Way We Were: An orphan from Nova Scotia built a life from the mine up in Park City | ParkRecord.com

Way We Were: An orphan from Nova Scotia built a life from the mine up in Park City

Sally Elliott
Park City Museum
David Keith, partner in Park City’s Silver King Mine.
Park City Historical Society & Museum, David Keith III Collection

Editor’s note: This is the third in an occasional series about founders of the storied Silver King Mine.

What would you do if you were orphaned at age 14?

Back in 1861 in Nova Scotia, you’d drop out of school and get a job. That worked out pretty well for me because before I was 20, I was a supervisor at the gold mines up there. But hearing rumors of the fabulous gold and silver finds in California, I signed up as a seaman and boarded for Panama. I walked across the isthmus and then on to San Francisco. I worked in the gold fields, provided timber for mining operations, then got a job building the railroad up around Donner Lake.

The real money though, was in the silver mining around Virginia City, so I headed there and got a job at the Comstock as a common miner. Most mines have trouble with water, so I learned about pumps; that proved to be my ticket to get to Park City.

I was invited by R. C. Chambers at the Ontario Mine in Park City to come and install the Cornish Pump there in 1882. I got the pump working and they made me Foreman of that great mine.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though. My wife ran off and left me with three kids in 1893. So the next year I married Miss Mary Ferguson who ran the telephone company in town and was an accomplished businesswoman. We had a pretty happy life together and we added a son -David, Jr.

Just a few months after I arrived in Park City this brash, ambitious fellow asked me for a job at the Ontario, so I hired him. He kept pestering me to learn about prospecting and mining. He was 15 years younger than I and he had lots of energy. Darned if he didn’t discover that ore was running out of the Woodside where he was working for me digging a tunnel. He said we should lease the claims around there so we got some guys together and did just that.

Those leases turned out to be the Silver King Mine and I became a real “Silver King”. Before you knew it, I was living in a mansion on Brigham Street down in Salt Lake City. That fellow, Tom Kearns, was really plucky and I’m so glad I helped him. He was always the Vice President and the energy behind our operation, but I was the President because I was older, more experienced, and a little more subdued.

It was not a bed of roses, but Mary and I had lots of money. We owned the Silver King Mine and the Salt Lake Tribune. We sold our mansion and moved to a suite just down the street at Hotel Utah. I died there in 1916, as did she a few years after.

Next time – Mary’s story.

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