Deadwood Chinese Fire Department, 1888. (Photographed by John H.C. Grabill.)
Many Chinese immigrants who came to America to work on the railroads later settled in South Dakota’s Black Hills. The Chinese, early Deadwood’s largest ethnic minority, mined, opened shops and laundries and worked as domestic servants in the white community. They developed a city within a city, electing their own mayor and council and founding independent police and fire departments.
In an era of hand-pulled fire equipment, speed and coordination were essential. Teams around the region competed in annual tournaments that included hub-and-hub races (engines lined up with the hubs of their wheels above the starting line) between the fastest hose teams. Though Deadwood’s Chinese were often treated as second-class citizens, on this day they stood proudly in first place.