Community Comes Together for Ceremony Honoring ‘the Carlin 13’

Li Ju Chin and City Council member Margaret Johnston
Li Ju Chin and City Council member Margaret Johnston hold up the memorial that honors the Carlin 13.

When Chin’s Café owner Li Ju Chin led the charge to bring the Carlin 13 home and lay them to their final rest in Carlin City Cemetery last summer, City Council member Margaret Johnston reached out to the townspeople and local businesses for help on a short deadline.

“By the time all the bureaucratic forms were signed to release the remains, we only had four days to get everything done in time for our celebration,” Margaret says. “We may be a small town, but we have big hearts. We all pull together when there’s a need.”

Retired archaeologist Tim Murphy of nearby Spring Creek, who helped with the original excavation of the Carlin 13, volunteered to drive to UNLV to bring the remains back to Carlin.

Meanwhile, the city donated cemetery plots, and Public Works Department employees opened gravesites, ensuring the remains were buried in the same arrangement they were found in the historic cemetery.

When Margaret told the Home Depot manager in Elko what the folks in Carlin were up to, he donated all the lumber and supplies for the caskets. Local woodworkers Gary and Rachel Wright, Les Tracy and Jan Brizee worked from dawn to dusk each day to build the caskets in four days. Jeanine Holmes led the crew that painted the caskets.

Former mayor Donetta Skinner donated a replica of a handcart—the type often used by Chinese merchants who sold vegetables around Carlin during the late 1800s. Scott and Holly Paterson refurbished the replica, which was used to transport the 13 caskets to the cemetery.

“So many people in our community helped make it happen,” Li says.

About 70 people attended the funeral ceremony, including members of the nearest chapter of the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association in Salt Lake City.

After the local newspaper covered the event, the story gained widespread media attention.

“I had calls from the media as far away as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City and China,” Margaret says. “This story keeps growing. I’m still getting calls. The question asked most often is, ‘Why would Carlin care about these strangers?’ I explained that in a small town like ours, we’re like a big family. We considered them to be citizens of our community and wanted to bring them home.”

Li recently attended an early screening of “Going Home,” a documentary about the Carlin 13 by Min Zhou that’s still in production.

“It made everyone cry,” she says. Two of the Carlin 13 have been identified, and their families in China have been notified.

The Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association will dedicate a bronze plaque to honor the Carlin 13 at 9 a.m. July 4 at Carlin City Cemetery.

Community members are also organizing an exhibit at the town’s museum to recognize Chinese residents’ contributions to Carlin.

“We’re planning a big celebration,” Margaret says. “All this would never have happened if Li hadn’t kept asking for the remains to be returned.”