S. Torigoe was born about 1870 in Japan. He may have come to the United States by way of Hawaii, as the Torigoe surname is also found there. By 1902, he was a cook on G. H. Clayson’s ranch, five miles northeast of Phoenix.
At this time, it was quite common for well-to-do families in San Francisco and other West Coast cities to employ Chinese, Japanese or Filipino men as cooks, houseboys and gardeners. Japanese cooks often worked in mining camps and on ranches—predominantly male workplaces where the presence of women might prove a distraction.
Naturally, Japanese newcomers sought out each other’s company whenever they could, if only for the pleasure of conversing in their own language. Like immigrants of other ethnic groups, they tended to look after each other in sickness and adversity.
On February 14, 1902, Torigoe was working in the ranch kitchen with K. Iwai, a fellow Japanese dishwasher. Torigoe asked for a lamp wick, which was stored in the corner of the room. Just above the package of lamp wicks was a dilapidated old shotgun. As Iwai reached to take down the package, he inadvertently touched the trigger of the gun. Tragically, an entire load of birdshot discharged at close range, blowing away half of Torigue’s face.
Mr. Clayson, the ranch owner, was summoned immediately. He and another man loaded Torigue into a wagon and started at once for medical help. The injured man was taken to the Sisters’ Hospital in Phoenix, where the terrible wound was dressed by Drs. Dameron, Bell and Hughes. It was to no avail, though, as Torigoe died that evening, surrounded by several Japanese friends who had hurriedly congregated at his bedside.
While Torigoe’s fate was still unknown, Deputy Sheriff Williams had arrested K. Iwai, the only witness to the shooting. However, Iwai stoically refused to answer any questions.
The following day, Coroner Burnett empaneled a jury to investigate whether Torigoe’s death was a murder or an accident. Witnesses testified that Torigoe and Iwai appeared to be the best of friends and that they knew of no animosity between them. Iwai said he had no idea that the old shotgun in the kitchen was actually loaded. The verdict of the jury was that Torigoe came to his death by a gunshot wound, the shot being accidentally fired by K. Iwai but in no way intentional nor due to negligence.
The remains were prepared by undertakers Mohn and Easterling. Torigoe not being a Christian, he was quietly buried on the western edge of Rosedale Cemetery by his Japanese compatriots. In due course of time, a headstone bearing an inscription in both Japanese and English was erected.
#Asian-Pacific Islander Month, Chinese heritage
© 2023 by Donna L. Carr. Last revised 5 May 2023.
Grave marker photo courtesy of the Pioneers’ Cemetery Association, Inc.