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Hells Canyon

Chinese Massacre Cove


One of the worst crimes in Oregon history took place here in May, 1887. There are conflicting accounts of exactly what happened, but the following is known to be true. A group of at least 31 Chinese miners were camped on the river when a small group of white men surrounded them and opened fire.


All of the miners were killed, including one man who managed to escape the initial onslaught but was chased down and bludgeoned to death with a rock.


The site of the massacre is very isolated, and the killers might have gotten away had they not thrown the bodies of the Chinese into the river. About two weeks later several of the bodies washed up on the shores near Lewiston, Idaho, about 65 miles downstream.


Local officials conducted a minimal investigation, but the Chinese men's San Francisco-based employer, the Sam Yup Company, hired a local justice of the peace, Joseph Vincent, to look further into the crime. Vincent determined that the killers were a band of local horse thieves, and he got one of the group to testify against the others.


Three of the group of killers took off before they could be arrested, but another three finally stood trial. In the courtroom the killers claimed to have been motivated by the lure of gold that the Chinese miners were sure to have. However, no gold was ever found among those who were arrested, and even if that were the real intent they could have easily robbed the Chinese without murdering them.


The jury was not moved by the testimonies, and all three men were acquitted. A local rancher who attended the trial said "I guess if they had killed 31 white men, something would have been done about it, but none of the jury knew the Chinamen or cared much about it, so they turned the men loose."

Sources: Edson, Nokes

About this site: Unlike most other sites, the location of Chinese Massacre Cove has been well documented. Gregory Nokes, a former reporter, has thoroughly researched this event and written about it at length. The site is on the Snake River and is now within the boundaries of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. This photograph looks down into the cove area in the immediate foreground. It's likely that the Chinese miners would have been panning for gold at the river's edge, and they would have been easy targets from any of the higher vantage points around the cove such as this one.

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