The importance of Evanston’s Chinatown
EVANSTON — Finding commonalities is a passion for Dudley Gardner, who serves as commissioner for Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources. Gardner has been director of Western Anthropological and Archaeological Research Institute for 10 years and taught at Western Wyoming Community College prior to that for 33 years.
Gardner presented at the Beeman-Cashin Building in Evanston on June 8, on the topic of China Town in Evanston. Spending time overseas he has traveled and taught in China and said, “On a larger scale there needs to be a coming together of people’s minds.”
With brewing tensions between America and China, Gardner suggests it is critical to communicate and find common ground.
“War creates enemies,” he said. “If you can do things through negotiation, it works, but as we know, people struggle to listen well. The important thing to do now is talk and listen.”
Gardner acknowledges that this level of communication is more difficult on an international level but on a local level people can listen to one another, find common bonds and things to relate to.
Gardner said he is proud to have lived in southwest Wyoming since 1981. “In Evanston, people matter. Interconnectivity matters,” he said.
He said he wants to see a national historical landmark in Evanston.
“Much has been done to preserve the town’s history, and it is important to acknowledge the volunteers that put in time and money to show they care about their community,” Gardner said. “Those people are multiple ethnicities and nationalities.”
Gardner understands the importance of tourism and its ability to sustain the community, especially during the bust time of a boom town. He was on the early advisory panel, headed by Jim Davis and Denise Wheeler, that led to the creation of the Chinese Joss House Museum in Evanston, which tells the story of the Chinese immigrants who lived and worked in Uinta County from the 1870s through the 1930s.
History also exposes dark times, such as the Chinese Massacre in Rock Springs, which occurred on Sept. 2, 1885. The massacre of immigrant Chinese miners was the result of racial prejudice and fear they were taking jobs from the white miners. The Union Pacific Coal Department found it economically beneficial to give preference in hiring to Chinese miners, who had to work for lower wages than their white counterparts.
“One thing that surprised me about these Chinese during this time is that they stayed after the massacre,” Gardner said. “The Chinese talk about Evanston and Wyoming with fondness.”
He showed maps showing the territory around Evanston when the Chinese came to the region. In the 19th century, most of the Chinese who came to Wyoming were from the Toisan (Taishan) region of China. Evanston, he explains, became a service town for revenues and resources, such as coal and railroad transportation in the 1870s.
Gardner spoke about the Almy mine explosion, just north of Evanston, in 1881, that killed 38 miners in the Central Pacific Mine. The Cheyenne Weekly Leader reported the dead included “35 Chinamen and 3 white men.”
In 1886, another explosion killed 13 miners. In 1895, a third explosion occurred, killing 62 — it is considered the third-largest mining accident in Wyoming history — after which the state shut down the Almy mines in the 1940s because of their danger.
Moving to Evanston Chinatown history, Gardner showed pictures of the Masonic temple and Chinese flag.
“Each of the communities that had a major Chinatown had their own flag,” he said. “There are four Chinese flags that survived from Wyoming.”
One of those flags is in Evanston. Looking closely at the dragon on the flag, Gardner pointed out that the tail was cut off.
“That symbolizes their split from the Chinese emperor,” he said. “It represents their desire to be liberated from the Ching (Qing) Dynasty.”
Gardner said the Evanston Chinatown residents had a desire for democracy.
“The severed dragon tail is interesting symbolism,” he said. “The Chinese people wanted the flag donated to Evanston as a way to share in the love of democracy.”