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Chinese Riot, Part 1 Chinese Riot, Part 2 Chinese Riot, Part 3

On Wednesday morning, September 2, 1885, before Lewis’ letter could have been acted upon, even if it had contained a definite suggestion for action rather than the generalized indictment it carried, a misunderstanding in No. Six Mine in Rock Springs touched the flame to the powder and precipitated the tragedy that followed. The men who took part in the rioting that day have said that the following account of one of the bloodiest incidents in the history of the west, as printed in the Rock Springs Independent on Thursday September 3, 1885, is accurate:

All the entries at No. Six were stopped the first of the month, and Mr. James A. Evans, the foreman, marked off a number of rooms in the entries. In No. 5 entry eight Chinamen were working, and four rooms were marked off for them. In No. 13 entry Mr. Whitehouse and Mr. Jenkins were working, and Evans told them they could have rooms in that entry or in No. 11 or No. 5 entries. They chose No. 5 entry, and when they went to work Tuesday, Dave Brookman, who was acting as pit boss in Mr. Francis’ absence, told them to take the first rooms marked off. He supposed the Chinamen had begun work on their rooms, and that Whitehouse and Jenkins would take the next rooms beyond them. But as the two first rooms of the entry had not been commenced, Whitehouse took one; not knowing that they had been given to the Chinamen. He went up town in the afternoon, and during his absence the two Chinamen came in and went to work in the room Whitehouse had started. Wednesday morning when Whitehouse came to work two Chinamen were in possession of what he considered his room. He ordered them out, but they wouldn’t leave what they thought was their room. High words followed, then blows. 

The Chinese from other rooms came rushing in, as did the whites, and a fight ensued with picks, shovels, drills, and tamping needles for weapons. The Chinese were worsted, four of them being badly wounded, one of whom has since died. A number of white men were severely bruised and cut. An attempt was made to settle the matter, but the men were excited and bound to go out. They accordingly came out, armed themselves with rifles, shotguns, and revolvers to protect themselves from the Chinese, they said, and started uptown. After coming through Chinatown, they left their guns behind them and marched down the front street, and dispersed about noon. 

In the meantime, all was excitement in Chinatown. The flag was hoisted as a warning and the Chinamen gathered to their quarters from all parts of the town, being gently urged by chunks of coal and brickbats from a crowd of boys. After dinner all the saloons were closed, and a majority of the men from all the mines gathered in the street. Most of them had firearms, although knives, hatchets, and clubs were in the hands of some. It was finally decided that John must go then and there, and the small army of sixty or seventy armed men, with as many more stragglers, went down the track towards Chinatown. On the way they routed out a number of Chinese section men, who fled for Chinatown followed by a few stray shots.  

When the crowd got as far as No. 3 switch, they sent forward a committee of three to warn the Chinamen to leave in an hour. Word was sent back that they would go, and very soon there was a running to and fro, and gathering of bundles, that showed that John was preparing to move out. But the men grew impatient. They thought that John was too slow in getting out and might be preparing to defend his position. In about half an hour an advance was made on the enemy’s works with much shooting and shouting. The hint was sufficient. Without offering any resistance, the Chinamen snatched up whatever they could lay their hands on and started east on the run. Some were barefaced and barefooted; others carried a small bundle in a handkerchief while a number had rolls of bedding. They fled like a flock of frightened sheep scrambling and tumbling down the steep banks of Bitter Creek, then through the sage brush and over the railroad, and up over the hills east of Burning Mountain.  

Some of the men were engaged in searching the houses and driving out the stray Chinamen who were in hiding while others followed up the retreating Chinamen, encouraging their flight with showers of bullets fired over their heads. All the stores in town were closed, and men, women and children were out watching the hurried exit of John Chinamen, and every one seemed glad to see them on the wing. Soon a black smoke was seen issuing from the peak of a house in “Hong Kong.” Then from another and very soon eight or ten of the largest of the houses were in flames. Half choked with fire and smoke, numbers of Chinamen came rushing from the burning buildings, and, with blankets and bed quilts over their heads to protect themselves from the stray rifle shots, they followed their retreating brothers into the hills at the top of their speed.  

After completing their work here, the crowd came across to Ah Lee’s laundry. There was no sign of a Chinaman here at first, but a vigorous search revealed one hidden away in a corner. But he would not dare to come out. Then the roof was broken in and shots fired to scare him out, but a shot in return showed that the Chinaman was armed. A rush through the door followed, then a scuffle and a number of shots, and looking through an opening, a dead Chinaman was seen on the floor with blood and brains oozing from a terrible wound in the back of his head. 

