In the winter of 1885 and the following summer of 1886, the Chinese were driven out of the Northwest Territories, in what is now Washington and Oregon State. After the Gold Rush, many of the Chinese driven out of California moved upwards into the Northern territory.
In Seattle, Chinese found mining and railroad work. As in Wyoming, the Knights of Labor, an organization with a large Catholic membership were visible actors arguing for an eight-hour work day. To their credit, they called for an end to child and prison labor exploitation, but they were no friend of the Chinese, a race of people the Knights of Labor deemed inferior, and whose willingness to work at a reduced rate was regarded as unfair competition toward white labor interests.
Venture capitalists in the mining and railroad knew exactly what they were doing when they recruited the hard-working Chinese to work for less. The employers cared little about the reaction of organized labor. It is less clear how fully aware the Chinese as pawns to be manipulated by management to break labor union demands.
As in many other industrial towns, mob-pressure ultimately broke out against Chinese labor, and the frustrations found release through mob violence. White workers demanded the Chinese leave. Many Chinese fled to the Portland area where they were welcomed and fit in with the foreign trade atmosphere of the city.
Of the Seattle incident, Harper’s editorial concluded, “It is a national disgrace that having excluded Chinese immigration by law, the hundred thousand Chinesewho are so unlucky as to be caught in the country are outraged by foreign mobs, while the government politely regrets that it can do nothing. The coming of the Chinese may be a curse. But if it be a curse, it is now prohibited by law, and honest Americans upon the Pacific slope should be the first to defend those who are here against brutallawlessness.”
Nast’s second to the last cartoon on the Chinese was drawn four years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Eleven years elapsed since he brought Columbia or her any of her relatives (here in the form of Lady Justice) out of retirement to stand strong on behalf of the Chinese. Denis Kearney and his white labor cohorts achieved their goal, but the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act failed to satiate their fear and mob activities against the Chinese persisted. They wanted all Chinese out, even those few Chinese who met the legal requirements to remain in the U.S.
In the cartoon, Chinese men lay prostrate on the ground from recent violence. On the right, structures smolder in the distance. In her right hand, Lady Justice heaves a large sword as white workers on the ground notice her interrupting presence and begin to leave.
The weighing pans of Lady Justice’s scales are incomplete. One of her pans is missing. From this end of the scale, a white man dangles from the neck as if lynched or hung in order to compensate for the death of the Chinese victim. The dead Chinese figure is cradled upon a bowl-shaped container. His queue hangs over the edge. His hands rest on his chest as if posed in death. The arms of the scales, however, are in balance. Justice has brought her incomplete measuring instrument to the violent scene and weighed each victim despite the missing component. There are no other obvious white victims. Her broken scales signal that the Justice system is broken and has failed the Chinese workers.
Despite her faulty scales, Nast’s Lady Justice balances the scale with a white victim. The white man obviously weighs more, yet the atrocities are equal in her eyes. Did Lady Justice scoop up a white perpetrator in a biblical “eye for an eye” moment, exacting justice despite a broken instrument? Has she turned the tables on the white workers, adapting their tactics of lynching to send her message? Works cited
This is Nast’s first cartoon of a Chinese immigrant or sojourner in the West Coast. The cartoon establishes Nast’s sympathies toward the Chinese.
Pacific Chivalry sets the western locale and places a central focus on the unique hairstyle or “queue” of Chinese men. During the Manchurian takeover of the Ming Dynasty, it was decreed that Chinese men shave their heads with the exception of a part of the back of the head where a long ponytail, often braided, would remain. In times of battle, the “queue” helped to distinguish Manchu warriors from the enemy. Chinese men faced execution if they did not grow a queue (Spence 38).
In the United States, the queue was a subject of fascination that added to the mystique and perceived feminization of Chinese men who were often “depicted as lacking virility.” In the male-dominated world of western gold mining “Chinese men became targets of white men’s fears of homosexuality or the objects of their desire” (Pfaelzer 13).
Unknown terror awaits this Chinese figure as he attempts to flee from a white aggressor. Wearing a hat that bears the name California, the white laborer bears his teeth in a determined grimace. In his right hand, he raises a whip – a variation of a cat-o-nine whip, believed to have originated to punish African slaves during the U.S. slave trade. He has lifted his left leg to counterbalance his swing and prepares to strike his Chinese victim. His left hand grips the Chinese queue and prevents the Chinese from escape. The force of pulling on the hair elongates the Chinese man’s head.
