CHINESE RIOT AND MASSACRE
Some general agitation against the Chinese continued, but this had no effect as far as the company or its employees were concerned. Just before the massacre there were 842 men working for the company in Rock Springs, 290 of them white and 552 Chinese. By December 1st there were 542 men working; 85 white and 457 Chinese. Coal punching machines had been introduced, increasing the production from 1,450 tons on August 31st before the massacre to 1,610 tons on November 30th.
Active white resentment of the Chinese subsided after the outburst of angry indignation in which twenty-five yellow men lost their lives. That number of bodies was found. Twenty-six other Chinese had set out from Rock Springs on foot across the mountains and were never heard from. It is popularly believed that most of them died from hunger and exposure, but in all probability they went to other places and other employment.
The only trouble that ever arose between the races after the massacre was in the form of trivial skirmishes between Chinese men and small white boys who liked to tease them. For instance, it was customary for a group of Chinese men, when out for a stroll, to walk in single file. If the man at the rear had something to say to the group, he said it to the man in front of him who in return repeated it to the man in front of him, and so the story went the length of the line. The answer traveled back the line from man to man in the same manner. The white boys watched their yellow neighbors and knew when they were likely to go out for a stroll in the evening. Then the boys would stretch a wire tightly across the sidewalk at ankle height. When the line of strollers reached the wire, the first man would trip and fall, and the rest of the single file of men, like a row of tenpins, would topple down.
Another trick the boys liked to play was to frighten the yellow men with threats of injury to their cues. Loss of the cue to the Chinese in the old days meant damnation for the soul. The white boys thought in uproariously funny to see a yellow man hopping about, squealing in terror when a boy held to his cue while another boy advanced threateningly with a knife.
The Chinese as a race are the personification of courtesy and will share any of their materials of livelihood for the asking. But it was much more exciting and amusing for a group of boys to pilfer the food of a Chinese while a henchman occupied his attention in some manner elsewhere. Some men have confessed stealing, as boys, their yellow neighbors’ liquor, even though they were afraid to drink it. Adults of the town frowned on any pestering of the Chinese by the boys. The invariable [illegible] and the races grew more friendly with [illegible].
It became the habit for the white people to visit Chinatown during religious celebrations at the Chinese New Year and to watch the rites at the Joss House, to partake of the food that was given freely, and to witness the Parade of the Dragon. Individual birthdays were not kept by the Chinese; all members of the community celebrated their birthdays at the New Year. This was the time, too, when debts were paid and new clothes were purchased. The Chinese then donned their finest silks to take part in the festivities. All the homes were decorated, inside and out. The great Chinese Dragon, some seventy feet long and carried by more than fifty men, was the principal attraction of the New Year’s celebration. It was brought to Rock Springs in 1894 by Lao Ah Say; more familiarly known as Ah Say, manager of the Chinese miners and laborers at Rock Springs and Almy.
Ah Say first came to Wyoming as a contractor, furnishing and managing members of his race for the Central Pacific Railroad when it was being built from the Coast to join the Union Pacific Railroad. When that work was completed, he established a connection with Beckwith Quinn and Company and furnished the Chinese labor required by the company. Ah Say used to walk at the head of the Dragon parade. Mr. W. K. Lee, who knew Ah Say well, recalled the parades, saying:
The Dragon was used last in the Labor Day parade of 1907. Describing Ah Say’s death Mr. Lee said:
It was the custom of the Chinese residents of Rock Springs to send the bones off all their countrymen back to China for burial. Following the services in Rock Springs, there would be a temporary burial in the Chinese Cemetery, located nearby. Food and gifts would be placed on the graves. Usually a group of white boys, forgetting the courtesies that had been shown them by the Chinese at the previous New Year, would make way with the food. After the body had been buried for a time, friends of the dead man would disinter the remains, scrape the bones clean, seal them in a tin air tight can, and ship them to China.
Another well-known Chinese of the early days was Lao Chee. He was born in Canton province and came to America in1880, at the age of 23. Beginning work as a miner for the Union Pacific Railroad at Rock Springs, he went through the riot of 1885, but was sufficiently fast on his feet to escape alive. Returning to work after the exodus, he interested himself in the livestock of the company, working in the company barns, studied horse doctoring under on able veterinary surgeon, and by 1898 became foreman of the barns.
