Chinese miners are massacred in Wyoming Territory

Chinese miners are massacred in Wyoming Territory


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On September 2, 1885, 150 white miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, brutally attack their Chinese coworkers, killing 28, wounding 15 others, and driving several hundred more out of town.

The miners working in the Union Pacific coal mine had been struggling to unionize and strike for better working conditions for years. But at every juncture the powerful railroad company had bested them. Searching for a scapegoat, the angry miners blamed the Chinese. The Chinese coal miners were hard workers, but the Union Pacific had initially brought many of them to Rock Springs as strikebreakers, and they showed little interest in the miners’ union.

Outraged by a company decision to allow Chinese miners to work the richest coal seams, a mob of white miners impulsively decided to strike back by attacking Rock Spring’s small Chinatown. When they saw the armed mob approaching, most of the Chinese abandoned their homes and businesses and fled for the hills. But those who failed to escape in time were brutally beaten and murdered. A week later, on September 9, U.S. troops escorted the surviving Chinese back into the town where many of them returned to work. Eventually the Union Pacific fired 45 of the white miners for their roles in the massacre, but no effective legal action was ever taken against any of the participants.

The Rock Springs Massacre was symptomatic of the anti-Chinese feelings shared by many Americans at that time. The Chinese had been victims of prejudice and violence ever since they first began to come to the West in the mid-nineteenth century, fleeing famine and political upheaval. Widely blamed for all sorts of social ills, the Chinese were also singled-out for attack by some national politicians who popularized strident slogans like “The Chinese Must Go” and helped pass an 1882 law that closed the U.S. to any further Chinese immigration. In this climate of racial hatred, violent attacks against the Chinese in the West became all too common, though the Rock Springs massacre was notable both for its size and savage brutality.

READ MORE: Building the Transcontinental Railroad: How 20,000 Chinese Immigrants Made It Happen


THE MASSACRE OF THE CHINESE.

ROCK SPRINGS, Wyoming, Sept. 4. — A glance over the battleground of Wednesday reveals the fact that many of the bullets fired at the fleeing Chinamen found their mark. Lying in the smoldering embers where Chinatown stood were found 10 charred and shapeless trunks, sending up a noisome stench, while another, which had evidently been dragged from the ashes by boys, was found in the sage brush nearby. The search resulted in the finding of the bodies of five more Chinamen, killed by rifle shots while fleeing from their pursuers. All were placed in pine coffins and buried yesterday afternoon. Some six or eight others were found seriously wounded, and were cared for by the railroad officers. The Coroner’s jury has rendered a verdict to the effect that the men came to their deaths at the hands of parties unknown. Reports from along the line of the railroad are to the effect that Chinamen have been arriving at small stations east and west of here, and they say that a large number of the fugitives were wounded by Wednesday’s attack, and that many have perished in the hills. It is feared that it will be found that no less than 50 lost their lives when all the returns are in. This trouble has been brewing for months. The contractors who run the mines have been importing Chinamen in large numbers and discharging white men, until over 600 Celestials were in their employ. It is said that the mine bosses have favored the Chinamen to the detriment of white miners, and it needed only a spark to kindle the flames. This was furnished by a quarrel between a party of Celestials

and whites in Mine No. 6 over their right to work in a certain chamber. A fight ensued and the Chinamen were worsted, four of them being badly wounded, one of whom has since died. The white miners then came out, armed themselves with firearms, and notified the men in the other three mines to come out in the afternoon. Meantime all was excitement in Chinatown. The flag was hoisted as a warning, and the Chinese working in different parts of the camp fled to their quarters. After dinner, the saloons closed and no liquor has since been sold. The miners gathered on the front streets, about 100 of them armed with guns, revolvers, hatchets, and knives, and proceeded toward Chinatown. Before reaching there they sent a committee of three to warn the Chinamen to leave in an hour. This they agreed to do, and started to pack up, but in about half an hour, the white men became impatient and advanced upon the Chinese quarters, shouting and firing their guns into the air. Without offering resistance, the Chinese fled with whatever they could snatch up. They fled to the hills about a mile east of the town, the miners firing at them as they fled. The miners then set fire to some of the houses, and soon eight or ten of the largest houses were in flames. Half choked with fire and smoke, numbers of Chinamen came rushing from the burning buildings, and, with blankets and quilts over their heads to protect themselves from stray rifle shots, they followed their retreating brothers into the hills at the top of their speed. A laundry in town was next visited and the inoffensive inmates shot dead. All the employes of the coal department of the railroad were ordered to leave town, which they did on the evening train. During the night, all the Chinese houses in town, numbering nearly 50, were burned to the ground. A number of Chinamen who were hiding fled from the burning buildings. It is rumored that the Mormon miners in the camp are to be ordered out, but no action in this direction has yet been taken. The miners here are entirely unorganized in the crusade and, although a large number of them are Knights of Labor, the move was not made under their directions. The miners have not been working since the riot. Business is almost entirely suspended and everything is quiet.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4. – Gov. Warren, of Wyoming Territory, to-day telegraphed to the President and Secretary of War at Washington requesting the assistance of Federal troops in suppressing the disturbance at Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory, caused by the massacre of Chinese labors [sic] by miners.

CHEYENNE Wyoming, September 4. — The Chinamen driven out of rock Springs are gradually being picked up by trains going west and taken to Evanston, where 1000 Chinamen are living. These Chinese residents of Evanston are preparing to defend themselves, and purchase all the guns and ammunition in the market.

WHITE MINERS DETERMINED TO DRIVE OUT THE CHINESE.

CHEYENNE, Wyoming, Sept. 5. — A special from Rock Springs to the Leader gives the latest information that can be obtained from the scene of the recent anti-Chinese troubles. All is quiet to-day and the miners have returned to work. At a meeting held last night measures were taken to put a stop to the drunken carousing of a few of their number who had been celebrating the removal of the Chinese. Two more dead Celestials were found today, one in the ruins of Chinatown and the other beneath a railroad bridge about a mile east of the place. The latter had been wounded and had managed to walk that far before giving up. Miners who took an active part in the attack upon Chinatown say that less than one-third of the dead Chinese in the ruins of the houses have been found thus far. They declare that no less than 25 were shot down inside the burned buildings. These buildings had dirt roofs, which covered up the dead Chinamen when the dwellings succumbed to the flames, and has no actual search has been made in the ruins. It is quite probable that the miners’ statements are true. Chinamen are still arriving at stations east and west, almost dead from fright and weak from fatigue and lack of food. All are shipped to Evanston by the company. They reiterate the statement that many have died in the hills from wounds received in the attack upon them. It is reported that the white miners at Almy, in the western end of the Territory, have notified the Chinese laborers in the mines that they must leave within three days, and it is said that the Union Pacific Company has guaranteed their removal within the time specified. The Celestials all along the road refused to work to-day, and demanded passes to Evanston. The Chinese laundrymen and servants at Green River were told last night that they must leave within 12 hours, and they will go west on today’s express.


