Denver Anti Chinese Riot, 1880: RMN Account

Updated: Oct 26, 2019


The following is the exact text taken from 'The Denver Rocky Mountain News', November 1st, 1880. Only the notes in square [] brackets have been added and a pdf file of the original article is available in the website library. This is just one of a few Denver Newspaper accounts to describe the initial melee of the Denver anti-Chinese riot of 1880; other accounts will be explored in future entries. It should be noted that the 'Rocky Mountain News' openly held an anti-Chinese position and had been publishing virulent articles denouncing Chinese emigrants in the months leading up to the riot. In the aftermath, they were viewed as being a contributing factor to the violence.


Chinese Gone!

A Very Noisy Scene in the City.

Large Quantity of Water Wasted,

And a Small Amount of Damage Done.

Mayor Sopris Again Shows Inability

To Preserve the Peace of Denver.

Republican Leaders Do Their Best

To Permit Lawlessness and Violence

One Celestial is Killed by the Crowd,

While Several White Men Are Severely Wounded.

General Cook Appointed Chief of Police.

Chinatown is Now a Mass of Ruins.

The Opium Dens Razed to the Ground.

By an Enraged and Infuriated Populace.

Lower Downtown, Chinatown Denver, 1879
Views of Lower Downtown (Chinatown) Denver in 1880 taken from the Union Depot,mid construction, by William Henry Jackson. The left looks down Seventeenth street with Wazee street running horizontally in the center, the right shows the block bounded by Wazee, Wynkoop, fifteenth and sixteenth, with the intersection of sixteenth and Wynkoop at the foreground.

Between one and two o'clock yesterday afternoon an American and Chinaman met in a saloon on Wazee Street. The Chinaman had washed some clothes for the American, and there was a dispute between them as to the recompense for the said work. The Chinaman wanted ten cents more than the American was willing to give. This led to a row, rough things were said on both sides, and finally the Chinaman drew a knife and cut the American on the cheek, making a fearful gash on his face. The wounded man ran out showing the effect of his wound, and very soon a number of passers-by surrounded him, and among them two gentlemen from the Planters’ house. The Chinese then fired upon the small crowd, and then the people begin to congregate from all parts of the city, and very soon there was a large crowd. It increased rapidly. No Chinaman had been hurt. The streets were full of sight-seers, but no harm had yet been done. About this time the mayor arrived, nearly an hour after the first trouble occurred, Sheriff Spangler arriving shortly before him. Somebody then ordered an alarm to be sounded.

The mayor stated at his office last night that the sheriff had ordered the alarm. This is a question of veracity between the sheriff and mayor. When the hose companies had arrived the Sheriff made a little speech from his buggy, requesting the crowd to disperse or else the water would be thrown upon them. Before the crowd had time to disperse they were drenched with water, then the peaceable mass became furious. They did not see the fun of becoming targets for the practice of the Denver fire department. The crowd got mad. The fireman had drenched them.

This water business was the case of the whole trouble. Thousands of people had gone to the scene of the difficulty just to look on, and became disgusted at being drenched with water. Sopris seemed to have an insane idea that water would quench the trouble, and there he was mistaken.

The whole thing was a fearful mistake. When the row occurred the city authorities showed themselves utterly unable to cope with the difficulty. Stern measures would have stopped the trouble at once, and the inadequate, inefficient authorities we have could have stopped it had they desired to do so.

Sheriff Spangler and mayor Sopris came up on the ground and fostered instead of quelling the trouble. Sheriff Spangler stood in his buggy opposite the bawdy houses and opium dens of Chinatown, and told the crowd that if they did not disperse the water will be played upon them. The echo of his voice had not died away before the whole crowd was deluged with water. This exasperated them and trouble dawned from that moment. The feeble mayor and careless Sheriff have done their worst and there was no help for it.

Denver anti-Chinese riot,1880
Water being thrown upon the crowd. Sketch by Roy Wortman, likely from actual photograph.

The Restless clouds surged around waiting with a sullen temper. They had come to see what was going on, dressed in their Sunday clothes, and the mayor or somebody else had covered them with water. Therefore, the crowd was sore.

General DC Cook came upon the scene and by his presence did much to quell the trouble but unfortunately he had no authority, therefore his powerful presence was of no avail against the stupidity of mayor Sopris and the weakness of sheriff Spangler, who seemed willing to take second place.

