Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Wee Gah Wah - Chinaman

Last weekend, my family and I took in some local history at Fort Reno in nearby El Reno, OK.

One of the highlights of the fort grounds is the old cemetary. American Soldiers from many different campaigns are laid to rest here, some dating back to the late 1800's. Their families, many infants (high infant mortality rate back then), even some Buffalo Soldiers, are all buried within the sacred grounds of this frontier outpost cemetary.

Surprisingly, there are a few dozen German and Italian WW2 POWs buried in a separate section of the cemetary. The Fort served as a POW camp for a few years during the early-mid 40's and since it's a law that no enemy combatant could be buried with American soldiers (even those who died in the 1800's), the Axis POWs are in a walled off section of the grounds.

However, as I strolled the hallowed (and apparently haunted) burial grounds, I stumbled upon this lone grave against the north wall, off by itself.

Take a closer look.

Wee Gah Wah - Chinaman. How cool is that.

But, what an odd name I thought.
But, how nice that they buried him in the main cemetary, albeit far and away from any other tombstones.
But, still, for a non-white (who wasn't a Buffalo Soldier) to be respected enough to even get a burial and engraved tombstone, he must have been someone special. Especially given the plight and racism any Asian received during that time period.

Wee Gah Wah must have been one cool "coolie."

Meanwhile, back at the visitor's center, I cornered a period costumed museum docent and inquired about the lone Asian brother buried up on boot hill.Me - Was that his real name?

Docent - No, those were the only three words in English that he learned to say, or that anyone could understand.

Me - Wee Gah Wah were English words?

Docent - Yes, he was the fort laundryman, and he must have been pretty well liked for the Government to allow him to be buried in the cemetary with the soldiers and their families, not to mention they paid for an engraved grave marker.

Me - But, what does "Wee Gah Wah" mean?

Docent - We think he was trying to say, "We go wash." or "We got wash," but no one knows for sure.

I don't know, what do y'all think he was trying to say?

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