Rock Springs Massacre

On Sept. 2, 1885, white coal miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory attacked Chinatown, the part of town where Chinese coal miners lived. Although hundreds of Chinese escaped, the white rioters killed 28 people while burning and looting the houses and shops. All the miners worked at mines owned by the Union Pacific Railroad.

What drove the white miners to commit this kind of violence? What, if anything, had the Chinese done to anger them?

The Chinese had been in America at least since the 1849 California Gold Rush. They accepted lower wages in comparison with what the white miners would accept. This drove wages down for everyone and white workers resented it. In the early 1870s, white workers in San Francisco and Los Angeles threatened the Chinese workers and, in Los Angeles, white people killed 23 Chinese laborers. No charges were ever brought against the murderers.

During the construction of the transcontinental railroad, large numbers of Chinese laborers worked for the Central Pacific Railroad building it from California in the west eastward to meet the rails of the Union Pacific in Utah in 1869. Later, many of the Chinese in Wyoming worked at the Union Pacific mines in railroad towns such as Rock Springs, Evanston, and others. During the 1870s, strikes by white miners in Wyoming caused the company to hire more Chinese miners, which only increased the white miners’ resentment as the company was playing the different groups of miners against each other.

On the day of the attack in 1885, the Sweetwater County sheriff learned of the violence about an hour after it began. He took a special train to Rock Springs but could not find anyone to join him in a posse.

Territorial Governor Francis E. Warren traveled to Rock Springs. To demonstrate that he was unafraid and to help calm the white miners, he left his railroad car several times and made a show of walking back and forth on the depot platform.

Warren also telegraphed President Grover Cleveland asking for troops to restore order since Wyoming had no territorial militia. At his suggestion, the company sent a slow train the 15 miles from Rock Springs to Green River to rescue the scattered Chinese and give them food, water, and blankets. Meanwhile, the Uinta County sheriff in Evanston grew nervous about the situation in his area, too. Warren could do nothing but travel to Evanston to calm matters.

By this time, most of the Chinese were eager to get out of Wyoming most from Rock Springs had ended up in Evanston after the violence. Their leader, Ah Say, asked the Union Pacific for railroad tickets and for the two months’ back pay the company owed them. The company refused both requests.

Nearly a week after the killings, troops arrived in Rock Springs and Evanston. Company guards escorted about 600 Chinese, then in Evanston, into boxcars supposedly bound for San Francisco. It wasn’t true the train steamed to Rock Springs, with Warren and top company officials in a car at the back.

Back in Rock Springs, the company still refused the Chinese any passes to California or back pay. White miners continued to harass them. The company refused to sell them food, threatened evict them from their temporary boxcar homes, and finally threatened to fire and blacklist any Chinese who had not returned to work by Sept. 21. About 60 Chinese left the rest returned to work.

Sixteen white miners were arrested for the riot, destruction, and murders, but none were ever charged because no witnesses were willing to testify. The official casualty count was 28 Chinese killed, 15 wounded, and all 79 of the Chinatown buildings looted and burned.

Governor Warren’s role in this debacle was mixed. Although he succeeded in calming the atmosphere, thus preventing further violence, he helped trick the Chinese into returning to Rock Springs and he refused to intervene in the matter of their back pay.

Ultimately, the Union Pacific Company got what it wanted: continuing low pay for all miners—and an ongoing supply of coal for its trains.

Vertical Files

The American Heritage Center houses vertical files that provide valuable research materials on topics and people. Each vertical file contains items such as news clippings, booklets, photographs, pamphlets, reports, and more. The materials are typically loose, separate pieces organized in folders and arranged by subject. The name comes from how they are stored: vertically in filing cabinets. The vertical files represented here relate to the Rock Springs Massacre and to the Chinese experience in Wyoming.

Francis E. Warren

Republican Francis E. Warren (1844-1929) received an appointment as Wyoming Territorial Governor in February 1885. He was not new to politics. He had served as mayor of Cheyenne, as a member of the territorial senate, and as territorial treasurer. He had also rapidly risen to a successful business position in Wyoming, having acquired control of great areas of land and an important voice in the all-powerful Wyoming Stock Grower's Association. Notwithstanding his prominence, when Democrat Grover Cleveland assumed office as U.S.

Andrew P. Bugas

Eyewitness account dated April 16, 1933, of the Rock Springs Massacre by Andrew P. Bugas. He was born in Austria in 1866. He joined his father to work in coal mines in Pennsylvania. In 1885 he came to Rock Springs where for three-and-one-half years, he worked in No. 1 mine. Later in life he married, ran a saloon, and served in the Wyoming State Legislature.

W.B.D. and Annette Gray

William Bradford Dodge Gray was superintendent of Congregational Missions in Wyoming from 1900 to 1918. He was born in Milbourne, Illinois, in 1846. In 1902, W.B.D Gray married Annette Becher. She was ordained in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in December of 1900, and became pastor of the South Side Congregational Church in Cheyenne. The couple traveled extensively through Wyoming as missionaries. They raised money for their missionary work by slide lectures given to audiences in the East on conditions in Wyoming.

Grace Raymond Hebard

Grace Raymond Hebard (1861-1936) worked as a professor and librarian at the University of Wyoming. She researched the history of the American West and had an interest in the Oregon Trail and Native American life. In addition to her success in academia, she was the first woman to practice law in the state of Wyoming and eventually appointed the first vice president of the National Society of Women Lawyers. Her papers include her correspondence, scrapbooks, manuscripts, and transcripts, among others.


What Happened at the Rock Springs Massacre?

Gunshots rang out on the afternoon of September 2, 1885, in Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory. Home to hundreds of Chinese coal miners who had come to the United States for work, the settlement’s Chinatown was facing impending bloodshed. After a morning of violence against Chinese workers in one of the nearby mines, more than a hundred white men armed with guns and other weapons had surrounded the neighborhood.

