home | many pasts | evidence | www.history | blackboard | reference
talking history | syllabi | students | teachers | puzzle | about us
search: go!
advanced search - go!

“To This We Dissented”: 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. The grim story of the riot was given in the Chinese workers’ own words in this “memorial” that they presented to the Chinese Consul at New York.

We, the undersigned, have been in Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory, for periods ranging from one to fifteen years, for the purpose of working on the railroads and in the coal mines.

Up to the time of the recent troubles we had worked along with the white men, and had not had the least ill feeling against them. The officers of the companies employing us treated us and the white man kindly, placing both races on the same footing and paying the same wages.

Several times we had been approached by the white men and requested to join them in asking the companies for an increase in the wages of all, both Chinese and white men. We inquired of them what we should do if the companies refused to grant an increase. They answered that if the companies would not increase our wages we should all strike, then the companies would be obliged to increase our wages. To this we dissented, wherefore we excited their animosity against us.

During the past two years there has been in existence in “Whitemen’s Town,” Rock Springs, an organization composed of white miners, whose object was to bring about the expulsion of all Chinese from the Territory. To them or to their object we have paid no attention. About the month of August of this year notices were posted up, all the way from Evanston to Rock Springs, demanding the expulsion of the Chinese, & c. On the evening of September l, 1885, the bell of the building in which said organization meets rang for a meeting. It was rumored on that night that threats had been made against the Chinese.

On the morning of September 2, a little past seven o’clock, more than ten white men, some in ordinary dress and others in mining suits, ran into Coal Pit No. 6, loudly declaring that the Chinese should not be permitted to work there. The Chinese present reasoned with them in a few words, but were attacked with murderous weapons, and three of their number wounded. The white foreman of the coal pit, hearing of the disturbance, ordered all to stop work for the time being.

After the work had stopped, all the white men in and near Coal Pit No. 6 began to assemble by the dozen. They carried firearms, and marched to Rock Springs by way of the railroad from Coal Pit No. 6, and crossing the railroad bridge, went directly to “Whitemen’s Town.” All this took place before 10:00 A.M. We now heard the bell ringing for a meeting at the white men’s organization building. Not long after, all the white men came out of that building, most of them assembling in the barrooms, the crowds meanwhile growing larger and larger.

About two o’clock in the afternoon a mob, divided into two gangs, came toward “Chinatown,” one gang coming by way of the plank bridge, and the other by way of the railroad bridge. The gang coming by way of the railroad bridge was the larger, and was subdivided into many squads, some of which did not cross the bridge, but remained standing on the side opposite to “Chinatown”; others that had already crossed the bridge stood on the right and left at the end of it. Several squads marched up the hill behind Coal Pit No. 3.

One squad remained at Coal Shed No. 3 and another at the pump house. The squad that remained at the pump house fired the first shot, and the squad that stood at Coal Shed No. 3 immediately followed their example and fired. The Chinese by name of Lor Sun Kit was the first person shot, and fell to the ground. At that time the Chinese began to realize that the mob were bent on killing. The Chinese, though greatly alarmed, did not yet begin to flee.

Soon after, the mob on the hill behind Coal Pit No. 3 came down from the hill, and joining the different squads of the mob, fired their weapons and pressed on to Chinatown.

The gang that were at the plank bridge also divided into several squads, pressing near and surrounding “Chinatown.” One squad of them guarded the plank bridge in order to cut off the retreat of the Chinese.

Not long after, it was everywhere reported that a Chinese named Leo Dye Bah, who lived in the western part of “Chinatown,” was killed by a bullet, and that another named Yip Ah Marn, resident in the eastern end of the town, was likewise killed. The Chinese now, to save their lives, fled in confusion in every direction, some going up the hill behind Coal Pit No. 3, others along the foot of the hill where Coal Pit No. 4 is; some from the eastern end of the town fled across Bitter Creek to the opposite hill, and others from the western end by the foot of the hill on the right of Coal Pit No. 5. The mob were now coming in the three directions, namely, the east and west sides of the town and from the wagon road.

