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Book Review: From the Ground Up: The History of Mining in Utah

Book Review: From the Ground Up: The History of Mining in Utah

Whitley, Colleen K., ed. From the Ground Up: The History of Mining in Utah. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2006. 508 pp. $34.95 cloth. doi: 10.2307/j.ctt4cgn2r

In From the Ground Up, historian, Utah State Historical Society member, and editor Colleen Whitley sets out to fill the void that exists in the history of the mining industry in the state of Utah. Aiming to provide an overview of major mining ventures and guideposts to further research, the experienced author and editor argues that mining played a vital role in diversifying both the economy and population of Utah.

These factors in turn “exerted an impact upon geography, architecture, business activity, and social movements” (XI). Furthermore, the industry not only directly employed thousands in “mining, milling, refining, and transporting ores” (XIII) but also created jobs in the support sector as well.

Whitley has organized the book into three sections for efficiency. The first deals with global issues that influence the state, the second reviews four particular mining industries, and the third chronicles Utah’s eight major mining regions.

Though a valiant effort, From the Ground Up ultimately fails to fully and profoundly substantiate its purpose, instead only somewhat validating the claims made while simultaneously wasting valuable space with irrelevant information.

Ontario Mine - Park City, Utah
Ontario Mine – Park City, Utah

Whitley begins with geologist William T. Parry’s history of Utah’s geological past. For his part, Parry offers a thorough examination of the state’s geographical and mountain-building history, from the Precambrian era to the Quaternary era, as well as a description of economic deposits available. Unfortunately, while extensive, this detailed background is mundane, full of technical jargon that the average reader may not be able to grasp, and not necessarily imperative to understanding the impact of mining on the elements described in Whitley’s thesis.

Moving on, historian Thomas Alexander excellently supports the overall objective of the volume in his essay regarding Utah’s economic history. Brimming with useful information, Alexander’s chapter notes that from 1870 and the Great Depression, “mining was arguably the most significant growth industry in Utah’s private sector” (56). What is more, the industry is estimated to generate “as many as three jobs in subsidiary industries for every actual mining job” (49). The passage goes on to list numerous inventions that resulted from mining, utilizing extremely reliable primary sources such as the Utah Industrial Commission, Utah Department of Workforce Services, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The rest of ‘Part I’ seems misaligned, with the third chapter focusing on General Patrick Edward Connor’s personal mining campaigns – hardly a “global” subject – and the fourth on folklore. While the General’s history, written by Brigham D. Madsen, gives beneficial insight into the specific areas he affected, this essay would be better served elsewhere.

General Patrick Edward Connor

As for the final chapter of this section, Cara Wadley’s ‘The Stories They Tell’ grants some relief from the complex readings thus far with what appears to be mostly oral histories of mining superstitions and stories of myths such as “Tommy Knockers,” the “Lady in White,” “Metalliferous Murphy” provided by primary sources like The Park Mining Record, John Hyrum Koyle, and the mysterious Thomas and Caleb Rhoades. While truly interesting, the topic has no depth or explanation as to its significance to the matter and is poorly developed.

Part II includes solid, albeit mediocre, essays on saline minerals (by J. Wallace Gwynn), the coal industry (Allan Kent Powell), the uranium boom (Raye C. Ringholz), and beryllium mining (Debra Wagner). What is striking about these chapters is the use of fold-out maps, illustrations, and photographs in clarifying the dense material. With ample statistics, scientific data, monetary figures, etc. from direct sources, this portion of the book is replete with helpful information that authenticates Whitley’s premise.

Additionally, the importance of these elements to different groups is discussed (“In addition to water and land, coal was one resource that Brigham Young and other early leaders considered essential to develop a viable and self-sufficient economy” [126]), as well as immigration, social movements such as strikes and the subsequent labor unions, and the architecture of company towns (“uniform, four-room, wood-frame cottages that included two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room” were typical [139]).

Sadly, Part II is not all-encompassing or even ordered by importance as several industry types are absent and what was (and is) arguably the most important industry – the copper industry – is not even mentioned here. Luckily, this final point is covered in the final section of the book when detailing Daniel C. Jackling’s operations in Bingham Canyon.

Utah Copper Mine
The Bingham Copper Mine – Salt Lake, Utah

The final portion of Whitley’s publication is both the largest and most enlightening. Likely the most vital chapter in Part III and the entire product is Bruce D. Whitehead’s and Robert E. Rampton’s ‘Bingham Canyon,’ analyzing the first (and conceivably most important) mining district established in the state. The rich copper finds of the area “have dominated Utah’s minerals industry … [for] the past century” (224).

Furthermore, the essay contains the majority of the aspects Whitley wished to prove in her production of From the Ground Up. Bingham Canyon has and continues to “[feed] more families, [educate] more people, and [contribute] more jobs than any other nongovernmental business in Utah” (249).

Structured according to specific mining regions, the rest of Part III is comprised of seven other essays representing Iron County; Silver Reef and Southwestern Utah’s Shifting Frontier; Alta, the Cottonwoods, and American Fork; Park City; Tintic Mining District; San Francisco Mining District; and the Uinta Basin. More illustrations, photographs, reports, and statistics from entities such as the Kennecott Copper Corporation, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Office of Indian Affairs, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are peppered throughout, with hundreds of additional primary and secondary sources cited.

It is also important to mention that while not included in any particular segment, a major asset found within this work is the glossary of geologic and mining terms, listing “both historic and currant usages and guides to Web sites that are constantly being updated” (XIV).

November 1942. "Bingham Canyon, Utah. Ore trains on a trestle bridge above an open-pit mine of the Utah Copper Company." Photo by Andreas Feininger for the Office of War Information.
November 1942. “Bingham Canyon, Utah. Ore trains on a trestle bridge above an open-pit mine of the Utah Copper Company.” Photo by Andreas Feininger for the Office of War Information.

Colleen Whitley aims to deliver a comprehensive history of mining in Utah in From the Ground Up by employing over a dozen experts to author the papers included. Simply the desire of a “comprehensive” text has already doomed the editor as, much like perfection, one may strive for it but it is seemingly fundamentally impossible to achieve.

Unfortunately, the use of different writers lends to a theme of discord within the volume. The first part of the book is a mixture of tedious, redundant information and surprisingly engaging knowledge that simultaneously lowers the value of the work while proving Whitley’s argument to some extent.

The second and third sections report on certain mining industries and regions that could be combined to form a single, more coherent section. It is here, with data on the economy, population, geography, architecture, business activity, social movements, and employment, where Whitley succeeds in confirming her allegations to a certain degree.


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