Tensions between Chinese and white coal miners in Rock Springs had been growing for a long time. White miners, organized under the Knights of Labor union, sought to improve workers’ conditions through unionizing and striking against the giant Union Pacific Railroad Company. Fed up with the company’s proposals to cut pay and its requirement that miners buy necessities at its overpriced stores, the Knights of Labor demanded negotiations with the miners’ employers. The union represented the will of oppressed workers, but it also represented a racist sentiment: the Knights of Labor argued that a large part of the miners’ problems was being caused by an influx of Chinese immigrants who were willing to work for less pay than white workers. When the Chinese workers at Rock Springs refused to strike with the white miners, tensions between the groups reached a breaking point. After returning from the mines to their homes to retrieve their weapons, white men, as well as women, stormed Chinatown that September afternoon. Their violent crusade, now known as the Rock Springs Massacre, resulted in the deaths of 28 Chinese people and the injury of 15, making it one of the bloodiest racially motivated massacres against Chinese immigrants in America.

What happened at Rock Springs was symptomatic of much wider racist sentiment in the United States at the time. Anti-Chinese views had existed since the first major waves of Chinese workers had arrived in North America to build the transcontinental railroad. Such workers represented a relatively cheap source of labour willing to work in dangerous conditions, and they soon replaced many of their white counterparts. In fact, the racist expression “not a Chinaman’s chance” is believed to derive from the dangerous working conditions Chinese workers typically found themselves in, such as being lowered along cliff faces to detonate explosives. The increase in Chinese workers caused discontent among white Americans, who pushed for discriminatory legislation such as California’s so-called Anti-Coolie Act of 1862, which required Chinese immigrants to pay a monthly tax in order to work in the state. Racist sentiments were heightened when the transcontinental railroad was completed and Chinese immigrants began taking jobs in other industries, such as coal mining. At the height of white Americans’ animosity toward Chinese immigrants, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It banned Chinese workers from entering the United States, making it the country’s first federal legislation to suspend immigration on the basis of a specific nationality.

What’s more, systematic discrimination against Chinese immigrants made it impossible for them to find justice in the American legal system. In the aftermath of the Rock Springs Massacre, none of the white aggressors was charged with a crime, because no witnesses had testified against them. The Chinese miners who had escaped the massacre relocated temporarily to Evanston and demanded back pay and railroad tickets to leave Wyoming Territory. While they were later reimbursed for their losses by Congress, the miners were never granted their two requests. After they were told that a train would take them to San Francisco, they found out they had been lied to: instead, the train took them back to Rock Springs, where Union Pacific management hoped they would resume work in the mines.

While news of the Rock Springs Massacre led many in the United States to condemn the actions of white people in the town, it also inspired violent anti-Chinese demonstrations elsewhere. Emboldened by what had happened in Rock Springs, white workers across the West Coast began violently driving Chinese immigrants from communities.

Throughout American history, Asian Americans and Asian immigrants have faced polarized reactions from white Americans. Initially favoured by corporations in the 19th century for providing cheap labour, Chinese workers were murdered when they became competition for white workers. By the late 20th century, however, Asian Americans had become the face of the “model minority”—the problematic perception that they had overcome marginalization through hard work—yet this shift had happened not long after Japanese Americans were put into internment camps, despite being American citizens, during World War II. What has driven such reactions is racism—a belief among white Americans that people of colour are inferior and should be treated accordingly. Racism has placed Asian Americans and others at the mercy of white mobs, whether it's taken the form of mocking an accent, voting for discriminatory federal legislation, or murdering mine workers while trying to eradicate an entire neighbourhood.


Wyoming’s Memory Revived of Massacre of Chinese Mine Workers a Century Ago

A century ago, a pick-and-shovel fight between white and Chinese workers in an underground coal mine in Rock Springs spread to the surface.

In the ensuing hours, whites killed at least 28 Chinese, sacking and burning homes throughout Rock Springs’ Asian community.

Today, only a few Chinese families live in this southwestern Wyoming city of 20,000. There is no memorial to what became known as the Rocky Springs Chinese Massacre, no evidence of what newspaper reports at the time called “the hurried exit of John Chinaman” and the burning of “Hong Kong.”

There is not even a burial ground for the massacre victims, apparently because all of the bodies were cremated and the ashes returned to China. Whites at that time generally would not allow Asians to be buried in white cemeteries.

About 600 survivors fled on foot east and west of here along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. They carried with them whatever food, clothing and valuables they had been able to snatch from their besieged homes.

Soldiers were rushed to Rock Springs from the frontier posts of Camp Murray in the Utah Territory and Ft. Steele in the Wyoming Territory. They established Camp Pilot Butte in Rock Springs. The soldiers stayed 13 years, until the Spanish-American War.

Fourteen miners were arrested in the days after the massacre, but no one was convicted of a crime.

The massacre might well have slipped into oblivion had not two young historians at Western Wyoming College set out to revive its memory.

Staff historian A. Dudley Gardner and history instructor Chris Plant, who held a 100th anniversary ceremony on Labor Day at the college, now have raised more than $5,000 for a plaque to place in a city park. The ambassador of China has been invited to a dedication ceremony that will be held at his convenience.

Plant, originally from Rochester, N.Y., said the plaque will read:

“This riot was precipitated by a decade-long deliberate company policy of importing Chinese miners to lower wages, break strikes and neutralize efforts to organize labor unions.

“Abetting the violence and cruelty was a virulent nationwide racism that viewed the Chinese as willing slave laborers and morally degenerate.”

The plaque could help rekindle memories of the tragic event. Recently, 20 people were stopped randomly on Rock Springs streets, and not one had heard of the Rock Springs Chinese Massacre.

For the Labor Day ceremony, Plant and Gardner also invited the Taiwan ambassador. A written response on behalf of Ambassador Han Xu, sent with a wreath of flowers, said Taiwan would not be able to send a representative but added: “I believe the meeting . . . will be a significant one. A review of past history will make us cherish more the advancing relationship now in progress between China and the United States.”

In the late 1800s, thousands of Chinese were brought into the United States to serve as cheap labor. Demands to halt the immigration rose in the Western states as the number of Chinese reached one in 11 residents in California in 1880.

Congress responded by passing The Act of 1882, known as the Chinese exclusion law. It halted Chinese immigration for 10 years.

The act did not diminish resentment toward the Chinese in the West, and sporadic violence continued.

In his book “Rock Springs Massacre 1885,” Dell Isham wrote that the violence benefited “political demagogues and frustrated labor organizers.”

The Sept. 11, 1885, “Extra” edition of the Rock Springs Independent--published nine days after the massacre--described the hatred of Chinese that had been growing in the months before the massacre.

Editor Norman Dresser wrote in an article titled “The True Story of the Chinese Exodus”: “The feeling against them has been getting stronger all summer. The fact that the white men had been turned off the (mine) sections, and hundreds of white men were seeking in vain for work, while the Chinese were being shipped in by the carload and given work strengthened the feeling against them.

