Blue Mountain Eagle
Ing “Doc” Hay is dead.
With his death in Portland last Saturday, a symbol of a past and colorful era in Grant County history passed on. Funeral services were held Thursday from Driskill’s with the Rev. Mrs. Bach in charge. Interment was in the John Day cemetery.
Doc Hay’s life in Grant County is so interwoven with the old mining history and the history of the Chinese colony in Eastern Oregon that there are hundreds of stories and anecdotes brought to light by his passing. Because he always avoided publicity and talked little of the past even to relatives much of the lore of his life has been lost. There is enough, however, to make interesting reading for newcomers and to bring nostalgic reminiscence to old timers.
His age was not exactly known. Relatives believe he was at least 89 and, for the official record, give his birthplace as Walla Walla in 1863. When the Chinese exclusion act was about to be enacted and Doc had to prove residence to establish citizenship, he went to Walla Walla and obtained an elector’s certificate to establish his status. This certificate bears the date of July 31, 1897, and attested that he had voted in election there prior to that date.
His ability as a Chinese herb doctor became legendary in Eastern Oregon. Stories are recounted of the early days when he would travel as far as Prineville by horse and buggy to treat patients.
A remarkable, almost phenomenal, memory was listed among the Doc attributes. Relatives tell of a huge volume of Chinese medicine he possessed. He practically had the contents memorized and, at the mention of any reference, would give the page number and paragraph in which to find the information. His eyesight began failing in the late ’20s, and for the past few years he has been totally blind. In his old historic quarters, among the medicines, personal mementos and relics he kept several radios and kept abreast of world and national news. Ropes were strung for him to use as guides when moving out of the house.
Sometime in his youth he went to China to learn the age-old precepts of herb medicines. The time when he started living regularly in John Day is hard to establish. His father, Orr Hogg, established the Kam Wah Chung store and herb center here in 1871. His father had arrived in the valley in the early ’60s with the first rush of miners into the Canyon City diggings. He returned to China to spend his last year before the turn of the century and nothing further was known of him.
Doc Hay, according to the best information available, settled here permanently in the early ’80s. He was not known to have visited China during this century, but on one of his trips to China, he married and was the father of a son he never saw and of whom no present trace is known.
In the heyday of the Kam Wah Chung business operation, it had a greatly diversified stock of all kinds of merchandise. Gold dust was brought over the counter. A frontier bank was operated, and at one time or another, much of the land of Grant County had loans from this bank against it. Most of the debts were paid, but many were quietly written off. Among the contents of the old store where the Doc spent his last years are papers, letters and un-canceled checks, all of which provided a rich storehouse of research material in studying the early days of the county. Among this material are un-cancelled checks, many of them dating back to the early 1900’s, mostly in small amounts, and written by many pioneers of the county now gone. The amount of the un-cashed checks is estimated to total close to $20,000.
Although the Doc was noted for always offering a helping hand to worthy needy and making modest charges for his service, he managed to accumulate a substantial estate. When his eyesight grew poor, he gradually discontinued his practice, and the bulk of the work has been carried on by his nephew, Dr. Bob Wah. Occasionally he would treat an old-timer but gradually made his retirement complete.
Doc Hay was a devout Buddhist but with the decreasing number of original Chinese immigrants too few were left to hold regular services. He maintained, however, a Buddhist temple in his quarters where he worshipped regularly. Although the Chinese colony here, which at one time numbered above 600, did not have any designated leader, Ing Hay was regarded as a senior statesman to whom many went regularly for advice. His business partner, Lung On, reportedly about the same age as Ing Hay, died in 1940.
Mining camp gamblers at one time tried to use Ing Hay as an instrument in filching money from the miners. Part of his stock of merchandise consisted of playing cards. At one time he had approximately 1,000 decks on hand from which the frontier places of amusement regularly made purchases for their games. The gamblers offered Ing Hay a substantial amount of money for the cards: They would only keep them for several days and return them to him intact. He refused the offer, which obviously was intended as a way to steam off seals, mark the cards and then return them to Doc Hay to be sold for use in the games. The cards, as a product of Doc Hay’s place would have been regarded as reliable, and the miners would have been taken to the cleaners more rapidly than usual.
Members of the Chinese colony of good repute could always get credit backing from Ing. Mrs. Margaret Herburger O’Brien, a native of Grant County, knew Doc Hay in the earlier days. Before her death late in June she had written several columns on the old doctor in the Ukiah, California Press which she owned. In a column appearing in the issue of March 24, 1942, she reminisced:
“It is a long time since I saw him last. His name is Doc Hay and he is a Chinese doctor. He lives on a famous placer mining creek in Eastern Oregon and he had done a lot of good. When you visited ‘Doc’ Hay he would not ask you what ailed you. He would take your hand and forearm and place them on a small pillow. Carefully feeling about the wrist he would find out himself what the matter was. He would then fuss around in a pot of herbs, leaves and roots – it looked like a woodrat’s nest – and he would fix you up some medicine that would ‘Catchem’. The Celestial was a smart old coot, too. I recall a cowboy who had a violent toothache, went in to try and fool him and told ‘Doc’ Hay he was plenty sick, ‘Doc’ Hay put his forearm on the pillow and quickly jabbed his thumb in the cheek of the patient beneath the tooth which was throbbing. ‘Pull him out’ was the diagnosis.”