Shapes of skulls were thought to be indicative of intelligence and placement in an evolutionary hierarchy by stretching out the skull of a Chinese man, the perpetrator, and perhaps the artist offers the Chinese different than the standard perception for human normality. Though he is not drawn as overtly Irish, the working man fits the look that Nast establishes for white labor – gruff, bearded, burly and dominating. The look was repeated in The Chinese Question, 18 February 1871. and other cartoons. It should be noted that the Knights of Labor, an organization formed for white labor interests in western states and territories, and often the instigating agent for violence against the Chinese, did have a large Irish Catholic membership. (See Here’s a Pretty Mess).
The Chinese man is startled by his capture. His fearful expression further distorted by the pulling from the back of his scalp. His sun hat, the douli, has fallen to the ground and his hands are open in a defensive posture, though the threat has come from behind.
To the right, along the railroad tracks rests a small building on the edge of what resembles a small mining camp. The words on the building pronounces, “Courts of Justice Closed to Chinese. Extra Taxes to Yellow Jack.”
Nast, of course, is mocking California’s definition of justice and the battery of local laws passed by the new state to scare, threaten and restrict Chinese and opportunities in the gold mines, in society and in business.
What fate awaits this Chinese man is up to the reader to decide. Will he be beaten, robbed, driven out of the mining camp, out of town, or sexually abused is not known. With this image, Nast clearly asserts something terrible will occur. “Nast condemned this treatment as an affront to the values of an open society” (Keller 108).
One of Thomas Nast’s last cartoons featuring the Chinese was published in the fall of 1885 as a reaction to the Rocks Springs Massacre of Chinese miners, “one of the most violent racial episodes in the history of the West” (Pfaelzer 209).
Harper’s Weekly addressed the massacre in two separate issues, each with an illustration and unsigned editorial commentary (likely by George W. Curtis). While Nast contributed full-sized images on other topics, his sole cartoon on the massacre was a quarter-page-sized image near the back of the issue.
The cartoon lacks the passion and sophistication one would expect from Nast in reaction to the largest racial attack in U.S. history. Perhaps the cartoon was hastily drawn as events became known. The image may have replaced another cartoon slated for the spot – the advertising section always blocked out the area for one or two small cartoons.
Nast’s image may provoke different reactions from those who view it. One common reaction is that the cartoon adopts a pro-Chinese stance, but depicts a sarcastic Chinese tone or voice – one which emphasizes Chinese civility over Western “enlightenment.”
Two Chinese diplomats stand upon higher ground and overlook a scene of mayhem below. They witness the Rock Creek massacre in progress. An assortment of white laborers are pummeling Chinese laborers whom Nast identifies with long hair queue.
The primary Chinese figures are styled in the same manner as the “John Confucius/John Chinaman” diplomat, however, one holds a fan in front of his face. One diplomat stands in profile and faces the massacre directly, the other crouches behind his colleague and appears to whisper in his ear. The fan emphasizes the secret nature of their conversation.
The detail of the cartoon is centered on the Chinese men, and not on the violence below, which is more crudely drawn. Of all Nast’s images of the Chinese, this depiction, particularly of the Chinese man in profile, are strongly feminized. With some minor costume details, these men could be women. This is an unusual tact for Nast to adopt.
It is the caption, and not the image, which drives the satire and ironic definition of civility. White America repeatedly favored the term “barbarian” in describing the Chinese. The caption reads, “Chinese Satirical Diplomat.”There’s no doubt of the United States being at the head of enlightened nations!””
At first glance, the contrast is quite clear. Who are these white people calling the Chinese heathens, barbarians and a race unfit for American citizenship? Look at how Americans behave! This is quite a spectacle of enlightened behavior. On this score, the cartoon is successful.
With a deeper look, the viewer may realize that these Chinese diplomats do nothing but observe the melee. They watch as their countrymen are murdered and driven out. The Chinese are denied the right to earn an honest living – a living they were recruited for by American business and invited to participate in.
One might interpret the Chinese men are gleeful for this opportunity to make a cultural comparison between East and West. Does Nast suggest the massacre serves a higher purpose – an occasion upon which the diplomats can prove their superiority? If so, they make their point at the expense of their countrymen. Still, Nast portrays the two men as inactive. Shock is absent. They feel no outrage by what they witness. Neither is Nast.
Nast chose the cartoon to be sardonic and sarcastic – and on one level, he succeeds in showing his viewers who the real barbarians are. But Nast could have made his point and at the same time, infuse his Chinese observers with a sense of sorrow or anger. Why did Nast not weigh in on the moral argument, as he had done many times before, by simply adding Columbia to the scene? By standing alongside her Chinese guests, shedding tears, Columbia her fist raised in defiance, the maternal icon of American morality might elicit sympathy from the viewers.