“It needed but little to incite this feeling into an active crusade against them, and that little came Wednesday morning (Sept. 2) at 6,” Dresser wrote.

On that morning, some Chinese miners reported for work to find white miners in an underground room they thought had been assigned to them. The Union Pacific Coal Co. had kept white and Chinese miners in separate rooms in an effort to avoid violence.

“High words followed, then blows. The Chinese from other rooms came rushing in, as did the whites, and a fight ensued with picks, shovels, drills and (tamping) needles for weapons,” the Independent said.

“The Chinamen were worsted, four of them being badly wounded, one of whom has since died,” the article said.

Accounts said about 100 white miners and onlookers assembled in an angry mood. Bar owners, sensing the trouble ahead, closed their taverns. As the mob marched to Chinatown, stores closed so everyone could watch the exodus of the Chinese.

The mob at first gave the Chinese one hour to evacuate, but then grew restless. Some shouted that the Chinese were arming themselves and preparing to make a stand.

The mob surged forward. Accounts say at least two women were in the front lines as shots were fired and torches hurled at the Chinese homes.

Some Chinese sought shelter in their dirt basements and were burned to death. Others fled, many of them barefoot.

The Independent account said: “They fled like a flock of frightened sheep, scrambling and tumbling down the steep banks of Bitter Creek, then through the sagebrush and over the railroad and up into the hills east of Burning Mountain.”

The crowd then burst through the door of Ah Lee’s laundry and a scuffle ensued. A reporter wrote that “a dead Chinaman was seen on the floor with blood and brains oozing from a terrible wound in the back of his head.”

The Extra edition said Sheriff Joe Young came over from Green River, 15 miles west of Rock Springs, that evening, but could not find volunteers to help restore order.

“All the night long the sound of rifle and revolver were heard, and the surrounding hills were lit by the glare of the burning houses,” the Independent reported.

Order was restored when the soldiers arrived. By Sept. 21, about 100 Chinese had resumed work.

The Independent was indignant at published reports and editorials about the massacre in the New York Times and other Eastern newspapers.

“We would inform the Times,” Dresser wrote, “when men have been crushed down, when their sense of right and justice has been outraged, they will rise and protest. And if the accumulated aggravations of years lead them into extremes, the blame also rests upon their employers, who so persistently ignored their complaints that the men gave up all hope of redress except by their own action.”

Dresser added: “The Chinese must go. Why, even the soldiers themselves curse the duty which compels them to sustain the Alien against the American.”

The Chinese government protested the massacre and even sent representatives to the Wyoming Territory to investigate.

Although not assuming any legal responsibility, Congress eventually authorized an indemnity of $147,748.74 to China. Henry Chadey, director of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum, believes the money was used for scholarships for Chinese students in the United States.


The Forgotten History of the Campaign to Purge Chinese from America

Gum Shan. Gold Mountain. That was what the people in Guangdong Province called the faraway land where the native population had red hair and blue eyes, and it was rumored that gold nuggets could be plucked from the ground. According to an account in the San Francisco Chronicle, a merchant visiting from Canton, the provincial capital—likely soon after the discovery of gold at Sutter Creek, in 1848—wrote to a friend back home about the riches that he had found in the mountains of California. The friend told others and set off across the Pacific Ocean himself. Whether from the merchant’s letter, or from ships arriving in Hong Kong, news of California’s gold rush swept through southern China. Men began scraping together funds, often using their family’s land as collateral for loans, and crowding aboard vessels that took as long as three months to reach America. They eventually arrived in the thousands. Some came in search of gold others were attracted by the lucrative wages that they could earn working for the railroad companies laying down tracks to join the Eastern and Western halves of the United States still others worked in factories making cigars, slippers, and woollens, or found other opportunities in the American West. They were mostly peasants, often travelling in large groups from the same village. They wore the traditional male hair style of the Qing dynasty, shaved pate in the front and a braid down to the waist in the back. They were escaping a homeland beset by violent rebellions and economic privation. They came seeking the vast, open spaces of the American frontier—where, they believed, freedom and opportunity awaited.

As the Chinese presence grew, however, it began to stir the anxieties of white Americans. Violence, often shocking in its brutality, followed. America, in the middle of the nineteenth century, was engaged in an epic struggle over race. The Civil War, by the latest estimates, left three-quarters of a million dead. In the turbulent years of Reconstruction that followed, at least two thousand Black people were lynched. Largely forgotten in this defining period of American history, however, is the virulent racism that Chinese immigrants endured on the other side of the country. According to “The Chinese Must Go” (2018), a detailed examination by Beth Lew-Williams, a professor of history at Princeton, in the mid eighteen-eighties, during probably the peak of vigilantism, at least a hundred and sixty-eight communities forced their Chinese residents to leave. In one particularly horrific episode, in 1885, white miners in Rock Springs, in the Wyoming Territory, massacred at least twenty-eight Chinese miners and drove out several hundred others.

Today, there are more than twenty-two million people of Asian descent in the United States, and Asians are projected to be the largest immigrant group in the nation by 2055. Asian-Americans have been stereotyped as the model minority, yet no other ethnic or racial group experiences greater income inequality––or perhaps feels more invisible. Then came the Presidency of Donald Trump, his racist sneers about “kung flu” and the “China virus,” and the wave of anti-Asian attacks that has swept the country.

The attacks have produced a remarkable outpouring of emotion and energy from the Asian-American community and beyond. But it is unclear what will become of the fervor once the sense of emergency dissipates. Asian-Americans do not fit easily into the narrative of race in America. Evaluating .


History of Violence in the Chinese Community

Violence towards the AAPI community isn’t something new. A few weeks ago, members of the Chinese community gathered and rallied in protest of anti-Asian violence and racism in response to the shootings in Georgia and in response to the harmful language aimed towards members of the community. As an Asian American, it's heartbreaking--and that's putting it lightly--to constantly hear about the attacks that have been happening since last year. With increased news coverage on the AAPI community, I think that that it's important to know that this has happened before.

There are three famous incidents that I know of that is significant to Chinese American history:

  1. Rock Springs Massacre in 1885.
  2. Chinese Massacre in 1871
  3. The murder of Vincent Chin

The Rock Springs Massacre in 1885: White coal miners in Wyoming, protest their employers hiring Chinese laborers because it would be cheaper for them to do so, then attack them which results in 28 Chinese people being killed, 15 injured¹.