Whenever the mob met a Chinese they stopped him and, pointing a weapon at him, asked him if he had any revolver, and then approaching him they searched his person, robbing him of his watch or any gold or silver that he might have about him, before letting him go. Some of the rioters would let a Chinese go after depriving him of all his gold and silver, while another Chinese would be beaten with the butt ends of the weapons before being let go. Some of the rioters, when they could not stop a Chinese, would shoot him dead on the spot, and then search and rob him. Some would-overtake a Chinese, throw him down and search and rob him before they would let him go. Some of the rioters would not fire their weapons, but would only use the butt ends to beat the Chinese with. Some would not beat a Chinese, but rob him of whatever he had and let him go, yelling to him to go quickly. Some, who took no part either in beating or robbing the Chinese, stood by, shouting loudly and laughing and clapping their hands.

There was a gang of women that stood at the “Chinatown” end of the plank bridge and cheered; among the women, two of them each fired successive shots at the Chinese. This was done about a little past 3:00 P.M.

Most of the Chinese fled toward the eastern part of “Chinatown.” Some of them ran across Bitter Creek, went up directly to the opposite hill, crossing the grassy plain. Some of them went along the foot of the hill where Coal Pit No. 4 stood, to cross the creek, and by a devious route reached the opposite hill. Some of them ran up to the hill of Coal Pit No. 3, and thence winding around the hills went to the opposite hill. A few of them fled to the foot of the hill where Coal Pit No. 5 stood, and ran across the creek, and thence by a winding course to the western end of the “Whitemen’s Town.” But very few did this.

The Chinese who were the first to flee mostly dispersed themselves at the back hills, on the opposite bank of the creek, and among the opposite hills. They were scattered far and near, high and low, in about one hundred places. Some were standing, or sitting, or lying hid on the grass, or stooping down on the low grounds. Every one of them was praying to Heaven or groaning with pain. They had been eyewitnesses to the shooting in “Chinatown,” and had seen the whites, male and female, old and young, searching houses for money, household effects, or gold, which were carried across to “Whitemen’s Town.”

Some of the rioters went off toward the railroad of Coal Pit No. 6, others set fire to the Chinese houses. Between 4:00 P.M. and a little past 9:00 P.M. all the camp houses belonging to the coal company and the Chinese huts had been burned down completely, only one of the company’s camp houses remaining. Several of the camp houses near Coal pit No. 6 were also burned, and the three Chinese huts there were also burned. All the Chinese houses burned numbered seventy-nine.

Some of the Chinese were killed at the bank of Bitter Creek, some near the railroad bridge, and some in “Chinatown.” After having been killed, the dead bodies of some were carried to the burning buildings and thrown into the flames. Some of the Chinese who had hid themselves in the houses were killed and their bodies burned; some, who on account of sickness could not run, were burned alive in the houses. One Chinese was killed in “Whitemen’s Town” in a laundry house, and his house demolished. The whole number of Chinese killed was twenty-eight and those wounded fifteen.

The money that the Chinese lost was that which in their hurry they were unable to take with them, and consequently were obliged to leave in their houses, or that which was taken from their persons. The goods, clothing, or household effects remaining in their houses were either plundered or burned.

When the Chinese fled to the different hills they intended to come back to “Chinatown” when the riot was over, to dispose of the dead bodies and to take care of the wounded. But to their disappointment, all the houses were burned to ashes, and there was then no place of shelter for them; they were obliged to run blindly from hill to hill. Taking the railroad as their guide, they walked toward the town of Green River, some of them reaching that place in the morning, others at noon, and others not until dark. There were some who did not reach it until the fourth of September. We felt very thankful to the railroad company for having telegraphed to the conductors of all its trains to pick up such of the Chinese as were to be met with along the line of the railroad and carry them to Evanston.

On the fifth of September all the Chinese that had fled assembled at Evanston; the native citizens there threatened day and night to burn and kill the Chinese. Fortunately, United States troops had been ordered to come and protect them, and quiet was restored. On the ninth of September the United States government instructed the troops to escort the Chinese back to Rock Springs. When they arrived there they saw only a burnt tract of ground to mark the sites of their former habitations. Some of the dead bodies had been buried by the company, while others, mangled and decomposed, were strewn on the ground and were being eaten by dogs and hogs. Some of the bodies were not found until they were dug out of the ruins of the buildings. Some had been burned beyond recognition. It was a sad and painful sight to see the son crying for the father, the brother for the brother, the uncle for the nephew, and friend for friend.

By this time most of the Chinese have abandoned the desire of resuming their mining work, but inasmuch as the riot has left them each with only the one or two torn articles of clothing they have on their persons, and as they have not a single cent in their pockets, it is a difficult matter for them to make any change in their location. Fortunately, the company promised to lend them clothing and provisions, and a number of wagons to sleep in. Although protected by government troops, their sleep is disturbed by frightful dreams, and they cannot obtain peaceful rest.

