Mining for metals, coal, hydrocarbons, and minerals was a vital aspect of Utah's economic, industrial, political, and social growth and development. The mining industry has touched all aspects of life in Utah and has contributed greatly to the state's history.
Mormon gold miners participated in the initial discovery of gold in California, and gold dust imported from California between 1848 and 1851 to Utah was processed by Mormon pioneers. But Brigham Young discouraged his people from searching for precious metals because he feared not only the loss of critical manpower to the goldfields but also that mining would distract Mormons from agricultural pursuits and would attract non-Mormons, or Gentiles.
Although early leaders of Mormon Church placed a higher value on agricultural development than on mining for the precious metals, Brigham Young did recognize the need for iron, a metal that was costly to import by wagon from the East. In 1850 Young issued a "call" for an "iron mission" to southern Utah (Iron County), but after four years this effort was abandoned. In the 1860s church leaders encouraged lead and silver mining around Minersville. Brigham Young's resistance to precious-metal mining began to break down with the coming of the railroad, and Mormons came to dominate the prospecting of such ores in many areas until the economic collapse of the mid-1870s. In the 1880s and 1890s, the decades after Brigham Young's death in 1877, a number of church leaders including John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith, became involved in the ownership of silver mines.
The beginnings of commercial mining in Utah are traced to Colonel Patrick E. Connor and his California and Nevada Volunteers who arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in October 1862. Many of these soldiers were experienced prospectors and, with Connor's blessing and prompting, they searched the nearby Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains for gold and silver. In 1863 the first formal claims were located in the Bingham Canyon area, and this spurred further exploration.