Foreman Evans was next visited and told to leave on the evening train. He quietly said he would go. He afterwards asked to be allowed to stay til next day to get his things ready but a vote of the men decided against allowing this favor, and about four hours after Mr. Evans left for the east. The crowd next visited the house of Soo Qui, a boss Chinaman, but Soo had gone to Evanston, and only his wife was in the house. She came to the door much terrified and with tearful eyes and a trembling voice said “Soo, he go, I go to him.” The assurance of the men that she could stay in the house and would not be harmed, did not calm her fears. She did not like the looks of the armed crowd, and gathering a small armful of household treasures, she left, and was afterwards taken in by a neighbor.  

Then a few Chinamen working in No. One came out, and were hustled up the hills after their fleeing brothers. “Well gentleman, the next thing is to give Mr. O’Donnell notice to leave, and then go over to No. Six,” said one of the men in the crowd. But the crowd was slow in departing on this errand. A large number seemed to think that this was going too far, and of the crowd that gathered in front of O’Donnell’s store, the majority did not sympathize with this move. But at somebody’s orders, a note ordering O’Donnell to leave was written and given to Gottsche, his teamster. (W. H. O’Donnell who operated a store a butcher shop).  

Joe Young, the Sheriff, came down from Green River in the evening, and guards were out all night to protect the property of the citizens in case of disturbance. But everything was quiet in town. Over in Chinatown, however, the rest of the houses were burned; the whole of them, numbering about forty, being consumed to the ground. The Chinese section house and also the houses at No. Six were burned, and Chinamen were chased out of nearly all the burning buildings. All the night long the sound of rifle and revolver was heard, and the surrounding hills were lit by the glare of burning houses. 

A look around the scenes of the previous day’s work revealed some terrible sights, Thursday morning.  In the smoking cellar of one Chinese house the blackened bodies of three Chinamen were seen. Three others were in the cellar of another, and four bodies were found nearby. From the position of some of the bodies, it could seem as if they had begun to dig a hole in the cellar to hide themselves. But the fire overtook them when about halfway in the hole, burning their lower extremities to a crisp, and leaving the upper portions of their bodies untouched. At the east end of Chinatown another body was found, charred by the flames and mutilated by dogs. The smell that arose from the smoking ruins was horribly suggestive of burning flesh.  

Farther east were the bodies of four more Chinamen, shot down in their flight; one of them had tumbled over the bank and lay in the creek with face upturned and distorted. Still farther, another Chinaman was found, shot through the hips but still alive. He had been shot first as he came to the bank and had fallen over and lay close to the edge of the bank. He was taken uptown and cared for by Dr. E. D. Woodruff.  

Besides this no others were seriously wounded and many who got away were more slightly hurt. The trains today have picked up a large number of Chinamen on the track, and taken them west. Judge Ludvigsen summoned a coroner’s jury, who, with Dr. Woodruff, examined the bodies of the dead Chinamen and returned a verdict that eleven had been burned to death, and four shot by parties unknown to the jury. The bodies were put in rough coffins and buried in the Chinese burying grounds. 

The action of the saloons in closing up is to be commended, and it cannot be said that a drunken mob drove out the Chinamen. Every one was sober, and we did not see a case of drunkenness. While a large number of miners here belong to the Knights of Labor, the work of Wednesday was not done by order of that organization. There may have been a determination of making an early attempt to get the Chinese out, but not exactly in that way, or at that time. It merely needed the trouble at No. Six to excite the men into a crusade against the Chinese.  

Governor Frances E. Warren of Wyoming Territory, who later was to become United States Senator from the state, left Cheyenne immediately for the trouble zone. The railroad in the meantime had instructed its train crews to stop their trains and pick up all Chinese they saw. The fugitives were taken to Evanston. Governor Warren wired the President of the United States for troops to suppress the riot. Eight United States troops arrived in Rock Springs, and an equal number in Evanston, on September 5th with orders to protect the mails. On the same day a committee composed of miners and mediators in Rock Springs was organized to collect information that would explain the white miners’ murderous hatred of the Chinese.

On September 6th, the white miners at Evanston notified A. C. Beckwith of Beckwith Quinn and Company that they would shoot him if he did not see that all Chinese at Evanston were out of the city within three days. Notwithstanding, the store concealed one of its Chinese clerks in its basement for a week. On the following day the white miners at Almy, near Evanston, threatened death to any Chinese who entered the mines. Consequently, no Chinese laborer worked either in the mines or on the tracks.

