March 28, 2011

Wicked Kingston

Funds were being collected to build this Kingston church in 1888, by the Methodist Episcopal Mission Society. Photo courtesy Matti Nunn Harrison

Kingston's church is long gone, as are so many other buildings thrown up in a hurry in the 1880s boom town. The church, made of stone, would seem to have some permanency. Yet it did not stand the near-abandonment of Kingston after the Panic of 1893.

An 1888 publication of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church titled, The Gospel in All Lands, has some interesting things to say about Kingston. "If I could take the reader along our way on the main street to a school-house for evening service, he would see the typical mining town in all of its wickedness." The writer remarks on the behaviors of people he sees in Kingston, and how the church building is being funded.

Something else is worth noting, the reported population size of Kingston on page 61. It's far below the oft-reported 7,000 souls alleged to have lived there.  You'll have to see it for yourself. -- Craig Springer

March 18, 2011

Tom Ying’s meal tickets—Chinese translated

Two meal tickets from Tom Ying’s business are revealing for what they say in English—and Chinese. They are part of the collection held by the Black Range Museum, located in Ying’s old Hillsboro restaurant.

The older one is from Tom’s restaurant in Lake Valley and unless he ran two restaurants at the same time in two different localities, it must date from before 1896 when Sadie Orchard hired Tom to run the restaurant of her Ocean Grove Hotel in Hillsboro, the present-day Black Range Museum. On the back of this ticket, which has one meal left on it, Tom has written in Chinese the date when the ticket was validated. It reads: “wu yue san hao qi” or “begin May third.” No year is given. And, Tom has written the name of the person who bought the ticket. This “name” is not a Chinese name, and so it must refer to some American, whose name, of course, could not be written in Chinese. It’s what Tom called him in his own mind to identify his customer. Tom wrote “mai tie gui” or “the whitey who sells iron.” So, this ticket belonged to an ironmonger or perhaps the village blacksmith in Lake Valley.

Meal tickets used by patrons of Tom Ying's restaurants in Hillsboro and Lake Valley. Black Range Museum
The word I’ve translated as “whitey” is “gui,” and it means ghost or spirit or devil or any otherworldly, somewhat scary phenomenon. The 19th century Chinese commonly called Europeans and Americans “gui,” and it was rendered by Americans as “foreign devils.”  It is a term with a lot of racist overtones. Considering that Tom was regularly called in Hillsboro “the Chinaman,” as in “the Chinaman’s restaurant,” Tom’s bit of reverse racism seems perfectly fitting.

The other ticket dates from Tom’s Hillsboro days, that is, from after 1896. It has on the front Tom’s Chinese name:  Ying Seng. Chinese put the family name before the given name.  It’s a somewhat unusual name since Chinese given names are usually two syllables long, and whoever is responsible for this one syllable name, either his parents or himself if it was self-chosen, was a bit arty. It’s the word for the magical herb ginseng. When I first came to Hillsboro in the late 1980’s, Felipe Roybal gave me an unused Tom Ying meal ticket from the 1950s, and it does not have Tom’s Chinese name on it. I assume that Tom used his Chinese name only in the early days, when he felt closer to Chinese things and so I would think this ticket dates from the turn of the century.

On the back of this second ticket, Tom wrote the validation date: “liu yue shi jiu chen qi” or “begin the morning of June 19th.” Again, it has no year. Tom has also written what he called the owner: “xi lin.” Who could this have been? “Xi lin” may have been Tom’s attempt to sound out some American name with Chinese sounds. Most likely, Tom was Cantonese and would have pronounced these words something like “hei lum.” Was there a Hiram around?  But “xi lin” means “happy trees” and so it might refer to someone living in Happy Flats, as the eastern section of Hillsboro is called, who had some trees on his land. Or, does it refer to someone related to the Ocean Grove Hotel? Or, is this the meal ticket of Sadie herself, whose name we recall was Orchard, the happy orchard, though we’d have to assume that Sadie didn’t need to have a punch ticket.