Chinese Massacre in 1871: With the death of a community member during a shootout between a group of Chinese people, around 500 mobsters dragged the people who were involved in the altercation and hung them--killing 17 Chinese people, 10% of the Chinese population in LA at that time was wiped out in a single day².

The murder of Vincent Chin-- Vincent Chin, who was mistaken for a Japanese man, was killed by two auto workers who had blamed him for losing their jobs in the automotive industry³. There is so so much that had happened during and after the court case that can be better explained by reading the article below.

I bring up these three incidents to highlight the similarities between what happened then and now: all three cases of violence stemmed from racism and xenophobia which is then further amplified when demagogues are given a soapbox to make derogatory comments much akin to what’s been happening in the past year. Much of this is new to the people outside of the AAPI community, but for people like me, this is something that has been going on for all of my life and I feel like it’s something that has been overlooked time after time. I believe that making a difference, being an anti-racist, starts with listening to what people have to say: every community has their story and it’s vital for all of us to make an effort to educate ourselves on what’s going on and to take what they have to say seriously. Instead of offering solutions that you think are helpful, listen to what community members have to say.


City of Rock Springs, Wyoming

The Chinese Massacre Memorial located on the corners of M Street, Bridger Avenue and Pilot Butte Avenue, across from the Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church.

Books about the 1885 Chinese Massacre:

Chadey, Henry F. The Chinese Story and Rock Springs, Wyoming. 1984.

Isham, Dell. Rock Springs Massacre, 1885. 1969.

McAuliffe, Eugene. History of the Union Pacific Coal Mines 1868 to 1940. Reprinted 1977.

Rhode, Robert B. Booms & Busts on Bitter Creek: A History of Rock Springs, Wyoming. 1987.

Storti, Craig. Incident at Bitter Creek: The story of the Rock Springs Chinese Massacre. 1991.

Wilson, Arlen Ray. The Rock Springs, Wyoming Chinese Massacre, 1885. 1967.

Fiction books that include the 1885 Chinese Massacre:

Leung, Brian. Take Me Home: a novel. 2011.

Yep, Laurence. The Traitor: Golden Mountain Chronicles: 1885 (Golden Mountain Chronicles). 2003.

Additional resources:

The Modern West Podcast. Immigrations, Interrupted: Ghost Town(ing) Part 9. 27 January 2021. Wyoming Public Media. The Modern West Podcast - The Modern West

O&rsquoGara, Geoff. Chinese Massacre. Video recording. 1994.

Thomas, D.G. as told to daughter Mrs. J.H. Goodnough. Chinese Riot. 1931.

Header Image from Harper's Weekly, Vol. 29, 1885 riot and massacre of Chinese-American coal miners, by white miners.


Riches for Chinese Miners Following their Intermountain West trail from Boise, Idaho, to Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Following their Intermountain West trail from Boise, Idaho, to Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Chinese laborers played a prominent role in the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad, and they were equally instrumental in mining operations throughout the Intermountain West. Gold mining in Idaho’s Boise Basin started in 1862 upon the discoveries of prospecting parties led by D.H. Fogus, George Grimes and Moses Splawn, and miners flocked to the region. The population exploded. By 1863 four cities had sprung up: Idaho City, Centerville, Placerville and Pioneer, with a combined population of nearly 15,000.

In the early years, only a few Chinese workers were in the region, most of them finding work as cooks. People and supplies came into Boise Basin over a series of rough roads leading in from the south and the Owyhee country, as well as from the west, where they traveled by steamboat up the Columbia to jumping off points such as Wallula and Umatilla, or they came overland through the Baker Valley and along the Payette River to follow Harris Creek and then cross the divide into Boise Basin.

Gold miners took advantage of the rich lode, combing the hills and pulling significant gold from the area. By the time the Central Pacific joined with the Union Pacific in May 1869, many of the Boise Basin mining claims were already heavily worked. The railroad meant that goods could be transported by train to Winnemucca, Nevada, and then hauled overland north to Idaho City, Idaho, and other Boise Basin towns. In spite of the availability of goods, the miners had already begun to move on to new diggings. The 1870 census showed 2,158 residents in the same four cities that had populations of more than 15,000 just seven years earlier.

The population had shifted not just downward but also ethnically. By 1870 the region’s population was almost half comprised of Chinese. They moved in to the basin to take advantage of the gold still remaining, as they would work claims other miners had already abandoned. As the Idaho World, Idaho City’s newspaper, reported, by early October 1865, “between fifty and sixty Chinamen are reported to be at work on claims lately purchased by them on More’s creek, below the tollgate. This is the first gang, we believe, which has ventured into that line of business in this portion of the country.”

Many of them engaged in other opportunities: they had laundries and stores. The early laundry operations of men such as Quong Hing, Sam Lee, Hop Ching, Fan Hop and Song Lee gave way to other businesses as increasing numbers of Chinese entered the region. The Chinese merchants imported goods for market in the camps. Those who were more prosperous bought the older placer claims then put Chinese laborers to work at them. This re-working of the mines angered many “who thought the mines ought to be worked by white miners,” according to the World. But the white miners had moved on to other locations where they believed they would make more money, and the Chinese miners were satisfied with a dollar or two in profit from a day’s digging.

First Diggings in Idaho City

To reach the Boise Basin town of Idaho City, you should travel along Highway 21, north out of Boise, on a route that at one time had been in use by freighters hauling supplies to the mining camp.

A good place to begin exploring Idaho City is at the Boise Basin Historical Museum, a building that formerly served as the town’s post office. There you will get a good overview of the area’s development on certain days you may have an opportunity to visit the Pon Yam House, built in 1865, which served as the store of one of the more prominent Chinese businessmen in Idaho City. This building is in the process of being renovated as a location to better tell the Chinese history of this area. The Idaho World newspaper office also still remains in Idaho City. It is a building first used as a Chinese store.

Idaho City is but one of the mining towns that attracted the Chinese workers in the 19th century, but few of those workers remained—not even in the cemetery. Although the pioneer graveyard had a Chinese section, when the Chinese left, they disinterred the bodies and returned them to the homeland.

Not far from Idaho City is the now sleepy little town of Placerville, which has its Henrietta Penrod Museum—housed in the former Magnolia Saloon—offering a collection of Chinese china, fans, shoes and silk items.

Headin’ North to Polly Bemis Country

Like the miners who started working gold claims in the Boise Basin, you should leave the region and travel to Cottonwood for a visit to the Monastery of St. Gertrude. This private museum has an impressive collection of Chinese artifacts from the mining era in Idaho. These include a sunbonnet, three dresses, a brown shawl, jewelry, photographs and items crocheted by one of the most famous Chinese women in the West.

