The Rock Springs Massacre of 1885

In Rock Springs, Wyoming a fatal display of jealously and racism took place against Chinese immigrants on September 2, 1885.

The first large wave of Chinese immigrated to California in 1848 in search of gold. The Chinese labored in mines and railroads. Companies loved Chinese laborers because they worked longer hours than their white counterparts and for less pay. Many white laborers in the West felt threatened by the Chinese laborers because of the lower wages and poorer conditions they worked for. The Chinese laborers experienced discriminated in political, social, and economic life. Some examples of this discrimination include denied citizenship, negative social stereotypes, and lower wages.

In 1882 the United States Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese from entering the United States. It did not directly impact those immigrants already in America although violence and discrimination towards Chinese increased.

One of the notorious atrocities occurred in Rock Springs, Wyoming in 1885. Over 600 Chinese lived there with 250 white workers at the mine run by the Union Pacific Railroad. White laborers had tried to unionize to protect wages but the Chinese laborers did not unionize with them. On the morning of September 2, 1885, a fight broke out between Chinese and Caucasian miners. The white workers went to town and rallied people together to go and attack the China town portion of Rock Springs across Bitter Creek. The mob gave the Chinese an hour to leave but the mob attacked a half hour after the warning. They burned all the homes in Chinatown, killed twenty-eight Chinese laborers and injured fourteen more as a direct result of the massacre.

In Wyoming Territory, Governor Francis F. Warren telegraphed President Grover Cleveland on September 7, 1885, asking for federal troops to come to the aid of Wyoming to help control the mob telling him that the mob would not allow the Chinese to return to the city. The president commanded the army to protect the Chinese laborers and they went back to the mines with the guaranteed protection of the army. None of the murderers were prosecuted. The white laborers felt as though the federal government, in protecting the Chinese, enabled and upheld a type of slavery that negatively impacted their ability to compete. This incident served as catalyst for other anti-Chinese race riots that occurred throughout the United States.

Images

Rock Springs Massacre
Rock Springs Massacre This is a drawing in the newspaper Harper’s Weekly. September 26, 1885, depicts what happened the day of the massacre. Source: Harper's Weekly. http://app.harpweek.com/IssueImagesView.asp?titleId=HW&volumeId=1885&issueId=0926&page=637.
Political Cartoon of Governor of Wyoming and Chinese
Political Cartoon of Governor of Wyoming and Chinese This political cartoon depicts the governor of Wyoming protecting the Chinese and therefore becoming one of them. Source: Photo used with permission courtesy of Wyoming Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.uwyo.edu/luna/servlet/s/v4yii7
Massacre Marker in Rock Springs, Wyoming
Massacre Marker in Rock Springs, Wyoming This marker in Rock Springs, Wyoming, designates the spot where the massacre took place. Source: This image courtesy of http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMVHEG_Rock_Springs_Chinese_Massacre_Rock_Springs_WY.
Headline in the Laramie Boomerang
Headline in the Laramie Boomerang This headline in the Laramie Boomerang described the massacre. The paper nicknamed the Chinese “Celestial Souls.” Source: Photo courtesy of Wyoming newspaper archives.

Location

Metadata

Sarah Adams, Brigham Young University, “The Rock Springs Massacre of 1885,” Intermountain Histories, accessed April 16, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/276.