What Tom Ying wrote on the back of the meal tickets raises more questions than it answers. The card are oriented the way Tom would written on them, vertically. Black Range Musuem
 These tickets give us some pieces in the puzzle of the past, but, as usual in historical research, they point us to gaps we didn’t even know existed. Not only do we not know who the Lake Valley ironmonger was or who Tom called “happy grove,” but we don’t really know Ying Seng himself. Some in Hillsboro still remember him from their childhoods. He was an old man who sat outside his restaurant and gave kids candy. He died in 1959, and was buried up in the cemetery. His stone had no dates. Now there is a bronze plate with the dates 1849—1959, which has been covered by another plate with the dates 1866—1959. The Mormon Church’s genealogical records has Tom listed with a birth year and place as 1850 in Hillsboro, NM. I’m sure Tom himself did not know his birth year in Christian numerical form since he would have had to memorize all the Chinese names of years in proper sequence and count back to his birth year’s name to calculate the Christian year. Regardless, Tom he must have come to this country before the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act which banned Chinese from immigrating to the U.S. from 1882 until the Act’s repeal during WWII. 

Since he never married, it seems likely that he left a family in China, and the Exclusion Act doomed him, like thousands of other unmarried Chinese men in the U.S., to a solitary and lonely life.  
– Max Yeh

Max Yeh is a retired writer and professor of Comparative Literature and has lived in Hillsboro since 1989. Yeh immigrated to the U.S. shortly after the repeal of the Exclusion Act. Numerous Chinese men labored in the mines around Hillsboro, and their nameless faces were captured by Kingston photographer, J.C. Burge.

March 5, 2011

Picture History

Western Sierra County was sparsely populated, permanent settlements non-existent prior to 1877. With the discovery of precious metals at present-day Hillsboro, prospectors streamed to the area. Tents transformed to adobe abodes, and then frame and brick. 

The communities of Hillsboro, Kingston, and Lake Valley own a distinction. Almost from their start, professional and hobby photographers were on hand documenting on glass-plate negatives the people that made their living in these mining towns.

In an obscure 1973 publication, Photographers of the New Mexico Territory, the former curator of photography at the Museum of  New Mexico, Richard Rudisill, painstaking documented who took photos in the Territory from 1854 to 1912, when and where. It's a wonderful resource.

Photographers Addis and Allison passed through the area and snapped a few images, one of which is at the Geronimo Springs Museum in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

J.C. Burge was a prodigious professional photographer. He set up shop in Kingston and took a great many images of people in his studio.  He also carried his camera outside the studio. His Kingston and Hillsboro street scenes have shown up in magazine articles and various archives. Burge documented the U.S. Cavalry and Infantry at Camp Hillsboro/Camp Boyd in 1885-86 during the Ulzana and Geronimo campaigns.

The Panic of 1893 sent silver prices south and that sent Kingston residents packing. The economic depression that lasted about five years caused the essential abandonment of Kingston, and Burge divested his business to a Hillsboro newcomer, George Tambling Miller of Minnesota. Miller built a home next to the Union Church in Hillsboro from gold slag blocks, and from the wood of the former Burge studio in Kingston, so says an 1894 contract archived at the Geronimo Springs Museum. Miller instructs a carpenter in writing to use Burge's wood.

Arguably, some of the most beautiful and well composed images of western Sierra County were taken by the German immigrant, Henry Schmidt. He lived and worked from a time in Lake Valley before settling in Chloride. He documented a vibrant Lake Valley that is today a bare husk of what was.

Were it not for these five men, there would be a huge vacancy of what we know about the area around Hillsboro.  Were in not for Rudisill, there would be a large void in the literature. --Craig Springer

March 2, 2011

Under the Patina of Time (or This Day in History -- March 3, 1884)

Hillsboro businessman and town pioneer, Nicholas Galles, then serving in the Territorial House of Representatives for Dona Ana County, introduced a bill on this day in 1884, to create Sierra County. Galles succeeded, but it took a month of negotiations to see it through to become law.

The unlabeled Sierra de los Caballos straddle the Sierra-Dona Ana county line. Sierra County eventually came to encompass the land area to the east, well beyond the San Andreas Mountains. Google Maps

So what's in a name?  A great deal, when you scratch under the patina of time. "Sierra" is Spanish for "saw," as in a serrated saw blade. And it means "mountain," as in a serrated ridge line. It has been repeated in print many times over that Sierra County was named after the "Sierra de los Caballos," a minor range above the Rio Grande on the southern county line. 

The Caballos seem an unlikely source of inspiration, given that most of the population of newest New Mexico county was concentrated in its western part -- in the shadows of the massive Black Range and Mimbres Mountains. The author of The Place Names of New Mexico, Robert Julyan, seems to agree.

The political force that created Sierra County was seated at the eventual county seat, Hillsboro. In Hillsboro, the Sierra de los Caballos are well out of sight, and were perhaps out of mind when Galles authored a bill to create Sierra County. The Black Range figured into the daily lives of the miners and stockmen and business people of western Sierra County in 1884. --Craig Springer