Letters from Dry Canyon

When our research began, one of our very first finds was a brief 1876 citation from a newspaper feature called “Letters from Cornucopia,” a series of missives from the fledgling boomtown of Cornucopia, Nevada.

The Blonger Bros., Sam and Lew, who keep The Palace and patronize the State, are fixtures here and can be relied upon for square drinks.

The quote was the first confirmation of their time in the hospitality business, and showed definitively that the boys were known professionally as “Blonger Bros.”

The “Letters From” essays were written by a short roster of pseudonymous authors and sent to the Salt Lake Tribune and elsewhere, detailing the goings on in Nevada mining country. Their primary purpose was boosterism, and they did their best to suggest a young city blossoming atop a mountain of mineral wealth, a metropolis in the making, ripe with lucrative investment opportunities.

A similar series appeared a few years earlier in Dry Canyon, Utah, a new mining district south of Salt Lake City. The Blongers were there as well. The Dry Canyon and Cornucopia letters recently became available online, giving us a more detailed look at life in a Utah boomtown of the 1870s.

Sam and Lou first arrived in Utah sometime between June of 1870 and the spring of 1873, when they advertised the Omaha beer saloon in Salt Lake City with an associate named Shipman. Fresh oysters from Baltimore were a specialty.

Over the next six years or so, the Blonger Bros. would make their presence known in boomtowns across the desert region—at Salt Lake City, Dry Canyon, and Stockton in northern Utah, at Virginia City, Cornucopia, Tuscarora, and Sliver Reef in Nevada—opening hotels, saloons, gambling rooms, theaters, and brothels, while simultaneously working numerous mining claims. They also dabbled in local politics and civic affairs, and likely played a role, on occasion, in law enforcement. All this while cultivating reputations as professional gamblers.

Unlike the Albuquerque papers of 1882, neither the letters from Dry Canyon nor Cornucopia have a great deal to say about the Blongers specifically. In Jacobs City they had a hotel called the Eureka with a “neat little saloon,” owned in partnership with the son of the town namesake, miner H.S. Jacobs. They had mining claims—the George B. McLellan, Diamond Cross, Motive Power, Three Guardsmen, and the Roaring Lion, at least—and engaged in local social events and politics. They also played a role in the committee charged with bringing a rail line to the district. The Blongers weren’t big news in Dry Canyon, but letters do provide an interesting window into the brief, bright, existence of two future Western ghost towns.

Dry Canyon sits over 6,000 feet up in the Wasatch mountain range, about forty miles south of Salt Lake City. Jacobs City was the small town created in the canyon to cater to miners in the district. Access was more than difficult, up steep terrain from the canyon’s mouth, or over the ridge from Ophir, or East Canyon. The canyon was so difficult to navigate, a tramway was soon built to transport ore to the valley below. Even today the trip is best made by ATV.

Following are some excerpts from the Dry Canyon letters. The vast majority of the excised material concerned the various mines, the size of the veins, the purity of the ore, the depth of the shaft.

Dry Cañon, September, 1872

Some men are lucky and “strike it rich;” some return wiser and sadder men. It takes brains and muscle to mine; hence all are not successful.
I found the miners and superintendents very accommodating and pleasant; in fact the canyon is quiet and orderly. One or two rum holes are being built, but generally the men are too busy to patronize. It is a disagreeable sight to see men do as the old parson said, “earn their money like horses and spend it like asses.”

Jacob City, October, 1872

This thriving village and camp was the scene of much life and pleasant inter changes between the residents and Mr. Jacobs, their most earnest benefactor. Due notice having been given that upon the naming of the new and thriving village after commodore Jacobs, that gentleman signaled his intention to meet the miners on the 8th and make his bow for the compliment, as well as present the camp with an appropriate flag. Yesterday being the day, the miners and residents generally, of the adjoining camp, assembled to participate in the festivities in store. At about one o’clock the procession hove in sight headed by the Tooele brass band.

