Miners hold mules in a mine shaft in 1900. (LOC)

Miners hold mules in a mine shaft in 1900. (LOC)

Jeremy MacLee looks at old support timbers in a mine near Eureka, Utah. (AP)

Jeremy MacLee looks at old support timbers in a mine near Eureka, Utah. (AP)

Support timbers are seen in a mine shaft in Pennsylvania in 1940. (LOC)

Support timbers are seen in a mine shaft in Pennsylvania in 1940. (LOC)

The opening of an old mine is seen in Utah. (AP)

The opening of an old mine is seen in Utah. (AP)

Five men pause for a photo in a lead mine in 1909 in the Coeur d'Alene region of Idaho. (LOC)

Five men pause for a photo in a lead mine in 1909 in the Coeur d'Alene region of Idaho. (LOC)

Ruins of buildings and equipment sit at an old mine site in Hiawatha, Utah. (AP)

Ruins of buildings and equipment sit at an old mine site in Hiawatha, Utah. (AP)

Mines Back Then

Posted: December 31, 2018

Curious spelunkers wonder: Who dug all these holes? And why did they leave them behind?

The first settlers in Utah were busy growing food and building shelters so they could survive. But a few decades after arriving, they made a discovery: They had built their new homes on top of treasure! With a little black powder to blow a mine open and a shovel to dig out silver, zinc, copper, gold, lead, and iron, a person could make a fortune!

Or he could lose everything he had. Mines were treacherous places even back then. Mine workers came from all over the world hoping to get rich. They burrowed their way to the middles of mountains. They made little money, breathed toxic air, and were in constant danger from fires, cave-ins, and dynamite accidents. They worked in almost complete darkness every day. Mining mules grew used to the dim light underground. They had to be blindfolded when they were brought outside!

And what happened when a mine ran out of treasure? People just walked away, leaving the cavern behind.

Today’s government officials would not let people dig gigantic mines then leave them untended in the ground. When God gave Israelites laws for how to live, He included ones about watching out for the safety of others. God said, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof.” (Deuteronomy 22:8) A parapet is a wall that keeps a person from falling over the edge. God was telling His people to think ahead and protect their neighbors from danger.

Falling down a mineshaft can be as dangerous as falling off a tall building. And old mine entrances are often unsteady. They could cave in at any moment. Officials hire workers to cover up mine entrances with cinderblock walls and metal grates. They are trying to seal more than 10,000 open mines—and that’s just in Utah! Abandoned mines fascinate us. It’s good to have freedom to explore them. But each explorer should know and prepare for the risks.