Friday, August 12, 2011

Ah Chow

When I ran the B & B at the ranch, each bedroom had the name of one of Helena's unsung heros. The Ah Chow room showed a breath-taking view of the mountains and you could catch a glimpse of the "Gates of the Mountains" on the Missouri River where Lewis and Clark came through.

Vigilantes Were Alive in Helena

Ah Chow, a Chinese immigrant, drove a logging wagon in Helena when the city was still in it's infancy. It was the period between the lawless rough-shod mining camps and strict laws that bind a city together.

John Bitzner, a miner, on his nightly round of saloon-hopping , passed Ah Chow's house and caught a glimpse of Jasmine, Ah Chow's beautiful wife. Driven by drunken lust, Bitzner forced his way into Ah Chow's house and tried to take advantage of her. Although Ah Chow's shooting arm was in a sling from a logging accident, he tried to ward off his wife's assailant. Bitzner grabbed Ah Chow's gun from a wall hook and as the struggle ensued, Bitzner was shot.

Bitzner fled from the house leaving a trail of blood as he dragged himself to the Kiyus Saloon. There, with plenty of listeners, he told his story of twisted lies that portrayed Ah Chow as the culprit who deliberatly shot him. Bitzner died in the sloon and immediately the Vigilantes were on their horses hunting down Ah Chow in the subzero February weather. Word went out to the Chinese community that it meant death to anyone who gave Ah Chow shelter. He was easily captured and the Vigilantes did their dastardly deed.

In as much as this ends in a tragedy, the focus of the story is on the love between Ah Chow and his wife. Jasmine was helpless as the Vigilantes dragged him off to the hanging tree but she remained by his body long after the town folk had gone back into their warm cabins. Shivering beneath her tattered shawl, Jasmine kept her long vigil for the man who gave his life protecting "her honor."
I researched all my stories at the Historical Society where I had access to the original yellowed, fragile papers. The ranch wasn't exactly location, location, location so all guests got their information from my website. There, I always described the rooms and had pictures so guests could ask for a specific room. Yes, it was work but meeting many wonderful people was a joy.


  1. Aw, such a sad story of injustice. The only redeeming thing is that Bitzner also died. Wonder what happened to Jasmine.

  2. Oh how sad and terrible! :-( Poor Jasmine! Oh but what an amazing story - wonderful - should be a book, a film!!! It's got everything. Do you know what happened to Jasmine? Does she have any descendants? How interesting! I'm loving your B&B series! Take care

  3. What a tragically romantic story. Are you going to write the screenplay? You could you know.

  4. so sad. mob mentalities at their finest...

  5. Hi Manza - that was life then .. but what a waste .. and mob rules - that seems to ring a bell over here at the moment.

    Brilliant stories you're telling though - and taking full advantage of the history of the area ..

    Thanks - sad to read .. but so true - Hilary

  6. 'I researched all my stories at the Historical Society where I had access to the original yellowed, fragile papers.'

    Sounds delicious.

  7. Another wonderful story. Poor Jasmine, but I guess that's how things were taken care of in those days. Sounds as if you've had fun doing all your research.

  8. Your followers are right! What wonderful material--write a book or a movie. You have the talent!

  9. wow. I had never heard this story before. Thank you for sharing it.

  10. Actually I think it quite wonderful and yes a bit sad. Wonderful that the love allowed him to defend her honor and love enough for her to remain. Sad because it seems hard to find that kind of love to much anymore.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  11. I wish you could have found a photo that showed cold weather like the story describes. I really enjoyed the story.

    I am still on virtual vacation – a sabbatical of sorts but love to pop in on people. To me it is something like opening the door on the outhouse...

    You are always in for a big surprise!

  12. I haven’t made it to Helena, Montana, but I’ve been close: In the Summer of 1988 I spent several days in Butte and I really fell in love with that little town.

    In case you’re interested, here is a LINK to a blog bit where I posted three photos of Butte establishments under the “Honorable Mention” category.

    The injustice done by vigilantes in the Old West has been largely overstated [“Gunfighters, Highwaymen & Vigilantes: Violence On The Frontier” by Roger D. McGrath], but this was apparently a case in which the mob, to its great shame, got it all wrong.

    Interesting story. Thanks for posting it.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    ‘Loyal American Underground’

  13. Interesting.Bravo

  14. How wonderful that you're sharing these stories of people time has forgotten. You're making them come alive again for us, and what a brilliant idea it was to link the rooms in your B&B with these histories.

  15. Patti : It would be curious as to what happened to her. She most likely left Helena. The white men had no respect for women and most likely she couldn't stay there.

    Kitty : As I said to Patti, I don't know what happened to her.... no more news about that episode with Ah Chow but I imagine she had to leave Helena due to the non-respect the miners gave women.

    Delores : It would take someone a whole lot writerly to do the screen play.

    Teswisgirl : You can say that again.... the mobs are still doing it.

    Hilary : Where's the intelligence behind mobs? Must be some reason.

    Suze : So refreshing to hear from you. Thanks

    This is Me : Research in archives is so musty but rewarding.

    Fishducky : No I don't. No way. But nice suggestion.

  16. Alex : Injustice at it's finest.

    Alida : Thanks for dropping in. I appreciate your comment.

    Jules : What every happened to the "forever love?" Doesn't seem to be much of it, anymore.

    Honest Abe : I tried but that was the best I could come up with. Enjoy your vacation.

  17. Stephen : Thanks for the link to your post on the saloons. How neat that you liked Butte. Butte is full of bawdy history and after Helena was made capitol of Montana and the copper mines closed, Butte kinda died on the vine. It left the old antique buildings among the newer. I always find that interesting.

    Me : It's always nice when you drop in for a visit.

    Susan : I appreciate your interesting comments.... always.
    I've always been comfortable living with history.

  18. A tragic tale. No justice, except for Bitzner.

  19. What a great story Manzanita. I could sit and listen to you for hours, or read for hours.

    You have such a gift, I know you don't think so, but you do!!!!

  20. Hi Manza .. I think mob rules - someone bosses, everyone follows .. even in a chaotic state - because they can't think and work out what's going on .. one mantra .. one choice - theirs .. you can't be left out, or have a different opinion, or act in a responsible manner ..

    Very sad .. if everyone else is doing it - why can't I .....

    Not a healthy society at any time ..

    But I love your stories .. cheers Hilary

  21. If he wasn't Chinese, would he still have gotten the same treatment? For that matter, would Bitzner have gone after the woman if Ah Chow was white?

    It's been awhile since I've come visiting so I don't know if you talked about your B&B before. It sounds like a place I'd love to hang my hat for a couple of days or more.