Chinese Immigrants in Idaho

Chinese immigrants came to Idaho in the mid to late 19th century. At its peak, the Chinese people made up 30% of Idaho’s population. Working as railroad workers, miners, farmers, merchants, and more, the Chinese narrative is an essential part of Idaho’s early history. Chinese immigrants were active players, not passive observers, in their communities. The following stories highlight the common experiences of the Chinese in Idaho, including violent discrimination, hard work, and indomitable spirits.

Walking around Boise today, there is little evidence of a bustling Chinatown—no markers, signs, or old buildings. In fact, most people would be surprised to learn that a large population of Chinese people once lived in Boise. In fact, the Chinese community was strong and active in the early years of the city’s history
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On the corner of Montgomery and Commercial Street in Idaho City, Idaho, there is a small inconspicuous, brick house. A sign identifies it as the “Pon Yam House.” The last remaining trace of the once bustling Chinese community in Idaho City, the Pon Yam house gives us a glimpse into the lives of Chinese miners in the Boise Basin area.
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Although most immigrants coming to the American West from China in the 19th century were male, some women came as well. Many, however, were unwilling immigrants, brought by force and compelled to work as prostitutes. While we know very little about the stories of these individuals, we do know about Polly Bemis, a unique Chinese immigrant who left an indelible impression on her community.
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Chinese Massacre Cove is located along a desolate and remote part of the Snake River—a dusty river bank in the middle of Hells Canyon—straddling the Oregon-Idaho border. Prospective visitors can only get there by either an arduously hot hike or by riverboat. Once there, the spot does not look much different from other parts of the river, except for an inscribed stone. This memorial stone describes…
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