traditional Ayurvedic medicinal, its use has been as an anti-stress agent, anti-depressant, and sedative. Some scientific studies suggest meaningful anti-stress and anti-convulsion activity is indeed present in chemicals derived from the plant.

Whatever plant it is, some sources suggest Immortal Flower has a role against diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, toothache, and constipation.

Photos: Artifact photos by Richard I. Gibson. Red-root Amaranth (A. retroflexus), from Thomé, Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, 1885 (public domain, via Wikipedia). Butterfly pea photo via Wikipedia (public domain).

Amaranth ; Butterfly pea 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

New Acquisition: Chopine Shoes

By Richard I. Gibson

High platform shoes called chopines were popular in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were intended to increase women’s stature, like high heels, and to protect rich ladies from the mud of the streets. They were probably introduced from China to Europe via Venice in the late 1400s.

showing the platforms
The Manchu people who ruled China from 1644 to 1912 apparently developed shoes like these as an alternative to painful foot-binding. The idea was that the women with bound feet, or with shoes like these, were so special, so powerful, that they did not need to walk, or at least should be protected from the dirt of the street. One legend holds that a chieftain’s daughter, Duoluo Ganzhu, who was involved in a futile battle, had the idea of using stilts or tall shoes to attack an enemy across a marshy bog—and then encouraged women to wear stylized elevated shoes in memory of the ensuing victory.

detail of sole
The shoes shown here, donated to the Mai Wah Musuem by Tina Huie in 2013, date to the 1890s. They were used in Butte by Tina Huie’s grandmother, Lily Chew Huie. Lily was born in San Francisco about 1890, and lived in Butte with her husband Sam Huie. Sam managed a restaurant at 251 East Park Street in 1927-28, and the family lived at 341 East Park and at 639 Utah. The family continued to live in Butte into the 1940s.

We believe that Sam was an older nephew of Dr. Huie Pock of Butte; Dr.Pock died in 1927, the same year Sam is first listed in the city directory. Despite this late listing, Sam and his family were in Butte at least as early as 1907. Sam and Lily had 13 children, at least 11 born in Butte, and at least two of whom (Arthur and Katie) worked in the restaurant as waiter and waitress in 1927-28, alongside Quong Huie, Huie Pock’s son. Arthur, Katie, and Quong were all listed as residing at 639 Utah Street, which was Dr. Pock’s home and office until he died. 

Sam Huie's restaurant, 251 East Park Street
(center of one-story building at left)
As did the sons of the Chinn family who lived in the Mai Wah buildings, at least six of the Huie family sons enlisted in the U.S. Army at the start of World War II, and others were involved in stateside industries and organizations involved in the war effort.

The finely embroidered shoes have a decorated wooden sole with inlaid colored fabric and braided twine.

MW 2013.08.001

Resources: City Directories, census records, information from Tina Huie; background on chopines from various online sources. Photo of Sam Huie’s restaurant at 251 East Park from Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives, building inventory c. 1950s. Modern photos by Richard I. Gibson.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Butte Chinese: Dr. Wah Jean Lamb

By Richard I. Gibson

Dr. Lamb was a prominent Chinese physician in Butte from about 1902-1929, probably second only to Huie Pock in the Chinese medical community here. Advertisements like the one above appeared almost daily in the Butte Miner and the Anaconda Standard in the 1910s.

Dr. Lamb was the first Chinese to receive a medical degree from the University of Southern California, one of ten graduates awarded degrees in June 1896. He had been selected by missionaries in China to come to the U.S. for his education. This began a five-generation connection to USC, as several of Dr. Lamb’s children, including Paul, Faith, and John, attended the school as pre-med students, as did later generations.

Wah Jean Lamb was born about 1870, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1885. Following his graduation from USC, he came to Butte about 1902. He left Butte with his family about 1929, and lived in San Diego at the time of the 1930 census; in 1940 he was living in Los Angeles, where he died in 1942.

Dr. Lamb’s first office was at 9 West Galena Street beginning in 1902-03; he also lived there. By the late 1910s, around 1917, much of this part of Chinatown had been demolished and he moved his office for a few years (1917-18 and perhaps later) to 116 East Mercury, near the corner with Arizona Street. Also beginning in 1917, he and his family lived in a nice home outside of Chinatown, at 1107 South Wyoming, which still stands in 2013.

By 1923, Dr. Lamb’s office was located at 46 East Galena Street, where he continued until he left Butte in 1929. This location was probably within the Copper Block (also known as the Empire Hotel), west of the intersection of Galena and Wyoming. The Copper Block hotel was known as a brothel and residence for ladies of the evening, but the ground floor held a restaurant, saloon, and at least seven storefronts, one of which was Dr. Lamb’s office in the 1920s. The Copper Block was demolished in 1990-91.

The Mai Wah has a new display of photos of Dr. Lamb’s family in Butte, donated by his grandson James Chung. (See also page 67-69 of Lost Butte, Montana)

Resources: City Directories; Sanborn Maps; USC Trojan Family Magazine Winter 1998.