After the crowd were disgusted with mayor Sopris and his water, they moved up to Holliday Street, when a lively time ensued. Some boys with toy scimitars and shields cleaned out two Chinese wash-houses the occupants of which were influenced by a fear that seem to paralyze them.

When the crowd had recovered from the effects of the sprinkling, the feeling was anything but kindly toward the officials who had directed the "attack," and the persons who were interested in the movement were much less disposed to disperse then they had ever been previously. They ridiculed the faint voiced efforts of the mayor, and were free in condemning the "old womanish" course he had pursued. The crowd had however, become somewhat smaller, at least appearance went that way. This occurred at about quarter past three o'clock. Orders were immediately issued that lines be drawn, outside of which the crowd must remain. This was done.

Denver Chinatown
View of Gaylord and Wright stables on Wazee street between sixteenth and seventeenth; a rope was drawn across the street from the rear of Baily's Corral, visible in the lower right.

A heavy rope was stretched from Bailey's Corral to the lumber office on the opposite side; another from the lumber office across Wazee Street to Leach & Co's storerooms; another was run from the rear of Bailey's (and just beyond the lines of the Chinese quarter) across the street to Wright and Gaylord's Stables. This space had been temporarily cleared of people by the use of the hose streams, and kept the crowd away from the houses, but lately tenanted by the much despised celestials. When a line was stretched across sixteenth street at Blake, from the American house corner to Cadwell & James’ drug store, the matter seemed to be settled. There were no Chinese to be seen anywhere, and as the crowd was reasonably quiet it was thought that the trouble was at an end.

Anti Chinese riot Denver
Overhead view of the roped off area today taken from Google Maps. The red lines indicate where ropes were drawn. The locations of the buildings named in the article are labeled in blue.

The mayor however remained on the spot and the firemen and officers under his command were scattered over the vacant space inside the lines. The saloons in the neighborhood has all been closed, and the bright Autumn Sun Shone down cheerfully upon the earth below. All was serene. Officers were stationed at all the corners inside the lines to prevent anyone from entering upon the Forbidden ground. Outside the lines the crowd was surging and swaying against the ropes with an eager stare, their gaze fixed upon the movements of the officers within. A fire Foreman suggested to the mayor that as there was little further need for water, it might be as well to reel the hose. the suggestion was adopted, and the order to reel the hose was given and soon executed.

The crowd on Blake Street between fifteenth and seventeenth, hitherto very large, was constantly growing in numbers, and this circumstance gave the officials more or less alarm. These officials were everywhere, there was an alderman (who enjoys police honors) here, and a Constable there; a special policeman in one place and a sheriff's officer in another. Suddenly from among the assembled crowd the cane of aldermen Linton was seen swishing about through the placid air. "turn on the water!" he shouted, and the command was taken up and re-echoed all along the line, until it came to the plugman.

The nozzle was in the hand of Brooks, of one of the companies. The water came rushing through the hose and the pipe man was in the act of throwing it upon the crowd when a flying brick caught him in the back of the head and he fell fainting to the earth, the fallen nozzle sending the water flying along the ground and scattering the crowd in it's line.

The injured fireman, the blood streaming from his head, was hastily picked up and carried into Cadwell and James drug store. The excitement was intense. The people came rushing to the spot from all quarters, and in a few seconds the entire masses of Humanity was concentrated on Blake Street in front of the American house. The jam was terrific. There was no getting into the crowd nor out of it. The lines had been broken down, and the streets contiguous were again filled with spectators, interested parties, and officers of the law. The efforts of the latter seemed unavailing. They appeared powerless to raise a singer. Reports filled the air that a fireman had been shot and killed, and that too by a Chinaman; that the shot had preceded from Hop Lee’s place on Blake, a little further up - near the corner of seventeenth street. Such rumors as this, and which were countless in their number, spread from mouth to mouth, until in a few moments the crowd, spectators and all, were in a state of wild excitement.

It was about this time that the gallant form of Welborn, mounted on a beautiful black horse with white trappings, came in sight from near seventeenth and Blake Streets. He was accompanied by Captain E.J. Burke, also mounted. Judge Welborn advanced into the crowd, his face beaming with confidence and good humor. As he came up the crowd was hushed and silent. It was evident that he had something to say, and the audience was eager to hear it.

He Advanced amid a breathless silence, and briefly address the assembled multitude, calmly and patiently advised them as good citizens, to disperse to their homes. With these words, uttered in a kindly way for which the judge has ever been famous, he turned his horse into sixteenth Street, accompanied by Captain Burke. There was a movement as if by one impulse. The immense throng moved to the heart, turned and started to follow the horseman, and a moment later we're marching up the street, as orderly a body of men as ever walked.

