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Homestead History
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The ever welcome Sanitary Commission. [Stereograph] 1861-1865.

In 1871, 20 Chinese immigrants were killed in a single riot in Los Angeles. In 1885, 28 were killed in a riot in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

enry Villard, with his wealth and political connections, planned a dizzying celebration to mark the railroad's opening. Villard chartered four special trains ("Gold Spike Specials") to carry VIPs to Montana. The trains' passenger lists featured a glittering array of national and foreign dignitaries: the governors of all the states through which the railroad passed; ex-President Ulysses S. Grant; British Earls and Ladies; German professors, businessmen, and financiers; and others. Practically every city and town along the railroad threw celebrations in honor of the special guests.

When the trains reached Bismarck on September 3, they were met by none other than Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, whom the Secretary of State allowed off the reservation for the day. Sitting Bull had risen to almost mythic status since the Sioux's defeat, and the European dignitaries were fascinated. The great chief, accompanied by a translator, was to make a speech welcoming those aboard the Gold Spike Specials. Instead of reciting the speech he had been given, Sitting Bull, in his own language, said, "I hate you. I hate all the white people. You are thieves and liars. You have taken away our land and made us outcasts." Sitting Bull's translator hastily and dutifully spoke the words of the prepared speech.

Following the speeches, 200 Crow Indians did a war dance, which deeply impressed the dignitaries. Newspapers of the day reported that many of the passengers were "so intoxicated with the dance that they forgot they were playing the part of gentlemen." They threw blankets over their heads and danced down the aisles, chanting and screaming "in excellent imitation of their heathenish prototypes." Shortly afterward, stewards began serving beer from the Lehrkind Brewery in Bozeman, and the merrymaking continued long into the night.

Villard had ordered a "last spike pavilion" constructed at Gold Creek, Montana, where gold was first discovered in the Territory thirty-one years previously. Work crews removed a small section of track to give the appearance of working towards completion. On the afternoon of September 8, after more speeches and cheers, Villard drove a plain iron spike into the rails. The Northern Pacific was "officially" open. On September 11, 1883, the Northern Pacific's first transcontinental train arrived in Portland, Oregon, from far-off Minnesota.

Throughout the pomp and ceremony of the railroad's opening, one story of its construction was largely overlooked, and has generally remained so. While Henry Villard's work crews of 4,000 men made their way across Montana, over 2,600 of them were Chinese. The Northern Pacific, like many of the railroads of the West, was the result of a labor force comprised largely of Chinese immigrants. Despite their formidable contributions to the "settling" of the West, Chinese immigrants were met with prejudice, exclusion, and discrimination.

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