Utah's First Ore Shipment

Index For This Page

This page was last updated on May 8, 2015.

(Return to Mining Index page)


The first mining district in Utah was formed in 1863, but when mining first started in Utah there were no railroads and there were no mills or smelters in Utah. This meant that any ore that was mined had to be the highest quality, with the most value per ton to justify the high cost of transportation and processing in other states or territories, and even overseas. As more ore bodies were discovered, and more mines opened, the cost of transportation became an issue. To reduce transportation costs, small inefficient mills and furnaces (early smelters) were built to allow the ore to be processed closer to the mines. Still, only the highest quality ore could be mined. Further development would have to wait for the arrival of the railroad, which came to Utah in 1869, and to Salt Lake City itself in 1870.

One of the many basic questions that can be asked in the history of mining in Utah, is, "When was the first ore shipped by railroad out of the area?"

Instead of simply looking the answer up in one of the many books or articles published in the past 100 years, it might be best to find the oldest source possible. A look at the Summer 1963 issue of Utah History Quarterly, commemorating the centennial of mining in Utah, reveals a place to start. The following comes from "Abundance from the Earth: The Beginnings of Commercial Mining in Utah" by Leonard J. Arrington, published in Utah Historical Quarterly; Summer 1963, page 206:

The completion of these spur and arterial railroads provided the mines in the Salt Lake area with suitable means of transportation for the shipment of their ores to the smelting centers of Swansea, Baltimore, and San Francisco.

(Arrington footnote: An early Utah editor recorded that the first shipment of Utah ore on the Union Pacific Railroad was 10 tons from the Monitor and Magnet mines (Little Cottonwood, by Woodhull Brothers) to T. H. Shelby, San Francisco, on July 25, 1869. On January 12, 1870, Woodhull Brothers shipped the first carload of ore over the Utah Central Railroad. Edward L. Sloan, Gazetteer of Utah and Salt Lake City Directory, 80.)

When the first shipments to these centers proved beyond question that the mines were of sufficient quality to be self-sustaining and would prove highly remunerative to those so engaged, the export of ores catapulted from a few irregular weekly shipments in the fall of 1868 and throughout 1869, to "a regular and constant stream of from four to six hundred tons weekly" thereafter.

(Arrington footnote: Murphy, Mineral Resources, 4.)

In one month the Walker Brothers alone shipped 4,000 tons. In the two months of August and September of 1872, 2,458 tons of ore were sent out of the territory. By the end of 1875, an estimated $21 million in products had been taken from Utah mines, and by 1880, the figure had grown to an estimated $45 million. More than half was in silver; lead ranked second, and copper third.

(Arrington footnote: Stenhouse, Rocky Mountain Saints, 716-20; U.S., Department of the Interior, Mining in Utah 1880: Report of the Secretary of the Interior, 1, 73-74.)

Early Smelters

(Read more about the early smelters in Utah, and the earlier lack of smelters in Utah)

Date Conflict - 1868 or 1869

Research among these various sources indicates the most accurate answer to the question is that the first shipments were made in June and July 1869, after the Union Pacific was completed to Ogden. These shipments were made from Uintah, a station on Union Pacific at the mouth of Weber canyon. But there is more to the story.

T. B. H. Stenhouse, in his 1872 work, "Rocky Mountain Saints," mentions the Emma mine as being the source of ore shipped in July 1868, but Murphy, on pages 22 and 23 of his 1872 book "Mineral Resources of Utah," states that development of the Emma mine did not begin until after December 1868.

According to Huntley's "Mining Industriues of Utah," published in 1880, the Emma mine "was located in 1868 by Woodman, Chisholm, Woodhull & Reich. Little work was done until the autumn of 1869, when the ore body was struck." (D. B. Huntley, Mining Industries of Utah, Appendix I, Reports of the Tenth Census, 1880, page 423)

These dates in 1868 are likely typographical errors, since Murphy mentions car-loads and Uintah on the Union Pacific. Uintah station lay at the mouth of Weber Canyon, and Union Pacific was not completed to Uintah until late February 1869. Union Pacific tracks were not yet completed into the territory at the Utah-Wyoming line until the last week of December 1868. Actual construction of the Union Pacific grade itself in Echo and Weber canyons did not begin until October 1868.

Subsequent sources appear to depend either on John Murphy's Mineral Resources of Utah, published in 1872, or on Edward Sloan's Gazetteer of Utah and Salt Lake City, published in 1873. A close examination of the two sources suggests that Murphy made a typographical error in using 1868 as the year. In his introduction (page iii), he uses the summer of 1869 as the beginning of successful mining in Utah.

The dates in 1869 given below by Sloan appear to be more accurate, especially since they include day-dates. Edward Sloan was the General Editor of the Salt Lake Herald newspaper.


