Ah Sam - Jung Chew

USDA Forest Service
Payette National Forest, Heritage Program
July 2002
By Kathleen Prouty

In the wee hours of morning, over ice and snow
Comes Ah Sam from house to house
Blowing life back into the coals.

The poem describes a daily ritual performed by Ah Sam, honorable mayor of Warren, in the winter months during the 1920's and 1930's. In the cold morning hours Sam want house to house building the fires back up in the stoves for the sleeping residents. In return, the night before, the residents put out pastries, bread, cold cuts and other delicious treats. It was once said, "Sam must have been chucked full of breakfast by the time that last fire was built." (1) Ah Sam, was one of only two Chinese miners living in Warren in the early 1930's. The other was a man named Ah Kan.

Ah Sam was born in 1863. He was the nephew of China Sam. The 1920 and 1920 census records at Warren say he immigrated to the United States in 1881 at the age of 47. He worked as a gold miner and laborer. Ah Sam was able to read and write English, and he lived with Lee Dick and Ah Goon for a time. He was one of the hundreds of Chinese sojourners and immigrants that came to the gold country of central Idaho in search of economic opportunities. Unlike the other Chinese who returned to China or moved on after the gold was gone, Ah Sam stayed to make his life in Warren.

Ah Sam was a well-known character in the Warren mining district. His deeds of kindness and charity won him a warm spot in the hearts of his friends and acquaintances. (2) There is a story told by an old timer who stopped to visit Sam in his small cabin on evening and Saw was cooking a soup that contained antler velvet that was rich in blood. They both ate It and the old timer said it was good.

Ah Sam, Warren's second to last Chinese resident, died in 1933 at the age of 70. He was laid to rest in American soil on Warren's boot hill. He was one of only two Chinese men to be buried in the Pioneer Cemetery, which is a tribute to how his community felt about him.

(1) Jeffery M. Fee, Idaho Chinese Mountain Gardens, Payette National Forest , Heritage Program, McCall, Idaho, 1986.
(2) Sister M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Idaho Chinese Lore, Idaho Corporation of Benedictine Sisters, Cottonwood, Idaho, 1979.