Chinese immigrants settling in 19th century Salt Lake faced the same mistreatment they found in other western states. Charlie Long was badly injured in 1899 when he was stoned by a group of boys who disappeared into the crowd watching a university football practice. Yee Five died the same year and was buried with traditional offerings, but white citizens offered a collective shrug when “irreverent youth” robbed the grave. Even the Tribune could describe an 1895 hearing attended by Chinese observers as “wash day in court.”
Once in a while, however, Utah’s abused Chinese minority were granted the same treatment accorded other residents. Such an instance happened on July 30, 1896, when white Salt Lakers cooperated to render justice to Hing Sing, an elderly gardener and peddler.
Hing Sing tended a large garden plot near the Union Pacific depot where he grew onions and cucumbers and turnips. By 6 o’clock on the morning of July 30, he had filled baskets with his vegetables and set out to peddle them in the neighborhood south of the depot.
Upon reaching 500 South, Hing Sing was approached by six young men who crowded close to him, jostling him and demanding to know what he was selling. Hing Sing protested when the ruffians rummaged through his baskets and helped themselves to his vegetables. One of them seized Hing Sing’s arms while another beat him in the face until the gardener was bruised and bloody. Then they dropped him to the ground and went laughing on their way.
R.E. Timpson, a merchant whose shop stood across the street and down the block, saw the assault from a distance. Unable to stop the crime and not equipped with a telephone to summon help, Timpson did what he could by jumping on his bicycle and pursuing Hing Sing’s assailants. He followed them northward for quite a distance before locating a telephone, then stopped to call the police.
Officers Marsena Cannon and Joseph Busby responded with their horse-drawn patrol wagon and continued the pursuit. They trailed the thieves northward, beyond the city limits, until they reached the site of the old Deseret Salt works along the railroad tracks and near the edge of the Great Salt Lake.
As they approached, the officers saw several men jump from the window of the abandoned building and run across the fields. Unable to take the patrol wagon across the uneven ground, Cannon began to chase them on foot. A small boy, his name unfortunately lost to history, saw the policeman chasing the fugitives and kicked his heels into his horse’s side until he caught up to Cannon, then jumped off and offered his horse to the officer. Cannon continued to pursue the thieves on horseback.
Locating them where they were attempting to hide in some bushes, Cannon drew his revolver and ordered their surrender. They came out, hands held high, and Cannon marched them to the patrol wagon and locked them inside. After inspecting the old building and discovering the remains of the stolen vegetables, Cannon ordered the men taken to jail.
The six men appeared in court the next day where they pleaded innocent to every charge, claiming to have bought the vegetables from a grocer and denying they had ever seen Hing Sing before. Hing Sing, though, his face still swollen from the beating, recognized the six men as his assailants, identifying James Collinson – a familiar face in the docks of Salt Lake’s police courts – as the man who had struck him. The victim was assisted by Wing Dun, a man who often interpreted for Salt Lake’s Chinese and who advocated their causes in dealings with the American bureaucracy.
On the strength of Hing Sing’s identification and the testimony of Officer Cannon, Judge D.H. Wenger convicted the six men on all charges. Five were fined $20-$27 for larceny. Collinson was fined $80 and jailed for four months for his aggravated role.