A few remained, however. these were spectators, apparently, as the others had been, but they tarried to await further developments. Considerable time had passed during the occurrence here narrated, and it was now about four o’clock. As the indications of dusk came on, and the crowd getting hungry, the majority of them dispersed to different quarters.

it was only for a short time, however, Dusk had no sooner covered the scene than operations began to assume a much more violent aspect. Little knots of men begin to gather on the street corners to discuss the latest information and comment on the great question which had been given rise to the difficulty. The trouble was not over- that was predicted by all; everybody expressed the believe that the Chinese quarter would be surely fired by before morning, and grave doubts as to the security of the Chinese themselves were entertained.

Little by little crowds returned to Wazee Street and sixteenth: little by little the pent-up fury begin to find expression.

Some posted themselves on Blake Street near the American house [right], others found places elsewhere. As the darkness increased -and it soon became very black- the fury of the crowd rose. At last the crowd opened vent. The crowd at Wazee Street rushed up to the houses of the Chinese and begin to batter in the doors and windows. The throng in the street grew and grew. Through this cimmerian darkness lighted for a small space only by the lamps at the streets on either side could be seen the [unintelligible] hordes of men. The excitement was rising and it ran through the crowd with the rapidity of thought. the crashing window panes and the sturdy blows of the leaders on the doors of the offending habitations filled the air and mingled with the angry shouts of the assembled multitude, urging them on, became a voice of thunder and it's tones not be mistaken.

Captain Burke rode into the crowd and attempted to make himself heard. His efforts for sometime were unavailing: The shouts and cries drowned every lesser voices. Finally the crowd begin to discover his presence, and the furious attack on the doors and windows was for a time suspended. The voice of Captain Burke was heard urging the men for their own safety, for God's sake and that of humanity, to go away. his words went unheeded.

"The Chinese must go!"

This was shouted from a thousand voices at the same time. The shout rose into a roar and the roar into a blending of fury and determination which shook the Earth.

It was awful.

Pandemonium seemed to reign supreme. The attack on the doors, windows and walls was resumed. it was a fury of desperation, and the spectators recognized it, and did not attempt to interfere. Men feared to speak for they knew not what was to come next. They waited calmly for the end. Occasionally the falling of a shutter or the crack of a wall sounded upon the now chilly air. It was a signal for a shout and a hurrah, and the din of a thousand voices soon became mingled with the constant hammering and battering upon the defenseless walls. At last the doors and windows were all broken, and the infuriated populous, seemingly disappointed at their inability to do further damage, attempted to set fire to the whole. men entered the dark and deserted rooms, where the stench of opium was strong enough to knock a mule down, and gathered up the effects which had been left. No sooner did one set the example than the interior of every house in the quarter was ruthlessly entered. Then ensued a wild scene. Howls and yells went up as the clothing and household effects were hurled out through the unprotected doorways and window holes. Shirts, underwear, coats, old boots and shoes, dishes and every imaginable thing filled the air. With each successive "find" the howls of the delight seemed to increase until the ear was deadened by a harsh screaming, yelling sound, as though chaos had returned and earth and sky had come together.

Suddenly, among the thick crowd which stood before the unlucky habitations, appeared the forms of three or four men.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

"Get out of there you scoundrels" issued from half a dozen voices. And the light coat of General Dave Cook was seen. The crowd scattered. The assault by four brave men had been so sudden, so unexpected and withal so startling that the crowd stood aghast.

The work has been done, however, and there was little for the officers to do beyond frightening the attacking party. This was more difficult, however, than may have been expected, and the crowd as a whole was not scared very badly. It was about that time that a voice was heard:

"The mayor! the mayor! make way for the mayor."

The party had come into the crowd from seventeenth street. Slowly and laboriously they elbowed their way through the unyielding mass of humanity. Brick Pomeroy was seen to be the spokesman.

"Silence, men, the mayor wants to speak!".

Angry voices filled the air.

"To fourteenth and Blake! to fourteenth and Blake, the Chinese must go!".

The Drift of this was easily explainable. There was another Chinese headquarters at fourteenth and Blake- near the creek.


Chinatown, Denver
Chinese "headquarters" at Fourteenth and Blake (red flag) mentioned in article. Another "headquarters" can be seen at the corner of fifteenth and Wazee (blue flag) with its swept roof visible wrapping around the east side of building.

