October 9 – Korean Alphabet Day

The Korean Alphabet Day, known as Hangeul Day (한글날) in South Korea, and Chosŏn’gŭl Day in North Korea, is a national Korean commemorative day marking the invention and the proclamation of Hangul (한글; 조선글), the alphabet of the Korean language, by the 15th-century Korean monarch Sejong the Great. It is observed on October 9 in South Korea and on January 15 in North Korea.

The Hanguel alphabet is very different than any of the European alphabets, but it is reportedly much easier to learn than Chinese or Japanese because there are only 24 letters. It was created by the much-loved King Sejong the Great in the 15th century. Prior to this Koreans used Hanja, based on elements of the Chinese alphabet along with native phonetic writing systems. However, because of the large number of characters needed to be learned, the lower classes, who often did not receive education, had difficulty learning to write. To promote literacy, King Sejong published Hunmin Jeongeum (훈민정음; 訓民正音), the document introducing the newly created alphabet, in 1446.

In 1926, the Korean Language Society, whose goal was to preserve the Korean language during a time of rapid forced Japanization, began a yearly celebration of the anniversary of the declaration of hangeul. A discovery in 1940 revealed that the Hunmin Jeongeum was announced during the first ten days (sangsun; 상순; 上旬) of the ninth month. The tenth day of the ninth month of the 1446 lunar calendar was equivalent to October 9 of that same year’s Julian calendar. The South Korean government, established in 1945, declared October 9 to be Hangeul Day, a yearly legal holiday which excused government employees from work.

In 2009, in celebration of the 563rd anniversary of the invention of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong, the 6.2-meter high, 20-ton bronze statue of King Sejong the Great of Joseon at Gwanghwamun Plaza in Seoul, was unveiled to the public.

Statue of King Sejong on Gwanghwamun Plaza


October 2, 1869 – Birth of Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi was born on this day in history in a Hindu merchant caste family in coastal Gujarat, in western India, and later trained in law at the Inner Temple, London.

Gandhi had a fascinating life, but most Americans don’t know much about him. He was married at age 13 – to an older woman, no less – she was 14. As a young boy, Gandhi was shy and fearful, frightened by the idea of thieves, ghosts, snakes, spiders, and even the dark. He hated leaving the safety of his home.

Yet Gandhi managed to overcome his fears, and grew up to work for Indian rights in both India and South Africa. He spoke to huge crowds advocating freedom and nonviolence, and organized marches, boycotts, fasts, and protests. He was a prolific writer, not just about political issues but on health matters. He also spent a total of nearly six years in prison.

But it took some time for him to overcome his inhibitions. In 1888, Gandhi left his family behind, moving to London so he could study law.

Gandhi as a young attorney in South Africa

Gandhi as a young attorney in South Africa

At age 22 and now a lawyer, he returned to India. He failed to succeed there and took a job as a lawyer for a distant cousin in Johannesburg, South Africa. There, he was shocked at the treatment of Indians by the racist white government, and began speaking about nonviolence as a means of protest. In 1894 he founded the Natal Indian Congress to fight for Indians’ rights. Gandhi eventually called his strategy of passive resistance “satyagraha,” which means “firmness for truth and love.”

Gandhi moved back to India in 1915, where he received a hero’s welcome and continued his work for social reform and independence from colonial rule by Great Britain. He used fasting, a boycott of British products, and most notably, a protest against British control of salt. India was surrounded by salty ocean waters, and salt was readily available from the ocean or from shallow salt pans typically located along the coast, but the British would not allow Indians to collect, produce, or sell their own salt. They could only buy salt from the British, and it was heavily taxed.

On March 12, 1930, Gandhi, now aged 60, began his historic Salt March. He led around 80 others (including an American journalist) on a 24-day, 240-mile trek to the seaside town of Dandi. When he arrived, he committed the illegal act of scooping up a small handful of salt from the mud in the beach. This simple symbolic act made headlines around the world and ignited a campaign of mass civil disobedience.

Gandhi on the Salt March

Gandhi on the Salt March

Gandhi, needless to say, was taken to jail. But a female Indian poet, Sarojini Naidu, took over the protest and led nearly 2500 marchers to the Dharasana Salt Works. British-led police brutally clubbed the marchers upon their arrival, even though the protesters did not fight back or even try to defend themselves. Once again the news was broadcast to the world.

