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

The Chinese Immigrants of Joplin

Walter Williams, founder of the University of Missouri’s Journalism School, once wrote “Joplin is a city of self-made men, nearly every one of the moneyed citizens having made his fortune there. They are largely American born and American educated.” As Williams observed, Joplin was primarily populated by American citizens, but there were many immigrants who called Joplin home.  Few, however, were Chinese.

Chinese immigrants arrived on America’s shores beginning in the late 1840s during the California Gold Rush. Two decades later, even larger numbers of Chinese laborers were recruited to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. The influx of cheap labor and threat of economic competition sparked racial animosity. Violent anti-Chinese riots broke out in several American cities, including Denver, Seattle, and Rock Springs, Wyoming.  In 1882, in response to growing outrage over Chinese competition, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act. The act suspended Chinese immigration to America for a period of ten years. Only those Chinese immigrants who arrived prior to the act’s passage were permitted to stay.

An anti-Chinese immigration illustration from the virulent Wasp magazine of San Francisco

An illustration from "The Wasp" a magazine of San Francisco often noted for its virulent depictions of Chinese Immigrants. Available from the Library of Congress

At the turn of the century, both St. Louis and Kansas City were home to sizable Chinese communities but the Chinese presence in Joplin was less substantial.  Historians can be stymied by gaps in the historical record. The earliest Joplin city directory to have survived the ravages of time dates to 1899, leaving a gap in the city’s history that ranges decades. Meanwhile, county histories often overlooked and ignored the presence and contributions of minorities. Although the state of Missouri attempted to collect birth and death records beginning in 1883, the effort failed until 1910, when the Missouri General Assembly passed a law making it mandatory for counties to record birth and death information.  Few archival collections can boast of letters, diaries, and manuscripts from early Joplin, much less one kept by Chinese resident. Thus, it is often difficult to piece together the history of an immigrant group at the local level, especially if it was a particularly small immigrant group.

According to the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, there were no Chinese immigrants living in Joplin. By 1880, however, at least one Chinese immigrant called Joplin home. Lum Wong, a single twenty-seven year old native of China, listed his occupation as “servant – clerk in store.” He could not read or write English. Wong lived with sixty-four year old Jacob Wise, a retired merchant. A few years later, in1883, an advertisement appeared in the Joplin Daily Herald for a “Chinese Laundry” run by Lee Hem.

Ad for Chinese Laundry

An advertisement for Hem's Chinese Laundry in Joplin

Although Lum Wong did not appear in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, five other Chinese immigrants are listed as residents of Joplin. Most, if not all, worked in the laundry business. G. Goro, a thirty-six-year-old immigrant, lived on Main Street. According to the census, his neighbors described themselves gamblers, blacksmiths, day laborers, miners, and traveling salesmen. Sing See, Jung Jin, and Low Chung described themselves as “partners” in a laundry. See and Chung listed the year of their immigration as 1877 while Jin arrived in American in 1879. Thirty-four-year-old A. King, who roomed in a boarding house on Main Street, listed his occupation as “Chinese laundryman.” Unable to work in the mines, Chinese immigrants were forced to eke out their living in whatever industry was accessible, and often greatly restricted along racial lines.

Albert Cahn, a German-born clothing salesman who spoke at the opening of the Joplin Club in 1891 echoed the words of many American politicians when he declared, “This is the best apple country to be found and had Adam and Eve been placed here that Garden of Eden story would never have been told. We have vineyards here for the German, railroads for the sons of the Emerald Isle, commerce for the English, but no use for the Chinese.”

By 1910, only two Chinese immigrants lived in Joplin. One, Jung Low, gave his occupation as “Chinese laundry.” The other, John Jungyong, ran a restaurant.

Within ten years, the Chinese population in Joplin grew when Toy Jung, an immigrant to America since 1890, opened a Chinese restaurant. Toy, the proprietor, was assisted in his business by a partner, Ling Kwong, who had reached the states five years after Toy. Additionally, five cousins of Toy worked as cooks and waiters. Only two of Toy’s cousins were born in California; Toy, his partner, and his three other cousins were all born in Canton, China.  Another Chinese run business listed in 1920 was a laundry run by a Chinese-American named Charlie Hoplong.

The 1930 Census revealed the presence of another Chinese restaurant run by Shang Hai Lo, a sixty-year old restaurateur from Canton, China who had arrived from China the same year as Toy Jung.  It also noted the absence of Charlie Hoplong and his laundry business.  Four years later, Toy Jung, who had spent at least fourteen years in Joplin, passed away leaving only his wife Quong Jung to mourn his death.

Today there are a small number of Chinese residents in Joplin. If you want to sample some of the finest Chinese in the Midwest, stop by Empress Lion. This small, unassuming restaurant located in a strip mall at the corner of 32nd Street and Connecticut, offers some of the finest Chinese to be had.  (We hope you’re well, Tiger and Lily!)

Sources: United States Census, “History of Jasper County and Its People” by Joel Livingston, and the Joplin Daily Herald, “The State of Missouri” by Walter Williams, and the Library of Congress.