Chinese in Oregon
No Chinaman, not a resident of this State at the time of adoption of this Constitution, shall ever hold any real estate or mining claim, or work any mining claim therein.
Oregon Constitution, 1859, Art., Sec. 8
Despite anti-Chinese legislation, the Chinese had considerable influence in the settlement of eastern Oregon. Gold, discovered in 1852, along the John Day and Powder Rivers, opened the path to settlement, rapidly increasing the population. Placer mining and railroads brought over 3,000 Chinese to the region by 1880.
Unfavorable images of Chinese people as slaves and sojourners, either in debt-bondage or bound for return to China, preceded their arrival to the United States. The Oregon Constitution of 1859 prevented Chinese ownership of land or mining claims, but discriminatory and contradictory legislation taxed "defacto" Chinese operations and collected fees accordingly. By 1882, as Oregon settlement increased, the Chinese Exclusion Act prevented further immigration.
Chinese miners often claimed abandoned placers or worked for mining companies owned by non-Chinese. Placer mining -- the recovery of flakes, nuggets, and other particles of gold or silver freed when a vein was exposed to the elements and eroded -- was the main form of mining in eastern Oregon. This wasteful, hurried search for large nuggets took the form of panning, rocking, or sluicing to remove the boulders, rocks, and sediment impeding wealth. Chinese laborers removed boulders, constructed ditches and canals to bring water to mining districts, and despite discriminatory legislation, often obtained placers.