In 1948 this article appeared in a special issue of a mining journal dedicated to the operations of the United States Smelting Refining and Mining Company, which at that time was a major presence in the Bingham Mining District:
Early Days of Mining Around Salt Lake
When in Salt Lake City last July helping to prepare the articles for this issue, and visiting the properties of the U.S. Smelting Refining and Mining Company, we had the good fortune to spend a day with T.P. Billings, manager of Western mines for the Company. Tom Billings was born in Salt Lake City some 65 years ago, went to school and college there, and since the turn of the century has had a first-hand knowledge of the mines and prospects of the Bingham area. We climbed all through the Company's underground workings with him, and he led us a merry chase; then we saw the Utah Copper open pit from the south rim--perhaps the greatest mining site in the world; and visited the Midvale mill and smelter on the way home.
Tom seemed to remember the history of every gopher hole in Bingham Canyon; to recall where every plant had been and when; and to know everyone he met. An exception, however, occurred underground in the Lark section, when he ran across a solitary man in one of the raises--"I don't believe I know you, do I?" It turned out that the man had only been working for the Company for a few days.
It would take much longer than a brief day with Tom Billings to collect all the interesting things he knows about the early operations of U.S. Smelting, but in these two pages we offer a fair sample of the storehouse of fact and fancy here available.
Just 101 years ago Brigham Young led his Mormons into the Salt Lake valley after a long and wearisome trek from Council Bluffs, Iowa. The new settlers were instructed to settle on the land and direct their efforts to farming and stock raising, and any interest in the development of the mineral resources of the surrounding mountains was discouraged. Such discoveries would have brought an influx of men from all parts of the country, and the Mormons, following bitter experiences, wished to be left alone. "Guardian Angels" were stationed at the mouths of the various canyons to discourage anyone from going into the hills to prospect for minerals. Such a "Guardian Angel" was "Ham" Stringham, who located at the mouth of Bingham Canyon. He raised a large family and many of the boys in later years worked in the Company's mines.
But in 1862 General Patrick E. Connor established Camp Douglas on a commanding site at the eastern edge of Salt Lake City. His soldiers came mostly from California and of course they immediately began looking for gold. The first claim, the Jordan, was located Sept. 17, 1863, the West Mountain mining district was organized, and the mining laws of California adopted. The original discovery is now owned by the U.S. Smelting; it was followed the next year by several others and a mining and smelting industry immediately got under way.
By the early '80s the fame of the mineral wealth of the West had traveled far and more or less permanent mining camps had been established. The Cornishmen and the Irishmen came in. Businesses of all kinds were started, including of course the saloons, gambling houses, and honky-tonks, generally regarded as symbols of the early mining scene but not totally unknown in the modern city. Many of the proprietors grubstaked the miners in their search for ore. The Justice of the Peace administered the law, the police department was maintained by fines extracted from the offenders, and the rest of the civil government was financed by licenses. The miners were paid once a month, and then took anytime up to a week to get back to work. By this time the professional gamblers had cleaned them out and departed for the large cities to try their luck on the big fry, but they, in turn, usually had to send to the proprietors of the houses in the mining camps for enough to cover their transportation back before payday.
Drunks were often thrown summarily into jail, and after sobering up were declared guilty by the Justice of the Peace and fined, often the exact amount that had been found on their person while drunk and asleep. Only rarely was a man kept in jail if he was able to go to work because feeding him was not only an expense to the town but work for the officers. Drunkenness was not the only crime. Once the proprietor of a gambling joint was haled before the Justice for beating up a miner, an offense for which he had been fined fifty dollars several times before, which he would flippantly pay and then be discharged. But this time the Justice noticed the miner had a rather inhuman working over and not by one, but by three or four boosters in the gambling joint. The Justice told the defendant to stand and then said, "This court finds you guilty and fines you fifty dollars," whereupon the proprietor reached for his wallet and said, "That's all right, Judge; I got it right here in my hip pocket," but the Judge continued, "and thirty days in jail; have you got that in your hip pocket?"
In the '90s, many Finns, Italians, and Austrians went to work in the mines, attracted by the higher wage scales. None of these peoples could speak much English, so they kept to themselves in national groups, as did the Irish and Cornish as well. Fierce brawls resulted when one group, liquored up on payday, would invade the bailiwick of another, looking for--and finding--trouble. A bunch of young Irishmen seemed especially pugnacious and would go down in a body to clean out the Finn saloon. As a rule they would pick themselves up in the gutter. The Finns never stood up and fought with their fists but they were powerful men, and a Finn would grab an Irishman and throw him clear through the swinging doors. The mine operators made capital of this national arrogance; when a job needed to be speeded up and the operations were conducted on three shifts, such as the sinking of a shaft, the entire crew on one shift would be Irishmen, and on the other shifts Finns and Cornishmen respectively.
Shaft sinking has always been a specialized job, the pay higher, the work harder; men so employed were dubbed "rough bottom muckers." They were an independent crowd and hard drinkers. They generally contracted the job and worked hard, usually in water, fighting the whims of the pumping equipment and constantly griping. Looking out for their safety, they wanted plenty of timber available and were critical as to its placement. Two such shaftmen, Big Martin and Eric (both Finns), had pulled together for years in the sinking of shafts. Eric, however, finally got killed in a shaft raise, crushed by a tugger hoist that fell on him. Big Martin was one of the pallbearers at the grave, and as the casket was being lowered he looked down with these farewell words, "Well, Eric, you have finally got what you wished and grped for these many years--a dry shaft and well timbered."
