On this day in 1885, 150 white miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, brutally attack their Chinese coworkers, killing 28, wounding 15 others, and driving several hundred more out of town.
The miners working in the Union Pacific coal mine had been struggling to unionize and strike for better working conditions for years. But at every juncture the powerful railroad company had bested them. Searching for a scapegoat, the angry miners blamed the Chinese. The Chinese coal miners were hard workers, but the Union Pacific had initially brought many of them to Rock Springs as strikebreakers, and they showed little interest in the miners’ union. Outraged by a company decision to allow Chinese miners to work the richest coal seams, a mob of white miners impulsively decided to strike back by attacking Rock Spring’s small Chinatown. When they saw the armed mob approaching, most of the Chinese abandoned their homes and businesses and fled for the hills. But those who failed to escape in time were brutally beaten and murdered. A week later, on September 9, U.S. troops escorted the surviving Chinese back into the town where many of them returned to work. Eventually the Union Pacific fired 45 of the white miners for their roles in the massacre, but no effective legal action was ever taken against any of the participants.
The Rock Springs massacre was symptomatic of the anti-Chinese feelings shared by many Americans at that time. The Chinese had been victims of prejudice and violence ever since they first began to come to the West in the mid-nineteenth century, fleeing famine and political upheaval. Widely blamed for all sorts of social ills, the Chinese were also singled-out for attack by some national politicians who popularized strident slogans like “The Chinese Must Go” and helped pass an 1882 law that closed the U.S. to any further Chinese immigration. In this climate of racial hatred, violent attacks against the Chinese in the West became all too common, though the Rock Springs massacre was notable both for its size and savage brutality.