By Dave Maxwell
County Commissioners Oct. 1 decided they would investigate having a land survey done to determine where the lines of the old Chinese cemetery are in Hawthorne and who owns what?
The decision was made after discussing an agenda item presented by Kellie Zuniga, County Museum Conservator, on behalf of Larry Leeuw of Fallon, who also made a request to the board.
Commissioner Garth Price said there is land that has been identified as having once been a likely spot for the Chinese cemetery. “The land,” he said, “is located at the corrals and the bi-pass road that departs from U.S. 95 and bypasses the business district before rejoining U.S. 95 at the McDonalds store.
Part of it is federal Department of Defense land and the other is county land, likely only a sliver of it Hegg thinks. “We don’t have a proper survey of exactly where the lines are,” he said. “Somebody owns a majority of the land, we just don’t know which one.”
He proposed a survey be done, but no choice of a surveyor was made.
The board will likely continue to discuss the matter at future meetings.
Leeuw spoke to the board about building a Chinese altar and putting up a fence around the graveyard once the survey is completed and preserving the culture of the Chinese contribution once made to Mineral County and Hawthorne.
The reason for building an altar Leeuw explained is, “the Chinese believe that in order to make an offering to their ancestors, they burn it. The altar looks like a small barbecue pit upon which ritual offerings are made.” Offerings would typically include traditional food dishes, and the burning of joss sticks and joss paper.
“It is a cultural event,” Leeuw explained, “and after they eat the food, they clean the cemetery. During the process of the cleaning, they place incense that represents the sky, air and earth.
The Qingming or Ching Ming festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English (sometimes also called Chinese Memorial Day or Ancestors’ Day), is a traditional Chinese festival. It falls on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. It falls on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, which on the Gregorian calendar, is either April 4, 5 or 6 in any given year.
Leeuw added, “But we don’t have anything at the (Hawthorne) cemetery where the Chinese can perform this ceremony. There’s no fence around the cemetery, no signage, and no place to put their incense.”
He has been able to improve the Chinese cemetery in Lovelock.
Historians have long noted Chinese workers took part in the building of the Carson and Colorado Railroad connecting Carson City and Hawthorne in 1881. Hawthorne, at one time, even had a small Chinatown community.
Prior to that, some of the Chinese may have also worked for the Central Pacific Railroad building the transcontinental railroad that punched through the Sierra Nevada mountains and eventually connected with the westward bound Union Pacific Railroad and driving of the Golden Spike on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah.
Most were single or married men whose wives were in China. By the late 1880’s, the Chinese population of Hawthorne grew and was prominent in the main part of town. There were few women and children. One of the more prominent families was that of Chung Kee. Over time however, the cemetery boundaries were lost. In May, 2008 a survey was conducted for human remains using cadaver dogs from the Institute of Canine Forensics. Several suspected grave sites were found and the locations were plotted. There may be 100 graves, some of which have been identified with death certificates.
In a later interview with the Independent-News, Ms. Zuniga said, “If the cemetery is listed on the Historical Register, which I think it is, we may not be able to do anything at all because once things are on the register it is very limited what you are allowed to do.”
But she said she had not checked into the matter further as yet, “to find just what we might be capable of doing without getting into some kind of historical problem.”