History books typically shortchange the role of the Chinese in the settling of the West. Small wonder, given that they were a hidden culture, often forced to live in underground communities largely ignored by those above. The Chinese built the infrastructure and provided bustling businesses that included laundry, herbs, assorted dry goods and noodle parlors.
They also ran gambling houses. Thousands of Asians arrived on foot and served the Butte mining community from the 1870s until about 1920, and their story is best told in the museum’s Mah Wai Hall. Excavations have recovered thousands of century-old artifacts, many of which are on display at the Mah Wai. Mostly it’s broken porcelain pottery and dishware bearing Chinese markings, but bone toothbrushes and gaming dice tantalize the imagination.