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Excerpt: 'Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans'



At nine o'clock on the morning of November 3, 1885, steam whistles blew at the foundries and mills across Tacoma, to announce the start of the purge of all the Chinese people from the town. Saloons closed and police stood by as five hundred men, brandishing clubs and pistols, went from house to house in the downtown Chinese quarter and through the Chinese tenements along the city's wharf. Sensing the storm ahead, earlier in the week, about five hundred Chinese people had fled from Tacoma. Now the rest were given four hours to be ready to leave. They desperately stuffed years of life into sacks, shawls, and baskets hung from shoulder poles—bedding, clothing, pots, some food. At midday, the mob began to drag Chinese laborers from their homes, pillage their laundries, and throw their furniture into the streets. Chinese merchants pleaded with the mayor and the sheriff for an extra twenty-four hours to pack up their shops.

Early on that cold Tuesday afternoon, armed vigilantes corralled two hundred Chinese men and women at the docks. The governor of the Washington Territory, Watson C. Squire, ignored telegrams from Chinese across the Pacific Northwest urging him to intervene. The mayor and the sheriff hid out at city hall as the mob marched the Chinese through heavy rain to a muddy railroad crossing nine miles from town. The merchants' wives, unable to walk on their tiny bound feet, were tossed into wagons.

Lake View Junction was a stop on the Northern Pacific Railroad, which had been built by Chinese laborers. A few of the evicted Chinese found damp shelter in abandoned storage sheds, in stables, or inside the small station house. Most huddled outside. During the cold and rainy night, two or three trains stopped at the station. People with cash paid six dollars to board the overnight train to Portland, Oregon. Others crammed onto a passing freight train. The rest began the hundred-mile trek south to the Chinatown in Portland, where they hoped to find sanctuary in a community that had just refused the town's orders to leave. For days they were seen following the tracks south. Others fled the country for Canada.

Two days later, Tacoma's Chinatown was destroyed by fire.

From the Book: DRIVEN OUT by Jean Pfaelzer (c) 2007. Published by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc.

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