Some of the rioters who killed the Chinese and who set fire to the homes could be identified by the Chinese, and some not. Among them the two women heretofore mentioned, and who killed some Chinese, were specially recognized by many Chinese. Among the rioters who robbed and plundered were men, women, and children. Even the white woman who formerly taught English to the Chinese searched for and took handkerchiefs and other articles.

The Chinese know that the white men who worked in Coal Pit No. 1 did not join the mob, and most of them did not stop work, either. We heard that the coal company’s officers had taken a list of the names of the rioters who were particularly brutal and murderous, which list numbered forty or fifty.

From a survey of all the circumstances, several causes may be assigned for the killing and wounding of so many Chinese and the destruction of so much property:

1. The Chinese had been for a long time employed at the same work as the white men. While they knew that the white men entertained ill feelings toward them, the Chinese did not take precautions to guard against this sudden outbreak, inasmuch as at no time in the past had there been any quarrel or fighting between the races.

2. On the second day of September 1885, in Coal Pit No. 6, the white men attacked the Chinese. That place being quite a distance from Rock Springs, very few Chinese were there. As we did not think that the trouble would extend to Rock Springs, we did not warn each other to prepare for flight.

3. Most of the Chinese living in Rock Springs worked during the daytime in the different coal mines, and consequently did not hear of the fight at Coal Pit No. 6, nor did they know of the armed mob that had assembled in “Whitemen’s Town.” When twelve o’clock came, everybody returned home from his place of work to lunch. As yet the mob had not come to attack the Chinese; a great number of the latter were returning to work without any apprehension of danger.

4. About two o’clock the mob suddenly made their appearance for the attack. The Chinese thought that they had only assembled to threaten, and that some of the company’s officers would come to disperse them. Most of the Chinese, acting upon this view of the matter, did not gather up their money or clothing, and when the mob fired at them they fled precipitately. Those Chinese who were in the workshops, hearing of the riot, stopped work and fled in their working clothes, and' did not have time enough to go home to change their clothes or to gather up their money. What they did leave at home was either plundered or burned.

5. None of the Chinese had firearms or any defensive weapons, nor was there any place that afforded an opportunity for the erection of a barricade that might impede the rioters in their attack. The Chinese were all like a herd of frightened deer that let the huntsmen surround and kill them.

6. All the Chinese had, on the first of September, bought from the company a month’s supply of provision and the implements necessary for the mining of coal. This loss of property was therefore larger than it would be later in the month.

We never thought that the subjects of a nation entitled by treaty to the rights and privileges of the most favored nation could, in a country so highly civilized like this, so unexpectedly suffer the cruelty and wrong of being unjustly put to death, or of being wounded and left without the means of cure, or being abandoned to poverty, hunger, and cold, and without the means to betake themselves elsewhere.

To the great President of the United States, who, hearing of the riot, sent troops to protect our lives, we are most sincerely thankful.

In behalf of those killed or wounded, or of those deprived of their property, we pray that the examining commission will ask our minister to sympathize, and to endeavor to secure the punishment of the murderers, the relief of the wounded, and compensation for those despoiled of their property, so that the living and the relatives of the dead will be grateful, and never forget his kindness for generations.

Hereinabove we have made a brief recital of the facts of this riot, and pray your honor will take them into your kind consideration.

(Here follow the signatures of 559 Chinese laborers, resident at Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory.)


(Investigation made by Huang Sih Chuen, Chinese consul at New York, of the Chinese Examining Commission, of Chinese laborers killed at Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory, September 2, 1885.)

The said Huang Sih Chuen submitted the following report:

I examined the dead bodies of the following Chinese laborers killed at Rock Springs:

1. The dead body of Leo Sun Tsung, found in his own hut in the native settlement, was covered with many wounds. The left jawbone was broken, evidently by a bullet. The skin and bone of the right leg below the knee were injured. I also ascertained that the deceased was fifty-one years old, and had a mother, wife, and son living at home (in China).

2. The dead body of Leo Kow Boot was found between mines No. 3 and 4, at the foot of the mountain. The neck was shot through crosswise by a bullet, cutting the windpipe in two. I also ascertained that the deceased was twenty-four years old. His family connections have not yet been clearly made known.

