In 1865 gold was discovered in huge deposits in Idaho and in Montana. As soon as the word of these discoveries reached California, Chinese miners in that state started heading north in hopes of getting their own shares of the riches. At first a few small bands of individuals headed out, but by the following year groups of as many as 50 were traveling up through Nevada and into Oregon on their way to Idaho.
In May of 1866 word reached other travelers that a series of Chinese miner wagon trains had been attacked by Indians just over the Nevada-Oregon border near the Owyhee River. Reports in local newspapers stated that at least three separate groups of Chinese were involved, one of 50 men, another of 80 and a third allegedly made up of nearly 300 men. In all three cases almost of the Chinese were killed; only one Chinese survivor was reported to have gotten away.
The stories about these incidents come entirely from local newspapers and from some military reports by the Army commanders in charge of finding the Indian perpetrators. There was widespread general assumption that the attackers were Indians, but the military at the time used any excuse it could find to justify its continued efforts to wipe out most of the Indians in the West.
Historian Elmer Rusco, who wrote at length about these massacres, found that there is no firm evidence to blame the Indians for these attacks. He noted that at the time there was a proliferation of white outlaw gangs composed of white desperados, and that given widespread hated of the Chinese at the time it is very plausible that white men killed the Chinese and blamed the Indians on the attacks. He also found evidence in at least two military reports from the region that indicated white men were collaborating with or perhaps leading Indians on attacks against wagons trains and other travelers.
About this site: One of the sites where a massacre of Chinese miners is thought to have taken place was identified by historians working with the Bureau of Land Management. It is marked on BLM maps for southwestern Oregon as China Gulch, about 4 miles south of Route 95 near Rome.