Better known as Polly Bemis, Lalu Nathoy was born in China in 1853 and sold by her father as a female slave in America. Later sold for $2,500, she arrived in Warren, Idaho, where she endured a harsh life. Charlie Bemis ultimately won her in a card game with Hog King, who then owned her. The girl worked for Bemis, and the two of them later married and relocated to a small farm along the Salmon River known as the Bemis place, or more commonly Polly Place. Polly spent much of the rest of her life there. After Charlie died from burns received in a fire at their home, she remained at the farm until her latter years when she spent time in Grangeville and Cottonwood.

Each year the museum at the monastery also hosts a symposium related to the Chinese in Idaho. The event includes history presentations and often offers tours to sites important in the Chinese mining story, such as Chinese Massacre Cove in Hells Canyon (site where a gang of white men robbed and murdered 31 Chinese men in 1887). This year’s event will be held June 23 and 24.

Although not connected to the mining era, the Rhoades Emmanuel Memorial at the Monastery Museum is a stunning collection of exquisite Asian and European artifacts, with the majority of the items from China, some dating from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Montana’s Gold is Callin’

Gold strikes at Alder Gulch in Montana Territory drew miners from Idaho. You should head that direction too, traveling over Lolo Pass to Missoula, where you can follow I-90 to Butte and its World Museum of Mining. The museum showcases original equipment at the Orphan Girl Mine and extensive exhibits that give you a chance to see and, in some cases, handle equipment. Dozens of original and replica buildings are a part of “Hell Roaring Gulch,” including a Chinese laundry.

Even more original buildings from the mining era, and representing Chinese workers, are part of Nevada City in southwest Montana. Relocated to the area, these structures include three stores—set up with displays of tea, household goods, food, baskets and coolie hats—one laundry and other small buildings. The Chinese continued to live in both Nevada City and nearby Virginia City after the 1864 gold strikes.

Both Nevada City and Virginia City give you a chance not only to learn about the mining and cultural history of the area but also to actually experience it for yourself. You can pan for gold in Nevada City and, on weekends and some other times during the summer, you can meet “historical” characters who help bring the historic district to life. Virginia City offers visitors a melodrama, a theatrical performance or music—Country or perhaps Blues—at the Bale of Hay Saloon. Plus, you can get outfitted at Rank’s Mercantile, established in 1864, and shop at other businesses that offer 19th-century style of goods.

Just as Chinese workers who helped construct the Central Pacific Railway eventually found jobs working in
mining operations in the Boise Basin, so did those who found work on the Union Pacific find opportunity in end-of-tracks towns along that rail line. Evanston, Wyoming, last stop for the UP in Wyoming territory, had a large Chinese population.

A joss house has been rebuilt in Evanston as part of the Uinta County Museum. Within the building is a large collection of Chinese artifacts, including both an original and a replica Chinese dragon used during Chinese New Year’s parades (one is held every year in Evanston). You can also see a replica of the Chinatown, plus artifacts uncovered during archaeological excavations.

From Evanston, continue east on I-80 to reach your final stop on this trail of Chinese mining in the Intermountain West.

A Chinese Mining Riot

The first coal mining along the Union Pacific Railroad took place at Carbon, but extensive mining was soon underway in the area of Rock Springs. Like the incident that occurred at Massacre Cove along the Snake River in Idaho, an ugly racially-motivated attack took place in Rock Springs. The level of violence makes it one of the worst such situations in the history of the West.

Similar to those who had worked on the Central Pacific Railroad and later made their way to mining ventures in the Boise Basin, the Chinese who had been employed by the Union Pacific ultimately found work in the coal mines in Wyoming after 1875. That year white miners went on strike, and the Union Pacific hired 150 Chinese replacements. The Chinese workers established their own area of town and “commenced their labor … running out the coal in as good a condition as in days gone by,” reported the Laramie Daily Sentinel on November 25, 1875.

The white miners eventually settled their strike and returned to the mines.

Few problems arose during the next several years, but when another strike was threatened in 1885, sentiment against the Chinese coal miners reached fever pitch. At the time two Chinese miners were working to every one of other ethnicity. A labor riot broke out on September 2, 1885. A white mob stormed through Rock Springs’s Chinatown, killing somewhere between 28 and 52 Chinese miners, forcing others out of their homes and setting the buildings on fire.

The Chinese and their families forced out onto the desert by the rioting prompted Gov. Francis E. Warren to wire President Grover Cleveland for aid: “Mob now preventing some five-hundred Chinamen from reaching food or shelter. Sheriff of county powerless to suppress riot and asks for two companies of United States troops. I believe immediate assistance imperative to preserve life and property.”

Federal troops responded and restored order. The governor later told the Cheyenne Democratic Leader, “I have no fondness for Chinese … but I do have an interest in protecting, as far as my power lies, the lives, liberty and property of every human being in this territory … and so long as I am governor, I shall act in the spirit of that idea.”

The Chinese ultimately returned to Rock Springs, but the violence in Wyoming was not unique and such incidents continued all across the West. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 certainly helped fuel the rage, as it made a point to target “Chinese employed in mining.”

In visiting these early intermountain placer camps think about the evidence of care and attention archaeologists have found in the places white miners deserted where the Chinese later toiled. Since Chinese miners characteristically employed hand labor, they did not leave dredged tailings in their wake but rather neatly piled stacks and rows of boulders that they had vigilantly hand washed. In many ways their presence, in the form of interesting, unique and sometimes priceless artifacts, is just as tenderly presented in the region’s museums.

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The Coming Man from Canton: Chinese Experience in Montana, 1862-1943, by Christopher W. Merritt (University&hellip


The Forgotten History of the Purging of Chinese from America

Gum Shan. Gold Mountain. That was what the people in Guangdong Province called the faraway land where the native population had red hair and blue eyes, and it was rumored that gold nuggets could be plucked from the ground. According to an account in the San Francisco Chronicle, a merchant visiting from Canton, the provincial capital—likely soon after the discovery of gold at Sutter Creek, in 1848—wrote to a friend back home about the riches that he had found in the mountains of California. The friend told others and set off across the Pacific Ocean himself. Whether from the merchant’s letter, or from ships arriving in Hong Kong, news of California’s gold rush swept through southern China. Men began scraping together funds, often using their family’s land as collateral for loans, and crowding aboard vessels that took as long as three months to reach America. They eventually arrived in the thousands. Some came in search of gold others were attracted by the lucrative wages that they could earn working for the railroad companies laying down tracks to join the Eastern and Western halves of the United States still others worked in factories making cigars, slippers, and woollens, or found other opportunities in the American West. They were mostly peasants, often travelling in large groups from the same village. They wore the traditional male hair style of the Qing dynasty, shaved pate in the front and a braid down to the waist in the back. They were escaping a homeland beset by violent rebellions and economic privation. They came seeking the vast, open spaces of the American frontier—where, they believed, freedom and opportunity awaited.