Such actions prompted Governor Warren, who was in Evanston at the time, to wire the President of the United States in part:

From the nature of the outbreak, sheriff of county cannot rally sufficient posse and territorial government cannot sufficiently aid him. Insurrectionists know through newspaper and dispatches that troops will not interfere under present orders; if troops were known to have orders to assist the sheriff’s posse in case driven back I am quite sure civil authorities could restore order without actual use of soldiers.

The miners and merchants committee on September 8th wired General Manager S. R. Callaway of the Union Pacific Railroad at Omaha asking for an interview in which to present their grievances against the company. Callaway declined to be interviewed until the property of the company was restored to it. The following day the President ordered the Federal troops to protect the Chinese as well as the mails. With these instructions, two hundred and fifty soldiers left Evanston with six hundred and six Chinese for Rock Springs on September 9th, exactly a week after the outbreak. During this time demonstrations against the Chinese had occurred throughout the entire western section of the United States.

I. H. Bromley, of the railroad’s Boston office, and assistant general manager Edward Dickinson, of the Omaha office, went to Rock Springs on September 15th to hear the grievances of the Miners and Merchants Committee. These grievances were repeated and elaborated upon at a hearing before government directors of the railroad two days later. Summed up the grievances were:

No. 1 -- That false weights were used by which miners were defrauded of four to five hundred pounds of coal to each car. 

No 2. -- That the presence of Chinese in Rock Springs made it unsafe for women to venture out alone. 

No. 3 -- That the Chinese miners were favored in the assignment of rooms in the mines, being given rooms located for easy working. 

No. 4 -- That Superintendent Tisdel sold private privileges to Chinese workmen. 

No. 5 -- That miners were compelled to trade at the store of Beckwith Quinn and Company. 

The charge concerning weights was brought by a man who had been employed temporarily as a weighman in the No. Four mine during the previous July. The company officials asserted he misunderstood the figuring of net weight, that the miners themselves could have judged the weight of the coal they had mined more closely than within five hundred pounds, and so would have protested any such shortages. Furthermore, the total shipments from the mine tallied closely with the sum of the various amounts mined by the individual miners.

The charge concerning the danger to which women were subjected by Chinese was made by a woman who told of a Chinese making an indecent exposure before her. No other testimony of this nature was given.

Only two specified instances of sales of privileges to Chinese were made. One of these was disclosed in the hearing to have been the sale of a mine room for one hundred dollars, not by a company official but by one gang of Chinese workmen to another gang of their own race. The second instance was of a sale made by a pit boss of a room to a gang of Chinese.

This was soon discovered by Superintendent Tisdel, who discharged the pit boss at once. Tisdel made a humorous remark at the time of discharging the minor official, which gossip turned into something vicious. He explained the original source of this malicious gossip in the hearing before the government directors, stenographic notes of which were kept as follows:

Government Director Savage: Certain grievances have been brought to our notice by a committee of white miners here, to the effect that you have sold, and declared that you would sell, privileges to work in different rooms in the mines, in specifically advantageous rooms in the mines and that privileges were specifically granted to Chinese. 

Mr. Tisdel: It is not so. I might have made an unwise remark when two persons reported it to me; they probably did not take it as it was intended. There was ... a pit boss, and it came to my notice that he had been selling rooms; I told him to come to my office and discharged him for it, and at the same time said that if any more rooms were to be sold they should apply to me at the office. 

Savage: Did you mean to be understood that you would sell rooms? 

Answer: I meant it to be understood that there would be no rooms sold. 

Savage: Have you ever exercised any discriminations in regard to privileges in favor of the Chinese? 

Answer: Never. 

Savage: Have complaints been made about discriminations being made in favor of the Chinese by parties? Or have they come to your knowledge? 

Answer: Only in this one instance. 

Concerning the charge that miners were compelled to trade with Beckwith Quinn and Company, no proof whatever was offered. One white workman, who had had considerable trouble keeping his job, stated, “We were compelled to trade in Beckwith Quinn and Company’s store.” The government directors, however, were unable to elicit any substantiation for this statement.

On the day of this hearing a strike was called by the miners, mine engineers and carpenters at Rock Springs and Almy, because the company had refused to reinstate all white miners. The government directors of the railroad on September 18th recommended that the officers of the company be given help from the soldiers to protect the property and to conduct business. Superintendent D. O. Clark of the Coal Department posted a notice on the following day that work would be resumed at 7 o’clock Monday morning, September 21st, for all men who had not been discharged and that all men refusing to work would be paid off.