Gandhi continued to agitate, get arrested, and go on protest fasts that were increasingly harmful to his health.

At the outset of World War II, Gandhi opposed providing any help to the British war effort and he campaigned against any Indian participation in the World War II. He condemned Nazism and Fascism, but prioritized independence for India.

Smithsonian reports:

By 1942, Prime Minister Churchill felt enough pressure to send Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the War Cabinet, to discuss a change to India’s political status. But upon learning that Cripps wasn’t actually offering full independence and that current Indian politicians would still have no say in military strategy, the Congress and the Muslim League rejected his proposal.”

Gandhi, nearing age 73, led a new round of protests, calling for the British to “Quit India” in a 1942 speech in Mumbai made to the National Congress Party.

Gandhi in August, 1942

Gandhi argued that this was the moment to seize power:

Here is a mantra, a short one, that I give to you. You may imprint it on your hearts and let every breath of yours give expression to it. The mantra is ‘Do or Die.’ We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery. Every true Congressman or woman will join the struggle with inflexible determination not to remain alive to see the country in bondage and slavery.”

He added, perhaps in anticipation that this movement would not go over well with the Raj (the name for British-controlled India):

Take a pledge, with God and your own conscience as witness, that you will no longer rest till freedom is achieved and will be prepared to lay down your lives in the attempt to achieve it. He who loses his life will gain it; he who will seek to save it shall lose it. Freedom is not for the coward or the faint-hearted.”

The Congress agreed that Gandhi should lead a nonviolent mass movement, passing the “Quit India Resolution.” The British government responded quickly, and within hours after Gandhi’s speech arrested Gandhi and all the members of the Congress Working Committee.

Gandhi’s arrest lasted two years. During this period, his long time secretary died of a heart attack, his wife Kasturba died after 18 months’ imprisonment; and Gandhi himself suffered a severe malaria attack. He was released before the end of the war on May 6, 1944 because of his failing health and necessary surgery; the Raj did not want him to die in prison and enrage the nation.

At the end of the war, the British gave clear indications that power would be transferred to Indian hands. At this point Gandhi called off the struggle, and around 100,000 political prisoners were released, including the Congress’s leadership.

In 1947, Britain finally enacted the Indian Independence Act that declared British India would be divided into the two countries of India and Pakistan (the latter country designated for Muslim peoples). Gandhi was opposed to the separation, fearing it would cause more problems, which it did, and which remain to this day. Gandhi, now elderly and frail, worked hard to prevent a civil war in India until his assassination on January 30, 1948.

Mahatma Gandhi writing a letter in January 1948. Courtesy: mkgandhi.org

Prime Minister Nehru said upon announcing Gandhi’s death:

The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts.”

Besides Gandhi’s influence on Martin Luther King, Jr., others profoundly influenced by Gandhi included Nelson Mandela, the 14th Dalai Lama, and the Myanmar freedom activist, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Gandhi’s actual first name was Mohandas, but most people know him by the name given to him from midlife on, “Mahatma” which means “Great Soul.”

September 22, 1927 – Boxing Match Between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney

On September 22, 1927, the boxing heavyweight championship between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney was fought at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Tunney was an avid reader, and Dempsey, as part of the pre-fight exchange of slander, called Tunney “a big bookworm.”

Gene Tunney: Too Cute To Hit!

Tunney won the fight, but the decision was controversial, because of a longer-than-usual count in the seventh round that allowed Tunney extra recovery time from Dempsey’s left hook. Dempsey appealed but lost, and Tunney retired undefeated after another year.

Jack Dempsey: Not bad-looking either, but I'm going with Team Tunney!

Tunney continued his bookworming ways, becoming friends with George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, and Thornton Wilder. He also remained lifelong friends with Jack Dempsey. Historian Tracy Callis calls Tunney “one of the most intelligent fighters in boxing history.”

