Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Justice for Hing Sing (Utah history)

Justice for Hing Sing (Utah history)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 28, 2009

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.



  1. Good to hear a bit of justice amid a lot of otherwise disturbing information.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 28, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  2. Yeah, justice didn’t make Hing Sing whole in 1896, but at least he was taken seriously. And maybe it’s another bit of justice to have the Chinese presence in Salt Lake remembered, too.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — July 28, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

  3. When I first started reading this I thought about my great grandfather who, family lore goes, would stand in the second story of his father’s harness shop and throw pieces of scrap metal into the laundry baskets on the heads of the passing Chinese. The baskets would fall into the mud and the Chinese would come in the shop very unhappy. Of course his father didn’t understand a word of Chinese, so eventually they would leave.

    With that story in mind, I half expected to find my great grandfather’s name among the convicted.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — July 28, 2009 @ 4:04 pm

  4. Interesting post! A few years ago I did some research about early Chinese immigration to New Zealand – the situation there was pretty similar it seems. Have you done any other posts on Chinese immigrants/immigration?

    Comment by namakemono — July 28, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

  5. Great story, Ardis. Do you mind if I link to it?

    Comment by Brandon — July 28, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

  6. “Practical jokes” are awful, really, aren’t they, Bruce?

    namakemono, this is the only one I’ve done, although I keep my eyes open for more (lots of information relating to the Chinese is available in the period newspapers, but I haven’t happened to run across a story as opposed to bare bones data. As with the blacks and Greeks and a few other minorities, the Chinese only seem to have made it into the public record when they were accused of crimes, so there’s a very skewed image available.

    Thanks, Brandon. I’d love the link. As you probably realize, this was original a column for the Tribune, where I try to write about as many different flavors of Utahns as I can identify.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2009 @ 6:08 pm

  7. I look forward to when the history of the origen of all peoples is made manifest. If we take the Old Testament literally (and I mostly do), then we’re all descended from either Shem, Ham, or Japheth. After those three, the Genesis record gives names, but we don’t know how to make the connections from those names to the major ethnicities or regional groups of today. The only line we have any degree of real confidence about (tieing the Biblical record to otherwise identifiable people) is Shem, who is the father of the “Semites”, and his descendent “Eber” who is the father of the “Hebrews.” I’m sure other connections have been asserted or suggested, but they are more tenuous.

    We’re told by revelation that the people of the “Isles of the Sea” (presumably of the Pacific) are of Joseph, but we don’t know how that connection came about.

    Pacific Islanders are tied genetically with East Asians (“Orientals”, but that is not a current term), but we don’t know any of the stories behind those genetic ties.

    DNA studies tell us modern day Natives of this Hemisphere have a good degree of Asian ancestry, but other than the “Alaskan land bridge migration” theory, we don’t know how that came about either, and how those lines got admixed with the Lehites.

    South Asians are another large group related more to Caucasians than East Asians (technically the people of India _are_ considered Caucasian).

    Asians are such a large percentage of world population now, and taking a larger and larger role in world affairs. It’s going to be interesting.

    Comment by Bookslinger — July 28, 2009 @ 9:21 pm

  8. Ardis,

    I just wanted to thank you for this post. Utah has a very rich and interesting history, but we often just look at the Mormon history part of it. I appreciate this reminder that other immigrants also found a home in the beehive state and contributed to the community.

    Comment by Mark Brown — July 28, 2009 @ 10:27 pm

  9. Fascinating story, Ardis. Wonderful sleuthing.

    Comment by GiZ — July 28, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

  10. Ardis-

    I thought it was one of your Tribune columns.

    As Mark pointed out, folks sometimes want to reduce Utah history to Mormon history. But the state’s past is much more complex and diverse than that. This is the same thing I try to do on the Beehive Archive radio show and blog, but I have to admit that I think you do it better!

    Comment by Brandon — July 29, 2009 @ 10:04 am

  11. Nobody enjoys it more than I do, at least!

    (I hope nobody objects to my recycling Trib columns — they go offline after a couple of months at the Trib site, and I like having them available to googlers. Every once in a while I get email from a descendant of someone I’ve written about who missed it the first time around. I love the way pieces can just hang out there in cyberspace until the one person to whom it will mean the most is ready to look for it.)

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — July 29, 2009 @ 10:24 am

  12. Do we object to recycled Salt Lake Tribune columns? I can’t speak for all your readers (just myself), but I love it! I’m always happy to read your writing, even a second time around, and since I don’t always see your Tribune columns, it’s great that you put them up.

    I’ve been reading an account of my great-grandparents going on a church history trip. They took a 5000 mile tour organized by Chi’s Tours in Salt Lake City with the tour directed by Terue Kawai. (It looks like Chi’s Tours is still in business, and I see a mention of Terue Kawai in her sister’s obituary in the Deseret News, and a mention of her living in Pasadena, which is where my great grandparents also lived.)

    Off the top of my head, this is one of only a very small handful of references in my family history (perhaps two) mentioning minorities in the Western states. So I appreciate your efforts, and those of Brandon and others who are telling the stories of these people who can be so easily overlooked.

    Comment by Researcher — July 29, 2009 @ 12:00 pm