3. The dead body of Yii See Yen was found near the creek. The left temple was shot by a bullet, and the skull broken. The age of the deceased was thirty-six years. He had a mother living at home (in China).

4. The dead body of Leo Dye Bah was found at the side of the bridge, near the creek, shot in the middle of the chest by a bullet, breaking the breastbone. I also ascertained that the deceased was 'fifty-six years old, and had a wife, son, and daughter at home.

5. The dead body of Choo Bah Quot was found in the hut adjoining Camp No. 34, together with the remains of Lor Han Lung. The front part of the body was not injured, but the flesh on the back was completely gone, and the bones were scorched; the hair was also burned off. I also ascertained that the deceased was twenty-three years old, and had parents living at home.

The above five bodies were found more or less mutilated.

6. A portion of the dead body of Sia Bun Ning was found in a pile of ashes in the hut near the Chinese temple. It consisted of the head, neck, and shoulders. The two hands, together with the rest of the body below the chest, were completely burned off. I also ascertained that the deceased was thirty-seven years old, and had a mother, wife, son, and daughter living at home.

7. A portion of the dead body of Leo Lung Hong was found in a pile of ashes in a hut adjoining Camp No. 27. It consisted of the head, neck, and breast. The two hands, together with rest of body below the waist, were burned off completely. I also ascertained that deceased was forty-five years old, and had a wife and three sons living at home.

8. A portion of the dead body of Leo Chih Ming was found in a pile of ashes in the hut of the deceased near the temple where the remains of Liang Tsun Bong and Hsu Ah Cheong were found. It consisted of the head and chest. The hands, together with the rest of the body below the waist, were burned off completely. I also ascertained that deceased was forty-nine years old, and had a mother, wife, and son living at home; also another son working with him in the coal mines.

9. A portion of the dead body of Liang Tsun Bong was found in a pile of ashes in the hut near the temple where the deceased, together with Leo Chih Ming and Hsu Ah Cheong, had lived. It consisted of the head, shoulders, and hands. The rest of the body below the chest was burned off completely. The age of the deceased was forty-two years. He had a wife and two sons living at home.

10. A portion of the dead body of Hsu Ah Cheong was found in a pile of ashes in the hut near the temple where the deceased, together with Leo Chih Ming and Liang Tsun Bong, had lived. It consisted of the skull bone, the upper and lower jawbones, and teeth. I also ascertained that the deceased was thirty-two years old, and had parents, wife, and son living at home.

11. A portion of the dead body of Lor Han Lung was found in the hut adjoining No. 34, where the remains of Choo Bah Quot was also found. It consisted of the sole and heel of the left foot. The rest of the body was completely burned. I also ascertained that the deceased was thirty-two years old, and had a mother, wife, son, and daughter, all living at home.

12. A portion of the dead body of Hoo Ah Nii was found in a pile of ashes in his own hut. It consisted of the right half of a head and the backbone. The rest of the body was completely burned. I also ascertained that the deceased was forty-three years old, and had a wife living at home.

13. A portion of the dead body of Leo Tse Wing was found in a pile of ashes in the hut adjoining Camp No. 14. It consisted of the bones of the lower half of the body, extending from hip to foot. The rest of the body was burned off completely. I also ascertained that the deceased was thirty-nine years old. His family connection has not yet been clearly made known.

The last-named eight dead bodies were found partly, destroyed by fire.

The following fifteen persons were killed: Leo Jew Foo, Leo Tim Kwong, Hung Qwan Chuen, Tom He Yew, Mar Tse Choy, Leo Lung Siang, Yip Ah Marn, Leo Lung Hon, Leo Lung Hor, Leo Ah Tsun, Leang Ding, Leo Hoy Yat, Yuen Chin Sing, Hsu Ah Tseng, and Chun Quan Sing. Twelve fragments of bones, belonging to twelve of the above-named persons, were found in twelve different places in the Chinese settlement. No trace of the remaining three persons was found.

I also ascertained that the age of Leo Jew Foo was thirty-five years; he had a mother at home. Leo Tim Kwong was thirty-one years; family connection not known. Hung Quan Chuen was forty-two years; he had a father at home. Tom He Yew was thirty-four years; he had a mother, wife, and daughter at home.

Source: Memorial of Chinese Laborers, Resident at Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory, to the Chinese Consul at New York (1885). Reprinted in Cheng-Tsu Wu, ed., Chink! (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1972), 152–164.

See Also:"Rock Springs is Killed": White Reaction to the Rock Springs Riot