September 12, 1825 – Birth of Ainsworth Spofford Who Helped Transfer Copyright Business to Library of Congress

Ainsworth Spofford was the Librarian of Congress who came up with the idea to “transfer the entire copyright business to the Library of Congress.” The House and Senate agreed, and in 1870 President Grant signed the Copyright Law of 1870, making the Library of Congress the first central agency for the registration and custody of copyright deposits in the U.S. From then on, all U.S. copyright registration and deposit activities were to be centralized at the Library, with copyright seekers required to submit a copy of their work for the Library’s collection. As the Library of Congress website notes:

“The new law brought books, pamphlets, maps, prints, photographs, and music into the institution without cost, thus assuring the future growth of the Americana collections and providing the Library with an essential and unique national function.”

(The current law requires that two copies of the best edition of every copyrightable work published in the U.S. be sent to the Library of Congress within three months of publication.)

Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1825-1908)

Spofford was named Librarian of Congress by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. At that time the Library had approximately 82,000 books. Spofford barraged Congress with appeals, and in early 1865 managed to get a $160,000 appropriation from the war-strapped Congress. Within a few years he purchased both the 70,000 volume library of Americana from historian Peter Force (who needed the money) and some 40,000 books from the Smithsonian Institution. Once the Copyright Act was enacted, the future of the Library as the largest in the world was secure. His only problem was shelf space.

Thus in 1875 Spofford again besieged Congress with letters, and got approval for a new building, construction of which began in 1886 and completed in 1897.

A drawing of the Library of Congress, Smithmeyer & Pelz Architects, ca. 1896. Library of Congress

In 1896, on the eve of the move into the Library’s first separate building, the leaders of the American Library Association made it clear that they hoped the 71-year old Spofford would step aside in favor of a younger and more progressive professional library administrator. On June 30, 1897, Pres. William McKinley nominated John Russell Young to be Librarian of Congress; the next day, Young named Spofford as Chief Assistant Librarian, an important job which Spofford held until his death in 1908.

Spofford was said to have a passion for books. He would no doubt be in ecstasy over what has become of the Library of Congress.

Today the Library occupies three buildings and includes more than 140 million items in the Library of Congress in more than 450 languages, taking up 650 miles of bookshelves. Of all these items, only [sic] some fifteen million are books. The rest are manuscripts, photographis, maps, pieces of music, motion pictures, and other audio, visual, and print materials. The Library also hosts a terrific website, with wonderful resources on every topic imaginable.

Library of Congress Reading Room

Review of “Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West” by Christopher Knowlton

This is one heck of a good book, so full of interesting historical facts and vignettes that you will be driving everyone around you crazy as you read by calling out repeatedly, “Listen to THIS!”

It tells the story of the open-range cattle era and the rise of the cowboy from the perspective of its economic origins. But if that sounds dry, don’t be deceived. Knowlton, a former magazine writer, understands how to hold your interest. As far as the story he wants to tell, it is one with contemporary relevance. He writes:

“One goal here is to shine light on the psychology and greed that drive an investment mania, and on the financial and human catastrophes that result from the bursting of a commodity bubble.”

He sees this history not only as a morality tale about those who devote all their dreams (not to mention money) on speculative financial bubbles, but as an opportunity to study the environmental disasters that were both caused by the cattle boom, and which contributed to its demise.

He also wants you to know the real story of the American cowboy, and how different the reality was from the iconic and heroic myth that has grown up around cowboys and that is portrayed in books and movies. He explains:

“The work was hard, dirty, and monotonous – hardly the exciting version depicted in the dime novels and the eastern press. . . .”

As one cowboy noted in his memoirs, it was “a continual round of drudgery, exposure and hard work which beggar description.” In addition, “the job of a cowboy entailed an astonishing number of ways to get hurt or killed: “You could fall from your horse, you could be kicked in the head while roping a steer; you could be gored by a horn, you could drown while crossing a river, you could be caught in quicksand,” etc. And there were many less-than-fatal perils of the job, such as the torment of insects, sunstroke, sun blindness, infections, lack of medical care, grueling hours, and the long winters with no work at all.

Rancher and trail boss Charles Goodnight is credited for inventing the chuck wagon in 1866 to serve men on the cattle drives; they became ubiquitous across the open range.

