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Prosperity Mountain Sculpture to Pay Homage to Chinese in Wood River Valley
Tuesday, October 24, 2023


Chinese contributions to the Wood River Valley will be celebrated on Wednesday with the unveiling of “Prosperity Mountain.”

The Chinese American Heritage Sculpture created by artist Gemma Valdez Daggatt will be unveiled at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the corner of Walnut and Main streets in Hailey.

The sculpture, commissioned by the Hailey Arts & Historic Preservation Commission, stands eight feet tall. It’s built with mostly salvaged material, including grizzly mesh from a local mine.

It includes two interpretive plaques with photos of Chinese immigrants Wah Kee Lea and Tom Boo, both who are believed to have been in the valley in the 1890s. The top “Lu” round shape signifies wealth and prosperity. The lower mountain outline is derived from traditional ancient symbols.

Daggatt says she will be serving mooncakes representing the harvest season at the unveiling. She also will hand out lucky coins and ancestor money and burning joss, or incense, to give these long-gone residents a proper blessing.

“This is a history that has been hidden, whispered about for so long,” said Daggatt. “It’s healthier to talk about the past and move forward acknowledging history since our amazing lives in the valley are built upon the hard work—good and ugly—of those who came here before us.”

Chinese came to America in the late 1840s, eager to escape war and famine in the southern area of China known as Guangdong. Nearly a third of Idaho’s population in 1870 was Chinese, according to that year’s census.

Locally, Chinese worked for the Oregon Short Line Railroad and at the Bullion, Red Elephant, Carrie Creek and Triumph mines.

They established Chinatown along Hailey’s River Street and between Bullion and Carbonate streets. And the area west of River Street and south of Walnut still bears the name China Gardens for the truck gardens the Chinese cultivated along the Big Wood River.

In addition to growing and delivering vegetables, the Chinese did laundry, picking it up by wagon in summer and dog sled in winter. They also worked as live-in domestic servants and wood cutters and ran restaurants, opium dens and gambling halls.

At one time, the Hailey Chinese Masonic temple had 75 members.

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