top of page


Idaho Archaeology Dig Finds New Clues About Life Of Polly Bemis

by Doug Nadvornick - September 12, 2021

Source Article can be found at

This summer, Idahoans celebrated the life of one of the state’s most famous Chinese-American citizens. Polly Bemis now has her own statue in Boise. For those not familiar with her story, Bemis came to the U.S. in the early 1870s. It was a time when many Chinese men were coming to the States to find work, in the mines or wherever else they could.

Some opened their own businesses. “Because of both U.S. laws and Chinese cultural traditions, a lot of women didn’t migrate into the United States and so that was kind of unique," said Renae Campbell, a PhD student at the University of Idaho. “She was sold by her family, which was not a terribly uncommon thing in that time period and then smuggled into the country through Portland and purchased by a Chinese man in a remote mining town in Idaho. She came in neither knowing English, the language of the United States, or the language that most of those Chinese immigrants knew and were speaking at the time," she said. Campbell says much is known about the life of Polly Bemis, but there are myths as well and those have driven the interest in Bemis's story. “She’s been written up in a couple of literary works. There was a historical novel that was written about her that was turned into a movie called “A Thousand Pieces of Gold.” Because of the notoriety that came from that, she has been inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame. She’s also been called one of the Pacific Northwest’s most famous Chinese women," she said. Campbell was drawn into the Polly Bemis orbit through her work at the university’s Asian American Comparative Collection. “What we are doing is an archaeological project that’s kind of in conjunction with a new book that my boss, Priscilla Wegars, wrote that came out in 2020 about the true life of Polly Bemis," she said. The true story includes a marriage to a man named Charlie Bemis. For years, they lived on a ranch i