No. 52

No. 52 often visited his friends who worked in the mines.

“No other Chinaman in Joplin has ever enjoyed the distinction of being the mixer that No. 52 was,” the Joplin News Herald remarked, recalling the life of one of the city’s few Chinese residents.

Little is known about “No. 52.” According to an article in the News-Herald, “No. 52” was the nickname of a Chinese immigrant named “Sam Wung, or something of a similar sound.” He was born the son of a fish vendor in Hong Kong. After he fell in love with the daughter of a well-to-do Hong Kong merchant, Sam sought to prove himself worthy of her love. Despite his best efforts, Sam failed to acquire the wealth he sought. So he boarded a ship for the United States, arriving in Louisiana, and found work at a cotton plantation.

Sam found himself working in cotton fields alongside African-Americans. It was also in Louisiana there that he obtained the nickname “No. 52.” “When payday came he received his envelope marked 52. And the title stuck with him.” A man named C.B. Oats met Sam in Louisiana and brought him to Joplin to find work in the mines. When a miner asked, “What’s the Chink’s name?” Oats replied, “They call him No. 52.” The name stuck.

Sam spoke wistfully of the girl he left behind in Hong Kong, but declared he could not return because a group of white men had cut off his queue while in Louisiana. Chinese men were required to wear their hair in a queue [pigtail] in deference to the emperor. If a Chinese citizen disobeyed this order, it was considered treason, and the penalty for disobedience was death. Fearful he would be executed if he returned to Hong Kong, Sam hoped to save up enough money to send for his beloved.

He found work in the mine of Monroe Clark and John F. Wise located on West Third Street just south of the Joplin Overall Factory near Byers Avenue. According to the News-Herald, Sam was the only Chinese immigrant to work in Joplin’s mines. It was explained that “Unlike his fellow yellow skinned brethren who contented themselves with cleaning dirty clothes and eating rice three times a day, No. 52 sought employment with white men, and despite his nationality he became a favorite.”

For “a number of years he labored with white men. Industrious, good natured, and honest, he won for himself an esteem that is seldom granted to Chinamen.” Impressed with Sam and his rapport with miners, John F. Wise offered him a position as a clerk in his grocery store, which Sam accepted. But even though he worked behind a counter, Sam would leave work in the evening to go to the mine and “spend many hours with the boys underground, chatting and telling stories.”

It was on one of these occasions that Sam stepped onto a tub to be lowered into the mine when tragedy struck. As the tub descended, the “can dropped suddenly a distance of fifteen feet, then stopped.” A cable had slipped on the whim [a whim was a large windlass]. Sam was jerked out of the tub and was “dashed to death” on the floor of the mine one hundred and thirty feet below. His broken body was retrieved and laid to rest in Fairview Cemetery. Sam’s grave was marked with a simple stone that read, “No. 52.”

His death brought sorrow to “hundreds of hearts for No. 52 was a popular Chinaman and he numbered his friends by his acquaintances.”

Source: Joplin News Herald

The Unfortunate Life of Jung Ling

Life was not easy in Joplin for a Chinese immigrant. The Chinese community was minuscule in the midst of a city whose population was overwhelming white.  In previous posts, we covered the lives and affairs of Joplin’s immigrant community, and found that their lives were fraught with hardship and hostility. Jung Ling, sometimes referred to Lo Jung Sing or just Jung Sing, was one of those immigrants. During his time in Joplin he had to deal with his American wife absconding with his life savings and was forced to defend his business with a pistol.

In June of 1907, Jung attempted to gain legal entry for his son into America. During an interview with a government investigator, Jung claimed his son was born in the United States. When the boy was four, Jung took him to China to live with Jung’s Chinese wife. Now that his son was older, Jung wanted the boy to return to the United States to pursue an education. The government investigator, identified only as Mr. Tape, was a Chinese-American reportedly renowned for his ability to uncover and expose illegal Chinese immigrants. Mr. Tape rarely ventured into Southwest Missouri as few Chinese immigrants made the area their home. Reportedly at this time Joplin was home to only five Chinese residents and Carthage had only one Chinese resident. We do not know whether or not Jung was successful in his attempt to bring his son to the United States, but we do know that he was living alone four years later.