Claim jumping was practised on occasion, especially on the last day of the fiscal assessment year when locators would sit on their claims with shotguns, often accompanied by the missus similarly armed. Promoters would often plaster a group of locations promiscuously over old locations with the hope of developing some flaw in the title. They usually gained only bad repute for their trouble. Frequent lawsuits arose because of the miner's right to follow the ore down on its dip, angles, and spurs, regardless of property lines. Often the lode was not a simple single vein but developed many ramifications, with complexities of structure, so the rightful owner was difficult to determine.
In the early days when Bert Holden was managing director of the U.S. Smelting company he was exercising these extralateral rights. A neighboring operator claimed trespass, and drove a tunnel within his property lines to get evidence. Holden, learning of it, instructed his superintendent to watch the work. But one night the neighboring foreman saw Holden's superintendent enter the tunnel and later come out. Orders were given to drill holes around the portal of the tunnel and the next time he went in, the portal was blasted so he could not get out. Then the owner got in touch with Holden and invited him to meet him as soon as possible at a bar which was the favorite hangout of the leaders of the mining business around Salt Lake City. The gang had been notified to assemble and when Holden appeared his rival asked all present to order their drinks. Then raising his glass he said, "This is on Bert Holden. I got him here to notify him that I have his Man Friday trapped in one of my tunnels, and in a short time expect to trap Bert." But after a struggle, and pawing away a lot of loose dirt, the superintendent got out. Holden was never trapped but beat his adversary in every suit.
No stones were left unturned to embarrass the opposition. In one case timber was piled up and a fire started in a working that connected with an adjoining mine where the air currents were such as to carry the smoke into the opposition's working places. A bulkhead was constructed to shut out the smoke but several miners were overcome. Tom Billings helped get them out.
A lawsuit was a sort of stimulant, like good whiskey, and litigation over extralateral rights was a fruitful source of income for some of the best lawyers in the United States, many with firms long established in Salt Lake City. The companies also hired outstanding surveyors and experts in mining, geology, and mineralogy to help on the evidence.
The Irish have already been mentioned. An Irish president from Boston was once escorted through the mine by the superintendent, another Irishman. He was repeatedly shown the stopes from which the profitable ore had been extracted, and many pillars of ore too low in grade to be profitable to ship. "Well," he said, "it looks to me as if all you got here is the map; what's left in the mine is unprofitable, so what the hell is the use of talking about it?" Without a moment's hesitation the superintendent said, "It's like this; I want to let you know that I can find ore and can mine it out, but God Almighty puts the values in it, not me."
The business of mining in the Salt Lake district, as well as in many other parts of the Western States, includes a large number of men, distinguished from the owners and employee, that form a group known as leasers, or lessees. Webster gives as one definition of "leaser" a "liar" but that does not apply here, at least to more than the normal extent for the genus Homo. Leasing is an established profession, and a leaser is generally regarded as an aristocrat among miners. He is a trained and experienced miner, who operates as an independent contractor in every sense of the term, and the art is passed on from father to son. He is resourceful, has a nose for ore, and is a combined geologist, mineralogist, assayer, businessman, and sagebrush mechanic. He is an individualist but willingly co-operates with the management in the segregation of ores to facilitate treatment. U.S. Smelting secures a considerable tonnage of ores from leasers operating on some of the old workings, and begrudges none of the money paid to them.
A leaser has a particular knack of mining his ore so that the product will correspond closely to his sampling. Tom Billings says he has observed a leaser make an eye assay of a face of copper sulphide ore by spitting on the blade of his pocketknife and drawing the wet blade across the face of ore, then gently wiping the blade off and from the degree of copper tarnish on the clean blade determine remarkably closely the actual percentage of copper present.
As a rule a leaser is a gambler, ready to buy or sell a lease, or an interest in it. Such a leaser was "Vic," operating in the Company's Bullion-Beck mine [at Eureka, Utah]. Two newcomers to the property secured another lease on the same level as Vic. They immediately opened up a fine showing of ore, and the news spread fast. Vic inspected the new discovery, and told the newcomers that he had a similar showing near-by and invited them to come and see it. Knowing the intricate mine workings like a book, he led them through old workings for quite a spell, and finally climbed over a pile of muck into the very stope where the strangers had their ore, although the newcomers did not recognize it as theirs. Vic told them he had a still better prospect in another part of the mine, and suggested that as there were two of them they could take over his near-by lease for a nominal fee, and work it along with their own. That evening in Eureka, Vic made a deal, got $50 from them, and it was not until the next day, when the two newcomers got the lease boss to take them to the block of ground Vic leased, that they discovered he had no ore and that the day before they had been looking at their own discovery.
But Vic later developed a fairly good showing of ore in the Chief mine at a time when leasers were making big money and everybody was excited and trying to get back into the act. Vic capitalized on the boom, and before anyone realized it, had dold fifteen one-quarter interests in his new find.
Many more interesting stories might be told, for the Salt Lake district is rich in tradition.
--Mining and Metallurgy, October 1948, pp. 584-585
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