Lao was one of the charter members of the Union Pacific Coal Company Old Timers Association when it was organized in June 1925. At the organization meeting and first annual banquet of the association on June 13th, he was the recipient of a signal honor, purporting to come from the country which he had left to seek his fortune in the New World. After the dinner was over and the program had begun, Lao Chee, who was more lovingly known as “Jim,” was asked to stand. David G. Thomas, now white-haired, but always the friend “Davy Tom” of the Chinese, went to the old yellow man and pinned on him an immense badge hung with ribbons, and bearing the words “Just Jim.” Then Judge Thomas read the following translation of an alleged cablegram which was supposed to have been wired that day:
It was about this time that Mr. Eugene McAulliffe, President of the Union Pacific Coal Company, conceived the idea that in return for long years of faithful service that many of the Chinese, who were now old and gray, had given to their work, the company should grant them the wish of every Chinese – the opportunity to go back to their native land to die. Mr McAulliffe went to San Francisco to confer with the Chinese consul and to work out plans for making this dream a reality. The plans were completed and endowments were established to keep the aged men in comfort for the rest of their lives. Nine men said they wished to return. They were Leo Chung, Ah Sung, Sung Lee, Joe Bow, Ah Sandy, You Kwong, Ah Fan, Ah Chung and Ah How.
On the evening of November 11, 1925, the local union of the United Mine Workers of America gave a reception and banquet in the Grand Café in Rock Springs in honor of these nine old men who were to leave later that night. That the enmities of the early days had been forgotten entirely was shown by the unanimity of the city’s tribute to the old Chinese. The miners were represented by the officers of their union. The company was represented by its Vice President and General Manager, George B. Pryde. The city was represented by Major P. C. Bunning and the City Band, and Mr. McAulliffe sent a farewell message from New York City to the “China Boys.”
Sincere tributes were exchanged back and forth by the yellow men and the white men, now dignified in years, confessed the boyish pranks they had played many years before on these old friends. The Chinese spoke their thanks in their own particular brand of English, but in order that there would be no mistake, they also presented a written expression of their appreciation to the unions, the company and their other friends. These notes were written for them by some of the younger Chinese and the English used was quite perfect.
The nine old men were escorted on the train to San Francisco by H. J. Harrington, Superintendent of Labor for the company, and Francis Tallmire, the coal company’s auditor. One of the amusements of the white men on the trip was the loud protestation raised by Ah Sandy over the spending of money for entertainment. The company was furnishing the money, but Ah Sandy was not one to enjoy seeing it wasted. This little yellow man was more Scotch than the burriest “Geordie” that ever came out of the Highlands. His true name was not Ah Sandy. Because of his saving habits, that name had been conferred on him by a true Scot, Vice President George B. Pryde. After a day and night of sightseeing in San Francisco, the men passed quickly through the revenue inspection because the way had been made easy by their white escorts. They sailed on the President Taft on November 14th.
Joe Bow had told his Rock Springs friends that he had “batched” long enough and that when he arrived in China he expected to get a wife who could look after him and “cook heap plenty, plenty good.” Within six months he sent a photograph of himself and his wife with her eleven-year old son. He had passed up the young women who might have been “heap sassy.” He had married a widow who was old enough to appreciate a man who had a lifetime endowment.
Four more old “China boys,” as they called themselves, were returned by the company to the land of their ancestors in November 1927. These men were Ah Jim, Joe Bow, Ah Him, and Ah Chee. The same kind of public celebration that had preceded the return of the first nine yellow men was held in Rock Springs for these old men. With the return of the old-time Chinese to their homes, no Chinese work in any of the mines of the Union Pacific Coal Company today.
For many years after the Chinese “Riot,” there remained much bitterness between the white and the yellow races, but time with its healing influence gradually eliminated this attitude. Time passed until came the World War, and one day when troops were being assembled all over the United States, Rock Springs, in common with other parts of the country, was sending its quota to the different training centers. In one of the detachments sent to American Lake, Washington, were a number of the descendants of those who had participated in the attack on the Chinese, whose relatives had been the victims of the white man’s wrath. After the training period was completed these Rock Springs men were sent to France. As part of the ninety-first Division, Lao Hung was assigned as cook, but declined the job remarking, “I no cook. I fight same as white boys.” So fighting side by side in the trenches with the white boys from Rocks Springs was Lao, all fighting for a common cause. Lao lost one finger and was shot in the forearm.
With the close of hostilities the survivors returned to Rock Springs, the white boys to work in the mines, Lao to take up his business of managing the Grand Café. All, including Lao, are members of the American Legion, and at one of their meetings some time ago Lao was invested with the Order of the Purple Heart, a military decoration for bravery. Lao’s comrades swear by him, and he reciprocates that feeling when he says, “Melican soldier boy plenty good fella, heap savvy fight.”
Out of the comradeliness of danger shared in the World War trenches the wrongs done his fellow countrymen by the white miners have been wiped out for Lao. For the other Chinese, also, the long years of quiet living, Occidental alongside Oriental, have performed the same healing office, blurring the memory of the September 1885 massacre and the soft-nosed bullets puffing up spurts of dust on every side of the fleeing, frightened Chinese.
Last Updated April 2005
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