As the Chinese presence grew, however, it began to stir the anxieties of white Americans. Violence, often shocking in its brutality, followed. America, in the middle of the nineteenth century, was engaged in an epic struggle over race. The Civil War, by the latest estimates, left three-quarters of a million dead. In the turbulent years of Reconstruction that followed, at least two thousand Black people were lynched. Largely forgotten in this defining period of American history, however, is the virulent racism that Chinese immigrants endured on the other side of the country. According to “The Chinese Must Go” (2018), a detailed examination by Beth Lew-Williams, a professor of history at Princeton, in the mid eighteen-eighties, during probably the peak of vigilantism, at least a hundred and sixty-eight communities forced their Chinese residents to leave. In one particularly horrific episode, in 1885, white miners in Rock Springs, in the Wyoming Territory, massacred at least twenty-eight Chinese miners and drove out several hundred others.

Today, there are more than twenty-two million people of Asian descent in the United States, and Asians are projected to be the largest immigrant group in the nation by 2055. Asian-Americans have been stereotyped as the model minority, yet no other ethnic or racial group experiences greater income inequality––or perhaps feels more invisible. Then came the Presidency of Donald Trump, his racist sneers about “kung flu” and the “China virus,” and the wave of anti-Asian attacks that has swept the country.

The attacks have produced a remarkable outpouring of emotion and energy from the Asian-American community and beyond. But it is unclear what will become of the fervor once the sense of emergency dissipates. Asian-Americans do not fit easily into the narrative of race in America. Evaluating gradations of victimhood, and where a persistent sense of otherness ends and structural barriers begin, is complicated. But the surge in violence against Asian-Americans is a reminder that America’s present reality reflects its exclusionary past. That reminder turns the work of making legible a history that has long been overlooked into a search for a more inclusive future.

The vast majority of Chinese in America in the nineteenth century arrived in San Francisco, which had been a settlement of several hundred people before the gold rush, but ballooned into a chaotic metropolis of nearly three hundred and fifty thousand by the end of the century. In “Ghosts of Gold Mountain” (2019), Gordon H. Chang, a history professor at Stanford University, writes that, at least initially, many were generally welcoming toward the Chinese. “They are among the most industrious, quiet, patient people among us,” the Daily Alta California, the state’s leading newspaper, said in 1852. “Perhaps the citizens of no nation except the Germans, are more quiet and valuable.” Railroad officials were pleased by their work ethic. The Chinese “prove nearly equal to white men, in the amount of labor they perform, and are far more reliable,” one executive wrote.

White workers, however, began to see the Chinese as competition––first for gold and, later, for scarce jobs. Many perceived the Chinese to be a heathen race, unassimilable and alien to the American way of life. In April, 1852, with the numbers of arriving Chinese growing, Governor John Bigler urged the California state legislature “to check this tide of Asiatic immigration.” Bigler, a Democrat who had been elected the state’s third governor the previous year, explicitly differentiated “Asiatics” from white European immigrants. He argued that the Chinese, unlike their Western counterparts, had not come seeking America as the “asylum for the oppressed of all nations” but only to “acquire a certain amount of the precious metals, and then return to their native country.” The legislature enacted a series of measures to drive out the “Mongolian and Asiatic races,” including by imposing a fifty-dollar fee on every arriving immigrant who was ineligible to become a citizen. (At the time, naturalization procedures were governed by a 1790 law that restricted citizenship to “free white persons.”)

In 1853, the Daily Alta published an editorial on the question of whether the Chinese should be permitted to become citizens. It conceded that “many of them it is true are nearly as white as Europeans.” But, it claimed, “they are not white persons in the sense of the law.” The article characterized Chinese Americans as “morally a far worse class to have among us than the negro” and described their disposition as “cunning and deceitful.” Even though the Chinese had certain redeeming qualities of “craft, industry, and economy,” it said, “they are not of that kind that Americans can ever associate or sympathize with.” It concluded, “They are not of our people and never will be.”

In remote mining communities, where vigilante justice often prevailed, white miners drove the Chinese off their claims. In 1859, miners gathered at a general store in northern California’s Shasta County and voted to expel the Chinese. In “Driven Out” (2007), a comprehensive account of anti-Chinese violence, Jean Pfaelzer, a professor of English and Asian studies at the University of Delaware, writes that an armed mob of two hundred white miners charged through an encampment of Chinese at the mouth of Rock Creek who had refused to leave. They captured about seventy-five Chinese miners and marched them through the town of Shasta, where people pelted them with stones. The county’s young sheriff, Clay Stockton, and his deputies, managed to disperse the mob and free the captives. But, in the following days, gangs of white miners rampaged through Chinese camps in the surrounding towns, as Stockton and his men struggled to bring the violence under control. The skirmishes came to be called the Shasta Wars. Eventually, the governor dispatched an emergency shipment of a hundred and thirteen rifles, by steamer, and a posse of men assembled by Stockton was able to restore order. The rioters were put on trial, but were quickly acquitted. “Quiet once more reigns in the Republic of Shasta,” an article in the local newspaper, the Placer Herald, said. “May the fierce alarums of war never more call her faithful sons to arms!”

On October 24, 1871, racial tensions exploded in Los Angeles’s Chinatown on a narrow street lined with shops and residences, called Calle de los Negros, or Negro Alley. Many details are murky, but the journalist Iris Chang writes in “The Chinese in America” (2003) that a white police officer, investigating the sound of gunfire, was shot a white man who rushed to help was killed. An angry mob of several hundred men gathered. “American blood had been shed,” one later recalled. “There was, too, that sense of shock that Chinese had dared fire on whites, and kill with recklessness outside their own color set. We all moved in, shouting in anger and as some noticed, in delight at all the excitement.” The street was ransacked and looted, and there were shouts of “Hang them! Hang them!” By night’s end, roughly twenty Chinese were dead, most of them hanged, their bodies left dangling in the moonlight one of them was a fourteen-year-old boy. The incident remains one of the worst instances of a mass lynching in American history.

