11 April 2010

Poker Jim, Montana's Oldest Chinese Resident

“Poke Jim,” Aged Chinese Passes Away. Gambler of Early Day Mining Camps Known by Pioneers; Was 105 Years Old.

Special to The Tribune. Helena, Dec 28—News of the death of “Poker Joe,” an aged Chinese who died at the county farm in Powell county recalled to R. J. Quigley of this city that the man was a resident of Last Chance gulch when Mr. Quigley was a boy. Even then, the Chinaman appeared old. He spoke the English language fairly well and said he had come to Montana territory when Bannack and Virginia City were capitals. From Virginia City he had come to Helena when gold was discovered in Last Chance gulch. Later he drifted to Blackfoot City and to Ophir.

Mr. Quigley had nearly forgotten “Poker Jim” until a year ago last summer, when he was driving with his family in the vicinity of Blackfoot City. He learned that the Chinese was the only inhabitant of the ghost city. Mr. Quigley entered the cabin and in a bunk in the corner he saw what appeared to be a mummy, its clawlike fingers clutching the stem of an opium pipe. The man was awake and his beady eyes, peering from their setting of wrinkled parchment, fastened themselves on the sheepman’s face.

Taught Count in Chinese. If he remembered the days when he taught Quigley, as a boy in Helena, to count in Chinese, he gave no sign either by look or work that he recognized his caller. Seeking to rouse memory, Quigley counted to 10 in Chinese and paused. There was barely a flicker of the eyelids and a twitching of the lips. No sound came from the mouth but the eyes remained fixed upon Quigley.

Memory was gone, seemingly, yet it was evident that the Chinese managed some way to keep house and do what little cooking was necessary to supply his needs.

The cabin was clean, the floor swept and the cooking utensils behind the stove were scoured brightly. Mr. Quigley finally gave up an attempt to start a conversation. The eyes of Poker Jim followed him to the door as Quigley withdrew.

Speaks for Last Time. While a resident of Helena, Poker Him lived in the Chinese quarter. He worked as a placer miner on his own hook and spent his nights gambling. He was an inveterate poker player and because of that gained the sobriquet by which he was known throughout the early day mining camps and which he carried to his death.

So far as known, the last time he spoke was when Sheriff Lou Boedecker was taking him to Deer Lodge Nov. 30. In answer to a question, he told the sheriff he was more than 100 years old and that the trip to Deer Lodge would be his first visit there since he went to Blackfoot City 60 years ago. He was though to be 105.
[Source: Great Falls Tribune Daily 29 Dec 1931, p. 5]

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