Canine Forensics Team Investigates Chinese Gold Rush-Era Burial Ground Outside Helena

Posted July 11, 2018

Beyond the fences of the Forestvale Cemetery, hidden in tufts of cheatgrass, sage and prickly pear, the stories of Montana’s foreign pioneers decay in heavy thumbprint depressions in the ground. As many as 200 Chinese immigrants were buried beyond the gothic arches, but the blank patch of prairie outside Forestvale wasn’t their final resting place—at least it wasn’t meant to be.

China Row, as it’s called, could be concealing more than a hundred bodies that were meant to be exhumed and returned to their native villages on a promise and some cash. 

On Friday, June 22, the Montana History Foundation brought a team of cadaver dogs from the Institute for Canine Forensics in California to China Row to search for evidence of human remains. If the bodies are still out there, they’ve been there since burials began in the 1890s and ended in the mid-1900s.

The age is no trouble for the dogs. They got to work, nose against the earth, scanning for signs of human decomposition. They found it in at least 12 different areas.

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