On this daySep 02, 1885

Racial Segregation Requirements in Wyoming Trigger Violent Attacks Against Chinese Laborers

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In 1885, the Union Pacific Railroad employed 500 coal miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, two-thirds of whom were Chinese. White miners, angry that the railroad was hiring Chinese miners to take their jobs, decided to drive the Chinese out of Rock Springs.

On September 2, 1885, a dispute broke out between white and Chinese miners when both groups wanted to work in the same part of the mine. Later that day, 100 white miners gathered with guns, hatchets, and knives and marched toward “Chinatown,” where the Chinese miners lived, to stage a brutal attack. When the Chinese residents attempted to flee, the white miners fired at them while they ran.

Twenty-eight Chinese people were killed in the massacre and another fifteen were badly wounded. The white miners also looted and burned all seventy-nine houses belonging to the Chinese, leaving "Chinatown" demolished. In the days following the riot, federal troops brought in to establish order set up camp between the white area of town and "Chinatown," to prevent more violence; troops remained there for the next thirteen years. Although fourteen miners were arrested in connection with the riot and murders, none were ever convicted of any crime.

Today, there is little evidence of the massacre in Rock Springs. No marked gravesites exist for the victims because, at that time, “Orientals” were banned from white cemeteries. Instead, the victims were cremated and their ashes returned to China. Congress eventually authorized an indemnity to China in the amount of $147,748, but the United States government never assumed legal responsibility for the massacre.

In 1985, on the 100th anniversary of the violent attack, historians from Western Wyoming College placed a plaque in Rock Springs City Park.

“This riot was precipitated by a decade-long deliberate company policy of importing Chinese miners to lower wages, break strikes and neutralize efforts to organize labor unions," the inscription reads. "Abetting the violence and cruelty was a virulent nationwide racism that viewed the Chinese as willing slave laborers and morally degenerate.”

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