The Oquirrh Mountains lie on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley, extending north and south about thirty miles. The highest elevation is Lewiston Peak at 10,676 feet. Communities located on the eastern slope include Magna, Copperton, and Cedar Fort; and on the west slope Tooele, Stockton, and Ophir. The name Oquirrh (pronounced O-Ker) was taken from the Goshute Indian word meaning "wooded mountain." Early visits to these mountains were undertaken by the Indians, mountain men, government explorers, and Mormon pioneers. They encountered heavily forested canyons with large maple trees, scrub oak, and red pine with trunks as large as three feet in diameter.
The first attempt to settle in the Oquirrhs occurred in 1848. At that time two Mormon pioneer brothers, Thomas and Sanford Bingham, set up camp at the mouth of Bingham Canyon. They had been sent to the area by Brigham Young, who had requested that they take a herd of horses and cattle belonging to himself, the Bingham family, and others, up to the high land around the main canyon. For the next year or so, the Bingham brothers spent their time in what became known as Bingham Canyon, herding cattle and, to a limited degree, prospecting for valuable minerals. Some ores were found, but the brothers were advised by Brigham Young not to engage in mining at that time. The ore finds were soon forgotten after 1850 when the Binghams left on a mission to settle Weber County. For the next decade, the Oquirrhs continued to be used as a grazing ground as well as a valuable source of timber for the Mormons.
In 1863 Bingham Canyon was being logged by George B. Ogilvie, an apostate Mormon; Archibald Gardner, the bishop of West Jordan; and some soldiers from Camp Douglas. One afternoon in September, Ogilvie and others uncovered a piece of ore while in the process of dragging out logs. Ogilvie sent the ore to General Patrick Connor, who assayed it and found that it contained gold and silver. A picnic to Bingham Canyon was organized a few days later by some officers at Camp Douglas and their wives. While eating lunch, one of the ladies found a piece of ore on the mountainside. The soldiers prospected further, found the vein, and staked off a claim. Some contend that the combination of these two stories marked the beginning of the history of mining for precious metals in Utah.
The Jordan Silver Mining Company was formed immediately after the picnickers' discovery at a meeting at Gardner's Mill on the Jordan River. Here the mining rules were drawn up by General Connor and adopted by the twenty-five members present. The West Mountain Mining District was organized on 17 September 1863, and included most of the Oquirrh Mountains. This was Utah's first mining district.
Miners soon swarmed into the area from throughout the West. As various mines (with names such as Old Jordan, Winnamuck, Galena, and No-You-Don't), were located and worked, temporary camps sprang up all over Bingham Canyon. Miners, in search of pay dirt, soon spilled over to the western slope of the Oquirrhs. As a result, the Rush Valley Mining District was created in 1864 to encompass that area. There the town of Stockton was founded by General Connor, who named it after his home in California. The mining camp of Ophir soon sprang up to the south when prospectors learned that Indians had previously worked that area to make silver and gold trinkets as well as lead bullets. News of these discoveries spread rapidly and miners explored even farther south to open up the Tintic area in 1870-71. Some of the mines yielded rich deposits, but the recoverable ore was soon exhausted. Later, when technology advanced, many mines were reopened. Lode mining received its biggest boost with the arrival at the Oquirrhs of the Bingham and Camp Floyd branch of the Utah Central Railroad in 1873.
In 1882 quicksilver deposits were located in a canyon between the Ophir and Tintic mines. However, it was too difficult at that time to separate the silver from the mercury (from which the mining camp of Mercur received its name). So it was not until 1893, when the cyanide separation process was perfected, that the Mercur mines began to be profitable.
During the period from 1880 to 1896, lead and silver replaced gold as the main minerals mined in the Oquirrh district. At that time hardly anyone thought that Utah was destined to become famous for its copper. The red mineral was considered inferior and unable to be mined in Utah. It was not until the turn of the century and the dawn of the electrical age that copper began to be taken from the Oquirrhs.
Samuel Newhouse initiated copper mining in 1896 when he shipped out the first copper sulfides from the Highland Boy Mine. Another person who had seen the possibilities of the low-grade copper deposits was Colonel Enos Wall. With no competition at all, he bought up and consolidated old claims. People scoffed at his acquisitions and called them "Wall's Rocks." Wall obtained the financial backing of Captain Joseph R. Delamar, who hired two young mining engineers, Daniel C. Jackling and Robert Gemmell, to examine his newly purchased property. They believed that the low-grade ore could be financially profitable if it was mined in large quantities, using the open-pit mining process. Believing the skeptics who claimed the concept was too radical, Delamar gave up his options on Wall's property. Jackling picked up these options, however, and by 1903 had secured options on 80 percent of Wall's property. With additional financial backing, in 1903 he formed the Utah Copper Company, which later was merged with the Kennecott Copper Corporation. Jackling has rightly been called the "Father of Utah Copper Mining."
With the formation of large mining companies around the turn of the century, the day of the solitary prospector and his mule was over. Mining became a big business which required huge amounts of capital and a large supply of labor. The undertakings of these large Utah mining companies have since helped to make the Oquirrh Mountains world famous for their mineral production. In fact, so much wealth has been taken from the Oquirrhs that it has been estimated that the value of minerals taken from Bingham Canyon alone exceeds by eight times all of the finds of the California and Klondike gold rushes plus the yields of Nevada's Comstock Lode.
See: Vern Abreu, Bingham to Highland Boy (1986); Leonard J. Arrington and Gary B. Hansen, "The Richest Hole on Earth--A History of the Bingham Copper Mine," Utah State University Monograph Series II (1963); Lynn R. Bailey, Old Reliable--A History of Bingham Canyon, Utah (1988); Violet Boyce and Mabel Harmer, Upstairs to a Mine (1976); Scott Crump, Copperton (1978); Marion Dunn, Bingham Canyon (1973).