Rock Springs, Wyoming

On September 2, 1885, Rock Springs was the site of the Rock Springs Massacre: an event in which 150 white miners attacked their Chinese co-workers. 28 Chinese were killed, 15 were wounded, and several hundred more Chinese were run out of town. This was one of the first and one of the worst race riots in American history. And a large part of the problems causing the strife were the abysmal living and working conditions at the coal mines around Rock Springs.

Rock Springs was incorporated as a city in 1888 and is still the principal city in Sweetwater County. Western Wyoming Community College makes its home here. A famous former resident is Butch Cassidy, who earned his nickname in Rock Springs while working as a butcher.

Rock Springs is presently enjoying a mini-boom because of all the oil and gas drilling going on in the area. But everyone who can is out working in the "oil patch," which means other jobs in town suffer from a shortage of viable employees, even though the pay scales are pretty high by national standards.

I arrived in town on a Saturday evening in late August. A major section of town near the I-80 was ripped up, to say it was a "cone-zone" is a serious understatement. The next morning I went looking for the Chamber of Commerce building as I wanted some materials for this presentation. I drove several miles, asking folks along the way if anyone knew where it was. Finally, an older woman (probably the only local person I met during my stay) in the Albertson's grocery store gave me directions and I found it about 3 blocks from the motel I'd stayed at the night before.

Finding the Chamber was helpful for me but I still had to locate downtown Rock Springs (I have this thing about taking photos in the historical areas, you know). Eventually I did find the historic downtown and got some decent photos in between rain squalls. After several miles of driving through the "Anywhere, USA" stuff that characterizes so many modern American cities, it was refreshing to see the tower of Rock Springs City Hall sticking up to guide me. I found most of the old buildings south of the railroad tracks to be in pretty good shape while those north of the tracks were in need of help. There's something about neglected Victorian and Territorial architecture that just doesn't lend itself well to seedy saloons, lingerie shops and adult video stores... but perhaps I'm just a purist. Anyway, it was kind of sad to see what were once grand hotels and mercantiles decaying as they are now.

Originally, Rock Springs was the site of a stage stop on the Overland Stage Route, beginning in 1862. Rock Springs really came into its own when the railroad arrived a few years later. The Rock Springs area provided millions of tons of coal for the railroad over the years. The town grew up along the banks of Bitter Creek, surrounded by the rich coal deposits. Shortly after the Union Pacific Railroad came through, all the coal mines in the area came under the ownership of the Union Pacific Coal Company and Rock Springs was turned into a "company town." For many years, the Rock Springs economy lived and died in lock-step with the fortunes of the Union Pacific Railroad, but that began to change with the recent focus on producing more domestic oil and gas from the reserves beneath Sweetwater County.