Nast followers knew what Columbia meant in his cartoons. Nast chose not to take her to Wyoming. He did not employ her as a moral agent. Columbia’s values and message are absent in this composition. Nast also refused to demonize or detail reports of a predominately Irish-labor mob as the perpetrators of the massacre. While his drawing depicts white upon Chinese violence, Nast chose not to exploit the Irish nature of the mob. Nast’s infamous Irish ape is not present as instigators at this scene.
In reality, response to the massacre by the Chinese government was immediate and persistent as they complained to Secretary of State Thomas Bayard, and argued for prosecution of the murderers and reparations (Pfaelzer 211-214).
Harper’s Weekly’s brief editorial commented on the outrage, expressed in part:
The massacre of the Chinese laborers in Wyoming is one of the crimes which disgrace a people, because it is due to the jealousy and hatred of a race. In excluding the Chinese from the country by law we have especially stigmatized them, and common decency and humanity should lead us to protect those of them who unfortunately happen to be among us, and whom the law shows that we wish were somewhere else.
Perhaps Nast’s state of mind had grown tired of an issue on which he and the progressive Republican base had repeatedly experienced defeat. As Morton Keller has surmised, Nast’s passions were linked to the utopian principles of the Radical Republicanism he championed. “When that spirit faded, so did the force and fire of Nast’s art” (Keller viii).
In the next issue Harper’s Weekly published a full-page engraving based on a photograph taken at the scene of the massacre. Nast had no part in the illustration.
Nast contributed a full-paged cartoon in the same issue, but it did not address the massacre. Commentary on the massacre was left to others. Nast’s career at Harper’s Weekly was coming to a close.
Historical background on the Rock Creek Massacre
In 1862, the United States Congress authorized an act to construct railroad and telegraph lines connecting East and West. The Central Pacific Rail Road (CPRR) was in charge of construction from Sacramento, California to the East. In order to fulfill the enormous labor demands and meet financial incentives offered by the federal government, Chinese labor was recruited. The principals of the CPPR were known as the “Big Four” Leland Stanford, president; C.P. Huntington, vice president; Mark Hopkins, treasurer and Charles Crocker, engineer (Storti 10).
Despite early reluctance from his partners, Crocker recruited thousands of Chinese as railroad laborers, and due to their experience as miners, hired them as coal miners to support the fuel needed for the rail effort. “Crocker brought them in by the trainload” and by 1868, the Chinese “made up 80 percent of the Central Pacific’s work force.” Crocker happily called them “the best road builders in the world.” They were known derisively as “Crocker’s pets” (Storti 12).
Rock Springs was located along Bitter Creek tributary and in an area rich with coal. The path of the Union Pacific Railroad was slated to go right through the coal-rich area. Coal was “a discovery of almost incalculable value to the company” (Storti 34). On the surface, the land, which the Indians had negotiated away seemed inarable and desolate – the poorest tract of land in Wyoming. What lay underneath the soil made it valuable. Rudimentary mining towns quickly sprang up in the area and by 1871 Rock Springs had become central headquarters to the Wyoming Coal and Mining Company (Storti 54).
The year 1873 began a sustained era of severe economic depression which affected the railroad, and other supporting industries including coal mining towns like Rock Creek.
A Wall Street investor, Jay Gould, “had his hands in virtually every major business undertaking of the day” and this included the coal mines at Rock Springs. Gould ordered a series of wage cuts for coal miners in the region. Various labor organizations and miner’s associations threatened and carried out sporadic strikes across many mining camps in the country that supported the transatlantic railroad effort. As these strike continued to percolate on and off, Chinese miners were used as strike breakers or “scabs.”
In 1875, 150 Chinese workers reported for duty as strikebreakers, under the protection of U.S. troops (Storti 71).
Coal mining was “astonishingly dangerous work.” Storti’s book on the Rock Creek massacre provides valuable insight into the details and dangers of the coal miner’s (or colliers as they were known) exhaustive toils. Storti describes it as a “tightly knit brotherhood” of men who risked their lives – rarely saw daylight or breathed in clean air. They were protective of each other and of their wages. They knew the risks they undertook and expected to be paid well for that sacrifice.
Nevertheless, Storti explains, labor management wanted profits to increase and did not think twice about humiliating their labor force. When Chinese miners arrived, they “were routinely given the most productive rooms and were always allowed first choice of rooms when a new entry was opened” (Storti 83). The Chinese were not above flaunting their privileged position, deepening further resentment and competition.
As in other locations where the Chinese gathered to work, a supporting society was quickly established. A Chinatown near Rock Springs flourished.
With the help of Chinese labor, the Rock Springs mining camp tripled its coal production from 104,000 tons in 1875 to 302,000 tons in 1884.
