A new trail to honor the contributions of Chinese miners during the gold rush has been dedicated at Marshall Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma.
The Gam Saan Trail, which means “Gold Mountain” in Cantonese, is what the miners used to call this area. The renaming effort was led by California State Parks and the Locke Foundation, an organization working to honor and preserve Chinese American history in the Central Valley.
“The mining of gold was the beginning of the economic development of the state,” Douglas Hsia, board member of the Locke Foundation, said. “And the Chinese played a big part of it, but we were never written about and never talked about before.”
California State Parks said the land around the trail, near a baseball field, sat unused for decades. For many years, a sign by what is now the entrance to Gam Saan Trail simply said the area was under development. But recently, the agency discovered that sections of the land were part of a burial ground for Chinese miners, and reached out to the Locke Foundation to work towards properly dedicating the area.
“We discovered that some of this hillside was used for the people that died during the gold rush period, and they were buried on this hillside so their spirits could find their way to that final ending place,” said Steve Hilton, the Cultural Resource supervisor with California State Parks.
The opening of the new trail was marked by a Buddhist prayer and a lion dance ceremony. Hsia said that the occasion was momentous because this would be one of just a handful of state park properties that have a Chinese name.
“I think Asian names are way underrepresented in this country,” Hsia said. He pointed out Sing Peak in Yosemite National Park as one example, but said he couldn’t think of many others.
Linda Lui, president of the Sacramento Chinese of Indo-China Friendship Association, said the dedication was an important moment for Chinese Americans in Northern California, especially after last year’s rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
“Being a part of Chinese heritage here, I’m pretty proud,” Lui said. “I think that especially during this time, I think getting acknowledged, we know that we belong. Just to let the community know that we’re Chinese but we’re Chinese American.”
This acknowledgement of the Chinese contribution comes as many are seeking to tell stories of all of the people who participated in the California gold rush. Late last year, Jonathan Burgess and his family — who are Black — put forth a claim to some of the land that is now Marshall Gold Discovery State Park, saying it once belonged to their ancestors who came to mine gold.
“This park is known for the discovery of gold, but behind me today, this is some of the first Chinese property owned,” said Barry Smith, chief ranger of the Gold Fields district which includes Marshall Gold Discovery State Park. “And you can walk to the top of the hillside and you’ll find that some of the first African American land owned is here at Marshall Gold, it’s absolutely incredible.”
Hsia said he was glad that Chinese Americans can finally see their part in the gold rush be acknowledged.
“America is our home, and a home should bear our name plate,” Hsia said. “This is so meaningful to us, we have a place and a name that we can call home.”
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