There was a massacre.
And when the dust settled, more than 40 Chinese were dead, Chinatown in Rock Springs, Wyo., was burned to the ground and hundreds of Chinese were forced to flee into the surrounding desert.The Chinese massacre on Sept. 2, 1885, also had an impact across the United States. When the news of the massacre hit newspapers throughout the nation, anti-Chinese demonstrations and expulsions took place along the West Coast. And for the first time in American history, a president was forced to dispatch U.S. Army troops to quell domestic violence.
Why did it happen? When the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads decided to build this country's first transcontinental railroad, thousands of Chinese workers were brought to this country to build tracks.
That job was completed on May 10, 1869 - when East met West at Promontory Summit, Box Elder County, and the last spike was hammered into the track. This year marks the 122nd anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike.
The Union Pacific Railroad intentionally built its tracks through southern Wyoming because the area was rich in coal mines. The railroad needed the coal to fuel the trains.
So when the transcontinental railroad was completed, the Union Pacific rehired the Chinese to work the coal fields.
Almost 20 years later, the massacre took place. According to a book titled "Incident at Bitter Creek," written by Craig Storti, the massacre was a result of non-union Chinese workers being pitted against white union workers; cheap Chinese workers were replacing white union workers in the mines.
Tempers were flaring, and on that September day, a three-man white delegation went to Chinatown by Bitter Creek and told the people they had one hour to pack up their belongings and leave.
The first attack took place about 45 minutes later when shots were fired at one of the mines, and LorSun Kit was gunned down with a bullet in his back.
Soon, about 100 white men appeared on the outskirts of Chinatown, and the rioters advanced. The white men then started walking down the narrow streets, and when the Chinese bolted from the homes, they were immediately gunned down. The Chinese fled, taking wives and children with them.
When the mob finished its sweep, dead and wounded Chinese lay strewn along the streets and river banks.
The book gave an eyewitness account of what happened by a Chinese named Ah Koon.
"Three or four white men came along and kicked door and say, `You better come out or we drag you out.' I come out and run about 200 yards. I turn my head, I look back and see three or four white men standing.
"He see me and shot me four times. I fall down and drop the money and ran. I went down the track across the river. I walk up to railroad section house, knock at door, and say, `Mister, you better open door and let me in.' He say, `Who's that?' I say, `China boy.' He open the door and let me come into that house. I say, `I am nearly dead, I got nothing to eat.' I ask him, `You give me some bread?' He say, `You got some bread.' He say, `What's the matter at Rock Springs?' I say, `Lots trouble, drive China boys out.' "
To make sure the Chinese didn't return, the mob burned down their town. That night, about 500 Rock Springs residents watched Chinatown slowly burn to the ground.
The Chinese then headed to Evanston, where another Chinatown had been built for those who worked in the Almy coal mines. The sheriff there dispatched 30 deputies to protect thousands of Chinese and the Union Pacific Railroad property.
The U.S. government had a treaty with China to protect its workers, so in the days following the massacre, President Grover Cleveland ordered troops into Wyoming to protect the Chinese. Eventually, the troops escorted the Chinese back to Rock Springs, where they lived in box cars for a while. Then Chinatown was rebuilt.
Two days before the massacre, 331 Chinese and 150 whites were working the coalmines in Rock Springs. Two months later, there were 532 Chinese and 85 whites at work. The victory of the Union Pacific over the Knights of Labor union seemed to be complete.
Ruth Lauritzen, director of the Sweetwater County Museum in Green River, Wyo., said most of the Chinese remained in this country to work. She said the Chinese were brought here to work, not to become citizens, and most went back to China in the 1920s and 1930s.
"Most of the Chinese were young single men who came here to work, make money and then return to China, where they retired in style," she explained.
"The Incident at Bitter Creek" made national newspaper headlines and soon anti-Chinese violence spread. It erupted in California first when hundreds of Chinese were rounded up, robbed and run out of town, with their houses burned. In New Mexico, the Chinese were given 24 hours to leave; in Alaska, about 100 Chinese were put on a boat and set adrift in the Pacific Ocean.
Utah also had problems. In the Summit County coal-mining canyon precinct called Grass Creek, all the Chinese were run out of the area. Violence also broke out in Washington Territory, later to become a state. Chinese hop pickers had just gone to bed when a mob attacked, killing three.
Fleeing Chinese in the north Pacific Coast descended on Seattle and were later expelled.
News of the massacre also reached China, with Americans living in China being threatened. On March 16, 1886, the American consul in Shanghai wrote the American minister in Peking that he could no longer guarantee the safety of U.S. citizens living in Hong Kong and Canton and was requesting military protection.
Chinese government officials then told the U.S. government that if it didn't immediately condemn the Rock Springs massacre, then it would no longer protect U.S. citizens living in China. President Cleveland agreed and even issued an order to compensate the Chinese victims.