Way We Were: The story of Thomas Kearns
Park City Museum
Editor’s note: This is the fifth in an occasional series about founders of the storied Silver King Mine.
Hard work and a whole lot of luck is what it takes. It helps to be a strong guy who really wants to succeed. That’s me.
I was born in Canada in 1862. My Irish immigrant parents moved us to a farm in Nebraska where they thought our chances would be better. I worked on the farm until I finished school at the age of 17, and then headed out to make my fortune. I just wasn’t cut out to be a farmer. I drifted around driving teams (working animals like horses), freighting, and mining in several states – then landed in Park City in June 1883.
David Keith gave me a job at the Ontario and helped me learn about mining and prospecting. I studied the books Keith gave me and prospected around in my spare time. I left the Ontario and signed up at the Woodside Mine where Mr. Keith had gotten a contract to do some tunneling. We realized the ore was trending toward the Mayflower so we took on some partners, got a new lease and kept on digging. Then, after we hit the paydirt at the original Mayflower, I was able to ask my little Jennie to marry me in 1890.
Albion Emery, John Judge, David Keith, W.V. Rice and I partnered up to extend the tunnel. Talk about luck: three months later we hit ore at 200 feet deep. In a little over two and a half years, we were able to buy the Woodside, Mayflower and Silver King claims, and we incorporated the Silver King Mining Company in July 1892.
That same year I was elected to the Park City Council, and a couple of years later served Utah at the Constitutional Convention. Even though the Panic of ’93 caused our profits to drop, we kept investing in the mine and developing it. I loved both politics AND mining. That old R.C. Chambers fellow at the Ontario beat me out of a State Senate seat after that, but I went on to St. Louis to the National Republican Convention and made a name for myself by walking out when they voted against bi-metalism. By 1901 I was a United States Senator and we moved into a house in Salt Lake City on Brigham Street. You call it South Temple Street now.
Funniest thing – I had some trouble with the Salt Lake Tribune during the campaign, so David Keith and I fooled them. They would never have sold to us, so we had another guy buy it for us. When we restructured, David Keith was the President and I was the Vice- President. Years later, our little nephew Jack Gallivan took over as Publisher and ran it with the Editors for many years.
It was all so wonderful and I had finally achieved my life’s ambitions. But I was hit by a car and died a short time later in 1918.
The Park City Museum will host a virtual Zoom lecture by Sandy Brumley called ‘A Brief History of Tom Kearns’ – including previously undiscovered wild-west stories from his youth, in O’Neill, Nebraska. The lecture will cover how his brother Barney was shot and killed by a “cowboy” in a shootout and more! The lecture will be given given on May 27 from 5-6 p.m. Sandy will be joined by Josh Grotstein, who will moderate a discussion with Tom’s Great Grandson Michael Kearns.
To R.S.V.P. for the lecture, please contact Diane Knispel at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will send you a link and instructions to follow. The lecture will also be recorded for future viewing on our YouTube channel.
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