Wyoming’s Chinese Dragon

For more than twenty years, the communities in Rock Springs’ and Evanston’s Chinatowns shared and displayed a large, colorful dragon during their Lunar (Chinese) New Year Parade. The soon-to-be famous dragon first made front page news in 1895, when it was paraded through the streets of Rock Springs.

The Chinese residents had a grand parade last Sunday and a general rejoicing afterwards with a display of fire crackers regardless of cost. They patronized the home band and engaged it to lead the procession with American music. The line of the march was through every street almost of the city and the fancy colored costumes, banners and peculiar brass emblems which they carried on short poles made an attractive sight. The monstrous dragon which required thirty [Chinese men] to carry was the most prominent feature.

It was a world’s fair curiosity, measuring 150 feet, with a fierce looking head and a dangerous looking tail…It seemed as if the entire town had turned out to see the display for every side walk was lined with spectators.

Quote is from the Rock Springs Miner dated March 28, 1895.
Copy of original photograph. Both the Sweetwater County Historical Museum (SWCHM) and the Wyoming State Archives have original prints of this well-known image. You can see that this is a copy image—a photograph taken of a tacked-down print—probably made in the early 1900s. The SWCHM has many more images of the dragon during the Chinese or Lunar New Year celebrations in Rock Springs and of Rock Springs’ Chinatown.” This image is part of the W.B.D. and Annette B. Gray papers and you can view it here.

There had not always been such a friendly relationship between Rock Springs’ white residents and Chinese immigrants forced to live in the segregated housing of Chinatown. On September 2, 1885, a group of white miners became angry at a group of Chinese miners who had supposedly usurped a better work assignment and incited other miners and townspeople to raid Chinatown, loot any money or other valuables from homes, burn the homes to the ground, and kill at least 28 Chinese inhabitants. Many were forced to flee into the desert and were never found. Many were shot, but some burned to death or met similarly gruesome ends. Though the white miners focused their rage on their Chinese coworkers, all their complaints actually had to do with the practices of their employer, the Union Pacific Coal Company. For example, white miners complained that Chinese miners accepted lower pay and therefore lowered the white miners pay as well. In fact, the company forced Chinese laborers to work for lower wages, creating the wage competition. Given the racism of the time, it was easier for many people to focus their anger on those they saw as “other.”

This image is titled, “Chinese Quarters—Rock Springs – 1900.” It depicts some of the company owned housing in Rock Springs’ Chinatown at the turn of the 20th century. It is from the Samuel H. Knight Papers at the American Heritage Center, and you can view it here.

After the 1885 Rock Springs Chinese Massacre, the company rebuilt Chinatown and forced all the Chinese miners who fled to return to work in Rock Springs. There was a long period where the cavalry kept the peace in Rock Springs (staying so long, in fact, that they built barracks and dubbed the site Camp Pilot Butte). Ten years later, it was normal for the residents of Chinatown to have a much-loved Lunar New Year parade that included the dragon and fireworks. Though the ingrained racism of the time is still clear in the language of the contemporaneous newspaper accounts (it was treated as a spectacle of “otherness”), there was far less violence against Chinese residents by this time and Chinatown was an accepted, though still segregated, neighborhood in Rock Springs.

In 1885, people of Chinese origin who immigrated to work in the coal mines in Rock Springs made up over 60% of the population. The Chinese residents didn’t keep that high percentage of the population, particularly after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned new Chinese immigration, but Chinatown became a fixture in Rock Springs. Many Chinese-owned businesses were based in Chinatown; both Rock Springs and Evanston had joss houses (houses of worship) that were somewhat plain on the outside but ornate on the inside, and the annual parade became something both Chinese and other residents looked forward to.

The dragon was purportedly created in China to be displayed at the World’s Fair. The Rock Springs Chinese community bought it for a reported $2000. In later years, the dragon was well-remembered by Rock Springs residents.