The Killing of Chas. Willets on the extensive tramway leading from the “Fourth of July” mine to the gulch, cast a gloom over the entire community. Mr. Willets long a resident of East Canyon, started in the morning to join in the festivities. Arriving at the head of the tramway in company with N. K. Linsley and C. D. Vajen, permission was asked of D. King, the foreman, to ride down on the loaded cars. Mr. K. explained that no accident had as yet occurred, and entering no objection Mr. Linsley went aboard and landed below. Mr. Willets next started, and when about one hundred and fifty feet from the bottom, on the trestle work about forty feet high, the car upset and precipitated Mr. W. down against the rock, killing him almost instantly. Mr.Vajen at once went down by the trail, and arrived in time to see his companion breathe his last. Everything was done to comfort him in his last moments. A messenger was dispatched after Dr. Stewart, and water and a wagon ordered. After his death he was placed in the wagon and taken to Ophir for interment. His remains were accompanied by Mr. Linsley, who was one of the witnesses to the sad affair. It is due to say that no fault is attached to Mr. King or anyone else, but purely the voluntary act of the unfortunate man, who, I learn, was about twenty-seven years of age and a native of New York. His remains were interred at Ophir to-day. Had it not been for this sad affair every expectation of the jubilee would have been realized to its fullest extent, but the sweet is often accompanied by the bitter. Such is fate.

Jacobs city is building up very fast. Level spots on the sunny side of the gulch command a premium. McGonigle & Co. are building a large store, and they have already opened a fine stock of miners’ outfitting goods. Several houses exist where a man can get the “staff of life” in the shape of Bourbon whisky. Sheriot retails an excellent quality of beef; and we are looking every day to see some enterprising Christian start a “dancing saloon.” We came very near having our population increased by the addition of a family consisting of an old man, his wife, and three sons, all the way from Michigan- but on their way up the canyon the head of the family and the teamster got into a dispute, and the family have been engaged ever since in picking their things out of the brush and rocks.
We have come to the conclusion that our “Great Father,” in Washington, doesn’t care a continental _ about his loyal sons out here, or else he would direct his good servants of the postal department to establish a postoffice here for our benefit. You give him a poke in the ribs; may be he is only asleep. You know that you are good at stirring them officials up. If you can only bring him to a lively sense of his duty towards the denizens of this region, you will deserve the blessing of every ragged miner in the camp. Yours, M.

Jacobs City is assuming a lively appearance. Many buildings have lately been completed and many more are under way; among them two store houses and a restaurant. A billiard table has already found its way here through the agency of Mr. Blonger, proprietor of a neat saloon.
On last Wednesday evening the pioneer ball was given in a large building on the Kearsarge mine, which was attended by all the dancers of the canyon, and quite a delegation of Ophir ladies and gentlemen. It was a creditable affair, notwithstanding the rough road and cold weather.

Jacobs City, December, 1872

I will commence with the Fourth of July, owned by Jacobs & Co., and under the charge of D. H. King. From this mine leads the most extensive tramway in Utah. Its length is 1,400 feet, and it accommodates a number of neighboring mines in transporting ores to the wagon road in the gulch.

The Fourth of July produces very fine galena and carbonate ore, which carries about $44 in silver and as high as sixty per cent in lead. The incline, now over 300 feet, at angle of 22 degrees, is worked by means of blasting, and the ore brought to the surface by a horse-power whim. Much fine ore is visible on the face of the incline.

Stockton, January, 1873

Many new prospects lately discovered in Dry Canyon are worthy of mention at this time, and will soon figure among the prominent mines of the district.

The George B. McLellan, on Shoe Fly hill, Diamond Cross, west of the Pocahontas, Motive Power and Three Guardsmen are located on Snow Storm hill, and owned by Bracken, Blouger [sic] & Co. These, with the Roaring Lion, located below Snow Storm hill, and also owned by the above firm, are very promising prospects. The dumps, although small as yet, show very fine ores. These prospects will be worked the entire winter with a view to profitable yield in the spring.

The mead trade here is in the hands of Messrs. Wines & Kimball, who seem to be doing a good business, and giving full satisfaction in Ophir and Jacobs City.

