The China Ranch

Payette National Forest, Heritage Program
May 2006

Chinese home.

Five locations with Chinese terraced gardens have been recorded in the South Fork of the Salmon River drainage on the Payette National Forest. These gardens supplied fruits and vegetables to the gold miners at Warren, and may have begun producing as early as the 1870's. The most accessible garden is at Hays Station, located on the road to the Hettinger Ranch. It is also the highest in elevation at 4,700 feet above seal lever, and the largest, covering several acres. These garden terraces were irrigated with water from China Creek and possible from "K" Creek.

Three documents recently found at the Idaho County Courthouse suggest that Hays Stations was once called the "China Ranch" or the "China Jake Ranch", and was owned by Ah Ming, Ah Jake, and Ah Kan. On September 1, 1887, Ah Ming and Ah Jake mortgaged "One vegetable ranch situated about eight miles in an easterly direction from the town of Warrens and known as the China Ranch and appurtenances together with six horses and their apparajos, saddles and all things belonging to them…". The mortgage for one hundred and ten dollars was held by James Edwards, who at one time was a hotel keeper in Warren. Ah Ming and Ah Jake were to repay the mortgage in eleven months and were charged 1 ½ % interest per month.

Almost a year later, on August 9, 1888, Ah Jake, Ah Ming, and Ah Kan sold "All that piece or parcel of land on or near the South Fork of Salmon River about 7 miles southeast of Warrens in Idaho Co., I.T. known as the China Jake Ranch. Also improvements, ditches, water rights, crop (sic), and appurtenances, also 6 horses with rigging and all the farming." The purchases, Charles Bemis, paid $500 for the property. Although descriptions of the land are slightly different, it is probably that they are the same location. Hays Station is located six air miles southeast of Warren.

There is no evidence that Charlie Bemis, a resident of Warren, ever lived or worked at this ranch. It is possible that he bought the ranch as a way to protect the Chinese owners. In 1887 a federal law was passed that restricted "the ownership of real estate in the Territories to American citizens…" The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited American citizenship to "free white persons", so the Chinese population could not become citizens, and thus could not own property. Prior to 1887, many Chinese individuals and companies had purchased mining claims and property in Idaho County. Perhaps the purchase of this land by Bemis allowed the Chinese gardeners to continue working there or perhaps he purchased it so that these individuals would receive remuneration for their land and improvements. No record has been found at the courthouse indicating the Bemis ever sold the land.

The "China Ranch" is mentioned in one other document found at the courthouse. On July 7, 1899, John Keefer sold to William C. Hallowell "An undivided one half interest in the ranch known as the China Ranch, situated near the Frank Smith trail, and about eight miles from the town of Warren, Idaho, together with one half the crop and one half of the improvements and in the stock consisting of two head of horses, and about fifty chickens." The Frank Smith Ranch, located at the mouth of Smith Creek, later became the Hettinger Ranch, and the Frank Smith trail would have gone by Hays Station. A 1912 Idaho National Forest map shows the trail and road system between Warren and the South Fork and this trail is noted on the map.

No record of Keefer purchasing the property has been found. Hallowell as a friend of Charlie Hayes who later lived at Hays Station (the spelling of the last name changed over time.) The Idaho National Forest acquired the land in 1908 so that they could establish a ranger station at that location. The geographical names China Mountain and China Creek near Hays Station also suggest a Chinese presence in this vicinity.

Hays Station today.

Hays Station slopes towards the south and the winter snow would have melted much earlier there than in Warren. There are records at the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho, listing the produce that a Mount Idaho merchant bought from the Chinese gardeners who grew crops on the Clearwater River. He purchased onions, turnips, potatoes, cucumbers, corn, cabbage, melons, string beans, tomatoes, radishes, beets and peas. Similar crops were probably grown at the China Ranch but no records have been found that tell that story.

References

Bill of Sale Book 2. P. 142, Idaho County Courthouse, Grangeville, Idaho.
Chattel Mortgages 2, pp. 47-78, Idaho County Courthouse, Grangeville, Idaho.
Deed Book 7, pp. 35-37, Idaho County Courthouse, Grangeville, Idaho.
L.P. Brown ledger, Historical Museum at St. Gertrude.