From 1840 to 1862, the Taiping Rebellion raged in China, leaving about 20 million people dead and encouraging many to leave the country. Many people fled China seeking their fortunes in the California gold fields. Many of those who failed to find their fortunes in California moved on to other gold camps, including Butte, Montana. By 1870, there was a Chinatown in Butte. By 1910, there were 2,500 Chinese living in Butte and its Chinatown was home to a great variety of businesses, including noodle parlors, general stores, doctors, laundries, gaming establishments, and herblists.
The Great Depression was hard on Butte’s Chinatown and by the 1940s only a few families remained. In 2007, Mitzi Rossillon directed the Butte Chinatown Archaeological Dig for Renewable Technologies, Inc. The dig was funded by the Butte-Silver Bow County’s Urban Revitalization Agency. Some 60,000 artifacts were uncovered in the dig and ownership of the artifacts was transferred to the Mai Wah Society where some of them are currently displayed. Photographs of some of the artifacts and the displays are shown below.
Food and Drink:
The excavation uncovered many artifacts related to food and drink. While many of these were of Chinese origin, there were also pieces from England, Korea, Japan, and the United States.
Personal Hygiene and Medicine:
Many of the artifacts were medicine bottles of many different colors and shapes. Some have Chinese writing or Chinese marks.
Games and Recreation:
Fan tan is a traditional Chinese gambling game. A square is marked out with the sides labeled as 1, 2, 3, and 4. The banker then takes a double handful of small buttons, beads, coins, dried beans, or other markers which are then covered with a metal bowl, known as tan koi. The players then place their bets on the numbers 1 through 4. The banker then removes the bowl and then, using a croupier (tan kan), removes the markers four at a time. When the final batch is reached, if there are four markers then four wins, if three then three wins, and so on.