Crossing East: The Legacy of Ing 'Doc' Hay Producer Dmae Roberts presents the story 19th-century Chinese doctor Ing "Doc" Hay, who left a lasting mark on an Oregon town and was a longtime icon for Asians emigrating to America.
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Crossing East: The Legacy of Ing 'Doc' Hay

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Crossing East: The Legacy of Ing 'Doc' Hay

Crossing East: The Legacy of Ing 'Doc' Hay

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

One more immigration-linked story now, beginning with some history. It wasn't just gold and glory that drew Americans West. There were hard times 125 years ago, a depression; people needed work. But when they got out West, they found many Chinese immigrants already there, railroad workers and miners. There was an anti-Chinese backlash then, often bloody, sometimes deadly. But in the dry sagebrush hills of eastern Oregon, a local Chinatown included an unusual doctor named Ing Hay, whose legacy still survives. Producer Dmae Roberts has the story.

DMAE ROBERTS reporting:

A small, two-story house, the Kam Wah Chung general store stands dark and claustrophobic. The floorboards creak and the walls are black from smoke.

Ms. CAROLYN MICNHIMER (Curator): They did cook on the wood stove. Doc Hay, when he first started using his medicines, he cooked your herbs up for you and gave you the liquid and then he started giving you the herbs and you did the cooking at home.

ROBERTS: Curator Carolyn Micnhimer has led people through the Kam Wah Chung & Company Museum for almost 30 years. There's still a strong herbal smell in the Kam Wah Chung from the herbs and opium once sold there. Ing Hay, who came to be known as Doc Hay, was a master of Chinese medicine. Doc Hay offered hope to the desperate where there were no hospital facilities or qualified doctors.

Dr. JEFFREY BARLOW: He was a pulse doctor, and he would not pick up anything with his right hand at all. He used his left hand. His right hand was his diagnosis hand, so that he would lay those fingers on your wrist and other pulses to read the internal state of your body.

ROBERTS: Dr. Jeffrey Barlow was one of the first scholars to study the artifacts of the Kam Wah Chung. Barlow discovered letters written by Lung On, Doc Hay's business partner, who also helped with patients.

Dr. BARLOW: They would prescribe by mail. Oh, there are many letters from people who had been in the area and had moved out or had heard of Doc Hay in one way or another. And they would write in, explain, sometimes Lung On, we think, wrote back and asked a few more questions, and then Doc Hay sent herbs with Lung On's careful handwriting telling you how to put the recipes together on your own stove.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

ROBERTS: Among the artifacts from the Kam Wah Chung are pages of prescriptions written in Chinese.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. MICNHIMER: This is where Doc Hay would come and fix your herbs and medicines. He had 500 different Chinese herbs on the shelf. You would get so many and boil it up and make your tea and then drink your tea according to his directions. Or you might have gotten some kind of animal parts. Deer horns might have been ground up into powder and put in your medicine.

ROBERTS: Doc Hay's grandnephew Ed Wah actually lived in the store in the 1940s. Ed Wah's family moved to town when he was in elementary school and his parents slept in the kitchen. He and his brother took the bunk beds once reserved for opium smoking.

Mr. ED WAH (Grandnephew of Doc Hay): Everything was old. The round dinner tables--every time we'd sit down for dinner, instead of having a tablecloth, we'd just spread some newspaper and that was the tablecloth. There wasn't a lot of comfort in there, but it was adequate to sit and visit a while.

ROBERTS: In the past, people would sometimes come to buy groceries or pray at the Buddhist shrines Doc Hay had built. But by the time Ed Wah's family arrived, it was usually the doctor they wanted to see.

Mr. WAH: They carried this lady into the house because she couldn't walk and worked for, I think, maybe about an hour and, doggone it, if this lady didn't walk out of there. And I was so impressed with that, I said, `What'd he do?' you know. That kind of result, immediate results, is hard to find anywhere. He had these checks that people wrote for the herbs and he'd just stuff them away thinking they were useable like cash. And if you needed money, he'd just go cash one and so wealth was not a big thing with him.