New Year has called and is again figuring among the pages of the past. Ophir indulged in a Masonic ball which is highly praised by those who attended. Jacobs City was a jovial mining camp. Stockton celebrated with a bounteous flow of Thomas and Jeremiah, having dinner at the Eureka and a dance in the evening. To Mr. and Mrs. Blouger [sic], in charge of the Eureka, assisted by Mr. Jacobs, jr., much praise is due for the pleasant time enjoyed. Major O’Keefe being desirous of christening the late heir of Mr. Frank with champagne, brought together quite an assemblage to indulge in congratulations for the future health of the young stranger, and the city flagstaff was ornamented with a fine flag, and, in fact, every appearance in this vicinity was that of sociability. Work will soon be resumed in every direction, when you may expect to hear again from Dry Canyon.

Editors Herald: The surrounding appearance of our mining camp are readily on the wintry scale. The snow has fallen to an almost impassable depth. Lion Hill at East Canyon is nearly beyond connection with Ophir on account of drifting snow. Dry Canyon has a goodly supply, but ore hauling is not yet suspended and perhaps will not be this season, as the weather is moderating considerably. Stockton has had a deep covering of snow but much bare ground is visible now, leaving the roads in an almost impassable state. The lake is as yet half covered with ice, and was at one time totally frozen over to a thickness of four to ten inches. About three hundred tons of ice have been put up, but this quantity will not supply the demand, although from present appearances it will have to suffice.

A grand ball was given at the Eureka Hotel on last Wednesday evening, which was a decided success, being liberally attended from all the camps. H. S. Jacobs suggested the party for the 8th, the anniversary of the battle of New Orleans. The Tooele string band, “four pieces,” discoursed excellent music. Among those present were B. F. Butler and lady, of Ophir, bishop Rowberry, McKendrick, Dr. Dods, and a host of ladies from Tooele, Mr. Spayer, F. McRea, A. J. Livingston, A. B. Campbell, S. Garnes, L. S. Blonger, W. A. Stafford, M. Gisbourn, J. Buzzo, W. A. Rooks, W. A. Adams, etc. from Dry Canyon. The ladies were out in full force, as usual, to the tune of about thirty-five. At the usual hour a “hard to beat” lunch was served and dancing continued until a late morning hour. Mr. and Mrs. Blouger [sic] and J. F. Jacobs, who have charge of the hotel, used every effort to make all participants at home. The weather no doubt kept many away yet the party was a pleasant occasion and beyond expections [sic].

Two dusky chaps, “China and Africa,” had a set to hero to-day in which China came out second best. The general opinion is that a good flogging would teach them both to know their place better. The smelters at this place are silent at present, but as ore hauling is still continued they will start up early in the spring with a large supply of material on hand.—Dry Canyon.

Tooele City, January, 1873

Yesterday was a glorious day in Tooele City. Notice having been given that a railroad meeting would be held at this place to test the railroad pulse of the people, as early as two o’clock people commenced arriving from Stockton, Grantsville and surrounding country. The meeting was announced to be held (through the kind favor of bishop Rowberry) at the Assembly room, which, by the way, is well constructed for large assemblages, and is capable of accommodating 1,000 people. In the gallery the Tooele band were discoursing fine music, accompanied by Miss Clara Hill on the church organ, which soon well filled the building with ladies and gentlemen to hear what the railroad projectors had to say to them.

Among the visitors from Stockton I will mention J. H. Murray, L. H. Blouger [sic], J. D. Williams, J. Connor of Grantsville, R. Judd, A. Cooley, Ophir, B. F. Butler, and several from Pine Canyon, and many others whose names I have not in my notes.

Having concluded to build a narrow gauge it would materially reduce the cost to construct as well as to procure the necessary stock, iron, etc. The speaker [Jacobs] dwelt at some length upon the necessity for the sinew of the country through which it would pass, to show a will, and eastern capital would be speedily forthcoming to aid in developing the country. Cheaper transit was necessary to further this end and hence he asked all to take a few shares, and thereby fuel a mutual interest with eastern investors in the enterprise.

