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April 12, 2016

In praise of Ken Mather’s Chinese cowboys

BC Studies’ mandate as a regional peer-reviewed journal gives it a unique opportunity to attend to a part of Canada all too often perceived as on the edge of what matters. Some essays bring greater clarity to broad topics, others raise issues that would otherwise slip from view.

In 2013 I published an article in BC Studies entitled “Beyond Chinatown: Chinese Men and Indigenous Women in Early British Columbia.” There I drew attention to arrivals from China with the gold rush of beginning in 1858 or the construction of the transcontinental rail line completed in 1886 who, sustained by indigenous women, made their lives not in a Chinatown but rather as miners or as provisioners of miners. The article’s reception included my being presented with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal by Saskatchewan senator Lillian Dyck, herself of Chinese and indigenous descent.

I was satisfied with a job well done. That is, I was satisfied until I was introduced a couple of weeks ago to Chinese cowboys in ranching historian Ken Mather’s recently published Ranch Tales: Stories from the BC Frontier. Among these stories: a cowboy in the Chilcotin from 1903 to 1934, Kim Nauie went back to China only to miss the ranching life so much he returned for another two decades. Further south, at Cache Creek, Tong Sing used the money he made from his store to buy his own ranch, where by 1900 he was running upwards of 2,000 head of cattle fed on the crops he grew. And it took two decades of lesser tasks for Sin Tooie, who arrived in British Columbia as a twenty-year-old, to reach his goal of being a cowboy on horseback. And there are other stories as well.

Lesson learned. Rather than setting ourselves up as experts implying we have the answer, it is much better to leave the door open to other possibilities.

For more information on Ken Mather’s Ranch Tales click here.
Reviewed in BC Studies no. 184 Winter 2015. Read the review here.