Little is written about the contribution Chinese men and women made in building frontier America. One of their major achievements was servings as laborers to build the Central Pacific Railroad tracks across the rugged Sierra Mountains in California. Chinese men became miners and extracted a major portion of gold recovered during northwestern gold rushes.
Mei Ling’s story was inspired by a Chinese woman of the same era and region of Idaho known by her married name, Polly Beamis, whose story is told in a biography, Thousand Pieces of Gold by Ruthann Lum McCunn and a follow on movie, by the same name.
In this book Mei Ling is sold by her father to an itinerate buyer of girls, animals and fouls. She was resold to a broker and then to a retailer specializing in attractive girls who trained them to become high-class courtesans.
A young self-trained doctor, in Hong Kong, began experimenting with whiskey he hoped would prevent flesh decomposition. He discovered fresh flesh bathed in whiskey didn’t decay. Raising his work a notch, he irrigated live open wounds with whiskey and found most healed without filling with pus. The doctor enjoyed a reputation for healing wounds and attracted the attention of brothel owners requesting him to perform abortions on their pregnant workers.
Studying a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, the young doctor deduced that if a female’s fallopian tubes were severed she would be rendered sterile. With a plentiful supply of female cadavers available for experimentation, he developed a procedure and special tools to perform tubule ligations. Using whiskey to prevent infection and opium as an anesthetic, the procedure could be performed safely and without the patient flinching or moving, along with minimal pain... Mei Ling became the first woman to receive the young doctor’s new procedure.
Following recovery, Mei Ling was sold to a prominent merchant and taught to speak English, then put to work entertaining British and American sea captains and merchants visiting Hong Kong.
Lur, captain of the lumber schooner North Star, became infatuated by Mei Ling and brought her to America where she quickly found herself alone. During her trip up the Columbia River she executed three corrupt countrymen and shot a former shipmate ready to shoot a friend.
Arriving in Lewiston, Idaho Territory, Mei Ling became the cook and extra gun, riding atop a fastidious she-mule called Sara, in a packstring bound for a mountain gold town known as Florence. A year later gold in Florence petered out and Mei Ling was offered an opportunity to become a plank owner, as manager of a general store, in the yet to be established town of Oro Grande.
The Oro Grande general store proved a success and Mei Ling became wealthy through later sale of her business. She moved to Lewiston, cared for her friend, Francine, and later relocated to San Francisco.