The same year, Jung, who owned both the Troy Laundry (located at 109 West Fifth Street) and a restaurant (in a 1909 Joplin city directory it is simply called “Chinese Restaurant” located at 117 East Fifth and 624 ½ Main Streets – Google Maps indicates the laundry was located roughly where Columbia Traders is today and that both businesses were across the street from each other) found himself in trouble once again. Jung was working late at his restaurant on a Wednesday evening when four strange men entered. The men sat down as if they were going to order a meal. Jung walked over to take their order. Without warning, the men jumped to their feet and attacked Jung with a blackjack. Frantically, Jung tried to escape out the back door, only to be beaten and choked into unconsciousness by his attackers.

Twenty-one hours passed before friends of Jung aroused him with loud knocks on his door.  The thieves had locked him inside, perhaps to create the illusion that the restaurant was closed for business and to prevent a sooner discovery of their victim. Jung managed to unlock the door before he fell back into unconsciousness. A broken blackjack club, the metal shot used to give the weapon its heft spilled across the floor, illustrated the brutality of the attack. Once again, Jung’s savings had been stolen.

It was not until two weeks later, when the Joplin police had arrested a notorious robber, Arlie Smith, that Jung had the chance to identify one of his attackers.  The Chinese immigrant still bore the wounds inflicted upon him from a fortnight before, but was by no means fearful when he spied Smith in a cell.  The Joplin News-Herald reported that Jung leapt forward, prepared to attack Smith.  Smith, meanwhile, dismissed Jung with a slur, and laughed.  It’s unknown if Smith was tried for his robbery and assault of Jung, but already accused of other such thefts, it’s likely he was sent off to the penitentiary for one crime or another.

Sources: Joplin Globe, Joplin News Herald

Big Trouble in Little Joplin II

Life is never easy for immigrants in a foreign land.  The Chinese immigrants in Joplin had to deal with much more than simply petty crime as this story reveals.

Jung Gue, owner of a laundry on West Fifth Street, was not about to let “Dirty Billy” Williams rough him up.

The shirtless Chinese immigrant, clad only in a coat and trousers, testified in police court [as rendered by a Globe reporter], “Boy name Slim Bacon bring laundry to me. I think him velly good boy. He want to change him shirt and put clean shirt on. I telly him to go in back room and he go.”

When Slim Bacon, described as a “young street urchin” who occasionally worked as a waiter in a nearby “chop suey parlor,” departed the premises, he took Jung Gue’s only shirt with him. As Jung Gue told the police judge, “When he gone I find my shirt gone. Only shirt me have. Cost two, three dollars, maybe.”

The laundryman continued, “Yesterday Slim, he come back. I look at him and he got two shirt on, one mine. I try to make him give me shirt, him velly bad. Den dis boy, he name ‘Dirty Billy,’ he hold me, grab me around like dis and Slim, he run away, and Dirty Billy, him velly bad, him pick up rock and say him will throw rock on me. I call de policeman.”

As explained by the Globe reporter, Gue and Hop Chow Lee were about to make Slim hand over the stolen shirt when “Dirty Billy” Williams “butted into the argument, held Jung until Slim had fled, and then threatened Jung with a stone. Billy very patriotically declared to the judge that he wasn’t going to let any Chink run over a white man.”

Judge Bourn, however, disagreed with Dirty Billy and fined him $3 and costs. Bourn declared, “I never knew of these Chinamen ever bothering anybody. They tend to their own business, but there is a crowd of boys around there forever bothering them, and I am going to put a stop to it.”

Bourn, according to the reporter, had patronized Gue’s laundry for five years. This prompted Dirty Billy’s attorney to declare Bourn was prejudiced, but Bourn overruled on “account of the absurdity of a man being friendly to a man who had done his laundry for five years.” Before leaving the courtroom Gue shook hands with Bourn, who bid Gue ‘good evening’ in Chinese. The Chinese immigrant crowed to the Globe reporter, “Judge Bourn him velly good man.”

As for Slim Bacon, he was declared a fugitive and was doubtlessly still clad in Jung Gue’s good shirt.

