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Wyoming History

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Japanese in Wyoming

Part one of four parts

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

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Pictures of cloudsThe arrival of the first Japanese emigrants into Wyoming is not known, however, by the end of the 1890s, historical records indicate that Japanese railroad workers and coal miners lived in southern Wyoming. Both Union Pacific Railroad and Mining Company actively recruited Japanese men, and soon other companies followed suit. By the turn of the century, families of laborers arrived, designating Wyoming as their permanent home. This chapter will explore/unveil the lives of Japanese immigrants who settled in the plains of Wyoming and see how they contributed to the region's growth.

The majority of the Japanese first came to Wyoming as railroad workers and coal miners around the turn of the century. One of the first indications that Japanese were living and working in Wyoming is found on a tombstone in Rock Springs, Wyoming. While the Japanese were overlooked byt he census takers in 1890 Wyoming, an unnamed Japanese individual died in Rock Springs in 1890. The tombstone, coupled with that Wyoming newspapers began recording the presence of Japanese immigrants on the west coast and elsewhere, suggests that the Japanese reached Wyoming in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

By 1900, Japanese immigrants were employed in Wyoming mines and worked for the railroads. Turn-of-the-century Wyoming newspapers describe the Japanese as both a curiosity and a potential source of trouble. This was a view shared by most westerners towards Chinese immigrants as well. In the minds of many late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Wyoming residents, it was hard to separate the two distinctively different nationalities. Yet Wyoming newspapers did provide reports about the Japanese that suggest there was an awareness of the distinctive characteristics of the people from "The Land of the Rising Sun." While the reports are mixed, the newspaper writers did not seem in favor of Japanese emigrating to the United States. The Cheyenne Daily Leader, in terms reflecting its attitude toward immigrants, reported in May of 1900, "Japs Cause Trouble." ". . . [T]he installment of Japanese laborers along the [Union Pacific] line is causing great dissatisfaction." The article contends "the working classes depreciate the importation of foreigners who work for almost nothing." Two days later the paper ran an article claiming:

No small amount of alarm is experienced by track men along the line of the Union Pacific over the action of that road in importing Japanese laborers for section men, work trains and other lines of rough work.

Meanwhile, along the Oregon Shortline, "an affiliated line of the Union Pacific . . . 1,000 Japanese laborers" were employed. Of those, one hundred and sixty Japanese workers were placed in Evanston. Fearful of losing their jobs, numerous railroad workers complained about the arrival of Japanese workers. "In most places" the Japanese railroad workers were "displac[ing] Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes at $1.65 per day. . . ." While these Scandinavian workers were earning significantly less than most westerners, the Japanese worked for less at only $1.15 per day, and as a result, the Japanese were shortly employed throughout southern Wyoming. Some contended that the Japanese were "paid about one-half as much as white men" while labor contractors were paid "a fat commission by the railroad company" for obtaining the services of these Asian immigrants.

While prejudices loomed forcing the Japanese to live in separate communities, an amazing degree of acceptance by many other immigrants living and working in the coal towns of Wyoming was evident. Most Japanese workers came to Wyoming as contract laborers, and like immigrants from other countries, their contract wage was low. The majority of contract laborers worked in the coal mines. In southwest Wyoming, both Kemmerer Coal and Union Pacific Coal Company actively recruited Japanese miners. These miners, because of their low contract wages, eventually joined labor unions. As a result of their camaraderie, they were more readily accepted by other miners.

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If you have any questions please feel free to contact Dudley Gardner.

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