The mayor finally got a hearing through Mr. Pomeroys’ persistent efforts and harangued the crowd briefly in a coaxing and pacificatory way, and urged them to quietly go away that the leaders in the assault might be found out. Then Mr. Pomeroy, on seeing that the crowd did not stir, shouted:

“All good citizens follow the mayor! make way for the mayor! Fall in, men, and follow the mayor!"

A good portion of the crowd did follow the mayor, and the street was once more partially cleared. a few-mainly officers- remained to examine the premises. They were in terrible condition having been "gutted" as completely as though a cyclone had come in at one door and passed through and out at the rear. There was nothing-absolutely nothing- left whole, and the rooms, so recently the abode of ignorance, vice, and shame, contained nothing beyond the horrid stench emitted by the little wads of opium.

Lower Downtown Denver Chinatown
Leach & Co. at the Corner of sixteenth and Wazee

While the above scenes were being enacted, the houses on sixteenth street, near Wazee and which have always been claimed as a part of Chinatown, were completely demolished, so far as breakability extended, and there was no suspicion of anything left to tell the story that anything had happened.

The crowd had not been idle, nor had its efforts been unavailing, for while the work of demolition was being carried on, as above narrated, a similar arrangement had been carried into effect in many other parts of the city. The streets continued full of people, and rumors, caught on the wing, were distorted as they passed until the last teller`s story would never be recognized as similar to anything told before. The washee-washee houses on Blake Street near fourteenth was completely cleaned out and the job was not long in its exection. Chinaman were nowhere to be seen, their absence seem to excite no remark.

But a scene had transpired meanwhile on Blake Street which was harrowing in the extreme. The wash house of Hop Lee, on Blake Street near seventeenth, was surrounded, both front and rear, with a furious crowd who seemed aware of presence in the shanty of one of the execrated Asiatics.

Lower Downtown, Chinatown, Denver
View of the intersection of Seventeenth and Blake (red flag), with the described location of Hop Lee's in the center (blocked; located across the street from building marked with blue flag). Hop Lee's address is given as 416 1/2 Blake st in the 1880 Denver street directory.

The crowd in the front banged away at the windows and at the door, and did not relax their hold until officer Ryan of the police force came upon the scene and held the crowd at bay. Seeing the inability of further efforts in that direction the crowd, or a portion thereof, hastened to the rear. Hastily telling the assembled throng in the alley that the “Chinee” was inside, the gang, led

principally by a weak voiced gamin, attacked the rear door and were followed by the crowd who completely surrounded the place. The door soon gave way before the persistent battering, and flew in. The crowd rushed to the opening and seized a trembling Chinaman. The fury was unbounded, terrific. Wild yells, savage caths[?], filled the fast gathering gloom. The victim was hauled out, the weak voiced boys in command. He was surrounded by the crowd.

"Kill him!" They shouted.

"Hang him! Hang him!" Was heard.

Officer Ryan had taken in the situation, and seeing the proceedings in the alley hastened around. In front of him was a crowd, behind him was a crowd, on eirther side of him there was a crowd. But Ryan's towering form never noticed the crowd. He moved his way through them and got to where the Chinaman was. The poor devil was being pretty badly battered up. Ryan put a stop to the proceeding without delay, and picking the Chinaman up and tucking him under his arm, walked away. He went around seventeenth and secreted the frightened celestial in a neighboring house. The crowd followed, the boys wishing to see some further violence done and shouted excitedly.

Every Chinese abode in town may be said to have been destroyed. There was one or two saved from ruin, but they were generally poor and insignificant. One of those stand on Lawrence street, near fourteenth. When the crowd came up to this place several deputy sheriffs were on hand before them, and stood them off very successfully until more assistance arrived. In West Denver the house occupied by China men on 11th Street near Larimer, was totally demolished, so far as the interior was concerned and another on Larimer Street, near eleventh, was served in a similar way. Another on Larimer near the Williams house, and one thirteenth and Holliday, were also gutted by the infuriated populace.

Sing Hey, chased by the crowd, took refuge in an out house in the rear of 473 Arapahoe Street and successfully evaded pursuit for some time: but his whereabouts were eventually discovered and he was dragged out and battered up considerably. A rope was put around his neck and he was dragged about the ground, but somebody, with more humanity in his breast, counseled milder measures: Billy Frey cut the rope, and the Chinaman's cue was cut off, when he was put into a wagon with a parting kick and sent away. He was more frightened than hurt, and turned up later as jolly as a sand boy.

