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Original Ophir City Hall. Photo courtesy of W. David Samuelsen
by Jennifer D. J. Banks
Before white settlers came to inhabit the Rush Valley area, it was sparsely inhabited by the Goshuite Indians. The Gosuites, a branch of the Shoshone Tribe, were poor hunter-gatherers. However they did have some shot and ornaments made of silver that they had been able to mine from exposed ore. In the 1860s, off-duty soldiers encouraged by their commanders, began to engage in prospecting in the mountains of northern Utah. Some of these men became aware of the silver possessed by the Indians in the area and persuaded the Indians to show them where the ore had come from. This led them to East Canyon in the Oquirrh Mountain Range.
Prospecting and small scale mining in East Canyon began sometime during the late 1860s. The canyon was renamed Ophir after the Ophir in the Bible where King Solomon got his gold and silver. On August 6, 1870, the Ophir Mining District was organized in Ophir City. On the 23rd of August in 1870 the first mining claim in the Ophir District was made. It was called Silveropolis.
Like many boom towns, Ophir began to grow rapidly. By 1871, Ophir City boasted 125 businesses and houses, a school, and a post office. Also in 1871, the first stamp mill in Utah began operations in Ophir. The Pioneer Stamp Mill was owned by the Walker Brothers, who were merchants in Salt Lake City, and it pounded out thirty tons of treasure a day. By 1874 there were three stamp mills, four arrastras (ore reducing mill stones) and two smelters operating in Ophir Canyon.
A listing of all the mines in operation in 1874 shows that many of them were owned by private companies. The mining newspapers of the time make constant reference to the need for good workers to work these mines. One of the agents for Walker Brothers, Marcus Daley, purchased a mine for himself and made enough money from it to buy the Anaconda Mine in Butte, Montana. This later made him one of the two top Copper Kings.
Most of the ore taken out of Ophir was lead, silver, and zinc with copper impurities. There wasn't much gold. From 1870 to 1900 only $329,000 in gold was taken out compared with $13,000,000 in silver and base metals. One shipment of silver bullion from the Pioneer Mill in April of 1874 was worth $64,583.
Unlike many mining towns however, Ophir did not die. Smaller scale mining continued on into the next century. Most mining was done by small partnerships and family operations. Those who remained worked in the mines and raised their families. The city government, post office, and school remained in operation. community activities began to replace the saloons. The city was host to an IOOF Lodge, and the local baseball team was a source of much pride. There were also dances and other socials to keep the young people entertained.
Ophir escaped the fate of a Ghost Town. There continues to be a small community there comprised of a dozen or so permanent residents along with some summer homes.