If the numbers are correct, Ung Yu had paid $200 more for Tun Yow than Porter did for his ranch. On Saturday, eager to catch his prized possession, Ung Yu sent search parties “to every nook and corner of the city” (Daily Union). When they learned that John Hinton had lent the couple a carriage, Ung Yu offered him $50 to say where they’d gone. Hinton refused the money.
A lawyer told Ung Yu that a $200 reward would bring Tun Yow back. The Daily Union, which earlier referred to the Chinese as “fiends” and “heathen wretches,” quotes Ung Yu as saying “al lightee” to the idea.
Ung Yu accused Ah Chee of stealing his property. When no one could find the couple, Ung Yu swore out a different complaint with Justice Henry C. Skinner: Tun Yow, he claimed, had stolen $150 from him in gold: seven $20 pieces, one $10. The judge issued a warrant.
According to the Daily Union, Ung Yu planned to find and arrest Tun Yow. The charges might be proved false, but he would “seize her again, and after torturing her, compel her to enter upon a life of shame once more. Meanwhile, he and his allies will lie in wait for Ah Chee and murder him if they can.”
But when D.C. Reed drew up the complaint, he accidentally switched the names by mistake. On Sunday afternoon, Deputy sheriff Thomas Sherman led a posse in search of “Ah Chee.” They found him at the Porter Ranch, arrested him, and threw him in jail. When someone discovered the mistake, Judge Wellington Stewart and another man rode back to the Porter Ranch. This time the warrant read “Tun Yow.”
Rufus was away on business. Rufina and her mother, Sophia, heard hard-driven hooves rumbling to the northwest. Men were coming for “the little bride.”
Rufina raced to the outer gate and secured the padlock. They would have to break it, she wrote, “which gave us extra time.”
Sophia dashed inside the house. She and Tun Yow tugged at a long table, finally moving it off to one side. Sophia raised heavy trap doors, pointed to the stairs, and nodded to Tun Yow to climb down.
Tun Yow looked into the darkness, and, writes Rufina, “was scared nearly to death — and no wonder.” But she understood. She carefully descended the slippery steps and crouched among shelves of milk and cheese and the fetid, loamy scents of the earth.
Rufina returned just in time to help lower the trap doors and slide the table back into place. Locking the gate had given them just enough time. “We were none too soon, for as we were just making things look as though they had always been that way, in came the men.”
Stewart banged the door open and bullied his way inside. The two men kicked aside every object blocking a place to hide. “They had no business to look over the house,” wrote Rufina. “Mother and I had to tell some lies to get rid of them.”
The men went outside, searched the barn, wagon shed, and henhouses, but did not find “our little Chinese bride.” Tun Yow, who had experienced unthinkable wrongs since coming to “Gold Mountain,” emerged from the hole quivering with fear. The women assured her that she’d be safe from now on. Rufus drove her to his brother’s house, and she stayed with John and his wife Fanny until the next steamer arrived.
In a rare burst of compassion, on April 16, the Daily Union asked: “Is not the law strong enough to protect these poor people? Can it be twisted to return to slavery and infamy this man’s lawful wife?”
The next day, the paper announced that Ah Chee and Tun Yow had sailed away. At least six men had escorted them in several carriages to the wharf, where the couple boarded a steamer for Los Angeles. “At that city they have friends who will care for them a day or two when they will be sent by stage to San Jose, where they hope to live together in peace and happiness.” The Daily Union praised the Porters and John Hinton. “There will be a big mark set down to their credit in the books of the recording angel.”
Happily ever after?
Rufus Porter claimed the couple made it to San Jose and ran a laundry under assumed names. When it burned down, they converted the building to a restaurant.
Interviewed in 1936, Rufina Porter said that Ah Chee and Tun Yow never made it to the steamer. “Their families were of different castes, or tongs, so there was great opposition to the marriage and they probably killed [Ah Chee]. We did all we could to help them, but it was no use.”
Those who side with Rufina claim that in both instances — the marriage and plans for escape — the Daily Union had publicized their intentions, which enabled Ung Yu to track them down.
Jim Van Meter, director of the Bancroft House, suggests a “Door Number Three” option: Maybe the young couple and the Porters had learned something from the published wedding announcement, and had given the Daily Union a false itinerary. They sailed on a different date, to a different port, and fled to new lives. ■
- Jim Van Meter: “The cellar has been filled in, but the building [called Bancroft House] is now a registered National Historic Landmark.”
- Murray K. Lee: “California labor union leaders took advantage of the economic depression of the 1870s and the resulting unemployment by waging an anti-Chinese campaign.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson: “Of all stupid ill feelings…my fellow Caucasians seemed to have looked at them, listened to them, or thought of them, but hated them a priori…as enemies in that cruel and treacherous battlefield of money.”
Adema, Thomas Joseph, Our Hills and Valleys: A History of the Helix–Spring Valley Region, San Diego, 1993.
Daniels, Roger, Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, New York, 1990.