Throughout the West, sporadic anti-Chinese agitation during the 1880s became hysterical and murderous on September 2, 1885. On that day in the Union Pacific coal town of Rock Springs, Wyoming, white coal miners rioted and rampaged through the Chinese section of town, killing 28 Chinese coal workers (some died by gunfire and others in burning houses), and wounding 19 others. The perpetrators were never indicted.
This incident, rather than stirring empathy for the Chinese workers as might be expected, instead inflamed increased violence against them throughout the West. In the Puget Sound region, Chinese people were driven out of Seattle, Maury Island, Port Townsend, Tacoma, Newcastle, Sumner, Whatcom, and Squak (renamed Issaquah).
The Squak Episode
Hop farmers in the Puyallup valley relied mainly on Indians from around the Northwest, including British Columbia and Alaska, as hop pickers; after the depression of 1883, a few whites were also employed. The Wold brothers had a hop farm in Squak (which would later be renamed Issaquah), and in September 1885, employed 37 Chinese men at a cheaper-than-usual price to pick hops. On September 5, 1885, a group of white and Indian hop pickers threatened the Chinese and tried to get them to leave. The Wolds protected their pickers and the anti-Chinese hop pickers left. They returned on September 7, demanding once again that the Chinese leave. Again they failed.
That night five white men and two Indians climbed over a fence enclosing the Wold Bros. Chinese camp, and fired into the tents of the sleeping Chinese workers, killing three and wounding three. The Chinese left the following day.
George Tibbetts' Account
In June 1887, George W. Tibbetts, a hop farmer, merchant, and the Justice of the Peace at Squak, gave his version of the event to an interviewer sent by Hubert Howe Bancroft, the early historian of the West. The interviewer recorded in handwriting Tibbets' account. Note: the interviewer wrote Wald for the correct name Wold. The account follows:
"This year the market for hops was very low and many growers felt that it was hardly worth while to pick and cure their crop, especially if they had to pay the ruling prices for picking. The Wald Bros. of Squak who had the largest field at this juncture, came to Seattle and made a contract with a Chinese firm to furnish a sufficient number of Chinamen to pick their crop. When this fact became known in Squak it caused a good deal of excitement and unfavorable comment.
"The usual force of white and Indian pickers had assembled in anticipation of being employed as heretofore and when they found that a large amount of work was thus to be denied they were of course disappointed. At this time the Anti-Chinese sentiment was very strong on Puget Sound, especially in King County. At Squak the declarations were early made that the Chinese should not be allowed to work in that valley.
"This opposition was nearly unanimous in that region, for aside from the antipathy to the Chinese, the fact was well known that the money paid to the whites and Indians was kept at home while nearly everything paid to the Chinese was taken out of the country by them.
"Appreciating the situation and also feeling strongly in the matter himself, Mr. Tibbets went to see the Wald Bros. and endeavored to induce them not to bring the Chinamen into the valley, but as subsequent events showed, he was not successful.
"While these events were taking place, the pickers had begun work on Mr. Tibbets' place, and on Saturday afternoon September 6th , a long string of Chinamen came filing down the lane headed by Mr. Wald. Mr. Tibbets was in his store at the time and in a few minutes heard an outcry and rushed to the door in time to see part of the Chinamen running at full speed back in the wood that they had just come over and the others also on the run close at the heels of Mr. Wald. The whites and Indians had made a rush for the Chinese in overwhelming force and the latter took flight at once.
"Early next morning Mr. Wald accompanied by several workmen came over to Mr. Tibbet's store and made a demand upon him as justice of peace to go over to Coal Creek where the Chinamen who had taken the back track had camped and in his official capacity accompany and protect them while they marched over to the Wald farm. Mr. Tibbets peremptorily refused to do so. He said he would do all he could as a peace officer to protect life and property [illegible ...] and would protect the Chinamen already at the Wald farm if they wanted to leave, but as to aiding others to come in, he would not do it. A good deal of heated conversation followed and then the Wald party left.
"That day it became common talk through the valley that under the direction of the Wald brothers [the Chinese] were drilling and firing at marks the size of a man and thus preparing to defend themselves from attack.
"That night a large party of whites and Indians made an attack on these Chinese. From testimony brought out at the trial of some of the participants and from the best information obtainable it does not appear that any concerted plan was adopted, any leaders selected or any organization made, but that when it was proposed that they go over and run the Chinamen out, it was agreed to by common consent.
"When the crowd arrived at the Chinese camp, a sentry was on guard who gave the alarm and fired his weapon off, whether at the advancing crowd or at random is not known. Immediately a general fusillade followed and in the fracas three Chinamen were killed and two wounded.
Intense excitement was aroused all over the county and other attacks upon Chinamen followed and the entire Puget Sound country was torn with dissensions and bitter feelings almost to the point of civil war.
"Many arrests followed the trouble at Squak and quite a number of whites and Indians were indicted for murder and although it was well known Mr. Tibbetts had not take part in the riots or attacks he was indicted on a charge of being accessory to the murder before the fact" (Tibbetts Dictation).
All of those arrested for this crime were acquitted. Hostilities continued against Chinese workers and in Seattle, on February 7, 1886, rioters forced Chinese people to board a steamer and go elsewhere.