When Gold Rush fever gripped the globe in 1849, thousands of Chinese came through San Francisco to seek fortune. In The Poker Bride, Christopher Corbett uses a legend of one extraordinary woman as a lens into this experience. Before 1849, the Chinese in the United States were little more than curiosities. But as word spread of gold in California, San Francisco's labyrinthine Chinatown sprang up, a city-within-a-city full of exotic foods and strange smells where Chinese women were smuggled into the country. At this time Polly, a young Chinese concubine, was brought by her owner to a remote mining camp in the highlands of Idaho, where he lost her in a poker game. Polly and her new owner then settled at an isolated ranch on the banks of the Salmon River. As the Gold Rush receded, it took with it the Chinese miners, but left behind Polly, who would make headlines when -- as an old woman -- she emerged from the Idaho hills nearly half a century later to tell her astounding story. The Poker Bride reconstructs a tale of the real American West: a place where the first Chinese flooded the country and left their mark long after the craze for gold had vanished.
Christopher Corbett is the author of Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express, as well as a novel, Vacationland. He teaches journalism at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.