Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Match Your Judgment Against Brigham Young’s – 2: The Answer on Silver Mines

Match Your Judgment Against Brigham Young’s – 2: The Answer on Silver Mines

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 27, 2012

Yesterday I posted a letter from a local (central Utah) leader asking Brigham Young’s advice on exploiting the silver mines that were being discovered in the region. If you want to play along, you should read that one (here) before reading further.

Here is Brigham’s advice in response to silver mines, and also with regard to the taking of wild game.

The brethren should be urged to stop killing the game, which is really the cattle of the Indians. If the brethren kill the game the Indians have as much right to complain of it as we have when the Indians kill our cattle.

Your views on Mines and mining agree with our own. Claims should be take up by the brethren and held, and if this mining excitement should result in furnishing the brethren with means to pay for their lands, and improve and stock their farms, they may have reason to be thankful.

So, do you know Brigham as well as you thought you did?

(I suppose I should say something more than just “Here it is.” Some readers, but not all, apparently, may be surprised to see Brigham give his okay to silver mining — as opposed to, say, iron or lead mining, remembering how vehemently opposed he had been to Mormons going off to the California gold mines. But it wasn’t the mining per se that he opposed, it was what mining, or the greed for riches, did to the individual and the community that he opposed. If the urge for riches took you away from home, that was bad; in this case, the potential mines were at home in the hills above the Mormons’ settlements. If the urge for riches led you to neglect the production of more essential things (food, clothing, homes), that was bad; presumably if the men were mining to pay for their farms, they wouldn’t neglect developing those farms. If mines brought in a permanent, undesirable rowdy class of outsiders, that was bad; in this case, if the brethren took up the mining claims, and especially if they occupied all usable farmland near the mines, the opportunity for an influx of outsiders were be minimized.

At least that’s how I read Brigham and his fluctuating attitude toward mining.

I don’t know what incident may have sparked his advice about leaving the game for the Indians — I like his awareness and fair dealing, though.)




  1. I don’t know of many Mormons who profited from owning claims, Ardis. My great-great grandfather staked some of the key claims in Mercur, but developing a property requires a lot of money; not just for equipment, labor and transportation, but more importantly for legal battles over who owns the apex rights. The reality is that modern Mormons would do better at Las Vegas and Wendover than 19th Century Mormons could do in Utah’s early mining districts. Here’s an interesting quote from a handcart pioneer who settled at Bingham Canyon:

    “Brigham Young tried to talk it down. He knew if he would allow the people they would leave their farms and business. He was counseling them all the time. I heard him say myself that he could look and see from where he was standing in the bowery preaching the place that contained millions of gold, but he would not disclose it to his people, as he thought the time had not come for him to do so. His private secretary was the next to speak, and he in his remarks said he was not like Brother Brigham, for if he knew where the gold was he would go one hat full if he had to put in a sheet iron lining. Brigham pulled his coat for him to sit down, as he would create a spirit of apostacy among the people, but all the same they came to Bingham, but the camp was not developed very extensively for many years, until eastern capital came in to do so.”
    –Life of Adaline Ballou Scoville, p.22

    Comment by SteveR — April 27, 2012 @ 7:44 am

  2. ?? I didn’t say that Mormons profited from mining! This pair of letters asks if it’s okay to try one’s hand at mining, with the response that yes, it’s okay. There’s no promise of riches here — it’s all prospective (pun intended).

    A search of “mines” in Van Wagenen’s 5-volume collection of all Brigham Young’s known speeches discloses a wide range of attitudes toward mining — depending on the time, place, and conditions. His thoughts on the subject are a lot more subtle than he is usually given credit for — to say that he was “fer it” or “agin it” as if he spoke once for all time completely misrepresents him. Ditto for his attitude toward the local Indians — some like to point toward his “cheaper to feed than to fight” statement as though that expressed an unchanging policy. It didn’t, not by any means.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 27, 2012 @ 7:57 am

  3. Sorry, SteveR. Rereading my #2, I realize it sounds defensive. Didn’t mean it that way.

    (I know SteveR in real life — he may know better than any other ‘ninny what’s involved in making a mine pay.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 27, 2012 @ 10:33 am

  4. Anecdotal bad memory alert! I seem to recall reading that Brigham Young certainly advised against going off to California for the gold mines, but did encourage someone in the gold fields to bring back gold bullion for desperately needed cash for the church coffers. Somehow, Gilbert Hunt, the Mormon colonizer and sometime politician in San Bernardino springs to mind.

    Comment by kevinf — April 27, 2012 @ 1:39 pm

  5. Jesse Knight is the most obvious example of a (relapsed at the time) Mormon who made it big in Utah mines.

    I like the practicality of BY’s advice, as well as Ardis’ exegesis of the possible line of reasoning.

    Comment #1 seems to imply that corrolation was needed even in BY’s day–but the pioneer approach seems like it would be so much more entertaining to experience.

    Comment by The Other Clark — April 27, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

  6. Its been a while since I’ve looked at this, but it seems to me that a big portion of Paul Reeve’s volume which looked at the interactions of Miners, Mormons and American Indians, cast BY very much in the camp against mining. I could just be not remembering all the argument though. Perhaps there were regional and temporal variations in BY’s advice?

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 27, 2012 @ 3:28 pm