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“Rock Springs is Killed”: White Reaction to the Rock Springs Riot

Even in the late nineteenth-century American West, a notably violent region, the violence directed against Chinese immigrants was shocking. The Union Pacific railroad employed 331 Chinese and 150 whites in their coal mine in Rock Springs, Wyoming. On September 2, 1885, Chinese and white miners, who were paid by the ton, had a dispute over who had the right to work in a particularly desirable area of the mine. White miners, members of the Knights of Labor, beat two Chinese miners and walked off their jobs. That evening the white miners, armed with rifles, rioted and burned down the Chinese quarter. No whites were prosecuted for the murder of twenty-eight Chinese and $150,000 in property damage, even though the identities of those responsible were widely known. Although U.S. Army troops had to provide protection before some of the Chinese could finally return to their burned-out homes in Rock Springs, some defiantly continued to work in the Union Pacific mines into the next century. This jingoistic editorial in the Rock Springs, Wyoming, Independent, mourned the return of Chinese workers to the mining town the day after the riot.

The return!

Three hundred soldiers protecting them

Chinatown to be rebuilt

United and determined action needed.

It was rumored Wednesday noon that the Chinese were on their way back to Rock Springs. Few believed the rumor, as it was not thought they could be induced to return.

But about two o’clock a passenger train came in bearing two hundred armed soldiers. Closely following was a freight train of twenty-two cars loaded with 650 of the hated Chinese, the latter train switching off and went toward No. 3 mine, where the Chinese disembarked, and hurried over to the ruins of their houses. They began digging in the cellars, and soon unearthed a large amount of money. Six thousand dollars in gold and silver was dug up from one cellar, and as much more from another, where it had been concealed before their flight.

Numbers of them soon came up town. Some looked bold and defiant, while others were evidently fearful of being attacked, but no demonstration was made against them. The cars were afterwards brought down the track to a point near the soldiers' camp, where the Chinamen built fires, had supper, and spent the night.

The action of the company in bringing back the Chinese means that they are to be set to work in the mines, and that American soldiers are to prevent them from again being driven out.

It means that all the white miners in Rock Springs, except those absolutely required, are to be replaced by Chinese labor.

It means that the company intend to make a “Chinatown” out of Rock Springs, as they proposed to the Almy miners last Monday.

It means that Rock Springs is killed, as far as white men are concerned, if such program is carried out.

Source: Rock Springs Independent, 3 September 1885. Reprinted in Cheng-Tsu Wu, ed., Chink! (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1972), 167.

See Also:"To This We Dissented": The Rock Springs Riot