Furthermore, the stories about “cowboys and Indians” were exaggerated as well. Relatively few skirmishes took place between these two groups. In fact, by the time the cowboy movement began out West after the Civil War, the numbers of Native Americans had been drastically reduced by disease and starvation, and in any event most had been moved to reservations.

How and why did it get portrayed otherwise?

As it happens, the story of the cattle era is also a story of fake news; news manufactured to spur immigration to aspiring new states, to drive profits, to justify killing Native Americans and lynching rivals, and to build up the careers of those wanting to capitalize on this particular definition of the American character. Knowlton argues that the cowboy myth, so appealing to Americans, has even influenced America’s foreign policy.

Finally, this book focuses on three young men in particular who were drawn to participate in the cattle boom: a rich Englishman, a rich Frenchman, and a rich American, Theodore Roosevelt, who of course went on not only to become the U.S. President, but also to be one of the leading conservationists in American history.

Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands

When the Civil War was over, the Confederate economy was devastated, and the impoverished young men of the South had no way to make a living. It was in Texas, the author reports, that the era of the Cattle Kingdom was born. Thus, as the author reports, at the peak of the cattle boom a majority of cowboys were white southerners, many former Confederate cavalrymen.

In Texas, there was an abundance of cattle, although before the Civil War, cattle were not valued for meat, but rather for their hides and tallow. Americans ate more pork than beef, because pork was easier to preserve. But that was about to change, thanks to the incentives and innovations of the cattle ranchers.

At the peak of the migration, “the largest forced migration of animals in human history,” some ten million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, accompanied by half a million horses and some 50,000 cowboys.” (Knowlton also devotes space to the rise of prostitution out West. It was in fact in Dodge City, one of the cowboy towns that sprang up, that the term “red-light district” was first coined, derived from the name of the red glass panels in one of the brothels.)

Dodge City in 1874, from Ford County Historical Society

And here’s a question for “Outlander” fans: What did the Highland Clearances after the Battle of Culloden have to do with developments of the American cowboy movement? The answer is surprisingly relevant, because the British were very big investors in the American West. But I’ll let readers discover the answer to that one by reading the book.

Some of the most interesting information in the book has to do with all the innovations and changes that the cowboy era brought, such as the rise of the meatpacking industry, and the influence of its automation innovations. In fact, as the author reports, meatpackers developed the first assembly lines, and it was from studying the process at Chicago slaughterhouses that Henry Ford came up with the idea of using a similar method to produce cars. The meatpackers also radically changed the American system of business procedures and management practices. Even the story about how Chicago got to be the epicenter of the meat business is fascinating.

Swift and Company
Packers, Union Stock Yards, Chicago, 1893

And as refrigeration was developed to get all this beef to eastern markets, Americans began to switch their eating habits. A trio of restaurants in New York known as Delmonico’s helped popularize eating steak. Delmonico’s is also credited with being the first American restaurant to allow patrons to order from a menu à la carte, as opposed to featuring fixed menus. Who knew?

Delmonico’s, Beaver and Williams Streets, 1893

Then there was barbed wire, which, invented to help solve the problem of wandering cattle, totally changed the husbandry of cattle. And, as the author points out, it would also come to play a significant role in the incarceration of people as well as livestock.

As for environmental disasters, perhaps the biggest one was the killing off of the bison. As Knowlton stated, “if the cattle were to come, the competing buffalo would have to go.” He declared:

“. . . nothing could match in numbers, poundage, and sheer waste the slaughter of the bison, or the speed with which this animal approached extinction. …in a stunningly short period of time, less than twenty years, the bison were forced to the edge of extinction, with no more than 325 surviving south of Canada.”

Bison skulls to be used for fertilizer, 1870

There were a number of contributing factors to the bison slaughter, not unrelated to the cattle boom. One was the expansion of railroads and telegraph lines, especially in response to the needs of the cattle business. Advances in firearms made killing these generally docile animals “the big-game equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.” The U.S. military also abetted the slaughter in their efforts to deprive Native Americans of food so as to facilitate their “herding” into reservations. Even the fact that female bison hides were preferred by hunters led to the animals’ rapid extinction.