The speaker proceeded to explain the value of a railroad to the people as well as the increase in value of the land which they were cultivating, and the speedy increase of population, which usually follow such improvements. As secretary of the road he stated that in May last about twenty influential citizens of Utah had met to organize this the Salt Lake, Sevier Valley and Pioche railroad and at once about $250,000 worth of cash subscriptions had been made to be paid by installments as the capital was required, and with a little aid along the route the enterprise would certainly be a success.

The work would probably be commenced at Lake Point and pushed from thence to Salt Like city, and also in this direction.
Before the meeting dispersed, the subscription stood over four thousand dollars, and this evening it has swelled to more than twenty thousand, and will undoubtedly be raised to fifty thousand in this vicinity, which speaks well for the interest exhibited by the people in behalf of a railroad.

Dry Cañon, July 24, 1873

The first place I visited was Jacobs City. It is something of a string-town, but, nevertheless, a very lively one. The merchants, saloon keepers, and “Wines & Kimball’s beef dispensers” are jubilant over the continued flush times. Money is plentiful and every one that seeks work can find remunerative employment.

We are at last remembered, by our Uncle Samuel in the Postal Department, having a daily mail service from Stockton. Yours, M.

Dry Cañon, Sept. 22, 1873

He Beats His Wife and The Fact Becomes Known.
Flies From His House and Roosts all Night With the Birds.
Infuriated Miners—Tar and Feathers—Tears and Protestations—A Departure, and Probable Reconciliation.


We have had quite an exciting time here, consequent upon the attempt of one Lewis Henry, a native of Germany, to beat his wife to death. On last Monday, a Mrs. Faust was informed by certain parties, that they had reason to believe that Lewis had abused his wife so much, that she was unable to get out of bed. Several of the women immediately visited the house, and upon entering the domicile of said Lewis perceived that Mrs. Lewis was in a horrible condition.

He chokes his frau. The fiend in human shape had choked her until her throat was black and so much swollen that she could not speak to her visitors. They immediately removed her to the residence of Mr. Faust, and after a continued application of restoratives she so far recovered from her exhaustion as to be enabled to tell her story.

For the past two years she has been compelled to endure the most unheard of brutality from this brute, called a husband. Last Monday morning he tied handkerchief across her mouth so tightly that she could not speak or scream, and then grasping her throat with one hand he beat her in the face and breast with the other, alternating his amusement by dragging her around the room by the hair, and kicking her in the side as she lay on the floor.

This story so enraged the miners that they resolved to punish the inhuman wretch; so, collecting themselves together, to the number of seventy-live men, they supplied themselves with a coil of inch rope, a bucket of tar, and a sufficient quantity of feathers. They now saw the necessity of a leader and proceeded to elect Mr. Frank Jacobs to fill the position. This want supplied they began to move upon the enemy’s position. Arriving at the house they found the door open, but the bird had flown. The best half of the night was spent in searching for the wife beater, but without success. Placing a man known as “Big Smith,” as a watch at the house, the enraged miners retired to their several places of abode, breathing deep vows of vengeance in case the object of their search should turn up on the morrow. Morning dawned, and some of the denizens of Jacobs City, discovered the object of their midnight visitation perched on top of a large pine tree. He was quickly interviewed, the aforesaid rope etc., etc., being a prominent part of the programme. The poor, frightened, worn out, sleepy Dutchman had commenced by this time to see the folly of his ways, and between tears and protestations so worked upon the feelings of his captors that, upon his promising to give all of his earthly possessions to his much abused wife; to furnish her with a bill of divorce as soon as possible, and leave the camp before night fall, they released him: and this afternoon he was seen wending his way down the cañon cheerless and alone. His wife took the same direction soon after; and there is a two to one bet offered in camp that they will be together in peace and quietness before morning.

