When I was researching the “Rat Supper” held at the Presbyterian Church in 1887, I tried to find out if the four Chinese mentioned in that notice were local residents, or even really Chinese.

I had no luck tracking down any of those names, but in the process I learned a few things about Asians who did live in Hamilton County in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The earliest mention I’ve run across of someone Japanese who might have lived here is found in the March 23, 1939 Noblesville Daily Ledger. The newspaper noted that 30 years earlier a Japanese man, Sodatke Yuchi, had come to Sheridan to learn the milk business.

It’s not clear if Yuchi stayed to become a resident, however.

There may be no connection, but Winona Moss recalls a young Japanese girl being in her fourth grade class in Sheridan around 1940. Unfortunately, Winona doesn’t remember the family’s name and doesn’t know what became of them.

That was unusual, though. Most of the early Asian residents of this county were Chinese and most, if not all, worked in laundries.

Chinese laundries were so common in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they became a stereotype. Chinese immigrants tended to end up in the laundry business because it was an occupation that didn’t require proficiency in English or a lot of money to get started, and because it was hard work no one else wanted to do.

Cicero, Arcadia, Sheridan, and Noblesville all had Chinese laundries at various times, but trying to research individuals in those laundries is rather challenging.

For one thing, newspapers of that period didn’t always call them Chinese. They were often referred to as “Celestials” (China was known as the “Celestial Empire” or “Celestial Kingdom”) or “Mongolians.”

Another wrinkle popped up in a May 6, 1902 Indianapolis News story about the murder of Doc Lung, a prominent Chinese laundryman of that city. According to the News, when the Chinese — at least those in this area — would move to a new city, they usually changed their name to something they thought would please their customers.

Thanks to that same article, I learned that Doc Lung’s brother, Dong Gum Hong (aka “Buffalo Charlie,”) lived in Arcadia and Doc Lung’s uncle, Dong Yok Hong, was a Cicero resident. It seems likely both worked in laundries, although neither was identified that way.

In addition to Doc Lung’s relatives, a man called Sam Kee ran a laundry in Cicero from 1897 until his death in 1899, and Charley Don appears as a Cicero laundryman in the 1900 census.

The 1910 census shows Leo Tom as a laundry worker living in Sheridan.

Fourteen years later, the Noblesville Daily Ledger noted that “night riders” had made former Sheridan laundryman Smiley Sue, whose “conduct has been far from honorable,” feel so unwelcome he left town.

(The “night riders” were probably members of one of the Horse Thief Detective Associations that operated in this county. These vigilante groups were originally formed to track down horse thieves, but later took it upon themselves to also police gamblers, bootleggers and other wrongdoers.)
Among Noblesville’s Chinese laundrymen were Lee (or Yee) Wah and Pong Hi, who ran the Noblesville Laundry In 1888 and 1889; Sam Hing, who had a laundry here in 1894; and Hop Lee, who appears in the 1900 census. In addition, one newspaper noted Charlie Hoy planned to start a laundry on Eighth Street in 1904.

Of all the Asians in early Hamilton County, however, the best documented is Tie Loy, who lived in Noblesville and Arcadia. I’m out of space, though, so he’ll will have to wait until next week.

-Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Friday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com