Love and Mining: Building an Interpretive Site at Brigham and Pansy Darger’s Silver King Mine
Fishlake National Forest, Utah, 1999
by Robert W. Leonard, FS Archaeologist
The Journey of a Gold Mountain Miner
If you seek my monument, look around you (gravestone epitaph, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London)
(Photo: Brig Darger’s grave stone with artifacts from the glory days of the Silver King Mine. Featured is a .36-caliber Navy Colt, $20 gold pieces, an old kerosene lamp that lit the cabin at the mine, gold ore, and an assay crucible. In the early days of mining, most assay equipment was imported, and this crucible is stamped “Made in England.”)
The early life of Brigham Daniel Darger lies largely in the shadows of the past. What we know for certain is that he was born into a family of modest means in Salt Lake City on June 15, 1862. His birth occurred during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and the beginning of the Civil War. When he was but three years of age and living in Spanish Fork, conflict came close to home when a Ute Warrior named Blackhawk rose up to drive the Latter-Day Saints from Utah.
For the next 27 years, there are many gaps in the life of Brig Darger. When we again hear of Brig, he is a single, 30-year-old miner on Gold Mountain in south-central Utah. In 1894, he staked the “Silver King” claim in Spring Gulch. Between 1894 and 1896, the property had several tunnels, mine dumps, an assay shop, a boarding house and a large two-story cabin. Brig employed as many as 10 miners at any one time.
Sometime in 1896, a very pretty dark-haired girl caught Brig’s attention. Although the young woman was engaged to another miner in the next camp, Brig captured her affections. Her name was Pansy Permelia Brown, and she was 13 years younger than Brig. On March 17, 1897, Brig and Pansy were married in the Manti Temple, and their wedding photo is the first known portrait of either person. Brig was about 5'7", had curly black hair, and a handlebar mustache. Pansy was 5'2" and very pretty, with thick brown hair.
Brig and Pansy purchased a small farm in Joseph, 15 miles south of Richfield. After the couple started a family, Pansy stayed on the farm and tended the livestock, gardens, and orchards. Each summer when the snow cleared, Brig made the 16-mile trip up to the Silver King Mine. Discouragingly, long hours produced only meager profits because of low-grade ores and high overhead costs. On more than one occasion, Pansy’s peach money put food on the table.
Times were also hard in other ways. Soon after their marriage, Brig walked into a pocket of carbon dioxide in one of his tunnels, which subsequently made him prone to seizures. On another occasion, Brig was cooking a meal for his crew, collapsed onto the stove, and burned out his left eye.
Hard times continued for the Dargers. They lost a 4½-year-old girl and a 14-month-old boy to diphtheria in 1905. In 1916, Pansy lost an infant child shortly after his birth. And within just a few years, tragedy would claim two of their older sons who were killed in automobile accidents.
At the close of his life, Brig and his family moved to Los Angeles, where he became increasingly despondent at having never found the elusive bonanza at the Silver King. A philosopher once said “As a rule, adversity reveals genius and prosperity hides it.” This statement seems oddly applicable to the life and times of this miner from Gold Mountain. When Brig died just a few months before the 1932 election of Franklin Roosevelt, one can only imagine that his eulogy would have included the most priceless thing that a man could hope for: the love and respect of his wife and children.
Today, the old Silver King Mine is still there in Spring Gulch. The last mining occurred in the late 1980s, and the old two-story cabin was slated to be burned. Then, two unlikely heroes came forth to save the mine and its history. Steve Winslow, of the Beaver Ranger District, persuaded FS management to remove just the modern renovations and to let the historic 1890s building remain standing.
Several years later in 1999, Max Reid, Fishlake NF Public Lands Staff Officer, sponsored a PIT project to open the historic mine for people using the nearby Paiute ATV Trail. Volunteers and a FS crew cleaned up the mine and built a ¼-mile interpretive trail around the site. The old cabin, stabilized by Brig’s family a few years before, was in very good shape.
(Photo: Members of the Darger family, hailing from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, gather on a cold day in February 2005 to dedicate Brig Darger’s grave. The monument was made possible by donations from PIT volunteers; the research of Jan Ulrich, a detailer from the Shasta-Trinity NF; and the detective work of a local historian who was able to locate Brig’s grave, which had been lost when the original wood marker rotted away.)
The pieces of this historical puzzle were now almost complete. Although Brig had been buried in the Joseph Cemetery, his wooden marker had long since rotted away, and the location of his unmarked grave had been lost through clerical error. Working with local historian Cleo Utley, FS archaeologist Bob Leonard was able to locate the missing grave. When PIT volunteers heard that Brig’s grave site was unmarked, donations were sent to buy a tombstone. On February 19, 2005, the gravestone was dedicated, with 50 descendants of Brig’s family in attendance. One hundred years and many tragedies and triumphs later, the story of Brigham Darger and his Silver King Mine had come to a close.