June 1868 [more likely 1869]
"The first shipment of ore made from the territory was a car load of copper ore from Bingham Cañon, which was hauled to Uintah on the U. P. R. R., and shipped to Baltimore by the Walker Bro.'s, June 1968." (Murphy, Mineral Resources of Utah, 1872, page 4)

(Murphy was cited in Bancroft, History of Utah, 1890, page 741; Bancroft was in-turn used by Economic Geology of the Bingham Mining District, by John M. Boutwell, published in 1905 the the United States Geological Survey.)

July 1868 [more likely 1869]
"The shipment of galena ore was made by Messr. Walker Bros., of one car-load, from Little Cottonwood, July 1868. Several more shipments were made in the fall of that year by the same parties." (Murphy, Mineral Resources of Utah, 1872, page 4)

July 1868 [more likely 1869]
"The first shipments of galena ore from the Territory were made in small quantities by Messrs. Woodman & Co., Walker Brothers, and Woodhull Brothers, of Little Cottonwood ore, in July, 1868, being the first products of the Emma mine. Several other shipments were made in the fall of that year, by the same parties. The completion of the Utah Central Railroad to Salt Lake City, in January, 1870, presented the long-looked-for opportunity of embarking with certainty in the business of mining." (Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints, 1873, page 716, citing E. D. Buel's unpublished manuscript; quoted by Tullidge, History of Salt Lake City, 1886, page 701)

Uintah was (and still is) eight miles east of Ogden, along the Weber River at the mouth of Weber canyon, and was nine miles closer to Salt Lake City due to the ridge and bench lands that separate the valley of the lower Weber River, from the valley of the Great Salt Lake. A direct wagon road was completed that crossed over this bench, beginning at Farmington and ending at South Weber, very close to the railroad station at Uintah. For many decades after, this was known as the "Mountain Road" and today is generally the route of U. S. Highway 89 between these two points. Uintah became a boom town centered around the transfer of freight and stage passengers bound to and from Salt Lake City. The boom times in Uintah only lasted for about ten months, until January 1870, when the Utah Central Railroad was completed between Ogden and Salt Lake City.

Emma Mine in Little Cottonwood - In an October 1904 article about the Little Cottonwood mines, the Salt Lake Mining Review wrote:

The great bonanza was discovered in the year 1868 by Captain R. B. Chisholm, father of W. W. Chisholm, of Salt Lake, and of Colonel O. P. Chisholm, of Bozeman, Montana; associated with Captain Chisholm in the discovery and location of the Emma being Colonel J. F. Woodman, now deceased. Messrs. Chisholm and Woodman began at once the development and operation of this splendid property, and soon after shipped a lot of ore to the Selby smelter at San Francisco, the nearest railroad point, in those days, being Uintah, in Weber canyon, on the Union Pacific, the long haul between the mine and the railroad being made by team. At this time silver was worth $1.29 an ounce, while nothing less than 40 per cent lead was paid for at the smelters, some idea of the richness of the ore from this mine being illustrated by the fact that the output averaged at least $150 to the ton in lead and silver, with occasional consignments going as high as $2,000 to the ton in their metallic contents. (Salt Lake Mining Review, October 30, 1904, "Little Cottonwood Canyon; It's Past and Present")

July 25, 1869
"First shipment of Utah ore, being ten tons from the Monitor and Magnet mine, Little Cottonwood, shipped by Woodhull Bros. to T. H. Selby, San Francisco, $32.50 per ton being paid for freighting it to Uintah on the Union Pacific Railroad." (Sloan, Gazetteer of Utah and Salt Lake City, 1874, page 30)

(Read more about the early smelters in California, Omaha and New Jersey, including "T. H. Selby" mentioned above)

July 31, 1869
"Woodhull Bros. make first shipment of Utah copper ore, ten tons, from the Kingston mine, Bingham cañon." (Sloan, Gazetteer of Utah and Salt Lake City, 1874, page 30)

January 10, 1870
"Last rail of the Utah Central Railroad laid and last spike driven, at Salt Lake City, by President Brigham Young, in the presence of 15,000 people." (Sloan, Gazetteer of Utah and Salt Lake City, 1874, page 30)

January 12, 1870
"Woodhull Bros. ship the first car-load of ore over Utah Central Railroad." (Sloan, Gazetteer of Utah and Salt Lake City, 1874, page 30)

June 1870
"In June, 1870, the Woodhull Brothers built a furnace eight miles south of Salt Lake City, at the junction of the State Road with Big Cottonwood Creek. From these works was shipped the first bullion produced from mines in Utah." (Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints, 1873, page 720; quoted by Bancroft, History of Salt Lake City, 1886, page 703)

(Using today's street numbering system, Big Cottonwood Creek passes under State Street, known previously as the State Road, at about 4200 South. The original Utah Southern line crossed Big Cottonwood Creek about two blocks west of the State Road. This smelter site later became the Morgan/Hanauer smelter.)

