New Treasure at Sweetwater County Museum!
In November, the Sweetwater County Museum got a very welcome surprise. A man named George Stephens contacted the museum to say that he had some of his father’s belongings that he wanted to donate. Anyone who’s been around Green River long enough will remember his father, George M. Stephens, Jr. who had a “museum” in his home for many years. After returning from military service during WWI, he owned several ranches in the area. He also worked as sheriff and assessor of Daggett County, Utah, ran a general store in Manila, worked for the U.P. as a car inspector, and served as undersheriff of Sweetwater County from 1935-1942. Throughout most of his life, George Stephens, Jr. had a passion for collecting local history. In fact, some of the Sweetwater County Museum’s earliest donations were from his home museum. Now, his son is carrying on the tradition.
Mr. Stephens told the museum that he was sending a ledger that had been in his sister’s home in California until her recent passing, but didn’t give much detail as to its contents. When it arrived, museum staff was thrilled to see it! This ledger is actually a criminal docket that spans the years 1878-1887 and inside its pages are records for one of Sweetwater County’s most horrible and famous events: The Chinese Massacre of 1885.
A sheriff’s arrest record was previously the museum’s only historic document that recorded the criminal proceedings following the incident. It listed the names of 15 men arrested on September 5th, 1885 for “rioting.” It also stated that they were remanded to district court, but no other information was recorded. The ledger donated by Mr. Stephens, however, lists the names of 16 men charged on September 6th for “riot, arson, murder, and robbery on one or more Chinamen.” It also details their court proceedings and their release on bonds along with other information. This ledger hasn’t been seen by anyone in Sweetwater County for more than 30 years. It is an extremely important addition to the history of the county and gives insight into the story of this important event.
Mr. Stephens retired two years ago after 22 years of service with the Idaho Natural Heritage Program, a part of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Over the past 30 years, he had donated his time and resources at several natural history museums and says that museums hold a very special place in his heart. When the ledger came into his possession, he said the decision to donate it to the Sweetwater County Museum was an easy one. Here, it will be well cared for and it has a great significance to Sweetwater County history.