History & News



October 11, 2019

Museum staff and volunteers finished our Day of the Dead ofrenda today, and the exhibit officially opens on Saturday, October 12.

Come to the museum and check it out; we will be open from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The exhibit comes down on November 9th so be sure to come and see it before then!

As in past years, those who wish to bring photographs for our ofrenda are invited to do so.



September 27, 2019

The direct descendant of a Rock Springs town marshal killed in the line of duty over a century ago is herself an officer of the Rock Springs Police Department.

Officer Tiffany Harris is the great-great-granddaughter of Deputy Town Marshal Thomas Harris, who died after an exchange of gunfire with an armed robbery suspect, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum said in an article on Saturday.

On the night of March 13/14, 1915, a man subsequently identified as 26-year-old Refugio Angel robbed the Fountain Saloon on South Front Street (now South Main Street). According to published accounts of the time, the bartender at the Fountain stepped outside the bar for a bucket of coal when he was accosted by Angel, who was armed with a handgun. Inside the saloon, Angel removed $40 from the till and ordered the bartender to draw him a beer.

While Angel was occupied with his beer, the bartender managed to slip away and spread the alarm; Harris arrived soon after.

By the time Harris reached the scene Angel had gone up the stairs at the Fountain and hidden himself in one of the back rooms on the second floor. Harris followed, and, standing in the hallway, shone his flashlight into the dark room. Angel opened fire and shot him in the left wrist, chest, and heel.

Three other town officers named Lewis, Snyder, and Allred arrived at the scene and devised an arrest strategy: while Lewis covered the stairway in the Fountain Saloon building, Allred and Snyder found ladders and climbed to the roof of the Grand Restaurant next door. On the roof, they spotted Angel, “revolver in his hand,” watching the window of the back room where he’d shot Harris. Allred shot Angel, who crawled back into the room through the window, then called out to surrender.

Angel survived, but Harris died six days later, on March 20, at the Wyoming General Hospital in Rock Springs. Word of Harris’s death spread quickly and that night a large mob forced its way into the town jail, (now the site of the Rock Springs Historical Museum at Broadway and B Streets), intent on lynching Harris’s killer.

Angel, however, was not there. When he heard of Harris’s death, Sweetwater County Sheriff Matt McCourt anticipated trouble and quickly moved him to the safety of the county jail in Green River.

Angel was charged with First Degree Murder in Harris’s death, pleaded not guilty, and went to trial in District Court in Green River in September. Fred W. Johnson of the Sweetwater County Attorney’s Office prosecuted, and Angel’s lawyers are identified in court records as “Taliaferro and Muir.”

Court records located by County Museum researchers also identify Angel’s jurors: R. Chamney, George Stoll, Jr., G. H. Widdop, Everet Price, Thomas Kiernan, Halvey Hermanson, Thomas Edwards, Charles Hammond, Soren Kolsen, Bob Benz, Henry Bramwell, and Robert Gillum.

Angel was found guilty of Harris’s murder on September 24 and sentenced to life imprisonment at the State Penitentiary in Rawlins, where he was assigned inmate number 2256. Prison records describe him as 5' 6⅞" in height, weight 154 pounds with black hair and slate blue eyes, born in Mexico on the 4th of July, 1888. His occupation was listed as “Miner-Rancher.”

Angel’s record at the prison was apparently good, as in 1930 his life sentence was commuted to 14-33 years. He was paroled and deported to Mexico that same year after serving 15 years.

In December of 2016, Just over a century after his death, Thomas Harris’s great-great-granddaughter, Tiffany Harris, joined the Rock Springs Police Department, where she serves as a police officer in the Patrol Division. In May she received a special RSPD Lifesaving Award, the citation for which reads as follows:

“On June 26, 2018 Officer Harris responded to a medical call for a female having an insulin reaction. Officer Harris was the first to arrive and found the female unresponsive. Officer Harris immediately began CPR and continued until the ambulance crew arrived and successfully used a defibrillator. Officer Harris’s willingness to act and her decisive action allowed for quick medical attention resulting in the preservation of life.

“Officer Harris’s determination, devotion to duty, and decisive action has reflected credit upon herself, the Rock Springs Police Department and the City of Rock Springs.”

