Following the 1860 discovery of gold, what would become Pierce, Idaho, thousands of miners rushed to the area. By 1865 Chinese miners were allowed in the Pierce mining district. Once the Chinese were permitted, they were quick to arrive.
Situated at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, and accessible to the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River, Lewiston, Idaho, became a point of destination for miners and mining supplies. As Idaho's only seaport, Lewiston saw a boom in its economy and growth due to the discovery of gold seventy-five miles northwest of its river location, Pierce, Idaho. As was often the case with such 19th century discoveries of gold, both Chinese miners and support personnel flocked to the area. Although the 1870 census showed only 71 within Lewiston's boundaries, an additional 675 Chinese people were counted in nearby mining areas. Almost all were men.
Most of the Chinese who came to Lewiston during the late nineteenth century were from the Toishan district of southern China's Guangdong Province, a rural area of the Chu Jiang (Pearl River) delta. These immigrants brought their religion with them and practiced it here until the latter part of the twentieth century. Their religious belief system, a form of Taoism, combined elements of Confucianism and Buddhism with traditional folk practices and mythology.
The earliest known area temple was destroyed by fire in March 1875, only ten years after the first Chinese arrived in Lewiston. Its successor was probably built by mid-November of that year. About 1888, Lewiston's Chinese community began to collect money to build a new temple and in 1890 purchased property on C Street, what is now Lewiston's historic downtown. The new temple remained there until 1959.
In their homeland, the Chinese had a long tradition of clan, district, and fraternal organizations. The vast majority of such Chinese men's tongs, or associations, were law-abiding bodies that existed mainly to provide social interaction and benevolent services to their members.
As a secret society, there is much we do not know about its organization and practices, though a 1948 newspaper article and photograph give clues to many of the Hip Sing Tong's furnishing, some of which are displayed in the exhibit
Funding for the restoration, conservation and installation of this exhibit was provided, in part, by the Idaho Humanities Council, the Idaho Heritage Trust, the Lewis-Clark State College Educational Assistance & Development Foundation, and the Idaho Commission on the Arts.
Chinese at the confluence: Lewiston's beuk aie temple
Priscilla Wegars (Author) [2000, Confluence Press]