Source: The Joplin Globe

Big Trouble in Little Joplin

Despite the widespread fear of the “Yellow Peril,” not all Americans viewed their Chinese neighbors as economic competitors or sinister agents of the Chinese Emperor. It also helped if they were hard working Christians. Preston McGoodwin, a reporter for the Joplin Globe who went on to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, profiled one of Joplin’s Chinese residents, Ah King.

King, owner of the Crystal Laundry located at 818 South Main Street, was lauded by McGoodwin as a “devout Christian worker.” He arrived in San Francisco, California, at the age of fourteen sometime around 1880. Although he did not tell McGoodwin how he ended up in the Midwest, he did relate that he arrived in Joplin in 1900 after living in nearby Springfield, Missouri. He reportedly astounded members of Joplin’s small Chinese community when he announced he was a devout Baptist. McGoodwin informed the Globe’s readers that King “differs materially from the average church and association members in that he is at all times devout and intensely sincere.” McGoodwin also praised King for his “scrupulously clean” business that employed several white girls who washed and ironed customer’s clothes. King’s luck did not last.

A few months later, the Joplin Globe reported that Ah King and his brother Sam Long left town after he fell behind on rent to the Leonard Mercantile and Realty Company. It was noted that King had always borne an “excellent reputation” and was a “consistent member of the Baptist Church.” Joplin residents who knew King insisted he left to find money to pay his landlord, he left behind in his wake two angry female employees who were forced to wash and iron laundry to make up for their lost wages. “He owes us, the wretch,” one of the girls growled as she starched shirts. Her compatriot added, “It’s a perfect outrage to treat us girls so.” Others thought that King was spirited away by members of the Boxers, an anti-Western Chinese group, because he openly expressed his disapproval of the group. King did not return to Joplin.

Chinese Christians

Chinese Christians, as pictured here, were detested by the Chinese Boxer Movement. This may have been why some believed the Boxers to be involved with King's disappearance.

Another one of the handful of Chinese residents in Joplin, Jung Sing, also experienced misfortune. Sing, who ran a “chop suey restaurant” on East Fifth Street, was arrested for selling opium. After he bonded out of jail, he returned home to find that his American wife had left him, taking his entire savings of $700. As Sing said (as crudely rendered by a Joplin Globe reporter), “She done skippee. When I fin’ she make getaway, I lookee in clash legister. All empty. Lookee in safe. Empty. I makee to fin’ out how much gone. Seven hundred dollar. I marry China gal next time.”

It was not the first time that Sing had had bad luck with women. After arriving in New York, he opened up a restaurant and married an American citizen. Together they lived in New York City’s Chinatown until one morning he woke up to find that she had disappeared. After searching their abode, he found she had taken $1000 of his money. Sing soon left for San Francisco where he met his second American wife. Together they moved to Joplin and lived there until she left with his money. When asked if he planned on catching her, Sing shook his head and said, “No, no. Makee no fuss. Never get seven hundred dollar back anyhow. Marry China gal next time.”

Chicago Chop suey restaurant

A chop suey restaurant in Chicago. Restaurants were always an option for immigrants seeking to find their place in a community, like Sing in Joplin.

Sing’s luck did not get any better. A few days later after his wife left him, two men came into his restaurant and refused to pay the bill. When Sing demanded they pay, the men attacked him. The proprietor ran to the back of his restaurant, grabbed a revolver, and chased the two men out onto the street. He fired two shots but failed to hit either man. After an investigation, Sing was arrested for disturbing the peace by Deputy Constable Norman Bricker. His fate is unknown, but one can hope that he found a wife who would not run off with his cash.

The experiences of Sing and King represent one more window into the world of Joplin’s Chinese immigrants. Did every immigrant come across similar bad luck or were our two migrants featured here the exception? Although historians cannot judge whether or not either man was truly accepted as a member of Joplin society, King may have been looked upon more favorably, as he was a devout Christian. Sing, on the other hand, may not have been as tolerated because he had been charged with selling opium and was married to a white woman during a time of great racial intolerance. Perhaps both men were fortunate enough to obtain their American dream far from the shores of the Celestial Kingdom.

Sources: Library of Congress, Joplin Globe.