The Chinese-Italian "War"
Mounting tensions between competing Italian and Chinese mining groups in Como, Colorado climaxed on November 9, 1879 when Italian miners forced the Chinese out of their mining shaft and demanded their departure from Como.
As immigrants flocked to the Mountain West for job opportunities throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, they often faced multifold economic difficulties—low wages, lack of job availability, and the boom-and-bust nature of western industries, like mining. These conditions made for fierce competition between immigrants, who usually stuck to and watched out for their own ethnic groups. The mining town Como, Colorado provides a stark example of these dynamics. Como was founded in 1859 by mining prospectors, and became an important stop along the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad in 1879 with the construction of a depot. That same year, the South Park Mining Company set up a mine in Como, and many flocked to the area. Italian immigrants were some of the first miners to move to Como, soon followed by Chinese immigrants. While many Americans and Coloradoans viewed both Italians and Chinese as racially inferior, treatment of Chinese immigrants was usually worse. The Chinese were also willing to work for less money, so other Como miners viewed them as a threat to their jobs.
Hoping to minimize conflict between the Chinese and Italian miners, the South Park Coal Company divided them into two different mining shafts. However, as the number of Chinese miners began to eclipse the Italians, Italian workers began to panic that they might be altogether replaced. Italians felt these fears were substantiated on November 9, 1879, when the company fired two Italian workers and hired two Chinese workers in their stead. Later that day, a group of around 30 Italians entered the Chinese mining shaft and demanded their departure. The Chinese persuaded the Italians to wait and talk with the mine manager, Edward Thayer, before doing anything drastic. When Thayer refused to fire the Chinese, the Italians beat him nearly to death, disarmed all the Chinese workers, and marched them out of the mine and into town, where they instructed them to leave Como.
The South Park Coal Company reacted by firing all of the Italians involved. In the following weeks, Sheriff D. J. Cook was sent to protect the Chinese while they worked, which largely ended any physical threat. However, the violence had scared away many freight trains needed by the local businesses. Businessmen in the area were angered by the Italian’s action. Newspapers like the Rocky Mountain News leveraged this and other events to continually fan the flames of anti-Chinese sentiments in Colorado. These forms of anti-Chinese rhetoric added to the violent atmosphere that later culminated in the Denver Race Riot of 1880 and national anti-Chinese legislation.