Mai Wah Museum Butte Montana

Chinese Pioneers

Chinese pioneers were one of the first distinctive ethnic groups to come to Montana during the late 19th century. During the 1870s ten percent of the state’s residents were Chinese. These hardworking and often courageous immigrants worked in mining, railroad construction, and numerous service industries.

Most of the Chinese immigrants who followed the lure of the quick riches of “Gold Mountain” were young men who left villages and families. China was plagued with economic difficulties. Many Westerners were frightened by Chinese food, dress, customs, clannishness, and religious beliefs. This resulted in name-calling, obstruction of their legal rights, anti-Chinese laws, and violence.

The Chinese immigrants sacrificed blood and dreams to help build the American West. The Mai Wah Society, an organization to preserve the Chinese cultural history of Butte, Montana, is researching the contributions that Chinese pioneers made to the settlement of the Montana area. The Chinese, who left behind their families and lives to travel east, also helped to build the foundation of our nation with their dreams and hopes for a better future.

Notable Chinese in the state are immortalized at the Mai Wah museum such as Tommie Haw, who came on the first cattle drive into Beaverhead, came to Montana in 1850, adopted by a local rancher William Orr, and later raised cattle and sheep in the Dillon area; Dr. Rose Hum Lee, graduated from Butte High School in 1921. Her father came to the Butte area in the 1870s. He worked in ranching and mining and had a laundry business. Dr. Lee later became the head of the sociology department at Roosevelt University, Chicago in 1956, according to the Mai Wah Society. Our nation was built on the dreams of all immigrants who came in search of a new beginning.