A prolonged economic slump in the mid-eighteen-seventies fanned white resentment. Factories on the East Coast shuttered, and unemployed workers migrated West searching for work. The completion of the transcontinental railroad also left many laborers in need of jobs. An Irish immigrant named Denis Kearney, who ran a business in San Francisco hauling dry goods, began to deliver fiery speeches in a vacant sandlot near city hall. Kearney’s audience eventually grew to thousands of embittered workers. Much of his ire was directed at “railroad robbers,” “lecherous bondholders,” and “political thieves,” but he reserved his worst vitriol for “the Chinaman.” He ended his speeches with the acclamation “The Chinese must go!” In 1877, thousands of frustrated laborers in California formed the Workingmen’s Party of California, and elected Kearney its president. “California must be all American or all Chinese,” Kearney said. “We are resolved that it shall be American, and are prepared to make it so.”

In central California, white workers began burning down Chinese homes. In San Francisco, members of an anti-Chinese club disrupted an evening labor meeting in front of city hall and clamored for them to denounce the Chinese. A crowd marched to Chinatown and set buildings ablaze and shot people in the streets days of looting and assaults followed. It took several thousand volunteers, armed with pick handles, and backed by police and federal troops and gunboats offshore, to bring the riots under control after three days, by which time four people were dead and fourteen wounded.


Chinese miners are massacred in Wyoming Territory - HISTORY

During the summer of 1885, tensions had been building between Chinese coal miners and European coal miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory. Both groups were employed by the Union Pacific Coal Company and were having a dispute over wages.

According to Dudley Gardner in his article “The Wyoming Experience Chinese in Wyoming” he states the following about growing tensions in the mines, “Growing anti-Chinese sentiment, coupled with Union Pacific’s wage-cutting policies, led to a volatile situation. Warnings of this sentiment came to the attention of the management of the Union Pacific, but they went unheeded. Seemingly, little was done to avoid events that eventually erupted in violence.

One of the contributing factors that led to the anti-Chinese movement in the coalmines was a perception that Chinese miners were treated better than whites. This false perception grew in part from cultural misunderstanding. In fact, on the average, Chinese coal miners made less and paid more for goods and services. For example, in the late 1880s Chinese miners earned between $1.73 and $2 a day for their labors underground. By comparison, white miners earned $2.50 to $3 each day. Meanwhile, Chinese coal miners rented their homes for between $5 and $7 each month. Union Pacific rented similar houses for $2.50 a month to white miners. Interestingly, for September 1885, when the Chinese miners only lived two days in the Union Pacific homes, they were charged either $1 or $2 rent. Meanwhile, the head of Union Pacific Coal Company, D. O. Clark, who lived in one of the finest houses in town in the years leading up to the tragedy in Rock Springs, paid only $5 a month rent.

Despite these facts, many whites felt that the Union Pacific granted the Chinese extra privileges. The major complaints of the white miners in the 1880s included the statement that “Chinese miners were favored in the assignment of rooms in the mines,” where the actual extracting of coal took place. The coal miners in Rock Springs thought that the Chinese miners were given the easiest “workings” where they could more easily extract coal and make more money each day. To this end, white miners accused J. M. Tisdel, mine superintendent in Rock Springs, of selling “privileges to Chinamen.” Adding to their discontent was the fact that Union Pacific coal miners were “compelled to trade at the Beckwith, Quinn and Company store.” Trade at Beckwith and Quinn was especially objectionable to the white miners since this company had brought the Chinese miners into Wyoming.”

On the morning of Sept. 2, 1885, growing tensions turned violent when a mob of European coal miners attacked their Chinese co-workers at the mine. Later that afternoon, an angry mob had formed which led to more violence within the Chinatown community of Rock Springs. At the end of the tragedy, the community learned that 28 Chinese miners had been killed and 15 more were wounded. Seventy-nine homes were set ablaze and the bodies of many of the dead were thrown into the flames. Several hundred Chinese workers were chased out of town and property damage was estimated at $150,000.

In the days and weeks following the riot, newspapers across the country reported on the event, including the Las Vegas Daily Gazette on Sept. 4, 1885 as seen here from the Library of Congress: “Worse Than Reported.”

Headline from the front page of the Las Vegas Gazette, September 4, 1885, reporting on the extend of the Rock Springs Massacre. Image from the Library of Congress, Chronicling America project.

Las Vegas Gazette front page from September 4, 1885. Second column shows reporting on the Rock Springs Massacre. Image from the Library of Congress, Chronicling America project.

“Rock Springs Massacre” illustration, seen below, is archived at the American Heritage Center and the Library of Congress. This illustration of the massacre was published in the Sept. 26, 1885 edition of Harper’s Weekly and was drawn by Thure. de Thulstrup from photographs by Lieutenant C.A. Booth of the Seventh United States Infantry. https://www.loc.gov/item/89708533/

Illustration of the massacre from the Sept. 26, 1885 edition of Harper’s Weekly. The massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs, Wyoming drawn by Thure. de Thulstrup from photographs by Lieutenant C.A. Booth, Seventh United States Infantry.

On September 8, 1885, the Springfield Globe Republic newspaper (Springfield, OH) reported that the sheriff of Sweetwater County arrested 22 of “the supposed” rioters in Rock Springs, as seen here from the Library of Congress: “Arresting the Rioters.”

Front page of the Springfield Globe-Republic (Springfield, OH), from September 8, 1885, reporting on the arrest of “the supposed” rioters. From the Library of Congress, Chronicling America project.

Photograph from the National Archives, depicts Federal Troops on South Front Street in Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory, 1885.

Federal troops arrived in Rock Springs one week after the murders to restore order. They would remain in Rock Springs for 13 years, until 1898.

Although the killing and rioting had been done in broad daylight, law enforcement was unable to get any members of the community to attest to what they saw and the crimes that were committed. No European miners or community members were ever put on trial for the murders or looting.

Thomas Nast, one of the most prolific illustrators of the time, created the following editorial cartoon in 1885 to depict the massacre in Rock Springs.

Cartoon drawn by Thomas Nast in 1885 that depicts the massacre in Rock Springs. From the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Illustration by Frederick B. Opper in 1885 that shows Uncle Sam preparing a list of places in China where “Americans [have been] killed by Chinese” and a Chinese man preparing a list of places in America where “Chinese [have been] killed by Americans” including the latest incident in “Wyoming Territory”. From the Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/2011660543/

Cover of Puck Magazine, September 16, 1885. Illustration shows Uncle Sam preparing a list of places in China where “Americans [have been] killed by Chinese” and a Chinese man preparing a list of places in America where “Chinese [have been] killed by Americans” including the latest incident in “Wyoming Territory”. Illustration by Frederick B. Opper.



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