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Washoe Zephyrs and anti-Chinese sentiment

Trent Dolan
Special to the Appeal
The front page of the Morning Appeal on Saturday, Jan. 23, 1886.
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In January 1886, the mines on the Comstock were in a slump and the Chinese were becoming a problem. There were just too many of them and Chinatown had become an area of town plagued by opium dens and drunks. The Washoe Zephyrs that Mark Twain described in Roughing It caused havoc with Main Street, not to mention pedestrian traffic:

The “Washoe Zephyr” is a peculiarly Scriptural wind, in that no man knoweth “whence it cometh.” That is to say, where it originates. It comes right over the mountains from the West, but when one crosses the ridge he does not find any of it on the other side! It probably is manufactured on the mountaintop for the occasion, and starts from there.

The Morning Appeal in January 1886 described the storm to end all storms this way:

The night before last Carson was visited by the heaviest storm known here for many years. At sunset a mass of clouds were banked up behind the Sierra range as if waiting for the darkness to attack the city. There was a ball in progress at the Armory, and many people left the hall believing that the building would be unable to withstand the force of the wind. At its height, the wind reached its maximum strength between 2:30 and 2:45 in the morning. The wind register at Friend’s Observatory showed that during these fifteen minutes the gale traveled at a rate of 44 miles an hour. Few people were able to sleep at that time. When the storm cleared in the morning it was so still that a match would remain burning in open air, and had it been summer not a leaf would have stirred on the trees.

Considerable damage was done in the city, the front of the old theater was demolished. The windows of the dome of the Capitol were all blown in on the West side. The signs on E. B. Rail’s store were all blown down. A large cottonwood tree in front of General Clarke’s was laid low. It was one of the largest trees in Carson. One man had a shed filled with chickens blown clear across the yard.

A Terrible Experience

After the storm, there was a story of a west Carson rancher, who, after “taking in a little” at Klein’s Brewery, was walking down King Street when he heard a rush behind him. He thought it safest to rush to Main Street. What had happened was a stack of empty beer barrels had overturned and the wind had pushed them after the terrified rancher.

The man was so badly frightened that he yelled for the Police at every jump, but this was no night for the police to be exposed to the inclement weather and his calls were not responded to.

As he passed Justice Gaige’s court on a fast run, a dry goods box left its place and turned end over end by the gale joined by the beer kegs, giving the fugitive the idea that the boss food pad was in the lead.

As he reached Avery’s corner he turned into the door, and sucked in by a sort of whirlwind the beer kegs piled on him, some of them following him almost to the bar, like wolves thirsting for blood. He fell in a dead faint under the billiard table. By this time the beer kegs had quieted down, and the dry goods box, a little tired itself, paused in front of the door.

This story is not connected from the idle tales of the yeomenry, but is simply a plain recital of the facts as they came to this office.

The Anti-Chinese Movement

A meeting was called in January in Judge Gaige’s chambers. Filled to overflow, residents wanted to quell the overflow of Chinese in Carson City. With a downturn in the economy, the Chinese were taking jobs and undercutting the going rate for goods and services. Chinese woodcutters were everywhere and the problem was getting worse.

In an editorial by the Appeal in the days following, this sentiment raised:

These servants and vegetable dealers are sent on as the advance guard of the invaders. These Chinese are wiley people, and they are cunning enough to send at first into a new country that class which will be well received. When they get a new country used to the Chinese so that they like them, then by slow and stealthy stages the artisans are sent; who, by living on 20 cents a day, are able to make shoes, cigars, clothes, etc., etc., until the white workers are driven into starvation.

The Mongrel serpent is winding its coils about Nevada, doing it so quietly and noiselessly that we hardly realize what is going on, but when these coils begin to tighten it will be too late to escape.

Residents called for a boycott. In turn, the Chinese community threw in the gauntlet to the leading merchants of the city saying they would boycott business in turn if they took any part in the anti-Chinese movement. Merchants H. S. Mason, M. Cohn, Walter Chedic, and George Hark were all singled-out by the Chinese for the boycott.

An investigation at the time on the amount of money made by the Chinese woodcutting for the mines and railroads estimated that at least $100,000 and as much as $250,000 per year was being made and sent back to China by the workers. Chinese presence had become an economic issue.

The Poor Farm

The Ormsby County Commissioners were looking to put in a poor farm to cut costs, and traveled to Reno to get new ideas.

Washoe county has saved over $500 a month by this course, and Ormsby ought to save as much if not more. At present the poor of Ormsby cost several hundred dollars a month, and all of these can be taken care of on the Poor Farm for $200 a month. We are informed that the expenses of maintaining the poor … has at times reached $800 a month. Under the new system those who receive county aid will be obliged to live at the poor house and no longer receive aid quietly.

The Poor House, or Poor Farm, was located where the present Fuji Park is located.

The Hose and Politics

City trustees were wrangling over the cost of hose for the fire department at a trustees meeting. Involved was a city trustee who was selling fire hose to the city from his own company. The Morning Appeal ran the following:

When the bill was called up, Chairman Kennedy asked Mr. Muller (trustee and owner of Muller, Schmitt & Co.) if his firm was willing to give the city a bond to square the expenses of any law suit resulting from the hose. Mr. Muller said Eureka Hose Co. had guaranteed the hose to be first class. Mr. Kennedy replied that the question of the genuiness of the hose was not in question, but the right of sale in certain territory.

The District Attorney called attention to the fact that the city was not dealing with the eastern company, but with Muller, Schmitt & Co.

Mr. Muller still refused to give the required bond.

The discussion raged on. Would the hose be purchased at cost? No, Muller said that was heresay and nobody’s business if a cash discount was given. The discussion went on for another two hours. In the end, the bill was paid for the fire hose and it was ordered not to be used pending action by E.B. Rail, who had apparently offered to sell the city fire hose, but was undercut by a city trustee.

• Trent Dolan is the son of Bill Dolan, who wrote a column for the Nevada Appeal from 1947 until his death in 2006.