In May of 2018, Thomas Harris was honored for his service and sacrifice by the Rock Springs Police Department in a special “Retiring of the Colors” ceremony during National Police Week, when Chief Dwane Pacheco presented Officer Tiffany Harris and the Harris family with a special flag.

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September 11, 2019

A Sweetwater County historian received special recognition Saturday for her article about the history of the Green River railroad passenger depot.

At the Wyoming State Historical Society’s annual conference at the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Brie Blasi, director of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River, received the Society’s First Place Non-Fiction Publication Award for her article “The Green River Passenger Depot: A Symbol of Community and Prosperity.”

Beginning around 1904, the citizens of Green River began pressuring the Union Pacific Railroad for construction of a new, up-to-date passenger depot for the town. In April of 1909, a petition sent to the U.P. calling for a new depot succeeded, and within two months Mayor Hugo Gaensslen received word that the railroad had approved construction, which was completed in 1910.

The new depot was huge and second in size in Wyoming only to the depot in Cheyenne. As described in Blasi’s article, “The impressive redbrick building consisted of three wings, the central wing being two stories tall and fronted by a 40-foot-long colonnade and arched entranceways. Inside, the building offered both travelers and locals a variety of services including a dining room, a café, separate men’s and women’s waiting rooms, bathrooms, ticket office, baggage rooms, and various offices for employees and passenger services.”

The now 109-year-old depot saw a number of modifications over the years and remains one of Green River’s most iconic buildings.

“The Green River Passenger Depot” can be found in Volume IV of "Echoes From the Bluffs," a collection of local history articles published by the Green River Historic Preservation Commission. "Echoes from the Bluffs" is available at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum and on Amazon.

The Wyoming State Historical Society was founded in 1953. As described in its mission statement, the Society is a “non-profit membership driven organization [that] encourages the study of Wyoming history. We believe to study the past is to understand the present and prepare for the future.” The Society’s website can be found at https://wyshs.org/ ; its encyclopedic Wyoming history website, WyoHistory.org, is online at https://www.wyohistory.org/ .

Since 1990, the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale has been “preserving and interpreting the history of the Rocky Mountain fur trade.” For more information, visit its website at https://museumofthemountainman.com/ .

The Sweetwater County Historical Museum is located at 3 E. Flaming Gorge Way in Green River. The museum is currently operating under summer hours, Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Admission is free.

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2019 marks the 134th Anniversary of the Chinese Massacre




August 31, 2019

(Note: The following article includes excerpts, photographs, and maps from a Sweetwater County Historical Museum piece about “Chinatown” and Camp Pilot Butte originally released in February of 2019)

Monday is Labor Day, a holiday for barbecues and outdoor activities, but it also marks the anniversary of the darkest chapter in Rock Springs history: the Chinese Massacre of September 2, 1885.

By the summer of 1885, there were just under 600 Chinese and less than half that number of white miners working in the coal mines in and around Rock Springs. Tensions were high because the Chinese miners were willing to work for lower wages, which kept overall wages down and created resentment among the white miners.

On the morning of September 2, at the Number Six mine just north of Rock Springs, a fight between white and Chinese miners resulted in the death of a Chinese worker. Later in the day, a mob of about 150 white miners attacked "Chinatown," the section of town north of Bitter Creek where the Chinese miners lived, and set it on fire. More than two dozen Chinese were killed and the rest fled. All 79 of the Chinese shacks and shanties were destroyed by the mob.

To restore order and protect the hundreds of Chinese miners soon to be returned to Rock Springs under heavy army escort, Territorial Governor (and later United States Senator) Francis E. Warren arranged for soldiers of the 7th U.S. Infantry Regiment to establish a base sited between “Chinatown” and downtown Rock Springs. A new “Chinatown”was hastily built, the miners returned to work, and, by November 30, 532 Chinese and 85 white miners were producing about 1,600 tons of coal per day.

The army’s new post was dubbed Camp Pilot Butte and continued to be garrisoned until March of 1899, when the base was closed.

The Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River features a special exhibit on the Chinese Massacre, and "The Chinese Massacre at Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory, September 2, 1885," by Isaac H. Bromley, an excellent work on the subject, is available at the museum bookstore.

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