And what about the demise of the cattle era and the bursting of its economic bubble? Overgrazing, drought, corruption, greed, incompetence, growing conflicts between cattle barons and cowboys, and absentee management all played a role. But the nail in the coffin came from the brutal winter of 1886-1887, later known as “the Big Die-up.” Temperatures in the Great Plains went as low as sixty degrees below zero in places, accompanied by high winds and deep snows. It was the coldest winter on record. When it was over, nearly a million head of cattle were dead, some 50 to 80 percent of the herds across the northernmost ranges. Knowlton describes it as “the greatest loss of animal life in pastoral history” – at least, from environmental, rather than human causes.

Train stopped during Blizzard 1886. Ford County, Ks. Image courtesy Kansas Historical Society

Evaluation: I can’t begin to tell you all the fascinating things you will learn in this book. It’s a book I never thought would interest me, and yet it is one of the most absorbing and even exciting books on history I have ever encountered. I can’t sing its praises enough. Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

September 6, 1939 – Nazis Arrive in Krakow and Begin Attack on Krakow’s Jews

Founded before the end of the first millennium, the city of Krakow is located today in southern Poland. It was and still is one of Poland’s most important cities. As the Holocaust Encyclopedia reports, the first recorded presence of Jews residing in Krakow dates from the early 13th century. 55,515 Krakow residents identified themselves as Jews in the Polish census of 1931; on the eve of World War II some 56,000 Jews resided in Krakow, almost one-quarter of a total population of about 250,000.

But by November 1939, the Jewish population of Krakow had grown to approximately 70,000, reflecting the arrival of Jews deported from the District Wartheland (a part of German-occupied Poland that was directly annexed to the so-called Greater German Reich).

On this day in history, Nazis arrived in Krakow and began issuing restrictions on Jews, including depriving them of state pensions, imposing compulsory disclosure of foreign bank deposits, demanding people between the age of 14 to 60 embark on forced labor, ordering all Jews to wear identifying stars of David, and banning them from public transport.

In May 1940, the Germans began to expel Jews from Krakow to the neighboring countryside. By March 1941, the SS and police had expelled more than 55,000 Jews, leaving about 15,000 Jews in Krakow.

In early March 1941, the Germans ordered Jews to move into a ghetto, “for sanitary and public order reasons.” The ghetto was situated in Podgorze, located in the south of Krakow. As one writer opines, “Kraków Ghetto was established for the purpose of exploitation, terror, and persecution of local Polish Jews, as well as the staging area for separating the “able workers” from those who would later be deemed unworthy of life.”

Resident of Krakow Ghetto

Between 15,000 and 20,000 Jews lived within the ghetto boundaries, which were enclosed by barbed-wire fences and, in places, by a stone wall.

The ten-foot-high wall was installed across the ghetto’s confines, and the Jews within the ghetto were ordered to construct it. The walls were crowned with arches to resemble their tombstones.

Jews at forced labor constructing the wall around the Krakow ghetto. Krakow, Poland, 1941. —Instytut Pamieci Narodowej

It was standard for four families to share one flat. The average person had two square meters of space. Conditions were made worse by a second transit in October 1941, when a further 6,000 Jews from nearby villages were forced into the ghetto.

As the Holocaust Encyclopedia notes:

The Germans established several factories inside the ghetto . . . where they deployed Jews at forced labor. Several hundred Jews were also employed in factories and forced-labor projects outside the ghetto. Among the businesses utilizing Jewish forced laborers was the firm German Enamel Products (Deutsche Emalwarenfabrik), owned by Oskar Schindler, located in Podgorze, and later moved to Plaszow.”

The SS and police planned the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto for mid-March 1943, in accordance with the Himmler’s order in October 1942 to complete the murder of the Jews residing in the Generalgouvernement area.

The Holocaust Encyclopedia reports:

On March 13-14, 1943, the SS and police carried out the operation, shooting some 2,000 Jews in the ghetto. The SS transferred another 2,000 Jews—those capable of work and the surviving members of the Jewish Council and the Jewish police force (Ordnungsdienst)—to the Plaszow forced-labor camp, and the rest of the Jews, approximately 3,000, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in two transports, arriving on March 13 and March 16. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, the camp authorities selected 549 persons from the two transports (499 men and 50 women) to be registered as prisoners and murdered the others, approximately 2,450, in the gas chambers.”