In the fall of 1884 threats of strikes across the region were instigated by invigorated union interests and new pro-labor affiliations, such as the Knights of Labor. Rock Springs avoided these threats and colliers from Rock Springs did not partake in Knights of Labor meetings. But by the summer of 1885, Chinese -White labor tensions reached a breaking point regarding the continued preferential treatment of Chinese workers, with the Chinese gaining the most concessions.
When disputes arose, the Chinese stood their ground and offered no concessions. The confrontations, which took place deep inside the mines, came to blows. Word of the fights made their way to the surface as white laborers began to collect in the streets, “shouting anti-Chinese slogans” (Storti 108-113).
In the 1880s, the Knights of Labor stood as the most powerful labor union in the nation (Storti 103). The Knights of Labor were strong proponents of the Chinese Exclusion Act and their membership was predominately Catholic (Catholic University of America). The Knights of Labor organized 1886 events that led to the Chicago Haymarket demonstration and massacre, though violence was never planned and did not directly involve Chinese laborers.
The white miners had asked the Chinese to join them in a strike. Unwilling to strike, violence erupted. “A force of about 150 Irish-born miners marched to Chinatown armed with shotguns” (Pfaelzer 210).
The mob first fired into the air, demanding that the Chinese leave. As they began to do so, Chinese were shot at directly. Several homes and businesses in Chinatown were burned to the ground. An estimated 400 to 500 Chinese were forcibly driven out, many escaped to the outskirts of town without food, water or shelter where “about 50 died of exposure and starvation as they tried to reach the Green River and escape from the mine” (Pfaelzer 211). The final death toll was put at fifty-one, the highest ever for a race riot in American history” (Storti 142).
This small cartoon is reminiscent of Nast’s “Here’s a Pretty Mess!” (In Wyoming)”published nine months earlier on September 19, 1885. It is Nast’s last cartoon with a Chinese subject.
The back pages of Harper’s typically contained advertisements along with one or two smaller, square-sized areas reserved for cartoons. Blocked out for cartoon insertion, the advertising section was a convenient place to introduce late-breaking news with more detailed reporting following in the next issue. Such was the case with The Chinese Puzzled. This drawing comments the on Chicago’s Haymarket affair, a riot that followed a planned, peaceful labor demonstration to advocate an eight-hour day. Plans went terribly wrong and the gathering turned violent.
The incident in Chicago did not involve the Chinese. But Nast uses the opportunity of rioting white laborers to contrast the differences between white and Chinese labor and again focus on the irony of Chinese exclusion laws.
Two Chinese men stand on a street corner and discuss the violence by white workers who carry signs “Burn the Town,” “Kill the Police,” and “Socialism.” By 1886, Chinese exclusion was in its fourth year. The interests of labor had triumphed. White labor enjoyed four years of victory against Chinese immigrants, an early reason and trigger for labor-related breakouts and protests. Still, white labor found something to riot about. The Chinese observers are puzzled. Why are these men allowed to stay while peaceful Chinese workers were forced to go? The caption reads, “It is because we don’t do deeds like that, that ‘we must go’ and they must stay?”
Nast prominently includes a fire hydrant on the left side street corner. It is a symbol of municipal progress and rescue. It is not being used to put out the fire or quash the anger of the mob.
However, commentary in the following May 22 issue condemns the rioters in Chicago as “mad destructives and assassins.” Harper’s also acknowledged that labor was often left in a position of general disadvantage and referred to another notable labor dispute — striking coal miners in the West — as an example of the failure of production entities and management to fairly negotiate and come to a reasonable and intelligent negotiation regarding the use of a large labor force.
By invoking the memory of recent massacre at Rock Springs, Wyoming, Harper’s fingers the real blame of that incident on the capitalistic interests of the railroad and coal mining companies who ignored labor issues in favor of profits. By bringing in Chinese workers as strike breakers, mining and railroad management was implicit in triggering the violence that ensued. On one hand, white labor had successfully pressured ,through strikes, for laws that excluded and restricted Chinese immigration. On the other hand, the Chinese who had remained and relocated were often used as strikebreakers.
During this period of an expanding nation, labor demonstrations and strikes, the Knights of Labor served as an iconic organization of American labor. In the 1880s, the KOL stood as the most powerful labor union in the nation (Storti 103). The Knights of Labor were strong proponents of the Chinese Exclusion Act and their membership was predominately Catholic (Catholic University of America). The Knights organized the Chicago Haymarket demonstration. Although the violence which ensued was never planned and did not involve the Chinese, in a spirit of irony, Nast used Chinese figures to lampoon the organizers and remind his readers of the hypocrisy practised by a group with large Irish Catholic membership.