Summary

The Chinese in the 19th-century American West as seen through the story of Polly, a Chinese concubine who ended up deep in Idaho after her owner lost her in a poker game.


When gold rush fever gripped the globe in 1849, thousands of Chinese immigrants came through San Francisco seeking fortune. In The Poker Bride, Christopher Corbett uses a little-known Idaho legend as a lens into this Chinese experience. Before 1849, the Chinese in the United States were little more than curiosities. But as word spread of the discovery of gold, they soon became a regular sight in the American West. In San Francisco, a labyrinthine Chinatown arose where Chinese smuggled into the country were deposited. Polly, a young Chinese concubine, accompanied her owner to a mining camp in the highlands of Idaho. After he lost her in a poker game, Polly found her way with her new owner to an isolated ranch on the banks of the Salmon River. As the gold rush receded, it took with it the Chinese miners, but left behind Polly, who would make headlines when she emerged from the Idaho hills nearly half a century later to visit a modern city and tell her story. The Poker Bride vividly reconstructs a lost period of history when the first Chinese sojourners flooded into the country and left only glimmering traces of their presence scattered across the American West.