Triple Deaths of Ah Wee,
Laundryman of Bennettville
Cecile Page Vargo
igh in the Sierras, near the base of Tioga Hill, laundryman Ah Wee was sick and dying in his Bennettville shanty. His friend, Jim Toy, a merchant and Chinese doctor from Lundy, hurried across the rugged mountains to his side. Not long after he arrived, Ah Wee took his last breath. Jim waited until the body was cold and rigid, then went to a boarding house for supper. After the meal, he and a group of men decided to go back to the laundryman’s and tend to the body. Imagine their surprise, when they arrived and Ah Wee was up and walking around. It took the strength of all of the men to get Ah Wee back to bed again. Jim Toy nursed Ah Wee through the night. Just before daybreak, however, Ah Wee breathed his last one more time.
Mule Ride to Lundy
A strong box was built for the Chinese laundryman’s body, so it
could be taken to Lundy for internment. Louis Amoit’s pack train would
come for the body and the box around
Meantime, Jim watched the corpse constantly for returned life.
Louis arrived and they packed the box with Ah Wee’s body in it on
the back of a pack mule. They
trudged along slowly until reaching the level ridge of Mount Warren
Divide. As Louis hurried the
mules, the one with Ah Wee’s corpse began to trot.
Suddenly, groaning noises were heard from the strong box.
First thoughts were that it was the mule groaning, but Louis
decided it best to make sure. As
he stopped the mule, the groans from the box became louder.
Ah Wee was alive once again. Reportedly,
Louis Amoit’s “ eyeballs crawled out on his cheeks, looked at his
ears, and tried to climb under his hat” in fear.
Louis Amoit and his pack mules, with the once again alive and breathing, Ah Wee, headed on to Lundy. In Lundy, Ah Wee rested comfortably in quiet quarters, appearing to be convalescing nicely. By that Monday morning, an American physician checked on him to see how he was doing. Ah Wee turned his face to the wall and breathed his last one more time.
The Homer Mining Index of
It is well known that during the 1870’s and 1880’s, a few
editors of mining town newspapers were prone to exaggeration to make the
life of the lonely miner more interesting as he read about weekly events.
Amongst the editors of the afore mentioned Homer Mining Index,
where the story of Ah Wee originally came from, was one known as Lying Jim
Townsend. Lying Jim, cranked
out copy for the camps of Bennettville, Lundy, Bodie, Aurora and
surrounding areas. He was
particularly noted for inserting an “occasional yarn of questionable
veracity” once in awhile. Lying
Jim was quoted from a column as saying “It requires inventive genius to
pick up local news here now. The
scribe has to trust to his imagination for facts and to his memory for
things which never occurred.”
Whether Lying Jim, had anything to do with the three deaths of the Bennettville laundryman, this self pro-claimed ghost town gossipist of modern times, doesn’t know, but she has also uncovered an entirely different version of Ah Wee, which was unearthed by a friend who she affectionately calls, NK4U. It’s up to the reader to decide which story he or she prefers to believe.
Biography of Mr. Lee "Ah-wee" Chung
Lee Chung was born in 1838 to peasant Chinese shepherds in the Xiuxeng
province of northern
Lee soon took to the slopes again, and shortly thereafter his body was
recovered from an abandoned ventilation shaft. The Bennettville townsfolk
(in an expression of fondness for Lee) used his body as a makeshift cigar
dispenser by propping him up in the frigid shelter in front of Smith's
Apothecary, whereupon Lee was inexplicably revived days later by a
startled passerby. As the winter season waned in the high Sierras, Lee was
forced to seek out more dispersed and isolated patches of snow amongst the
rugged crags surrounding Bennettville in order to support his toboggan
mania. Such was to be his undoing in May, 1884. As Lee cried "Ah-WEEEE"
and pushed off from the top of a rocky swale a lone photographer snapped
the last image of Lee "Ah Wee" Chung.
Last known photograph of Lee "Ah Wee" Chung, 1884
Though Lee's body was never recovered, the townsfolk of Bennettville
honored Lee by inscribing his moniker on a small granite obelisk which was
then hurled off the same rocky crag which had claimed their beloved Ah
and the Tioga Mining District
Blood & Black Ink: Journalism in the Old West
thanks to Mike Bray & Alan Patera!