Deportation of Jews from the Ghetto, March 1943

Although there had been resistance groups in the ghetto, the German authorities succeeded in their massive manhunt to find and eradicate the fighters. Some ghetto fighters escaped and attempted to join partisan groups active in the Krakow region, but the Jewish underground fighters suffered heavy losses. In the fall of 1944 the remnants of the resistance left Poland, crossing into neighboring Slovakia and then into Hungary, where they joined with Jewish resistance groups in Budapest.

In total, it is estimated that some 65,000 Polish Jews who lived in Cracow and its immediate vicinity were murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War, obliterating Jewish life and culture as it had existed before the War completely.

The fate of the ghetto was depicted in the film “Schindler’s List,” although some aspects of the history were changed for artistic reasons.

A column of Jews forced to march through the streets of Krakow during the final liquidation of the ghetto. Krakow, Poland, 1943. —Instytut Pamieci Narodowej; US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Gumkowski Jerzy Tomaszewski

After the war, some 4,282 Jews resurfaced in Krakow. By early 1946, Polish Jews returning from the Soviet Union swelled the Jewish population of the city to approximately 10,000. But pogroms in August 1945 and throughout 1946 as well as number of murders of individual Jews led to the emigration of many of the surviving Krakow Jews. By the early 1990s, only a few hundred Jews remained.

September 2, 1885 – Rock Springs, Wyoming Massacre of Chinese Immigrants

On this day in history, 28 Chinese were killed, 15 wounded and all 79 of the shacks and houses in Rock Springs’ Chinatown were looted and burned by white mobs who resented the Chinese for accepting lower pay for railroad jobs, and for being Chinese instead of white.

Chinese laborers came to America to work on the transcontinental railroads in the West. Some 12,000 Chinese helped build the Central Pacific Railroad meet the Union Pacific Railroad. After its completion in 1869, the Chinese stayed. They worked in the coal mines and in other jobs, mostly in low-wage labor positions.

Racism against the Chinese was widespread as the Chinese were blamed for depressed wage levels. [The laboring classes never seem to get the message that blame could be placed on corporate executives hungry for profits rather than fellow workers.] In addition, then as now, there was a large element of white supremacy adherents. “The Supreme Order of Caucasians,” for example, was a group organized in Sacramento, California, in April 1876 whose primary focus was to run the Chinese out of the United States. It quickly grew to 64 chapters called “camps” statewide with about 5,000 members.

Pacific Chivalry, Harper’s Weekly, 7 August, 1869 by Thomas Nast

Pacific Chivalry, Harper’s Weekly, 7 August, 1869 by Thomas Nast

The U.S. Naturalization Act of 1870 (16 Stat. 254) extended citizenship rights to African Americans but barred Chinese from naturalization on the grounds that they and other Asians could not be assimilated into American society. Unable to become citizens, Chinese immigrants were prohibited from voting and serving on juries, and dozens of states passed alien land laws that prohibited non-citizens from purchasing real estate, thus preventing them from establishing permanent homes and businesses. The idea of an “unassimilable” race became a common argument in the exclusionary movement against Chinese Americans.

A caricature of a Chinese worker wearing a queue an 1899 editorial cartoon titled "The Yellow Terror In All His Glory"

A caricature of a Chinese worker wearing a queue an 1899 editorial cartoon titled “The Yellow Terror In All His Glory”

The Page Act of 1875 (Sect. 141, 18 Stat. 477) was the first restrictive federal immigration law and prohibited the entry of immigrants considered “undesirable.” The law classified as “undesirable” any individual from Asia who was coming to America to be a forced laborer, any Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all people considered to be convicts in their own country. The law was named after its sponsor, Representative Horace F. Page, a Republican who introduced it to “end the danger of cheap Chinese labor and immoral Chinese women.”

In 1882 Congress passed “The Chinese Exclusion Act” (22 Stat. 58), signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur. It suspended all immigration of Chinese laborers “until the expiration of ten years next after the passage of this act. . .” The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States. [It was renewed in 1892 with the Geary Act (27 Stat. 25) and made permanent in 1902. It was repealed by the Magnuson Act (57 Stat. 600) on December 17, 1943.]

