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Rock Spring Massacre: Racism or Class Warfare

Updated on February 25, 2012
Massacre at  Rock Spring
Massacre at Rock Spring

What Happen?

“Chinese Laborers Report on a Race Riot…” is a report of a race riot that occurs atRock Springs in 1885. The riot that occur in 1885 is not racially motivated but a combination of struggle between classes and a clash of culture. In the paper, the Chinese disagree on the method of using strike to make the companies increase wages. Combine with the social inequalities between the miners and companies, the miners vented their frustration on the Chinese.

The report is a detail statement of the events leading up to the riot. The Chinese who had been there for the purpose of working on the railroad or coal mines for periods ranging from one through five years, had been working side by side with the “white men”. The companies had been paying them the same amount as the white men. The Chinese had been approach by the white men to join them in a strike for better wages. The Chinese disagree on this method and refuse to join them which increased their animosity against them. On the morning of September 2, 1885, ten white men came in Coal Pit No. 6 and organize a mob to attack the Chinese. They attack the Chinatown inRock Springs, causing the Chinese to run. The mob kills and robs any Chinese person they saw and burnChinatowndown. The military intervene and escorted all the Chinese who had escape back to Rock Spring. Twenty eight Chinese were killed in the riot.

Racism or Class warfare?

This document reveals social inequalities in theAmericain 1885. The owners of the companies and the white miners are two different classes. This conflict between the two classes is what led to the arrival of the Chinese. From the document, the Chinese were hires and treated as equal to the white men. Obviously this is a threat to the white workers since they can be easily replaced. The Central Pacific Railroad superintendent Charles Crocket once responded to the demand by white worker to stop hiring Chinese laborers by saying “We can’t get enough white labor to build this railroad, and build it we must, so we’re forced to hire them. If you can’t get along with them, we have only one alternative. We’ll let you go and hire nobody but them.”Using the Chinese as a way to control the white workers creates tension between the owners and the white miners, with the Chinese in the middle.

This way of controlling workers is not only found in this specific event, it had been employed by many owners as a way to control workers. A good example of this is inHawaii. In Native and Asian Labor in the Colonization of Hawai’i, William Hooper is a plantation owner who used the Chinese to control theHawaii’s native. “Frustrated because he could not convert the natives into docile and efficient modern agricultural workers, Hooper turned to the Chinese as a solution to his labor problem.”This method of dividing the workers to motivate and to keep profit high was widely used in 1885. It shows that clashes between different social classes were common in 1885.

In the report, the Chinese was approached by the white men to join them in protesting against the owners. The Chinese had disagreed on this method. The Chinese themselves were very distance from the rest of the white communities. In “Writer Sui Seen Far Reveals private Lives of Chinese Merchant wives, 1897”, we can see how different the Chinese are in a certain aspect from their white counterpart. “She (Chinese merchant wives) seldom goes out, and does not receive visitors until she has been a wife for at least two years. Even then, if she has no child, she is supposed to hide herself. After a child has been bon to her, her wall of reserve is lowered a little, and it is proper for cousins and friends of her husband to drop in occasionally and have a chat with the family.” While her white counterpart would be allow more freedom to go out and have friends. Although we are dealing with Chinese miners and railroad workers, we can see from Writer Sui Seen that Chinese lives are very different from their white counterpart. Most of these Chinese miners and railroad workers come from a very different culture. It is not unusual for the Chinese to disagree with the white miners. So when these two different cultures are force to work side by side with each other, tension builds up.

One can argue that this riot is racially motivated. TheUnitedStatewas not a very tolerant country. Although immigrants were all experiencing some sort of discrimination, Asian had been more discriminated. Asian were not allow to be citizen, own land, or vote. When the document gave reason as to why this riot occurs, it appears to blame the Chinese as not being prepare to fight. On the surface it is obvious from all these facts that this riot is racially motivated.

But it is not the case. From the little detail in the document you can see a struggle between classes and a sort of misunderstand between cultures. The struggle between miners and owners for control is what led to the hiring of the Chinese. Hiring the Chinese gave the owners the abilities to manipulate wages and to divide the miners. Manipulating wages kept the profit high and dividing the miners prevented them from organizing. When the miners did try to organize by asking the Chinese to protest, they were turn down. The Chinese did not agree on the method of using strike to increase their wages. There seems to be a misunderstanding between two cultures. From this rejection the white miners would believe that the Chinese were on the side of the owners. The Chinese would like to increase their wages but the method of using strike was not according to their customs. The Chinese customs are base on tradition and respect so refusing to work for someone who treats you “fairly” would be considers disrespectful. These misunderstand and the struggle for power between the classes is what eventually causes this riot.


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