Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

“Rich Diggins in Our Immediate Vicinity:” Brigham Young vs. Patrick Connor


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“Rich Diggins in Our Immediate Vicinity:” Brigham Young vs. Patrick Connor


Conflict between Brigham Young and US Army Colonel Patrick Connor personified the tension between mining versus agriculture as suitable ways of life in the Utah Territory. But the reality was not quite as stark as either man made it out to be.

Mormon leader Brigham Young was very clear about his disdain for speculative mining. He repeatedly sermonized against the search for gold and silver in the mountains near Salt Lake City, proclaiming, “Instead of hunting gold we ought to pray the Lord to hide it up.” For Young, the quest for precious metals was a dangerous temptation, destined to divert the would-be prospector from more practical and necessary work – namely farming.

Army Colonel Patrick Edward Connor, who assumed a post at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City in 1862, held a very different view. Through the 1860s, he tried to develop silver and copper mining in the Tooele area. According to Connor, Young was trying to thwart these efforts in order to maintain control over the territory. By establishing a mining operation, Connor hoped to, in his words, “peacefully revolutionize the obvious system of church domination which has so long bound down a deluded and ignorant community.”

Young and Connor were natural enemies, especially during the period when Mormon leaders were trying to keep the United States government out of their business. For Young and other leaders, agriculture was their best bet at building a community that was economically and politically self-sufficient. Mining for silver would invite the outside world, with its unstable economy and unsavory mining camp culture. But Connor’s complaints about Mormon theocracy were often overstated and geared toward drumming up a Utah mining craze.

The two men embodied an ongoing fight about the future of Utah industry and way of life. Would the economy be rooted in the honorable farmwork of the Mormons? Or would an influx of outsiders change Utah’s culture in a frenzied search for copper, silver, and gold?

The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in Utah in 1869 settled the debate. With a feasible way to get his ore to market, Connor’s mines began to pay off. Mormon leaders were apprehensive about the railroad and its potential to “open up” the territory to outsiders, but they were also pragmatic about the opportunities that it offered. By the 1880s, Mormon opposition to precious metals prospecting had softened, and many church members began looking for ore alongside the “apostates” and “Gentiles.”


By Nate Housley for Utah Humanities © 2023


Image: Nineteenth-century LDS Church quarry workers mining granite in Little Cottonwood Canyon for the Salt Lake Temple. Brigham Young took a vocal position against precious metals mining, although other minerals were important for the types of industries Mormon leaders tried to develop – including granite, coal, and iron ore. By the time the Salt Lake Temple was completed in 1893, a statue covered in gold leaf sat at the top of its tallest spire. Courtesy Utah Historical Society.

See Brigham D. Madsen, “General Patrick Edward Connor, Father of Utah Mining,” in From the Ground Up: The History of Mining in Utah,” ed. Colleen Whitley (Logan: Utah State University, 2006); Brigham D. Madsen, Glory Hunter: A Biography of Patrick Edward Connor (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990); Jeffrey D. Nichols, “Colonel Connor Filled a Varied, Dramatic Role in Utah,” History Blazer May 1995.


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org/stories.