Wheatland Chinese American Cemetery

Source:  Historic Resources Inventory – California Department of Parks and Recreation.

This small plot of land adjacent to the main cemetery in Wheatland has no grave markers, but there are believed to be bodies still buried there.  The only structure that remains is a burner for paper money.  This was reconstructed from the bricks of the original burner sometime after the original burner had collapsed.  The reconstructed burner has an unusual shape, with a barrel vault roof instead of a pyramidal roof.  The openings are too small and too low to be convenient for burning paper offerings.  Therefore, it appears likely that the original form has been changed in the reconstruction.  Nevertheless, it can be considered a monument to early Chinese pioneers in Wheatland.

Originally the Chinese American Cemetery was much larger.  It is asserted by the present owner of the original land, who is not a Chinese American, that the only burials remaining are in this section which he has given to the City of Wheatland.

At the time of Wheatland’s incorporation in 1874 the population of the town was about 900, and it is believed that fully 300 of this number were Chinese.  They probably came there originally to work on the railroad and thus were probably residents of the town from its very first days in the 1860’s.

The first Chinese American community in Wheatland occupied a plot of land between Railroad Avenue and D Street, on Third and Second Streets.  It paralleled the railroad, with houses going from Second to Third Street, forming an alley in between.  There were a laundry, a gambling house, other commercial buildings, and dwellings.  Among the merchants two of the most prominent were Hop Lee and Sam Ling.

There was also a Chinese settlement at the south end of town where a wash house and cottages existed along the bank of a slough which has since disappeared.  There was at least one Chinese American business establishment, a laundry, located on Main Street as well.

Some Chinese Americans worked as cooks in local restaurants and farms, some grew and sold vegetables at the Chinese Gardens (located south of town), some did laundry, and some worked over the mine tailings in the hills and on the Bear River.

By 1880, according to the census records, there were 95 Chinese Americans in Wheatland:  25 farm hands, 24 cooks, 9 railroad hands, 9 washmen, 4 laborers, 3 merchants, 1 doctor, 1 ranchman, and various others.

In the 1880’s Wheatland Anti-Chinese Club was formed, and a boycott of local Chinese goods and services was organized.  Laws were passed designed to place restrictions on Chinese Americans.  In 1886 the Farm Club united with the Anti-Chinese Club and formed the Wheatland Citizens Combined Anti-Chinese Club.  On February 25, 1886, a group of thirty masked men from Wheatland raided the Chinese workers on Mr. H. Roddan’s ranch, beat eleven hop pickers and then burned down the Chinese bunkhouse on D. D. Wood’s ranch.

As a consequence, the Chinese American community in Wheatland decreased in numbers and gradually disappeared.  Only the Chinese American Cemetery remains.  The rebuilding of the burner for paper money in the cemetery by the residents of Wheatland is concrete evidence of a change in attitude there today.

*Note of Caution:  The burner for paper money in this cemetery has been popularly known among the non-Chinese American residents of the Wheatland area as a “funeral pyre.”  This suggests “heathen practices” and images of cremating bodies outdoors.  They sometimes refer to the whole cemetery as a “funeral pyre” since the burner is the one structure remaining there.  They also say that food was cooked in the burner.  This is incorrect.  Food was brought to the cemetery already cooked.  Only sacred paper objects were burned in this burner.

Approximate property size:  half acre

Sources:  The Wheatland Historical Society – Marian Griffith – Wheatland, 1874-1974

Date form prepared:  December 31, 1979 by Dr. Nancy Way, Chinese American Survey, 466 South 5th Street #2, San Jose, CA 95112

The above was transcribed verbatim from a copy of the survey located at the Yuba County Library, California Room.  Kathy Sedler, March 2005.


Copyright ©2003  Kathy Sedler   ALL RIGHTS RESERVED