Sierra Sun Times

Chinese Walls - By Rochelle Frank With Photographs By Linda Gast

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Chinese Walls
by Rochelle Frank

Rock walls, dating back to the early 1860's flow across the landscapes of Mariposa County in lines that define the contours of the land. Remnants of these historic stone barricades can often be seen from roads. In some places there are sections that seem almost complete. They are especially noticeable in ranch-land areas of Catheys Valley, Hornitos, Mt. Gaines Road  and along the road between Mariposa and Raymond.

These stone fences, built with field stone or river rock, are sometimes called "Chinese Walls" because they are believed to have been constructed by Chinese laborers. Though the origins of every wall can not always be authenticated, there are historic records that document the 1863 project on Morgan Quick's Ben Hur Ranch.

Quick came to California from New York as a 21 year old, and did well enough in gold mining to earn an average of $10,000 a year. He bought some land south of Mariposa and built a house for himself and his new bride in 1854. In another five years he bought additional land and turned his attention to establishing a ranch.

Morgan Quick agreed to pay a Chinese contractor $1.75 for each rod (sixteen and a half linear feet) of stone wall. He also provided pork and rice for the workers. The contractor, who sat under an umbrella tracking construction progress with an abacus, paid his workers 25 cents per day IF they completed a rod  and a half (twenty four feet and nine inches). The daily wage was lost if workers failed to meet the quota.

The whole project, about four miles of stone wall, took almost a year to complete and cost the rancher $6,000.

The workers cleared fields of stones and used them to build four foot high barriers that marked property boundaries and formed cattle enclosures. No mortar was used to hold the wall together. Skillfully stacked, the uncut stones were carefully placed to slope inward on each side. Being about two feet wide at he bottom, they tapered up to one foot wide at the top. Some of the walls still serve their original purposes today, where an addition of stakes and barbed wire have been incorporated into the original stone foundations.
A special display in the Mariposa History Museum, shows some items from the Ben Hur Ranch and gives additional information about the Quick family and the building of the Chinese Walls.

Link to the center, with directions:

Mariposa County Museum And History Center


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All photos and articles - Copyright Linda Gast/Rochelle Frank

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