The Rock Springs Massacre – Sept. 2 1885
Outline from Lecture by Mark Chollak, Feb. 8, 2006
a. Industrial Revolution spurred the need for coal
i. Steam engine
1. Made rail travel possible
b. U.P. Railroad had great need for coal
i. Trains ran on steam engines
ii. Part of Land Grant Agreement with U.P. allowed it to choose the route of the railroad.
1. Put line right through the heart of the Wyoming coal fields.
iii. Capt. Howard Stansbury
1. Had written several years before the construction of the railroad about the likelihood of coal in Wyoming.
2. This journal greatly assisted the U.P. in choosing its routes.
II. Why is Wyoming called the Eqaulity State?
a. Gave women the right to vote
b. Evidence against
i. Has still only elected one woman to be governor.
ii. Public Accomodations (See the article by Moore and Ibach in Readings in Wyoming History).
iii. Black 14
iv. WWII racial disturbances at Fort Warren in Cheyenne
v. Rock Springs Massacre fits in with these other incidents
III. The Massacre
a. Resulted from 1875 strike by Knights of Labor
i. Demand for 25% more coal production was an attempt to break the union.
ii. When Miners struck, U.P. responded by replacing the striking men with Chinese hired in California and shipped to Rock Springs and other communities
1. Not all worked in mines. All the range of skills necessary were recruited to create a separate Chinese community in Rock Springs.
a. Hence the term “Chinatown”
iii. U.P. manipulations of a bad situation
1. Chinese were resented by white miners, some of whom had been hired back after 1875.
2. Rumors of easier room assignments, better pay and secret agreements between foremen and Chinese abounded.
3. Chinese refuse to join unions because they feared losing their jobs, and also because they realized they had jobs only because of the mass terminations of miners in the 1875 strike.
a. These conditions infuriated whites.
4. U.P. did little to dispel rumors. They used them to weaken the union’s power. They also used threats of bringing in more Chinese when white miners would complain
IV. Powder Keg Erupts
a. A foreman miscommunicates with his miners, making two white miners name Jenkins and Whitehouse think two Chinese men were working their room. In fact, the two Chinese men had been assigned the room first
b. Fighting breaks out between Chinese and Whites using mining tools
i. 2 Chinese men are killed in the mine
c. U.P. closes the mines
d. White men assemble in town to drink and strategize
i. Decision is to drive the Chinese out of town.
ii. They begin burning buildings as residents flee them
iii. Fire at fleeing people.
iv. 28 confirmed dead
1. Some bodies burned beyond recognition
a. Body parts may not have belonged to the same people
2. Some who fled were simply never heard of again
a. Were some burnt bodies simply unaccounted for?
b. Did some perish in the desert?
c. Did some escape to relocate elsewhere?
3. 40 dead may be a more accurate number.
V. Francis E. Warren
a. Requested the involvement of federal troops.
b. Personally came to town the next day to oversee the efforts to restore order
c. Led to the establishment of Camp Pilot Butte.
d. Helped to make Warren’s career as a politician
VI. Warren’s other motivations
a. Vast land holdings in and around Cheyenne.
b. Problems getting his land titles cleared.
i. Warren and others had been petitioning U.P. for years to release clear title.
ii. Claims that not all money had been collected for the land.
iii. Correspondence proves that Warren had been cozying up to U.P. officials while in office, and asking to have the titles cleared at the same time.
iv. Did Warren act so quickly in the case of the Rock Springs Massacre in order to protect the Chinese or to protect his own business interests?
1. No definitive answer, but it was likely a combination of these.
a. In the aftermath, other communities threatened to do the same
b. Chinese Consulate in San Francisco sends investigators to find out why Chinese citizens were being murdered in Wyoming.
c. Led to Congressional hearings and reparations being paid to China
d. Became the topic of national and international news.
e. Used as an excuse to place further immigration restrains on Chinese
i. This during the Ellis Island immigration wave.
VIII. Whatever happened to . . .
a. F.E. Warren
i. Used his involvement to further become close to the U.P.
b. The Land Titles
i. Just weeks after the massacre, many of the titles were cleared including every one owned by Warren
c. The Chinese
i. Were returned to Rock Springs and would work without hard from white miners for many decades
d. The Mob
i. No one was willing to testify, therefore, no convictions were ever made.
e. The Record
As an intern for the Sweetwater County Museum this past summer, I was excited to learn that many U.P. documents from this era were part of the collection. Unfortunately, almost all records of Union Pacific Coal Company from the last half of 1885 are missing. Included in the missing documents is an injury log which each foreman was required to keep. I would greatly love to know what that foreman wrote about what happened in Number 5 mine on September 2, 1885. --Mark Chollak
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