Saturday, November 11, 2023

Photography: Ong Q. Tow aka James Craig Tow, Spanish-American War Veteran

Today is Veterans Day. 

The most informative profile of Tow was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri), September 18, 1899. 
Mongol in Our Army
First Chinaman to Wear the Blue Is Jim Tow
San Francisco, Sept. 18.—James Craig Tow is the first Chinaman to enlist in the United States army in time of war. Tow enlisted in the Thirty-fifth Regiment, United States Volunteers, and was assigned to service in the Philippines. 

Tow was born in Sonoma, this State, Dec. 6, 1869, thus making him in his thirtieth year. His father, Own Men Young, is a wealthy Chinese wholesale merchant. He is very much oposed [sic] to Tow becoming so Americanized, and when he learned more than a year ago that his son was endeavoring to enter the army of the United States he used every possible endeavor to dissuade him from doing so, even going so far as to enlist the assistance of prominent and influential residents of San Francisco to have the War Department refuse to consider the boy’s application, which was made last May. The application was considered, but he was not accepted. At that time he endeavored to enlist in the Seventh California. He passed the physical examination satisfactorily, but the officers of the regiment would not acept  [sic] him, although it is understood that the men offered no objection to serving with him.

The lad’s education was obtained in the public schools of Sonoma and the best of private schools in the city of San Francisco. Being naturally bright and the favorite of his father, money was lavished upon him in many ways and no part of his education was neglected. He speaks the language of six different provinces of China, talkes [sic] the English language perfectly, without the least Chinese accent, and speaks and interprets the Spanish language, thus making him a very valuable man for the Thirty-fifth Regiment.

Upon completing his education in San Francisco, whither he had removed from Sonoma at the age of 10 years, Tow became dissatisfied with his Chinese surroundings and concluded to see something of the American ways of living. He accordingly left his old quarters and came south, stopping for a time in Los Angeles. Then he found his way into Santa Ana and followed the occupation of gardener for several years. From this he became a merchant, conducting a large Japanese and Chinese store in this city for several years. He is a favorite among the Chinese population of Santa Ana, and at the present time is overseeing a large part of the Chinese business of the city, his countrymen having the utmost confidence in his ability and honesty. He is a natural born mechanic, and at the time of his enlistment was employed in the Santa Ana Novelty Works as an expert in wood turning.

A few years [ago] Tow built a miniature facsimile of the Maine, doing all the work himself. The warship was a most perfect little fighter, and at various times has attracted a great deal of attention here when placed on exhibition. Tow has never been married and did not forsake his queue until the last moment before being sworn into the service by Recruiting Officer Matthews, although he has dressed as an American ever since he left home.

The Thirty-fifth Regiment will assemble at Vancouver Barracks, Wash., and will sail for the Philippines from Seattle. The term of Tow’s enlistment is from June 30, 1899, to June 30, 1901.
News of Tow’s enlistment was reported as early as June 1898 in many newspapers including The New York Times, June 4, 1898. 
A Chinaman Enlists.
Santa Ana, Cal., June 3.—O. Q. Tow, a Chinaman, has enlisted here in the army and will join Company L of this city, now at the Presidio, San Francisco. Tow was born in Sonoma County, Cal., twenty-eight years ago. He passed the medical examination to-day, and was immediately assigned to a squad being recruited for Company L. He says that as soon as he is ordered to San Francisco he will cut off his queue.
The Los Angeles Herald (California), June 18, 1898, said 
Out of thirty candidates for Company L there were twenty-five accepted and mustered in. Ong Q. Tow, the patriotic Chinaman who enlisted, will not go as a member on account of not being the required height. He is very much disappointed over his non-acceptance and will make an effort to go as a cook. ...
The Los Angeles Herald, June 20, 1898, said
Ong Q. Tow, the Santa Ana Chinaman who wants to go to tho Philippines with the next expedition, ought to be given a chance. He has earned it by his persistency. He speaks English, Spanish and Chinese fluently, and would no doubt make himself very useful. 
The Los Angeles Herald, August 10, 1899, reported Tow’s enlisting. 
A Chinese Recruit
James Craig Tow Becomes an American Soldier
Santa Ana, Aug. 9.—James Craig Tow, a native Californian, born of Chinese parents, today enlisted in the service of the United States for duty in the Philippines with the Thirty-fifth regiment, United States volunteers. Tow has lived all his life in the state of California and was educated in the public schools. He speaks the English lan­guage distinctly, with little or no Chinese accent and is almost a perfect man physically. The last thing he parted with before entering the service of the United States was his queue. He first appeared before the recruiting officer with his queue tightly rolled on top of his head, but the officer ordered that it be removed and Tow made a bee line for the nearest barber shop, returning in a few minutes with an up-to-date American hair cut, after which the oath was administered and he became a full-fledged American soldier. Tow is the first Chinaman to enlist in the service of the United States.
The San Diego Union, August 16, 1899, published an explanation of Tow’s enlistment.
... Lieutenant Chappelear was asked about the Chinaman who enlisted at Santa Ana, and who was said to be the only successful applicant in that town. “Yes, there was a Chinaman enlisted at Santa Ana,” said the lieutenant, “but he was not the only man. There were fifteen men received into the regiment there, and thy [sic] are all white men except this Chinaman, not at all like the common run of Celestials in this state. He is a native of California, was educated at Santa Ana, and is a pretty bright fellow. By occupation he is a cook, under Capt. Matthews of Santa Ana, who is in command of Company D of the Thirty-fifth. Capt. Matthews wanted him, and that explains why he enlisted. He does not come in as a soldier.”
Evidently the San Francisco Chronicle, August 20, 1899, was the first publication to publish a photograph of Tow. 

The same photograph appeared in Leslie’s Weekly, September 30, 1899. 

Tow, officers, enlisted men and musicians were counted in the 1900 United States Census. He is on line 19.

Private Tow was profiled in the Riverside Daily Press (California), August 31, 1900.

Special Order, No. 221.
Headquarters Division of the Philippines. 
Manila, P. I., December 26, 1900.
... 6.—Cook James C. Tow, Company D, 35th Infantry, U.S. volunteers, will report to the collector of customs, this city, for duty in the custom house. The quartermaster’s department will furnish the necessary transportation, and the subsistence department will arrange for his subsistence while en route.
After the war, Tow was discharged and remained in the Philippines where he went into business. His store advertisement appeared in the back of the book, The Whip Hand: A Story of the Legion (1905). 

In 1908, Tow was involved in litigation

Tow’s handiwork was noted in the Tombstone Epitaph (Arizona), May 23, 1909. 
… Mr. Seidell highly praises the battleship which was presented to him by its builder James Craig Tow, an Americanized Chinaman, and the only Chinaman to have enlisted in the U.S. army. 

Tow was born in Sonoma, Cal., and enlisted with the California Volunteers, his record showing meritorious service. Tow was a favorite with his company and achieved fame as the only regularly enlisted Chinaman in the service. He was of mechanical turn of mind and besides making the battleship model also perfected models of brass canon and U.S. army field pieces. Tow is at present in Manila where since he was mustered out of the service he has established himself in the mercantile and lumber business. He writes English fluently as is attested by his correspondence with Mr. Seidell and altogether is an interesting character. ...
On December 7, 1913, Tow married Kate Chuen in Manila.

Tow owned an automobile

Tow passed away on October 13, 1923 in Manila.

Further Reading
OC Weekly, Burn, Chinatown, Burn, January 2, 2015
OC History, Ong Q. Tow, Chinese Businessman and Soldier
Library of Congress, The Spanish-American War

(Next post on Wednesday: Mei Lan-Fang in The China Weekly Review)

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