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Rock Springs Massacre Victims Plead for Justice

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. Later that day, armed white miners 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 Chinese workers 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 . . . 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….notices were posted up…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…ordered all to stop work for the time being.

After the work had stopped, all the white men…began to assemble by the dozen. They carried firearms….About two o’clock in the afternoon a mob, divided into two gangs, came toward “Chinatown”….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, 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….

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….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.”

. . . Between 4:00 P.M. and a little past 9:00 P.M. all the camp houses belonging to the coal company and [79] Chinese huts had been burned down completely….

Some of the Chinese were killed at the bank of Bitter Creek, some near the railroad bridge, and some in “Chinatown”…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…The whole number of Chinese killed was [28] and those wounded [15]….

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…they were obliged to run blindly from hill to hill. Taking the railroad as their guide, they walked toward the town of Green River….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…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…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….

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. … 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…we did not think that the trouble [in Coal Pit No. 6] 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 did [not] know of the armed mob that had assembled in “Whitemen’s Town”….

4. ….The Chinese thought that the [mob] 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….

5. None of the Chinese had firearms or any defensive weapons….The Chinese were all like a herd of frightened deer that let the huntsmen surround and kill them.

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. . . .

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

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).
Creator | Various
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | Various, “Rock Springs Massacre Victims Plead for Justice,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed July 18, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/790.

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