Monday, July 9, 2012

Utah's Infamous Emma Mine

This month I'm going to talk about mining in Utah. Rather than go into a lot of detail, though, I'll give you a little historical background, then focus on the Emma Silver Mine and one of the most notorious mining scams in the Old West.
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The Emma Silver Mine
In the early days of Utah Territory, aka Deseret, mining was frowned upon by Brigham Young and the Mormon elders. They believed searching for gold and silver would distract their people from agricultural pursuits and the building of their promised land. The one exception was iron, which had practical uses and was expensive to ship into their mountain kingdom from the east. In the early 1850s Mormons followed Brigham Young's call for an "iron mission" in southern Utah (now Iron County). Unfortunately, their search for iron didn't pan out.

In October 1862, Colonel Patrick E. Connor led his California and Nevada Volunteers into the Salt Lake Valley, where he founded Camp Douglas overlooking Salt Lake City. Many of his soldiers were experienced prospectors and, with Connor's encouragement, they prospected for silver and gold in the nearby Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains. The first formal claims were established in 1863 in the Bingham Canyon area.

Connor started a small newspaper, The Union Vedette, and promoted Utah’s mineral riches to the outside world. Prospectors and miners trickled in and with the blessing of their leaders, many Mormons joined in the search for mineral riches. Later, with the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, fortune seekers poured in by the thousands. Like a silver carrot dangled before them was the Emma, the most famous and infamous mine in the history of Utah.
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Little Cottonwood Canyon
The Emma was located in Little Cottonwood Canyon, above the mining camp of Alta, on the western face of the Wasatch Mountains. Discovered in 1868 by two men named Woodman and Chisholm, it was christened "Emma" after a woman one of the men had known in San Francisco. Having no capital to develop their claim, Woodman and Chisholm sold a one-third interest in the mine to a speculator named James E. Lyon. The miners sank a shaft and during 1868-69 some 100 tons of silver ore were extracted.

Senator W.M. Stewart
In 1870 a large body of ore opened in another diretion. Woodman and Chisholm then took on several other partners and attempted to oust Lyon from the company on the grounds that since the silver vein had changed direction, Lyon no longer had any claim upon it. Lyon filed a lawsuit, with W.M. Stewart, Senator from Nevada, serving as his lead attorney. A great deal of legal maneuvering followed which resulted in the investors being reorganized as the Emma Silver Mining Company of New York.

Around the autumn of 1871, the owners decided they would try to sell the mine in London, relying upon its production record to promote it. The number of miners, previously about 100, was reduced to 10 and a new superintendant appointed -- said to be the best man to "prepare" a mine for inspection by engineers prior to a sale. Guards prevented anyone from entering the mine without written permission. A British miner who worked in the Emma at that time later reported seeing silver ore "plastered or engrafted" onto the limestone rock. In other words, they salted the mine to make it look like there was still a rich vein of silver to be extracted when, in truth, it was nearly worked out.

Hyperbole flew like wildfire: “. . . after the discovery of the great Emma silver mine mass of ore, mining and prospecting in Utah took a sudden leap; prospectors spread out in all the mountains; and the result today is, that Utah gives promise of soon being as largely silver bearing and silver producing as Nevada. English and eastern capital is now freely flowing there, and the great yield of those rich mines will enable Utah to take high rank in the production of silver bullion.” ~~ from a Report by the United States General Land Office

British investors paid some $5,000,000 dollars for the Emma. A short time later the vein played out, and those investors furiously cried "Swindle!". Bitter accusations flew back and forth. Both the British and U.S. governments  became involved, nearly going to war before the brouhaha finally ended. After the Emma scandal, British investment in Utah mining virtually stopped. In fact, all investment in Utah mines dried up except for a few well known, trusted operations, crippling Utah mining pursuits for decades.

Eventually the industry did recover, thanks to local and American investors, and mining proved to be a vital part of the Utah economy. A report issued by the Salt Lake Mining Review stated total mining production between 1865 and 1917 came to over 800 million dollars. Not bad!

The Utah silver boom plays a crucial part in Darlin' Druid, book one in my Texas Druids series. I hope you'll give this award winning novel of the Old West a try.



Ellen O'Connell said...

Interesting stuff, Lyn. I don't know about you, but in spite of having been a fan of the old Maverick series, I still have trouble accepting that there were scams every bit as sophisticated as what we have today in the Good Old Days. In truth it probably started with the cavemen.

Lyn Horner said...

I'm sure you're right, Ellen. Human beings were no different in the Old West, or in caveman days, than we are now. I guess there must be some bad guys, or we wouldn't have any stories to write.

Ciara Gold said...

Fun post, Lyn and very informative. And yeah, gotta love the "bad" guys for giving us food for our imaginations.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Love your post, Lyn, and really enjoyed Darlin' Druid.

Greed has no bounds, and when it comes to precious metals, watch your back! It seems like mining, gambling, and scamming go together, and an honest miner probably had to work just as hard to keep the vultures at bay as actually extracting the ore.

Meg said...

Great info, Lyn!! A scam as old as the Utah canyon hills... ;-D

Lauri said...

Very interesting! And wonderful info to base a story on!

Lyn Horner said...

Thank you, Ciara and Jacquie. I'm glad you liked the post. The story of the Emma Mine scandal is what drew me to set Utah as Jessie and Tye Devlin's destination. Tye was after a "pot of silver" at the end of his rainbow.

Jacquie, you hit the nail on the head! Miners, especially prospectors with no money to develop their claims, usually ended up losing them in one way or another to those vultures you mentioned.

Lyn Horner said...

Hi Meg, yes it's a very old story. As Jacquie said, if you find precious metals, watch your back.

Lauri, I hope the Emma scandal does spark a few story ideas. It did mine.

Thanks for stopping by, cowgirls!

Devon Matthews said...

Some fascinating history, Lyn. Fact is always stranger than fiction, isn't it. Since I started researching it for my own purposes, all things to do with mining interest me. Thaks for another great post! :)

Lyn Horner said...

Thank you, Devon! Facts sure are stranger than fiction. That's why we love historical research, right? It set my imagination on fire, and yours too, I know.

Paty Jager said...

All this great history I'm learning from you ladies is wonderful. I'm fascinated by the fact men would leave their families on the hope they would strike it rich. It's like people playing the lottery today.

Lyn Horner said...

Paty, they had "gold fever" -- the worst kind of sickness -- lured by that magical fortune most would never see. Sad!

Peter Cummins said...

Very nice and helpful information has been given in this article. I like the way you explain the things. Keep posting. Thanks..

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