Archaeologists find evidence of Chinese camp near Truckee
TRUCKEE — Archaeologists digging in an area near here on public land found evidence of what they believe to be a Chinese logging camp that dates back to the 1870s.
Artifacts found at the U.S. Forest Service site off of Sawtooth Road include an ax head, metal files, opium can fragments, a Chinese medicine bottle, firearms cartridges and fragments of Asian food storage vessels and tableware.
The excavation is being done by archaeologists Scott Baxter and Rebecca Allen of Past Forward, Inc., a company that specializes in historic resource evaluations; Baxter’s wife, Kimberly Wooten, an archaeologist with Caltrans and Carrie Smith, the district archaeologist for the Truckee Ranger District.
The excavations will determine the historical importance of the site and whether it may be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
With that in mind, the scientists began digging in selected locations throughout the site looking for evidence.
“We’ve already found a lot more artifacts than I expected … and it’s pretty diverse stuff related to logging, metal working and recreation,” Baxter said. “We’ve also got a lot of firearms cartridges, which I’m kind of surprised about.”
Also found at the site were remnants of an old two-person “misery whipsaw” used by loggers during the 1870s, a piece of a grinding wheel for sharpening metal tools, a padlock from the Central Pacific Railroad, fragments of a ceramic tobacco pipe and numerous nails that may have been used in the construction of a cabin.
“This area is just covered in artifacts,” Smith said.
The abundance of artifacts at the site has led the archaeologists to presume that either the site housed a large number of people for a relatively brief period of time, or else it was a more permanent camp and was used for a significant length of time.
Evidence of historic Chinese camps has been found in many areas around Truckee; however, this is the first site found on land managed by the Truckee Ranger District of the Forest Service.
“It’s an ongoing battle to preserve these sites,” Smith said.
Especially frustrating to archaeologists are collectors who might pick up historic artifacts without appreciating the damage they are doing to a valuable resource.
“The really sad thing about archaeology sites is that if people come and collect things, it’s like little pieces of puzzles getting picked up and taken away,” Smith said. “You wind up with a Swiss cheese type of picture of what went on here.”
Collecting artifacts on public lands is illegal and can carry fines of up to $10,000.
Depending upon their conclusions, the archaeologists may recommend that the site’s historical significance and integrity warrant its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that would require the Forest Service to manage the site differently than if it was deemed less important.
“Basically we’re out here trying to determine if this site is important or not,” Baxter said. “Does this site have the data potential to tell us how it fits into the greater scheme of all the logging camps in the area.”