(Little Cottonwood Creek passes under State Street/State Road at about 5100 South. The area between these two creek crossings was known as "The Cottonwoods", and is today, the center of Murray, Utah.)

July 1870
The Emma mine began shipping ore. The mine had been "located" in August 1868. In July 1870, a total of 31 car loads of ore were shipped from the mine, at a cost of $3000. The ore was shipped to New Jersey by way of wagon to Salt Lake City, then by rail, at a cost of $90 per ton, but was reported to be worth nearly $200 per ton. (Mining Statistics West of the Rocky Mountains, U. S. House of Representatives Executive Reports, 1871, page 222)

Additional points from this same source:

"In 1868 and 1869, I found no mines in productive operation excepting the placers of Bingham Canon, which were worked on a small scale, and are said to have yielded during the past three years between $600,000 and $1,000,000. In 1869, however, a few parties were preparing to take advantage of the facilities offered by the railroad; and experiments of a metallurgical character were in progress at Salt Lake City. It was the development of the Emma mine which gave the needed impetus to enterprises of this kind; and the summer of 1870 effected a great change in the condition and prospects of Utah mines." (page 218)

"Messrs. Walker Brothers report having shipped during the six months ending December 31, 1870, 4,200 tons of galena ores, of an average assay value of 35 per cent. of lead and $182 in silver per ton, the net value being $125 per ton. Almost all of this was from the Emma mine." (page 221)

"I am indebted to Mr. Charles Smith of the Emma Silver Mining Company, for the following statement of shipments of ore and bullion over the Utah Central Railroad, from January 13, 1870, to December 31, 1870. These figures are taken from the way-bill records of the road, by courteous permission of D. O. Calder, esq.

  • 2,968 tons of ore were shipped east to Chicago, Boston, Newark, and New York.
  • 2,325 tons of ore were shipped west to San Francisco, Reno, and Truckee.
  • Total, 5,293 tons of ore.
  • (approximately 353 car loads, at 15 tons per car -- about 14 cars per week, or two cars per day)

The bullion shipments of the same period were 2 tons to England and 6-1/2 tons to San Francisco.

These totals may seem small to some, but it must be remembered that the Emma Silver Mining Company, which forwarded the large portion of it, did not commence shipping until July, 1870. These shipments are therefore really the product of six months, rather than a year.

Estimating the value of the ore shipped at $182 per ton (the value of the 4,200 tons shipped by Walker & Co. from the Emma mine) and that of the bullion at $400 per ton, we have $966,726 as the probable value of the shipments by railroad." (page 222)

September 20, 1870
"First run of crude bullion at the first smelting works built in Utah, erected six miles south of Salt Lake by Woodhull Brothers." (Sloan, Gazetteer of Utah and Salt Lake City, 1874, page 31)

September 20, 1870
"It was on September 20, 1870, that the first run of crude bullion was made at the first smelter completed in Utah, that of the Woodhull Brothers, located on Big Cottonwood creek, eight miles south of this city. This bullion was obtained from the ores of Little Cottonwood canyon." (Deseret News, September 30, 1893)

September 1870
"Lead strikes at Bingham further stimulated smelter-building in Salt Lake valley. The first to ship bullion was the plant of Woodhull Bros., in September 1870." (W. H. Eardley, Manager of lead plant of United States S. R. & M. Co., writing in Davis County Clipper, February 5, 1937)

July 20, 1871
"Pioneer Mill, Ophir mining district -- the first stamp mill erected in Utah -- commenced running; Walker Bro's, proprietors." (Sloan, Gazetteer of Utah and Salt Lake City, 1874, page 31)

"The export of ores has increased from a few irregular weekly shipments, as in the fall of 1868, and throughout 1869, to that of a regular and constant stream, during the summer months, of from four hundred to six hundred tons weekly. In one month the Walker Brothers shipped 4,000 tons. In the two months -- August and September, 1872 -- 2,458 tons of ore, and 1,363 tons of silver-bearing lead and iron, were sent out of the territory." (Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints, 1873, page 716)

Railroad Freight Car Capacity

According to John White, in his book The American Railroad Freight Car, From the Wood-Car Era to the Coming of Steel (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), the capacity the typical railroad freight car of the late 1860s and early 1870s was just 10 to 15 tons. The cars were typically 28 to 30 feet in length, and made of wood, with very little steel or iron used. Compare this with today's all-steel railroad cars, which are 70 feet in length, and carry 110 tons each. Some simple arithmetic shows that the monthly tonnage of 4,000 tons shown for 1872 above, would result in 260-270 car loads of ore being shipped in a single month, or about eight to ten car-loads per day.


Bancroft's History of Utah, 1890, repeating Murphy's date of June 1868, cited the following sources:

Other sources include:

The Google Book Project has made finding source material much easier. Many of the newspapers of the period are available thanks to the Utah Digital Newspapers Project, and the California Digital Newspaper Collection.