Railroads and Miners

Hispanic Migrant Labor in Utah

As both the mining and railroad industries began to develop in Utah, they depended upon the migrant labor of Hispanics. Despite this dependence, Hispanic migrant workers were often underpaid and living in conditions with no running water and little opportunity for education.

Mining, railroads, and agriculture were the primary industries which attracted migrant Hispanic laborers (mostly Mexicans and Mexican-Americans) to Utah during the early-twentieth century to Utah. Beginning in 1910, the Mexican Revolution caused a large influx of Mexicans to flee to Utah to avoid violence and economic strain. In the ten years between the 1910 census to the 1920 census, the population of Hispanics in Utah grew from 166 to 1,666. This developing sector of the population was integral to the development of Utah as a whole by mining the state’s resources and building its railways.

Despite how much employers relied on their labor, Mexicans faced serious dicrimination. Often mining labor leaders held deep prejudices against Spanish-speakers, despite being fellow laborers. Anglos considered migrant miners a threat to labor strikes, and when Mexicans were hired to break a massive strike in Bingham Canyon, mining leaders blamed the migrant workers instead of the employers who underpaid them both. This prejudice, along with dismal living conditions, led many Hispanic workers to leave the state or work at the railroad during the Great Depression. However, after World War II some previous workers returned to the mines with their families and a desire to stay in Utah. The majority of Hispanic miners who worked in Bingham Canyon lived in Dinkeyville, a subsection of nearby Copperton. Mexican miners and their families were barred from living in the main city of Copperton and instead had to deal with the scarcity of water in Dinkeyville. However, Hispanic miners who had accumulated more experience in Bingham Canyon were eventually able to buy real estate in Copperton, which they often rented out to other Hispanic workers.

The railroad industry also relied on the labor of Mexican workers, in addition to other migrant workers. Mexicans were among the many immigrant laborers of various ethnicities who built the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. For most of the first half of the twentieth century, railroad workers consisted mainly of young, single men. While Bingham Canyon's Anglo American miners had been hostile to Mexicans, Vincent Mayer Sr., a migrant from Mexico, recalled living alongside Greek immigrants simply as fellow railroad workers out a life amid their shared poverty. His Greek neighbors, he remembered even 45 years later, had figured out how to make even weeds taste good. In regards to living conditions for railroad workers, Mayer remembered always being seated in the back of the theater and not being able to eat in many of the nicer restaurants due to his race. As more railroad workers brought their families to live with them, some utilized discarded railroad cars as their homes. These railroad cars had no running water and were often covered in soot from the railroad.

As early as 1910, Hispanics created different organizations to alleviate some of the issues facing migrant Hispanic workers. The Mexican Cruz Azul (Mexican Blue Cross) in Bingham City provided monetary support to individuals and families. In addition, they sponsored cultural and social events for the Hispanic community. This led to a unification among Hispanics of different countries, although many migrant workers originated from Mexico. The Mexican Consulate, created in 1912 and centered in Salt Lake City, also worked to solve unfair treatment for Mexicans, and it often worked on behalf of all Hispanics.


Jesus Arinaz: A Utah Copper Co. miner, Jesus Arinaz. Source: “Spanish Speaking Peoples in Utah.” 1942. C-239, No. 33, Box 6. MSS C 239; Peoples of Utah Photograph Collection. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society.  https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6bp01m0
Hispanic Railroad Workers
Source: “Spanish Speaking Peoples in Utah.” What should I do if I don’t have a date? C-239, No. 28, Box 6. MSS C 239; Peoples of Utah Photograph Collection. Utah State Historical Society.   https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s60c4tkc
Mexican Float at Galena Days A float created by La Sociedad Mutualista Mexicana (The Mexican Mutualist Society) has two young children dressed in traditional Mexican attire in Bingham Canyon, a mining community. Source: “Spanish Speaking Peoples in Utah.” 1951. C-239, No. 21, Box 6. MSS C 239; Peoples of Utah Photograph Collection. Utah State Historical Society.    https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6wm1c6d
Working on the Railroad A crew of Mexican railroad track workers. Source: “Spanish Speaking Peoples in Utah.” Date unknown. C-239, No. 50, Box 6. MSS C 239; Peoples of Utah Photograph Collection. Utah State Historical Society.     https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s64x56k2
Hispanic Miners in Bingham Canyon Source: “Spanish Speaking Peoples in Utah.” Date unknown. C-239, No. 32, Box 6. MSS C 239; Peoples of Utah Photograph Collection. Utah State Historical Society.     https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6gf0s9w



Lindsey Meza, Brigham Young University, “Railroads and Miners,” Intermountain Histories, accessed October 1, 2023, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/635.