In the 19th century, the United States rapidly expanded West. This expansion was expedited by the discovery of gold in the western mountains. Along with it came an influx of Chinese workers. As anti-Chinese sentiment festered during the latter half of the century, a medicine shop rose to prominence in John Day, Oregon.
Along the Dalles Military Road sits the small town of John Day, Oregon. In the mid-1860s, a Chinatown hub for the Chinese miners and immigrants emerged in the area. A small wooden building purchased by Ing Hay and Lung On served as the foundation for a business with—at the time—no promises for future success.
Ing Hay was both an herbalist and pulsologist, diagnosing patients based on their pulse. Born in 1862, he sought better fortunes in the Western United States in 1887. In John Day, Oregon, he met Lung On and purchased the dying Kam Wah Chung & Co. Locally known as “Doc” Hay, he treated a variety of ailments with traditional Chinese remedies based on Taoist teachings of harmony and balance. His clientele diversified and included more non-Chinese patients through the 1910s.
Lung On, on the other hand, was a savvy businessman fluent in both Chinese and English. He was also a Chinese immigrant and managed the business side of Kam Wah Chung which included pricing, inventory, translating and responding to letters. Locally known as “Leon”, he owned, co-owned, and invested in numerous other operations around Oregon, including businesses, land and mining claims, racehorses, and later an automotive dealership. He also provided a letter-writing service and assistance in navigating American laws for Chinese migrants and immigrants.
Together, the two transformed Kam Wah Chung & Co. into a successful mercantile, apothecary, and clinic. It also served as an education and community center. Kam Wah Chung served as an anchor for the surrounding Chinese community and a bridge for non-Chinese neighbors during an era of heightened anti-Chinese sentiment. This success continued into the early 20th century until Lung On’s death in 1940. Ing “Doc” Hay moved to Portland in 1948 due to failing health. The Kam Wah Chung & Co. has been converted into a museum that houses a plethora of Lung On’s untranslated ledgers and documents, Chinese medicinal recipes from Ing Hay’s days of practice, and records of the significant footprint Hay and On left on western U.S. history.