Dry Cañon, Sept. 28, 1873

We have passed through the morbid state of excitement under which we, as a community, have labored for the past two weeks, consequent upon the search for and capture of the wife-beater. Later developments have brought to light the fact that the husband had constructed a crib in one of the rooms of his house, built of heavy logs, into which he thrust his better half when he left home in the morning, and there she had to remain, without food or water, until her lord and master returned in the evening. The denizens of the camp have now split into two parties “on the question of, was the husband justified or not?” and they threaten to disrupt the hitherto peaceful relations upon which we have lived and delved; and this may cause the overthrow of even our own royal Grant and his throne.

The morale of the camp is, I believe, unimpaired by the late “unpleasantness” although we are divided into two parties respectively styled regulators and moderators, the first named of which has notified two men in camp to be less severe on their “worser” halves, of which more anon. — Justine.

Dry Cañon, Nov. 17, 1873

Of course there is a town here. Away down in a narrow ravine between lofty mountains and surrounded by fearful crags, and high cliffs and rocks, is the metropolis of this camp. It is called Jacobs City (horrible!—such a name will “pizen” to death any town). This town consists of a string of houses, along the ravine, with two good stores. Lipmon’s, and Kelly & Spangels, each with a good stock of goods. Then there are butcher shops, shoe shops, saloons, etc. A primitive hotel is in operation, kept by friend Booth. It has no extensive steam elevator—not any—no such nonsense—the getting up stairs is done in this wise: The guest goes out of the front door, then around in the rear, “and climbs up the hill side until he comes to a horizontal platform, on this he makes direct into his bed room.

There is also a bank in Jacob city—it has the same name as the old sport that Moses bucked against, only not spelled with a “Ph.” [Faro?]

Nick Drainer’s troupe of hurdy dancers were here for a while, but the failure of Jay Cooke was too much for them. The troupe organized in Alta, astonished Ophir, and collapsed in Dry Cañon. But it is miners that I came here to look after. This part of Ophir district is very unlike East Cañon where water is plenty—here all operations are carried on by whisky, which alone keeps the people from perishing.

The Chicago is another great property, and that Halladie Tramway is a splendid institution. A large force of men are at work in this mine: the ores are raised by steam power, by an engine at the shaft, and from the dump are sent with dispatch to the mouth of the cañon, over this tramway about one and a-half miles, where they are dumped into large wagons and hauled to the furnace at Rush Lake, six miles distant. The quantity daily shipped is large, perhaps thirty to forty tons per day, which samples thirty to forty per cent lead and forty to sixty ounces of silver, thus making the ores yield a net profit of about S30 per ton, over and above all expenses when put in bullion.

There are very many more good mines; but this letter is too long already, so I must put off the rest until some other time. — Spicer.

Dry Cañon, Nov. 25, 1873

After a long silence, I again resume my pen. The town of Jacobs, or more properly speaking “Jacobs City,” for be it known that this quiet, unostentatious little burg aspires to the dignity of being called “City,” is unusually quiet, and excepting on Sundays, when “ye honest miners” come down from their holes to get their skin full of that beverage commonly known as “tangle leg,” the principal street, there is but one, shows but very little signs of life. A stranger in these parts would form, but a very poor opinion of the camp, and have but a very faint idea of the immense amount of development that is being made in the various mines if he based his opinion on the amount of stir and bustle in the village aforesaid. The mines that have continued work, notwithstanding the dull times, have steadily improved, and so far as I can learn the owners have no reason to regret the non-suspension of work, but on the contrary have reason to rejoice, as the thanksgiving proclamation has it, in the increased value of their mines.

Dry Cañon, Dec. 12, 1873

Some time ago the denizens of this camp were attacked with a mania for possessing cats. Consequently large numbers of the felines were imported; but judge of the astonishment of the tabby family when it became apparent that after a residence of two or three weeks in this elevated section that every one of the favorites went insane, or took fits, or something of that kind, jumped down shafts at the imminent risk of breaking their necks, or ran up old deserted chimneys from which they steadfastly refused to leave. In view of these facts grimalkins are at a great discount.

The camp is now rejoicing in the possession of a dancing academy, and twice a week the dwellers in the vicinity of Jacobs’ City have their ears delighted with the rasping sound of a violin and the steady clump, clump of the iron-shod feet of the dance-loving portion of ye honest miners. Evensho.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.