The dragon was a magnificent thing, made of silk and [gold] scales on the body were studded with mirrors. The eyes which worked on a swivel, were large and shiny, and they almost flashed fire when the dragon was teased with a ball in the hand of some Chinese residents, which was part of the performance, making the serpent writh (sic) with anger, seemingly…The dragon was a mammoth thing, measuring close to one hundred feet, and it required one hundred men to carry it in the parade…It cost many thousands of dollars and was an object of pride and pleasure to the natives of the Celestial kingdom who lived in this town.

Quote is from the Rock Springs Rocket dated May 23, 1913.
This image features the exterior of the Joss House (an American term for the Chinese houses of worship) in Evanston’s Chinatown, ca. 1890s. Evanston has a recreated Joss house to visit next to the Uinta County Museum. The image is from the American Heritage Center’s photo files. You can view it here.

After more than twenty years of careful preservation by the residents of Rock Springs’ Chinatown and famed appearances in Lunar New Year parades, the dragon was destroyed in 1913. According to reports at the time, the new Republic of China banned worship of old idols such as the dragon, so the Chinese community in Rock Springs destroyed their “mammoth” companion of twenty years. The only parts that remain of the dragon are the huge glass eyes. They were reportedly given to a man named Robert Murphy to “keep them as a souvenir.” They were donated to the Sweetwater County Historical Museum by Robert Murphy, Jr. in 1968 and have been on display since, along with many items from the Rock Springs Chinatown (which was demolished in the 1920s and 1930s after the last of Rock Springs’ Chinese miners retired, some of whom returned to China).

This image shows the upper part of the altar in Evanston’s Joss House, ca. 1890s. The image is from the American Heritage Center’s photo files. You can view it here.

In 2022, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum (SWCHM) announced that the Rock Springs dragon had a “brother” in Bendigo, Australia. This was discovered after former director Brigida Blasi was contacted by a scholar of Chinese history in California who asked her to try to find a photo that showed the back of the dragon’s head. As it turned out, the SWCHM just happened to have one that showed Chinese characters. Later, a collaboration between the two museums resulted in a translation that helped provide some historical information.

Loong, as the Bendigo dragon is known (which means “dragon”), and the Rock Springs’ dragon were both created in the 1890s in the Sing Cheung Workshop of Foshan, Guangdong Province, China. Loong can be viewed at the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo or on their website and their Facebook page. They recently completed a one-year conservation project, so these photos can help you to imagine what Rock Springs’ dragon would have looked like in its heyday. Seeing these color images makes it clear why people in Rock Springs in the 1890s and early 1900s were so excited about seeing the dragon each year. What a sight it must have been!

Post contributed by Brigida “Brie” Blasi, AHC Public History Educator.



All the cited newspaper articles can be read in full on wyomingnewspapers.org.

The AHC has in its collections a first-hand account of the 1885 Rock Springs Chinese Massacre. You can read it here.

The Sweetwater County Museum Foundation published a book a few years ago on the 1885 Rock Springs Chinese Massacre, which includes the official 1886 government report and supplemental materials from the collections of the SWCHM. It can be purchased from SWCHM or on Amazon.com.


Bromley, Isaac. The Chinese Massacre at Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory, September 2, 1885. New supplemented edition (Sweetwater County Museum Foundation), 2018.

Blust, Dick, Jr. “The Rock Springs Dragon and his “brother” in Australia,” Wyo4News.com, October 9, 2022. https://wyo4news.com/news/the-rock-springs-dragon-and-his-brother-in-australia/

“Chinamen Celebrate,” Rock Springs Miner, March 28, 1895.

“Chinese Dragon No More,” Rock Springs Rocket, May 23, 1913.

“The Local Field,” The News-Register (Evanston), April 4, 1896.

This entry was posted in Asian American history, Chinese Americans, Immigration, Racism, Railroad History, Uncategorized, Wyoming history and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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