By Eric Jacobson
In June 1864, the townsite of Prescott sold property lots for the first time to the general public, with buyers’ names recorded on a map by surveyor Robert Groom. Surprisingly, one of the names was Quon Clong Gin. He bought a lot on the east side of Granite Creek on Granite Street between Goodwin and Gurley, which became the center of Prescott’s Chinatown. He was a later buyer of this lot as the May 29, 1869 Weekly Arizona Miner stated … “A veritable young Celestial arrived at Fort Whipple, a short time ago. Should he live long enough to become a man, Yavapai County will contain one chinaman”.
Young Chinese men would arrive in the US, leaving their families in China. Money earned was sent back to help the family. Historians estimate that $5-15 million was sent back to China each year in the latter half of the 19th Century.
The arrival of the Chinese in Prescott caused concern among Anglo miners and settlers, most having never seen a Chinese person. Led by local journalists, most were ignorant of other cultures and racist toward anyone “different." In the Weekly Arizona Miner, Chinese were called celestials [sic], Mongolians or heathens.
In 1869, when the transcontinental railroad was completed in Utah, Chinese railroad laborers were free to seek their fortune elsewhere. Some migrated to Prescott after hearing rumors of good mining there. Those who were not miners became farmers, cooks in bars and restaurants, domestic servants or laundry owners. By October of 1879 there were 75-80 Chinese in Prescott.
One such businessman and laundry owner was George Ah Fat, who also ran a restaurant, even advertising in the Weekly Arizona Miner on September 2, 1871:
“New laundry, Granite Street, Prescott, Az. Wash very class fabric in flooting (sic) machine. Terms reasonable. Public patronage solicited.”
The 5th territorial governor, John C. Frémont, brought a Chinese cook, Ah Chung, of San Francisco with him to Prescott. Ah Chung did not live with the Frémonts but with other Chinese in Chinatown. Apparently, Ah Chung was married to Chow Aie, who was thought to be a prostitute. They were the only Chinese married couple in Prescott in 1880.
In 1882, Chinese were prohibited from resettling in the US by the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first law to prevent all members of a specific ethnic or national group from immigrating. Chinese already in the US could stay but were ineligible for citizenship. After 1892, when the Enforcement Act was extended, all Chinese of nonexempt status were required to register and carry identifying documents that included a picture. Exempt status included Chinese who provided services to the American military, such as cooking.
In response to the restrictive immigration laws, a secret society, the Chee Kung Tong (sometimes referred to as the Chinese Masons) was formed in Hawaii with a branch in Prescott. The group organized as an unofficial Chinese government that provided aid and protection for its members. An estimated eighty percent of early Chinese in Prescott joined the Chee Kung Tong.
Various factors contributed to the departure of the Chinese from Prescott. In 1886, Stephen Marcou established the Anti-Chinese League that attempted to rid Prescott of all Chinese. In addition, a flood caused Granite Creek to overflow and inundate Chinatown. The great fire of July 14, 1900 destroyed Whiskey Row and the restaurants, hotels and stores which were owned by or employed Chinese, and Prohibition closed saloons and restaurants, causing many to lose their jobs. The Great Depression and time saw the demise of remaining Chinese businesses, and finally, in 1934, Prescott’s Chinatown was paved over.
The Federal Census of 1900 showed a peak of 229 Chinese living in Prescott. Ten years later, out of a total population of 5,043, 159 were Chinese, about 3% of the population. Next came African Americans at 98, Hispanics 84, Japanese 22, Native Americans 3, and Filipinos 2.
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