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This is in regard to the story of only one “true lynching” in Billings on 1891 in The Billings Gazette (Oct. 27, 2019). There was a mention of lynchings in Montana’s past but there was no specific mention of racial lynchings and terrorism against the Chinese.

There were several instances of Chinese being lynched during the mining days in western Montana, when the state was a territory. A good account of this past can be found in a 2010 University of Montana dissertation available online, by Christopher William Merritt. Perhaps a reporter from 1873 stated the sentiment of the time best in: “[w]e wish there was not a Chinaman in Montana; believe them to be a blight upon the country, but they are here by lawful authority.” Racial violence against the Chinese, who accounted for 4.5% of Montana’s 1880 population, did not rise to the level of other Western towns such as Los Angeles, Rock Springs, Denver, Tacoma and Seattle after Passage of The Chinese Exclusion Act Of 1882. Yet racial motivated violence was still present in the Montana Territory.

For example, in 1874 hunters found a Chinese man hanging for days from a tree near Helena. There was an instance of cowboys assaulting Chinese workers on horseback, cutting off their ponytails, in Missoula in the 1880s. Racial hatred was not confined to the south. And lynching of Native Americans was also not a rare occurrence in West long ago.

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Erwin Curry

Missoula

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