Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Cultural Heritage Option)

Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Kelly J. Dixon

Commitee Members

John Douglas, Richard Sattler, Philip West, Ellen Baumler


Archaeology, Butte, Chinese, Gender, Helena, History, Laundry, Mining, Missoula, Montana, Opium, Railroad, Social Organization, Virginia City


University of Montana


The Chinese immigrants who came to Montana during the 19th and 20th centuries forged a new community. The goals of this dissertation were to create a historical and archaeological context for Chinese Experience in Montana, and to frame the interpretation of these results within a social organization framework that highlights the role of Overseas Chinese voluntary organizations such as secret societies. Archaeologists and historians have studied the Chinese in Montana for a little over two decades, though nothing comprehensive has ever been attempted to sew together the various investigations. In addition, there has been no attempt to inventory all the known Chinese archaeological sites in Montana, and how these fit into the broad patterns of history. Between first large-scale gold discovery in Montana Territory during 1862 until 1900, the Chinese engaged largely in placer-mining endeavors and represented the largest ethnic group during this period. Federal Exclusion laws, statewide boycotts, and pervasive racism deeply affected the Chinese experience in Montana, and led to the state’s abandonment by the bulk of this immigrant population in the early 20th century. In overseas communities, the Chinese immigrants relied on voluntary associations to replace the traditional modes of social organization found in China. These organizations provided mutual protection to their members, and helped to organize resistance to the legal and social racism encountered in the United States and other diaspora communities. This dissertation interprets the history and archaeology of the Chinese in Montana in a framework that highlights the role of voluntary social organizations in the success of this population.



© Copyright 2010 Christopher William Merritt