The Canyon City gold rush quickly attracted many Chinese workers who had emigrated to the United States to work on railroads and also find their fortunes buried in the West's varied landscape.


Census figures showed that 940 Chinese lived in Grant County in 1870 and 905 in 1880. Most of the Chinese were engaged in mining, but the 1880 census shows there also were cooks, laundrymen, merchants, doctors, a shoemaker, a tailor and four prostitutes.

After the 1880s, when the placer and hydraulic mining played out, the Chinese population quickly declined and by 1900, according to the census, there were only 114 Chinese in the county.

There were two Chinese men, though, that stayed in Grant County their entire lives and became a very integral part of the community.

They were herbal doctor "Doc" Ing Hay and his friend and business partner Lung On.

Doc Hay arrived in John Day when he was 25 in 1887. He lived in John Day until 1948, when he broke his hip. He was sent to a nursing home in Portland, where he died in 1952 at the age of 89.

He and Lung On owned and operated the Kam Wah Chung Co. store, which was the center of the Chinese population in the late 1880s with its merchandise, religious shrine for worship and place for general socializing. It also was where Doc Hay practiced his herbal medicine, which made him known throughout most of eastern Oregon.

Doc Hay could diagnose illnesses by feeling a person's pulse. By lightly touching a person's radial artery in the wrist, he could tell the patient what was wrong with him, and also gave a history of past ailments - all without talking to the patient.

Once he told a mother of four that she had five children. At first she said no, so Hay felt her wrist again and again said that she had five children. Then she agreed, saying that one child had died.

Once a diagnosis was made, Hay would fix a herbal brew to effect a cure. Many of the herbs were imported from China. Hay's collection totaled more than 500 herbs. Once to cure a man suffering from swollen feet, he concocted a brew with more than 83 herbs.

As the Chinese population shrank, the Kam Wah Chung Co. relied more and more on Hay's medical practice with an increasing number of patients from he Caucasian community. Hay developed a reputation for curing blood poisoning, which was a frequent problem with ranch hands. He also was adept at treating menstrual problems.

Hay's partner Lung On was the entrepreneur. He could speak English fluently, was a good writer and adept at turning one dollar into two.

In addition, he developed a reputation as something of a lady's man, and not just with Chinese women. Apparently, white girls were also attracted to his good looks, charm and dress.

Doc Hay never learned to drive and often it was Lung On who would take him, by car, to see a patient.

In fact, Lung On started a Pontiac dealership in John Day, the first automobile dealership in Eastern Oregon.

Lung On died in April 1940. Hay continued his practice, but due to increasing blindness, the advancements of American medicine and an increasing attitude that herbal medicine was improper, his practice decreased.

After Doc Hay died, his nephew, Bob Wah, deeded the Kam Wah Chung building to the City of John Day in 1955. It was left locked and unattended for many years and the city even forgot it owned it.

However, a survey that was conducted in 1967 found that the building was owned by the city.

When the building was opened and inspected, an astonishing amount of the original contents were still there.

Through the efforts of many, the building was restored and on June 02, 1977, opened as the Kam Wah Chung Museum. Today, it is a museum open to the public, displaying a wealth of 19th century Chinese culture.

There are proposals to make it the centerpiece of a Chinese Cultural Complex in John Day.

Doc Hay, Lung On and Bob Wah are buried in the Rest Lawn Cemetery in John Day.


Grant County, Oregon
A Place Called Oregon
Index to Chinese Culture
R. GESS SMITH