On September 20th, General A. McCook, of Fort Douglas, who had been in Rock Springs helping the Chinese consuls take testimony, wired the adjutant General of the Department of the Platte:

Am fully convinced that any attempted trial and punishment by the civil authority, United States or Territorial, of the men who murdered the Chinese on 2nd of September will prove a burlesque and farce in the name of law and justice. The men who committed the murders are aliens; their murdered victims are also aliens, but under treaty protection. Martial law should be declared in Sweetwater County, Wyoming, the murderers arrested and tried by Military Commissioner. 

As some one hundred Chinese fearfully entered the mines on Monday, nearly all the white men refused to return to work, either below or above ground. However the company put more and more men to work as they applied. Meanwhile, the civil authorities accused sixteen men of being responsible for the killing of the Chinese and the burning of their homes.

A grand jury was summoned to the courthouse in Green River and the evidence was presented. How closely General M Cook had interpreted the public temper, having drawn his opinions from conversation with residents of the county and from editorials published in the newspapers of the territory, most of which were anti-Chinese, can be deducted from the following report of the grand jury:

We, the grand jury empaneled in and for the said county at the September 1885 term of the third district court, would respectfully report that we have examined into all offences that have been brought to our attention, or are within our knowledge, and have presented bills of indictment where the evidence would warrant such finding. We have diligently inquired into the occurrence at Rock Springs on the 2nd of September last; and though we have examined a large number of witnesses, no one has been able to testify to a single criminal act committed by any known person on that day. Whatever crimes may have been committed there on the 2nd of September, the perpetrators thereof have not been disclosed by the evidence before us; and therefore, while we deeply regret the circumstances, we are wholly unable, acting under the obligations of our oaths, to return indictments. 

We have also inquired into the causes that led to the outbreak at Rock Springs. While we find no excuses for the crimes committed, there appears to be no doubt abuses existed there that should have been promptly adjusted by the railroad company and its officers. If this had been done, the fair name of our Territory would not have been stained by the terrible events of the 2nd of September. 

Work was being carried on in the Rock Springs mines by larger and larger numbers of men when, on October 1st, the mines at Carbon, where no Chinese were employed, went out on strike after issuing the ultimatum that they would “not go back to work until every Chinaman along the Union Pacific road is discharged.” Miners at the company’s mines at Louisville, Colorado, also went out on strike on the following day, making the statement that “we demand a general settlement of Rock Springs’ grievances.” The Carbon and Louisville mines remained closed, while the Rock Springs mines continued to expand operations until immediate action was taken on the following letter:

 Headquarters, Executive Board 

 Union Pacific Employees

 Denver, Colorado

November 12, 1885

R. Callaway, General Manager

Union Pacific Railway


Dear Sir:

Yours of the 10th asking us to send in writing any suggestions we wish to make in regard to the miners is at hand. In answer we wish to call your attention to the following: we only come to you at this time at the earnest request of the miners who went out on strike October 1st. 

We wish first to state that these miners went out contrary to our wish and advice; and we endeavored to show their representatives wherein we believed this would be a mistake, and how we believed satisfactory understanding could be reached with the company, without action of this kind; now they see their mistake, and are willing to return to work under the same conditions as when they came out. 

Now we do not believe these men are as much to blame as some may believe; the excitement that was occasioned by the massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs caused all of this trouble. We do not believe the men at Carbon and Louisville really understood the circumstances connected with the trouble at Rock Springs; hence we think the company should take this into consideration and to allow the miners to return to work. 

We learned tonight that this was offered to the miners at Carbon and that they will return to work tomorrow. We would earnestly ask that an opportunity be given at once to the men at Louisville to return to work. Further, we would call your attention to the condition of some of the miners at Almy. These men did not come out on strike and have showed no disposition to fight the company, having acted as men should; yet they are not allowed to work, nor can they go to work for the Central Pacific Company because the Union Pacific Superintendent will not give them the required permit. We believe this to be unjust under the circumstances. 

In regard to the Rock Springs men we would ask you, in their behalf, to consider the circumstances connected with the trouble there and allow such men as remain there to resume work under the same conditions as we ask for the others; thus have regular work resumed in all mines on the system which we believe is the wish of all employees and citizens throughout the west. 

In behalf of the miners, we are respectfully

J. N .Corbin, Secretary Executive Board

Union Pacific Employees 

Chinese Riot, Part 1 Chinese Riot, Part 2 Chinese Riot, Part 3

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