The Blind Miner of Big Cottonwood Canyon

By Yeti Jan 18, 2017
If you like to do extreme things, try digging a silver mine tunnel with your eyes shut. That's what the Blind Miner did and he wasn't complaining.
The Blind Miner of Big Cottonwood Canyon

By Harriet Wallis, the geezer gal.

Meet James L. Newman, better known as "Roy" Newman, earned fame as the Blind Miner of Big Cottonwood Canyon because of a dreadful silver mining accident. 

Before the advent of recreational skiing, the Cottonwood Canyons were alive with mining and logging industries.

Roy was a hard working silver miner. One day, as usual, he pushed sticks of dynamite deep into the holes he'd drilled in the back wall of his mine. The blast would extend his tunnel further into the belly of the mountain and bolster his hopes of striking it rich. 

He set off the dynamite and he counted the explosions as they went off. Mysteriously, one stick did not explode.

The next day he went back to the mine accompanied by his younger brother David. The dust had settled and Roy went into the tunnel to examine the situation. Somehow, the delinquent charge went off in his face. It destroyed one eye, damaged the other, burst his eardrums and crushed his left arm. 

David rescued Roy and helped him stagger to his cabin. Then David put on snowshoes and started down the canyon to get help. On the way down he met a skier who went to Roy's cabin and stayed with him overnight. A rescue party finally arrived the next day, having been delayed by a snowstorm.

By the time a doctor saw Newman, infection had set in, but he lived through it. He eventually regained a slight sensation of light in the one eye—and he ingeniously continued to mine and keep the tunnel going in a straight line.

To do that, he would set his pick down near the back of the tunnel and center it between opposing walls. Then he would "look" toward the daylight coming from the entrance. He would center the pick handle with the daylight. (Today, we use a similar method before we cut a piece of wood. We measure and then line up the marks and cut a straight line. He configured a straight line using daylight.) 

During the next 20 years he extended his tunnel 1,500 feet into solid rock using only a hammer, a single jack (drill), and dynamite. But he only found low grade ore. He died in 1974 at age 80 having never fulfilled his dream of striking a motherlode.

A roadside marker at milepost 7.3 in Big Cottonwood Canyon memorializes the Blind Miner and you can look across the stream to the entrance to his mine.

Better yet. when you ski or ride in the canyon, be sure to stop at the Blind Miner Café in Brighton's base lodge. It serves coffee and sweets daily and has historical photos.

Sources: "From Pioneers to Powder: a History of Big Cottonwood Canyon" a researched book by Bob Flodine; the University of Utah Ski Archives collection; and the Utah Historical Society collection.

Interested in other historical Utah Ski stories?

Alta's Early Lifts
True Tales of Brighton's Early Lifts
Snowbasin, from water fights to world-class resort

Harriet Wallis has been a ski writer, editor and photographer forever. She learned to ski on a dare when she was in her mid 30s and has been blabbing about it ever since. Read more from Harriet at