Chester A. Arthur, President of the United States

Chester A. Arthur, President of the United States

Until 1875, the mines in Rock Springs, Wyoming had been worked by whites; in that year, a strike occurred, and the strikers were replaced with Chinese strikebreakers less than two weeks after the strike began. After yet another strike in 1884, tensions escalated after mine managers there were told to hire only Chinese workers.

Tom Rea, writing on the Wyoming History website observed:

In the summer of 1885, there were scattered threats against and beatings of Chinese men in Cheyenne, Laramie and Rawlins. Threatening posters turned up in the railroad towns warning the Chinese to leave Wyoming Territory or else. Company officials ignored these signs as well as direct warnings from the union.”

[Possibly it was reassuring to them that the whites were scapegoating the Chinese rather than turning against the company.]


In August 1885, notices were posted from Evanston to Rock Springs, demanding the expulsion of Chinese immigrants, and on the evening of September 1, 1885, one day before the violence, white miners in Rock Springs held a meeting regarding the Chinese immigrants.

On the morning of Sept. 2, 1885, a fight broke out between white and Chinese miners in one of the mines in Rock Springs. The white miners went home and brought back guns, hatchets, knives and clubs.

In Chinatown, it was a Chinese holiday. Many of the miners stayed home from work and were unaware of what was developing.

Shortly after noon, between 100 and 150 armed whites – mostly men but also some women, convened near the mine. About two in the afternoon, the mob divided in such a way as to surround Chinatown.

The mob moved into Chinatown from three directions, pulling some Chinese men from their homes and shooting others as they came into the street. They burned the shacks and houses in Chinatown, burning alive some Chinese and driving out others.

1885 riot and massacre of Chinese-American coal miners, by white miners. From Harper's Weekly: Harper's Weekly, Vol. 29

1885 riot and massacre of Chinese-American coal miners, by white miners. From Harper’s Weekly: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. 29

When the rioting ended, as indicated above, at least 28 Chinese miners were dead and 15 were injured. Rioters burned 75 Chinese homes resulting in approximately US $150,000 in property damage ($3.95 million in present-day money).

In Cheyenne, the Territorial Governor Francis E. Warren sent telegrams to the Army and to President Grover Cleveland in Washington asking for federal troops to restore order. These troops escorted the surviving Chinese miners, most of whom had fled to Evanston, Wyoming, back to Rock Springs a week after the riot. The Chinese would have preferred to leave Wyoming, but the coal company (owned by the Union Pacific Railroad) refused to pay them the two months of back wages they were owed, and so they had no money to leave. The company expected the miners to bury their dead, and get back to work. Until new houses could be built, they would be living in the boxcars.

Francis E. Warren, Republican senator and territorial governor from Wyoming

The company store refused to sell food or anything else to the Chinese who were not working and threatened to evict them from their temporary boxcar homes. About 60 refused to work and left Rock Springs any way they could. The rest more or less surrendered. Any miner, the company declared, white or Chinese, not back at work by Monday morning, September 21, would be fired and never hired again anywhere on the Union Pacific lines. And so the miners returned to work.

Sixteen white miners were arrested for the massacre and released on bail. A grand jury was called to consider what, exactly, should be the charge. Though the killing had been done in daylight, in front of other people, no one could be found who would swear to having seen any crimes. No charges were filed.

Federal troops built Camp Pilot Butte between downtown Rock Springs and Chinatown to prevent further violence and stayed for 13 more years.

Federal soldiers on South Front Street in Rock Springs, 1885.

Federal soldiers on South Front Street in Rock Springs, 1885.

Meanwhile, racism against the Chinese gained even more ground. The influential religious pastor and writer G. G. Rupert spread the theory that the “Last Days” would involve a power struggle between the west and the “yellow races,” publishing the widely read book “The Yellow Peril, or the Orient vs. the Occident as viewed by modern statesmen and ancient prophets (1911).” The phrase “yellow peril” was popularized in the U.S. by newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst.

You can read the history of what happened as recorded by the Chinese victims, here.