Ms. MICNHIMER: This was Doc Hay's bedroom. Actually, it was under this bed that they found the $23,000 worth of uncashed checks. And it's the smallest room in the building.

Dr. BARLOW: Part of the income was Doc Hay, for sure. In a sense, their social network and protection was Doc Hay...

ROBERTS: Jeffrey Barlow.

Dr. BARLOW: ...because Hay was so valuable on the frontier as a doctor that nobody was going to permit anyone from outside to come in and shoot their China doctor full of holes. He was too valuable a guy. So for Lung On, being next to Doc Hay meant that he was safe.

On the other hand, for Doc Hay, Lung On meant here was a man who can communicate, who can write, who can communicate with China, where the herbs came from, who knows how to invest money, who knows how to manipulate social organizations, both the Chinese and the Americans, and they were simply a wonderful partnership.

ROBERTS: Doc Hay and Lung On were likely veterans or refuges from the massive rebellion in China, according to Dr. Barlow. So these stalwart men could hold their own in a frontier full of miners and buckaroos, who would often shoot up Chinatown for fun. Carolyn Micnhimer points to the entrance of the Kam Wah Chung.

Ms. MICNHIMER: We do have one bullet hole in the door. They say the Americans would shoot up Chinatown once in a while on Saturday night and have not a malicious time, but have the a scaring time for the Chinese.

ROBERTS: Yet Doc Hay and Lung On were always on friendly terms with John Day residents. Thelma Kite was four years old when her mom took her to the doc for an ear infection.

Ms. THELMA KITE: One thing I could remember the doctor would give me candy to try to get me over, but I'd hide behind my mother's skirt and reach around to take the candy because I was scared.

Dr. BARLOW: They clearly loved children. The Kam Wah Chung is full of pictures cut from magazines and candy ads of stereotypical children. They regretted not being able to have children. And the way in which they treated local children, all the memories--or many of the memories that you have are childhood memories from John Day.

ROBERTS: By 1940, fewer than 20 residents of Chinese descent lived in John Day. Ed Wah and his family stayed with Ing Hay until he could no longer walk.

Mr. WAH: Unfortunately, he fell and broke his hip, and that was his downfall. We had to bring him into Portland and put him into a rest home where they could take care of him because he was too much for Dad and Mom to take care of. And I think he lived there for two or three years and then he just decided, you know, there's nothing to live for, so then he passed on.

Ms. MICNHIMER: We're here at Restlawn Cemetery. I feel like Doc Hay and Lung On are old friends. Lung On died in 1940, then Doc Hay died in 1952.

ROBERTS: Micnhimer personally saw to it the graves were restored.

Ms. MICNHIMER: They are eight unmarked graves here with no record of them. And part of it is when I talk to people about them, they think the fact that there is no record of a name or anything, perhaps they were Chinese.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)

ROBERTS: The frontier is lined with the unmarked graves of Chinese workers who helped to mine gold or built railroads. The Kam Wah Chung and the story of Ing Hay and Lung On stands as one of the rare testaments to the contribution Chinese immigrants made to early frontier life.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)

Dr. BARLOW: There are times when I think of Lung On and Doc Hay sitting in that dark Kam Wah Chung building, kerosene lighting, until well into the 1940s. I see them as men who came out of a terribly difficult environment into another equally challenging environment and totally mastered it. And for me, it's hard to see them as anything other than incredibly successful; in a quiet way, kind of heroes, not the kind of stand-up-and shoot-it-out heroism, but heroism that comes to learn a foreign culture and a language and adapt to foreign ways. I don't see them as victims at all.

CHADWICK: Dmae Roberts produced this story for the "Crossing East" radio series. And you'll get more details on that at our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: More to come from DAY TO DAY on NPR News.

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