New Discoveries in the Archives: Murder and Racism in 1893

Lauren Katz Digital Archives, Research 1 Comment

Two men stand in front of Chinese merchandise store by the dirt roads and buildings of Plum Alley. Salt Lake City, August 24, 1907. 1

This blog post was written by Mariah Todd. She is the fall 2019 Outreach Intern at the Utah State Archives and Records Service. She is a senior at UVU majoring in History and she is particularly interested in primary sources.

In 1893, seventeen-year-old Charles Arnup was arrested for killing a man. The following year, his attorney submitted a pardon application to the Governor for Arnup. While at first this may seem to be another standard pardon application from the thousands that the Utah State Archives has digitized, the case gets more surprising. The murder for which Arnup was arrested occurred when he and a couple of other boys were throwing stones at an Asian man, Wong Kwong Ken, whom the pardon application refers to as a “Chinaman.” 2 By modern standards, this case could possibly be referred to as a hate crime, and it sheds some light on the complex history of race in Utah in the late nineteenth century. 

Arnup’s application describes the details of his case and sentencing. In 1893, Arnup and a couple of his friends were on the street in Salt Lake City when a man, Wong Kwong Ken, rode past in his wagon. Ken was a 60 year old fruit-peddler simply working in the neighborhood. The boys began to throw rocks at him until he finally left his wagon to confront them. According to Arnup, Ken was also holding a knife.  At that point, Arnup threw another stone, which struck the man behind the ear and eventually killed him a few days later. 3 For this crime, Arnup was indicted for second degree murder. At trial, he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in the penitentiary. 4

While Utah’s history is often discussed in terms of the Euro-American Mormon pioneers who settled here, this source clearly indicates that the population was more diverse than is sometimes recognized. American Indians, African Americans, Asian immigrants, and others lived, worked, and had communities here in Utah. Assuming Wong Kwong Ken was in fact from China or of Chinese descent, he would have been one of hundreds living in the city at the time. According to a report based on census data and compiled by Dr. Pamela S. Perlich of the University of Utah, 12,000 Chinese people came to Utah and worked on the building of the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s. However, by the 1890 census report, there were 806 Chinese people living in Utah. In Salt Lake City specifically, 269 Chinese lived in Plum Alley. 5 Although a minority population, this group of people still made this place their home.

Further research revealed newspaper articles that discussed this case and shed greater light on racial tension in Utah at the time. Some of the testimony from the trial that was written in these newspapers showed the racism that Asians experienced in Utah. For instance, the court struggled to select a jury because many could not fairly judge this case since it involved the death of an Asian man. One potential juror even said that he “would not believe a Chinaman under oath” in regard to friends of Ken testifying. 6 Furthermore, while Arnup was being questioned, he stated that he did not like “Chinamen,” though he also said he did not know why. When asked why he threw rocks at him, Arnup said he wanted to scare Ken. 7 Clearly, Arnup was not alone in his racist attitudes toward Chinese people.

This trend of racism towards Chinese people was not specific to Utah only. By the time of Ken’s murder, there was already a substantial history of discrimination against Chinese people in America. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed and prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years. However, in later editions of the act, it further restricted Chinese immigration and was indefinitely extended. 8 These acts were not repealed until World War II. During this time, Chinese immigrants were also denied the possibility of naturalization as United States citizens. There were also several massacres of Chinese Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, such as the Rock Springs Massacre of 1885 and another in California in 1871 where dozens of Chinese workers were killed. 9 Unfortunately, Ken’s murder was not an isolated incident in terms of the violence and discrimination that many Chinese Americans experienced during this time. 

In the end, Acting Governor Richards in 1894 did grant Arnup his pardon after he had served one year of his two year sentence in the penitentiary. 10 As for Ken, he was buried in Salt Lake City. Upon searching for a record of Ken’s burial, I came across a Find A Grave record that mostly matches his description. Although his name is listed as Wong Kong Kim, his age and date of death are listed as the same as what was reported in the newspaper for Ken. The spellings of Ken’s name varied between newspapers and the pardon application, so it is likely that this man is the same one, despite the name difference. If this record is accurate, then he was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery on July 9, 1893 in plot B-4-Pauper. 11

This case is a prime example of the importance of digitizing records and providing open access to them. As a new intern, I stumbled across the original pardon application by accident. I had been searching through the digital records to find interesting primary source materials for students. Upon discovering Arnup’s pardon application, I was shocked to find such an obvious example of racism in a seemingly innocuous place. It simply goes to show that discovering hidden gems is part of the research experience, and would be far more difficult without access to digitized sources. Charles Arnup’s pardon application is one of nearly nine thousand that the Utah State Archives has digitized. With thousands of other records also available online, what hidden gems might you be able to find? Start searching here.

Endnotes

1. Shipler Commercial Photographers. “SLC–Plum Alley p.4.” Utah State Historical Society Classified Photo Collection. Digital Image © 2015 Utah State Historical Society.

2.  Spellings of the victim’s name vary. This blog is using the spelling that was used in the original pardon application. John W. Judd to Governor Caleb W. West, 19 June 1894, Series 328, Board of Pardon Prisoner Pardon Application Case Files, 1892-1949, Utah State Archives, http://images.archives.utah.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/328/
id/68020/rec/1
.

3. “The Arnup Case,” The Salt Lake Herald, 30 Sept. 1893, from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Lib. of Congress, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85058130/1893-09-30/ed-1/seq-8/.

4. John W. Judd to Governor Caleb W. West, 19 June 1894, Series 328, Board of Pardon Prisoner Pardon Application Case Files, 1892-1949, Utah State Archives, http://images.archives.utah.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/328/
id/68020/rec/1
.

5. Pamela S. Perlich, “Utah Minorities: The Story Told by 150 Years of Census Data,” University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, October 2002, https://gardner.utah.edu/demographics/special-topics/.

6. “The Arnup Case,” The Salt Lake Herald, 30 Sept. 1893, from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Lib. of Congress, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85058130/1893-09-30/ed-1/seq-8/.

7. “For Contempt of Court,” The Salt Lake Herald, 4 Oct. 1893, from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Lib. of Congress, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85058130/1893-10-04/ed-1/seq-8/.

8. “Chinese Immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Acts,” Milestones: 1866-1898, Office of the Historian, United States Department of State, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1866-1898/chinese-immigration.

9. Tom Rea, “The Rock Spring Massacre,” WyoHistory, Wyoming State Historical Society, November 8, 2014, https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/rock-springs-massacre; Kelly Wallace, “Forgotten Los Angeles History: The Chinese Massacre of 1871,” Los Angeles Public Library, May 19, 2017, Library,https://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/blogs/lapl/chinese-massacre-1871.

10. “Charles Arnup Pardoned,” The Salt Lake Herald, 27 June 1894, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Lib. of Congress, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85058130/1894-06-27/ed-1/seq-5/.

11. Wong Kong Kim (1833-1893), Find A Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/181108752.

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