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Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial, Baldwin City, KS

Updated on November 22, 2010

"This cross was erected in memory of the many Chinese workers who died in late 1867, of diseases and extreme weather conditions, and were buried in unmarked mass graves, building the railroad from Lawrence to Ottawa to meet a December 31, 1867 deadline."

This memorial is located in Douglas County, Kansas, just northwest of the town of Baldwin City. (Approximate address: 1558 North 400 Road. Geo-Coordinates: 38.796901,-95.210667)

The Kansas Historical Society has an article that discusses The Building of the First Kansas Railroad, but the history does not include the plight of the Chinese railroad workers.

The society calls the construction an "all-out construction race in the state to cash in on county bonds before a fixed deadline".

Was safety compromised in the name of progress? Or were these deaths, as the signs says, primarily due to disease and weather exposure?

Conditions for Chinese workers, for example, on the Transcontinental Railroad, are well documented:

The first Chinese were hired at approximately $28 per month to do the very dangerous work of blasting and laying ties over the treacherous terrain of the high Sierras. They lived in simply dwellings and cooked their own meals, often consisting of fish, dried oysters and fruit, mushrooms and seaweed.

No one has recorded the names of those who gave their lives in this stupendous undertaking. It is known that the bones of 1,200 men were shipped back to China to be buried in the land of their forefathers, but that was by no means the total score.

Thousands of these young men gave their lives in the building of the railroads. The dead were never counted, nor have they been memorialized. Some twenty thousand pounds of bones were gathered from shallow graves along the roadbeds and rights of way, according to a newspaper of 1870 quoted in The History of the Chinese in America, by Philip Choy and H. Mark Lai. These bones of about twelve hundred Chinese who died in the building of the transcontinental line were eventually shipped home. But many others lie to this day in unmarked graves in every western state.

It is not known at this time who erected and maintains this memorial.

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