About 9 o’clock last evening information reached The News that a Chinaman was in the office of Drs. Cranston and Parks, in the Moffat and Kaiser block, under treatment. The report proved true. The unlucky man was found lying upon a cot in the inner or consultation room. He was unconscious and breathing heavily with the death rattle already in his throat. His eyes were closed, the right one being much swollen, as though from effects of a blow. Blood was issuing freely from his mouth and nose. An examination showed a face and neck much swollen, the signs of a rope being visible on the latter. The teeth had been knocked or kicked out. There was a deep wound on the top of the head, which had apparently penetrated the skull. There was bruises all over the body from head to foot. His name was Ling Sing [factually, Look Young], and he died while the reporter was bending over him. The body was immediately removed to the coroner's office.

When the citizens had quieted down the police began operations on a systematic order. The council had held a hurried meeting and elected General D.J. Cook chief of police. This officer then taking squads of men had them sworn into Police Service to the number of 120. With this small army Chief Cook at once began operations. The first step was to show the crowds about town that the new chief meant business. He marched the new made police force about the streets for a few moments and then a halt was ordered in front of headquarters on Lawrence Street. In a short time a big transfer wagon, drawn by four horses, drew up to the spot followed by the inevitable crowd. By a coup d’état, the load on the wagon consisting of 34 Chinamen were shoved through the surrounding crowd into the doorway of the city hall. It was an easy matter than for the officers to get these people upstairs. Some pistol shots were fired to distract attention. From this time on police continued to pick up the Chinaman, under cover of night, and convey them to headquarters. They had been concealed in various places, and the police knew about where to find them.

At 2:30 this morning about 185 Chinese, of whom nine were women, had been lodged safely in the county jail.

Passing Notes

A well-known state official who was on Wazee street at the beginning of the trouble stated that two policemen appeared upon the scene shortly after the muss commenced, and if they had had any pluck they could have quelled the row at once, but they were afraid and the crowd got the best of them.

The council met last night and appointed General D.J. Cook chief of police. If he had been appointed before yesterday trouble would have been avoided.

Judge Welborn did more to stop the trouble by a few pleasant words than all the water squirted around by mayor Sopris

The unfortunate fireman who was hit with a brick with a victim of Sopris’ water cure.

The whole trouble was caused by an inefficient mayor throwing water on an unoffending crowd.

Tim Ryan proved himself to be a very Hercules of a policeman.

Judge Welborn’s voice acted like oil on troubled waters.

Linton was smelling around for "stiffs" all the afternoon. he got one.

The wonder is that more men were not killed.

Some white men were shot by Chinamen during the melee. None seriously, however. The wounds were confined chiefly to fingers with an occasional arm thrown in.

Taken all together it was the liveliest Sabbath Denver has seen for many a day.

The Chinamen gathered at the police headquarters were the most passive looking crowd in town.

Jim Moon
Sketch of Jim Moon by Roy Wortman

Jim moon was deputized a special policeman and did gallant service.

Brooks, the pipeman, who was injured by the flying brick, was easier last evening. He is not seriously hurt as was feared at first.

A large number of negroes were observed in the crowd which did mischief in West Denver.

Fred Best, bookkeeper for Brown and Kiefer, was run over by a horseman at fifteenth and Lawrence Street, and knocked down. He was severely bruised, and upon being taken into Perkins’ cigar store was cared for until he could be sent home to fifteenth and Welton Streets.

The remains of Ling Sing are at the coroner’s office-otherwise known as Browns undertaking establishment.

The mayor’s office was well crowded all the evening.

There were rumors afloat of a second China men having been killed but the body was not produced.

Chinatown no longer exists.

The dens of infamy on Wazee street are all in ruins.

Washee, washee is all cleaned out in Denver.

The Mayors Proclamation

The following Proclamation was issued by the mayor last night

Whereas a serious Riot has this day occurred in the city of Denver; and, whereas the life and property of citizens are regarded as in danger in case it should have been break out.

Now, therefore by virtue of the authority vested in me, by the ordinances of the city I, Richard Sopris, Mayor, do hereby order and direct that all saloons and drinking houses in the city be and remain closed until six o’clock on Wednesday morning, November 3rd, 1880. The police force will see that this order strictly enforced.

Richard Sopris, Mayor

Denver, November, 1st 1880

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