Like the European immigrants of the 16th and 17th centuries, Chinese immigrants of the 1800s sought freedom, a new beginning, hope, and a sense of individual wealth. But by 1885, the white people of the Truckee community cultivated intense disdain and animosity toward the Chinese immigrants and drove them completely out of the area, a process that was termed the Truckee Method. How did it happen?
During the Qing dynasty, which lasted from the mid-1600s to the early 1900s, China’s population more than doubled, going from around 150 million people to 450 million people. This, coupled with agricultural trade with Europe, created a mass shortage of food and resources for the Chinese people. As famine and great inequality settled over the country, many Chinese families looked east to the Americas. The New World had spread west to the Pacific Ocean, California becoming a state in 1850. With rumors of gold, safety, and a new beginning, Chinese immigrants, escaped the economic chaos and famine of their home country and flocked to the United States.
The California Gold Rush attracted people from across the country and around the world, leaving the original settlers and gold-finders feeling threatened and entitled by the influx of people. By 1854, gold was scarce, and the rush was slowing. The Chinese built homes and opened shops in Truckee, creating their own community and neighborhood with remnants of the country they had left. However, discrimination toward the Chinese only persisted, and “Anti-Coolie” Acts — “Coolie” being a derogatory term for an unskilled Asian immigrant — sprung up from Los Angeles to San Francisco to small towns in the Sierra Nevada.
During the summer of 1868, there were 4,000 workers building the First Transcontinental Railroad over the Sierras, two-thirds of which were Chinese laborers who were unjustly underpaid. Chinatown experienced numerous attacks from 1872 to 1875, and in 1878, the citizens of Truckee, with the help of its Caucasian League — an outspoken group of white townspeople with the goal drive out the Chinese — relocated Chinatown from the downtown area to across the Truckee River, away from white merchants and businesses.
Tensions escalated in 1886, three years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, when the citizens of Truckee chose to completely rid the town of the Chinese. In the grand scheme of things, the country was progressing, but up close, as history well knows, it had a long way to go. According to a book entitled The Chinese Must Go, written by Wallace R. Hagaman, “Several leading Truckee citizens, spearheaded by the racist editorial support of the local newspaper, decided to organize a boycott of all Chinese-owned business and white-owned businesses that employed Chinese.”
The anti-Chinese sentiments were backed by Gov. George Perkins. In 1882, he declared a state holiday and encouraged the people of California to hold anti-Chinese rallies and protests to get attention from the federal government. Two months later, the U.S. federal government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigration to the United States. Truckee’s first newspaper, the Truckee Republican owned by Charles McGlashan, published this on Feb. 10, 1886: “We are in favor of the exclusion of the Chinese from the Pacific Coast, and believe that the present movement is the beginning of the end. We think that every man and woman should use their influence to help on the good work.” Many don’t know that McGlashan, a widely respected Truckee figure known for commemorating the Donner Party, creating one of the nation’s first winter sports centers, and founding the town’s local newspaper, also has a tainted past that shouldn’t be ignored.
By 1886, California held the Anti-Chinese Nonpartisan Convention in San Jose, which praised the intimidation fires, boycott, and exclusion — what had become known as the Truckee Method — and adopted it across the state for having been such a successful movement. McGlashan went on tour during the spring of 1886 to preach about the Truckee Method and help other cities start their own Chinese boycott. The movement was so successful because it was said to be “lawful and nonviolent.”
The Republican published an editorial recounting the boycott, saying, “Let the China lovers get on their side of the line, so all may know them for what they are … Let them teach the little ones to abhor a Chinaman or his upholder. Let the little fingers be pointed at them, and the first words that fall from their baby lips be, ‘Shame, you China lover.’”
A fire scoured Truckee’s Chinatown in June of 1886, driving out the last remaining Chinese in the Truckee region. It was not until 1943 that U.S. citizenship for Chinese immigrants finally became possible, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a bill that removed all exclusion acts from the federal government. Over seven decades later, according to the 2017 United States Census Bureau, the Chinese population in Truckee is less than 1 percent.