Sponsored by the Rock Springs Historical Museum
ROCK SPRINGS – With its reputation as a symbol of the Wild West, Rock Springs serves as an ideal backdrop for the 2013 National High School Finals Rodeo.
Coal Industry Labor Market Brings Diverse Crowd in Rock Springs’ Early Years
The enormous, high quality coal seams that drove the town’s early development continue to contribute significant tax revenue to the local economy. The coal in Rock Springs burns slowly and efficiently and was rated the best in the country at the time.
Rock Springs Historical Museum Coordinator Bob Nelson said Rock Springs, which was incorporated in 1888, was never supposed to be a town because it was hell on wheels, or an end-of-the-tracks town.
Like many other mining towns along the Union Pacific Railroad corridor, Rock Springs began as a tent city.
Eventually establishing industrial scale coal mining in Rock Springs, Union Pacific Coal Company initially recruited labor workers from Illinois, Pennsylvania and Kentucky because of their underground mining experience in their own states.
Once the domestic labor market was depleted, Union Pacific looked to European mine workers, often finding men from war-torn countries who left their wives and children behind for the mines.
These men moved their wives and families to Rock Springs as the mining industry began to provide job security.
Rock Springs’ reputation as a Melting Pot and the “Home of 56 Nationalities” slogan came from this sudden influx of foreign workers.
Rock Springs Massacre
In 1885, a toxic combination of racial tensions and labor disputes resulted in the slaughter of 28 Chinese miners by a mob of white miners.
The incident began when a mine superintendent mistakenly assigned Chinese workers to a room already assigned to white workers while they were at lunch.
The white workers were enraged upon finding the other men in their room and a Chinese worker was killed during the ensuing argument.
After all workers were sent home for the day to cool off, the angry miners gathered in a local bar.
“It turned into an ugly mob mentality. They sent word to Chinatown around 3:30 p.m. that they’d be there in an hour, saying ‘if you’re not gone, we’re gonna burn Chinatown.’ So they waited a half hour and killed 28 people,” Nelson said. “They were looking for their money too because the Chinese were notorious for burying their money in the floor of the house.”
Building City Hall
The residents of Rock Springs wanted a building of their own as the railroad company initially owned almost everything from houses to stores, Nelson said.
The building’s construction began in 1892 and was completed in 1894. It was designed by Henry Richardson, the architect who also designed the Salt Lake City and County Building.
The Rock Springs Historical Museum on B Street is a monument to their efforts and served as the City Hall.
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was arrested and fined $100 for driving under the influence of alcohol while working as a 22-year-old laying power lines in Rock Springs.
Cheney was the CEO of the Halliburton oilfield services company from 1995 to 2000. Halliburton is heavily invested in Rock Springs area oil fields.
Brown’s Park, an isolated valley along the Green River near the Flaming Gorge Dam, was a popular place for outlaws because it borders Utah and Colorado.
“If you are being chased by the Territorial Sheriff in Wyoming, you stepped into Colorado where he couldn’t touch you,” Nelson said.
This rough-and-tough bunch often traveled to Rock Springs to visit the bars and brothels.
Robert Leroy Parker was Rock Springs’ most famous outlaw. Known to most as Butch Cassidy, he changed his last name to avoid identification and earned his nickname working as a butcher in Rock Springs.
Local residents say Cassidy returned to Rock Springs following rumors of his 1908 death in a shootout in Bolivia.
“You have the coal mining and the railroad coming through that was really the catalyst. You have cattlemen, sheepherders and outlaws,” Nelson said. “Rock Springs is a true Western Town in the sense that it has all these different influences.”