Where, when, and why did these massacres and riots happen?

As you saw in our exhibit, anti-Chinese violence was rampant during the second half of the nineteenth century, and we listed some examples of the most notorious massacres and riots against Chinese people during this period. Here is more information about these horrible events: 


The Chinese Massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles: In 1871, there were roughly 172 Chinese people living in Los Angeles, making them roughly 3% of the city’s population. In October of 1871, two mutual benefit associations — known as Huigans — found themselves in a feud over the kidnapping of a young Chinese woman. This led to a shootout in Negro Alley, the area of town where most Chinese people in Los Angeles lived during this time, named for the darker-skinned spaniards who had lived there before them. The police officers responded to this shootout, and one was wounded in the process. Additionally, a civilian who assisted the officers — Robert Thompson — was also killed in this conflict. Word of Thompson’s death spread quickly, and a mob of over 500 people formed ready to fight the Chinese population of Los Angeles. The mob killed eighteen Chinese people, and though eight rioters were convicted on manslaughter charges, these charges were eventually overturned and none of the rioters were held responsible for their attack on the Chinese population of Los Angeles.  


The San Francisco Riot of 1877: The 1870s in San Francisco were a time of incredible economic unrest. Unemployment was as high as 20% and the Bank of California had failed. Many scapegoated the Chinese for this economic unrest, viewing them as unfair competition in the labor market. On July 23, over 8,000 people gathered in front of San Francisco’s City Hall for a labor organizing meeting. However, once the speakers started spewing anti-Chinese rhetoric, it didn’t take long for the mob to decide to head “On to Chinatown!” The riot would last two days, resulting in four deaths and the destruction of more than $100,000 — that’s in 1877 dollars — worth of property belonging to the San Francisco Chinese population. 


The Tacoma Riot of 1885: Due to the anti-Chinese sentiment running rampant on the west coast of the United States, the city government of Tacoma, Washington decreed that by November 1, 1885, all Chinese people in the city needed to have left the city.  After this decree, many members of the Chinese community decided to leave, though some merchants and laborers chose to remain behind. On October 31st — the night prior to the deadline — a final rally in favor of expulsion was held with nearly 700 attendees. As the November 1st deadline loomed closer, only about 200 Chinese people remained in Tacoma. There had just recently been a massacre against the nearby Chinese community in Squak Valley, which led the citizens of Tacoma, Washington to believe they too could act without legal consequences. Thus, on the morning of November 3rd, a mob descended on the Chinese community, forcing Chinese residents to march down to a railroad station and board a train to portland. Many of these people were older residents, who were forced to make the eight mile trek in the pouring rain. The mob also destroyed any buildings owned by Chinese people in Tacoma. This type of expulsion became known as the “Tacoma method,” and provided an example of how to forcibly remove Chinese residents from cities. None of the rioters faced any sort of legal repercussions for their actions. Centuries later, after organizing from the local Chinese community, a Chinese Reconciliation Park was built on the Tacoma waterfront in 2005 to commemorate the horrific event. 


The Rock Springs Massacre of 1885 in Wyoming: Tensions between the white and Chinese communities of Rock Springs, Wyoming were already high due to the use of Chinese miners as strikebreakers there starting in 1875. After Chinese workers refused to strike with the white miners in 1885, the white miners stormed the Rock Springs Chinatown. The violent crusade resulted in the deaths of 28 Chinese people and over 15 were severely injured. The rioters burned 78 Chinese homes, resulting in 4.89 million dollars worth of property damage in today’s terms. In the immediate aftermath of this massacre, U.S. army troops were deployed to escort the surviving Chinese miners back to Rock Springs. Though some newspapers condemned the violence, none of the rioters were held legally accountable for their actions. This would embolden angry white people to carry out similar attacks across the West Coast.  


The Vancouver anti-Chinese Riot of 1886: Anti-Chinese sentiment was by no means limited by the borders of the U.S. — anti-Chinese hatred ran rampant in Canada too. In November 1885, the Canadian Pacific Railway had finished construction and the railroad company laid off thousands of men, many of whom subsequently went to Vancouver in search of work. In January 1886, Chinese workers were camped on the shore of Vancouver Harbour and were hired to clear some trees and stumps. The unemployed white workers who had just come from building the Canadian Pacific Railway were angry that they had not been hired for this job, and descended upon the Chinese workers in an angry mob. It is unknown the precise number that were injured, but it was a very violent event that harmed many. 


The Seattle Riot of 1886: The Knights of Labor — an anti-Chinese labor organization — was very upset over the presence of more than 3000 Chinese immigrants in the Seattle-Tacoma corridor. They viewed the Chinese as unfair competition that was stripping America of its wealth by sending remittances back home to their families. Thus, they decided that they would forcibly evict the Chinese population of Seattle and on the morning of February 7th, they forced their way into Chinese homes and demanded that they pack their bags and get on the Queen of the Pacific, a steamship leaving at 1 p.m. that day. Hearing of this event, Grover Cleveland ordered federal troops to suppress the violent rioters. The incident ultimately results in the removal of over 200 Chinese civilians from Seattle, who were forced onto various ships by the rioters, who never held legally accountable for their violent actions. 


The Chinese Massacre Cove of 1887 in Oregon: In May 1887, thirty-four Chinese gold miners passing through Deep Creek, Oregon were ambushed and murdered by a gang of horse thieves and school boys. Unfortunately, the names of these victims are lost to history and none of the murderers were held accountable. The massacre went largely unacknowledged at the time, but after a Wallowa County clerk uncovered court documents in an unused county safe in 1995, the case was unearthed again. In 2005, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved giving the name Chinese Massacre Cove to the site where this horrible event transpired and a memorial to honor the slain Chinese miners was installed in 2012. 


Want to learn more? Check out these resources:


— Los Angeles Public Library — Forgotten Los Angeles History: The Chinese Massacre of 1871

—  SF Gate — 140 years ago, San Francisco was set ablaze during the city’s deadliest race riots  

— Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park – Expulsion: The Tacoma Method 

— Encyclopedia Britannica – What Happened at the Rock Springs Massacre?

— History Link — Mobs forcibly expel most of Seattle’s Chinese residents beginning on February 7, 1886 

— The Oregon Encyclopedia – the Chinese Massacre at Deep Creek