Anti-Chinese Riot near Virginia City, Nevada

In 1869, with anti-Chinese sentiment growing in the west, a mob in Virginia City, Nevada attempted to expel the Chinese immigrants from town. They raided the railroad where the Chinese were laying tracks, demanded their departure, and destroyed all of their property.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, thousands of people, including many immigrants, flocked to the Intermountain West region in search of economic opportunity. Virginia City, Nevada was a popular destination for these laborers due to its booming silver mining industry. The city sprung up in the late 1850s, and by the late 1860s, it was the largest mining town in Nevada. Most who migrated to Virginia City were of European descent, but the town also attracted many Chinese laborers. As was common in other parts of the country, the Chinese in Virginia City were willing to work for lower wages than other ethnic groups. This increased the competitiveness of the labor market in Virginia City and turned other groups against the Chinese community. 

In 1869, anti-Chinese sentiment was running high in Virginia City, and the unionized miners in the city decided to act against the Chinese laborers working on grading the Virginia and Truckee Railroad. On September 29th, a mob of nearly 400 men marched on the Chinese. Sensing trouble, Sheriff W. J. Cummings followed the mob and tried to stop them, but he was powerless against the mass of angered miners. When the mob arrived at the tracks, they demanded that the Chinese depart within thirty minutes and began destroying their property and makeshift residences. Luckily, no Chinese people were injured by the mob, but the property destruction was extensive. 

A week later, William Sharon, a railroad official, met with the leaders of the mob and came to an agreement with two provisions: first, the railroad would stop employing Chinese workers; and second, the mob would stop harassing the Chinese. Sharon was reluctant to enter into this agreement because he could employ Chinese laborers at a better rate than white laborers, but the mob could not be reasoned with. They simply wanted the Chinese gone. 

Local newspapers condemned the actions of the mob and called for those involved to be arrested; however, they knew it would be extremely difficult to find a jury who would convict the mob members. Indeed, no action was taken against any of the mob participants. By October 21st, the railroad only employed workers of European descent. Many of the Chinese people did leave town, but others found various forms of employment in the city. Chinese people faced continual discrimination in Virginia City, but they continued to find work and ways to send money back to their families in China and make a life in the country.

Images

Three Chinese Women and a Chinese Boy in Virginia City
Three Chinese Women and a Chinese Boy in Virginia City A photo of three Chinese women and a Chinese boy in Virginia City taken around the 1880s. Source: “Three Chinese Women and a Little Boy in Virginia City, NV.” Circa 1880s. 0155:0009. Courtesy of Las Vegas Nevada State Museum. https://lasvegasnvmuseum.catalogaccess.com/photos/63102.
Chinese Life in Virginia City
Chinese Life in Virginia City A series of sketches depicting Chinese life in Virginia City. Source: “Chinese Quarters, Virginia City.” December 12, 1877. UNRS-P1987-03-04.tif; Collection 3204. Used by permission, University of Nevada, Reno Online Digital Collections. https://unr.dgicloud.com/islandora/object/spphotoscollection%3A3204.
Miners in Virginia City
Miners in Virginia City An illustration of miners picking ore in a Virginia City mine. Source: "... Silver-miners 'picking' ore in the Consolidated Virginia Silver Mine at Virginia City, Nevada." 1878. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2021644859/.
Virginia City, Nevada
Virginia City, Nevada A modern view of Virginia City, Nevada. Source: “View of Virginia City, July 2016.” Loren Kerns. July 24, 2016. Via Wikimedia Commons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_City,_Nevada#/media/File:Virginia_City,_Nevada.jpg
Silver Mine in Virginia City
Silver Mine in Virginia City A modern photo of an old silver mine in Virginia City. Source: Silver mine in Virginia City, Nevada, dates back to 1860.” Carol M. Highfish. Between 1980-2006. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2011630213/.
Virginia City in 1886
Virginia City in 1886 A photograph of Virginia City’s town center taken in 1866. Pictured is a church, a lumber yard, a school, and several homes. Source: “Six mile canyon from C Street, Virginia City.” Lawrence and Houseworth. 1866. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002719064/.

Location

Metadata

Sydney Wilson, Brigham Young University, “Anti-Chinese Riot near Virginia City, Nevada,” Intermountain Histories, accessed April 23, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/729.