Donner Summit 1866
The Washoe People called the lake Datsa’ shut.
Twenty years before railroad builders came, unfortunate settlers perished there, giving Donner Lake and Summit the names we know today.
Theodore Judah, surveyor for the Transcontinental Railroad, discovered the pass that would draw young men from various regions of the world.
As the Civil War ended, California and the coast-to-coast railroad filled Anglo Americans with hope, dreams of expansion, and world trade.
With government subsidies and private investments the race was on for east and west tracks to meet. Charles Crocker needed more workers to grade, build and lay track. He spearheaded Chinese recruitment efforts.
Gee Yang and Lee, two brothers in their early twenties, answered that call.
Leaving young wives with infants and their parents in Guangdong, they sailed across the Pacific Ocean, landed in San Francisco, and made their way to the mountain.
Donner Summit, and tunnel #6, was the most difficult location for the railroad builders. The rock was hard, giving way only by inches. The workers hand drilled holes for black powder blasting, then later for nitroglycerine, a volitle stubstance that moved rock better but came with a terrible loss of life.
Not only was the mountain a challenge but the rain and snow caused their own hazards and miserable working conditions.
Crossings is a travel adventure, a story of survival and a brother’s bond. It’s an extreme mountain experience that changed the course of the Gee family and California History.
- Crossings East blog posts & short stories
- Goodreads: Reference Books
- Pinterest: Chinese American, Gold Rush & Railroad History
- Pinterest: California Chinese History
- Smithsonian Exhibit: Chinese Migrants and the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad (May, 2019 – Spring 2020)
- Smithsonian Interactive Map: The Transcontinental Railroad
- YouTube Playlist: Chinese American History
- Washoe Cultural Handbook (PDF)