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Ryan McGeeney, Associated Press
Engineer Richard Carroll smiles at the crowd during the 139th annual Golden Spike Celebration in Promontory Summit on May 10.

PROMONTORY, Box Elder County — Taisei Yu was doing what all 2-year-olds do on railroad tracks at the Golden Spike National Historic Site: He was walking the ties.

He'd step up on a tie, step over it, step down on the rocks, then up on the next tie, and down. Over and over and over, tiny legs carefully reaching up and stepping down.

Taisei, who was wearing a "Li'l Slugger" T-shirt, didn't know it, but he was playing in the footsteps of thousands of Chinese who may not have been his direct ancestors but who share a common cultural background and who built the railroad, on which he was walking.

He and his parents, Jerin and Wami Yu of Salt Lake City, were among more than 100 Chinese-Americans at Golden Spike National Historic Site who came to watch and take part in the annual re-enactment of the driving of the golden spike on May 10. The Salt Lake Chinese Choir took part, as well.

They were there, in part, to correct a historic wrong. Chinese laborers built the railroad from California to Promontory, including the hardest stretches over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. But, until recently, the Chinese never got the recognition they were due.

A crew of Cantonese workers laid the final tie for the ceremony, for example, but were excluded from the famous final picture taken of the event.

There are differing versions of why that was.

David Howard Bain, in his book "Empire Express," about the building of the transcontinental railroad, wrote one version: That someone yelled at one photographer there that day, Charles Savage, to "take a shot!" and the Cantonese, thinking it was a reference to dynamite being set off, ran for cover "to the great hilarity of the crowd."

How authentic that report is, is hard to say. Bain's book says that story "is said," and notes that he got the incident out of a 1939 story in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.

Ron Wong, a docent in the Sacramento Railroad Museum, doesn't buy the "shot" story.

An estimated 10,000 to 14,000 Chinese built the railroad from Sacramento, Calif., to Promontory, he said, and more than 1,000 died. Such experienced workmen wouldn't bolt.

The role of the Chinese is one a lot of people don't know about, he said.

"One of the things my mission is, I'd like to tell our side of the story," he said. Being a docent, and studying books and records is one thing, but being at the site is another, "and now I can tell people I was here."

Norm Nelson of Brigham City, one of the organizers and performers of the annual event, had a more prosaic reason that no Chinese are in the final picture.

"If you look at that picture, it's all dignitaries," he said. "The laborers all had to go back and put more spikes in the rails. They'd built the road so fast that they had to go back in a hurry and fix it."

Nelson said the committee that handles the program started working five years ago to get more involvement from representatives of ethnic groups that did the actual work.

"We got hold of the Irish Hibernian Society and the Chinese and all of those who are descended from the builders, and they started coming," he said. Representatives of Irish, Chinese, Shoshone and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now join to place a wreath every year for those who died building the railroad.

Woody Fang, a member of the Salt Lake Chinese Choir, which performed three folks songs May 9, admitted that one of the reasons so many Chinese were at this year's reenactment is "it happens to be Saturday; that helps."

But, he said, "Of course the Chinese laborers were very important, and we want to be represented now."

He was also skeptical of the "shot" story about why no Chinese were in that final picture. He was reluctant to call it discrimination, however.

"Any history, there's always ups and downs, but that's all in the past," he said. "Right now, we have very good population of Orientals in this part of the country."

Wong said what happened in 1869 may have been wrong, but this year, "I'm going to have the proper picture taken. There will be Chinese in it this year."

There were. Before the ceremonial re-enactment of the driving of the final four ceremonial spikes, the replica steam engines Jupiter and No.119 were parked on the rail, nose-to-nose, so people could shoot their own versions of the famous "final" photo, taken at the original event by photographer Andrew Russell.

Wong was in the first, which included all people in period dress representing dignitaries from the railroad companies.

The members of the Chinese Choir and their friends and relatives were in a second.

Two more "final" pictures followed, for people in 1869 costume and, finally, for anyone at all.

There were Chinese in every one. Afterward, Taisei Yu took his walk by the rails, and his dad, standing off to the side and smiling, got pictures of that, too.