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Chinatown Massacre October 24, 1871

A History of Chinese Americans in California:
HISTORIC SITES


Los Angeles Massacre Site
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County

The Great Wall of Los Angeles by Judy Baca © and SPARC.

The streets in the area of the Los Angeles Massacre have been changed, and the location of Nigger Alley (no longer in existence) is within the boundaries of El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park. New High Street and Los Angeles Street are still city streets, and thus are owned by the City of Los Angeles. Some of the violence took place near the Garnier Building, which is part of the park.

The Los Angeles Massacre occurred on October 24, 1871 and is alleged to have been set off by a quarrel between Yo Hing and Sam Yuen in the middle of the Chinese American community on the previous day. Two Chinese were arrested for shooting at Yo Hing, but were released on bail October 23. The dispute was continued the next day. Hearing gunshots, Police Officer Bilderrain attempted to quell the disturbance, but was unable to do so. When Robert Thompson, a private citizen, attempted to come to the aid of the police officer, he was accidentally shot and killed. Two others were wounded.

The exact circumstances of the shooting are unclear. The police had apparently been warned of the impending battle, but only one officer was present at the time. A large group of spectators seems to have been on hand — more than enough to have put an end to the dispute — but only Robert Thompson and two others came to Officer Bilderrain’s aid. It is unclear whether Thompson was carrying a gun or if he did any shooting.

In any case, the spectators became active participants by confronting the Chinese populace. The Chinese took refuge in an adobe building and barricaded the doors and windows. Some of the mob, led by Don Refugio Batello, climbed to the roof, bored holes through the ceiling, and shot into the building without ascertaining which, if any, of the occupants had been involved in the dispute that set off the violence. One Chinese man was gunned down when he attempted to leave the besieged building. Another was captured by the crowd, dragged through the street to Tomlinson’s corral on New High Street, and hanged.

After attempts were made to set the building on fire, some of the rioters battered in the eastern end of the building and found eight Chinese inside. Of these, one was killed by dragging him over the stones by a rope around his neck. Three were hanged from a wagon on Los Angeles Street, although they were more dead than alive from being beaten and kicked. Four were likewise hanged from the western gateway of Tomlinson’s corral on New High Street. Two of the victims were mere boys.

One of the victims was Gene Tung, a Chinese doctor, who was respected by the White people who knew him. Dr. Tung pleaded in English and Spanish for his life, offering his captors all his wealth. He was hanged anyway, his money stolen, and one of his fingers cut off to obtain the rings he wore. Several other Chinese men were shot, a number fled to the city jail for safety, and many went into the country.

The motivation of the mob was not simply vengeance intensified by racism. While the shooting and hanging were going on, thieves and robbers were looting the Chinese buildings. Every room in the block was thoroughly rifled and ransacked. Trunks, boxes, and locked receptacles of all kinds were broken open in the search for valuables. It is variously estimated that the loss to the Chinese in money was from $30,000 to $70,000.

Five days after the riot, the coroner’s jury reported that 19 persons had come to their deaths by mob violence on the night of October 24, 1871. Of all the Chinese murdered, it is believed that none of them was involved in the shooting, except Ah Choy. Of the murderers of the 19 Chinese, a few were imprisoned in San Quentin for a short time, but the leaders escaped punishment.

Although racial violence continued against Chinese Americans in the nineteenth century, this savage and brutal event has no equal in California Chinese American history.

From Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California, A History of Chinese Americans in California, by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, published online by the National Park Service.

The City of Los Angeles continues to desecrate the site of the Chinatown Massacre — click here to learn more.