“Hidden Treasure: Ten-Year-Old Josh Dennis Lost in Mine,” Ensign, Aug. 1991, 30
For more than a century, the Hidden Treasure Mine in Tooele County, Utah, was the source of legends and dreams as it yielded silver and lead worth millions of dollars. The early miners probably never guessed that the twenty-one miles of underground tunnels would someday be the source of other priceless treasures—the rescue of a ten-year-old boy named Joshua Dennis, and an outpouring of spiritual wealth in the form of prayer, compassionate service, and community spirit.
The misty blackness of the abandoned mine encircled Joshua Dennis like a blanket as he realized he was alone in this cavernous place. He’d left his father, Terry Dennis, to try to catch up with a group of older Boy Scouts. But the others were too far ahead, and now their footsteps had died away somewhere in the distance. Joshua first felt an impulse to yell, followed by a prompting to pray. Standing still, he closed his eyes, although the inside of the mine was blacker than the darkest night he’d ever seen. “Please, Heavenly Father, help me find the way out.”
Josh placed his hands against a rocky wall and edged along its surface. Suddenly he stumbled into a hole. “My dad didn’t go this way,” he thought, brushing himself off and heading upward. As he climbed, he felt steadily more certain that this was not the direction his father had taken. Unsure of which way to proceed, he sat on a ledgelike place where the wall poked outward. A feeling came over him that he should “stay put.”
There was an urgency outside the mine when Josh did not appear with the Scouts and leaders. Before the official search teams arrived, Scoutmasters Kevin Weaver and Rick Powell went back inside the mine, following trails and peering down shafts with flashlights. After Kevin tied a rope around Rick’s waist and lowered him into a shaft, Rick saw a board that looked freshly broken. “I hope Josh didn’t fall down here,” he thought, praying silently as he rappelled deeper into the shaft. Training his flashlight around the area, he saw no sign that Josh—or anyone else—had been there. The men kept exploring as hours passed and afternoon turned to night.
“Help, help!” Josh stood to shout as he heard the searchers pass near him. His legs were stiff from sitting so long. “Help!” he cried again before stopping to listen. No one seemed to hear him.
The Boy Scouts divided into pairs, each pair with a flashlight. Lights dotted the mountain in the growing darkness as the young boys prayed silently and traversed the area outside the mine. Each team searched for an hour, then returned to trade light sources and partners. They searched throughout the night before leaders drove them home in the morning. There was still no sign of Josh.
Janeen Dennis, Joshua’s mother, didn’t find out he was lost until she returned home from shopping late Saturday afternoon. She remembers that after a neighbor came to tell her the news, “I was stunned. I walked in the house, dropped all my packages, and stood still. Then the doorbell rang. It was my visiting teacher and her husband. She took me in her arms and hugged me.”
Sitting on the ledge, Josh remembered the home evening lesson he had given only the week before. “If you have faith, you can do anything,” he had said. “Almost anything?” his mother challenged with a smile. “Anything,” Josh answered, grinning. Feeling that assurance, Josh leaned against the rock wall and thought, “I know someone will find me.” He said a prayer that he would be rescued quickly.
As Janeen and her friends Joan and Paul Venema reached the base of the mountain in Tooele, a van approached. Janeen caught sight of her husband sitting in the front seat. “He’s crying,” she gasped. “He never cries!” After the van stopped, she ran to Terry, and they embraced and sobbed together.
Terry’s boss, Bishop Richard Townsend of the Glenmoor Second Ward, in the South Jordan Utah West Stake, gave Terry a priesthood blessing in which he said that Josh would be found. Then, through Terry, he blessed Josh that he would be able to endure and be safe. Terry had decided to fast, and he thought of Josh being without food or water inside the mine.
The school halls looked dark as Josh left his fifth-grade classroom and headed for the cafeteria. He selected a tray and was clutching a hamburger in his hand when he opened his eyes and saw only blackness. He was dreaming inside the mine! Loosening his fist, he found only a rock. He set it down and tried not to think about being hungry.
By now Josh had been lost for more than forty-eight hours, and his relatives’ and neighbors’ anxiety and prayers had increased. Late Sunday night, the elders quorum presidency organized a search for the next morning.
Along with men from the three hundred homes in the subdivision where the Dennises lived, hundreds of people from wards in Tooele, Stockton, Grantsville, and Salt Lake City took the day off work to explore the area outside the mine. They walked slowly as they looked near every tree and bush.
Lindsay Powell was one of the searchers from the Kearns Thirtieth Ward. She remembers the kaleidoscope of color as people traversed the canyon, calling out Josh’s name as they walked. Throughout the day, groups of two or three paused together as voices joined in prayer. That night, ward members sat together near the entrance of the mine and agreed that when they had prayed that day, they had felt that Josh was still in the mine.
Josh woke in his bedroom, then walked out to the living room to watch TV. As he turned the television on, the screen showed only blackness that expanded to include everything around him as he woke from another dream, still inside the mine. “I’m not home yet,” he thought, remembering the words of a favorite song he sang in Primary. “I am a child of God, And he has sent me here … ” Josh didn’t feel alone. From the first, he had felt a presence that comforted him in the same warm way he felt when his mother and father prayed with him at home.
Josh’s disappearance generated an immediate bonding among those who learned of the incident. Through searching for Joshua, volunteers were reminded of precious associations with those they loved. They set aside personal concerns and differences as they pulled together in the common goal of finding one little boy.
Tooele families—all strangers to the Dennises—sent a large pickup truck loaded with Dutch ovens full of homemade stew, sandwiches, cupcakes, rolls, brownies, and large thermos jugs of drinks. When Janeen saw it, she thought of the motel room the owner had donated free of charge for the Dennises’ use, the Relief Society presidency in Kearns who had brought meals to her family, and her two visiting teachers who were caring for her other three children as well as the children in her day-care business. She said a prayer of thanks.
On Tuesday morning, Janeen was able to go up to the mine site for the first time. She felt as if she had stepped into heaven. When Terry took her to the campfire where Josh had sat, she felt a strong spiritual witness that Josh was still inside the mine.
When Joan Venema answered her door that afternoon, it was Janeen’s visiting teacher, Denise Bethel, who said, “One of the dog teams found a Cub Scout knife in the mine, and the searchers think it might be Joshua’s. Janeen called and asked us to search her house for Joshua’s knife.”
Joan searched the closet and drawers in Joshua’s room and didn’t find the knife. Denise and Janeen’s other visiting teacher, Debby Johnson, finished searching the upstairs before Janeen and Terry arrived home to scour the basement. Joan watched Bishop Townsend toss the knife found in the mine into the air and catch it with a grasp that seemed to echo the high hope they had all begun to feel. But only moments later, she heard a Cub Scout’s small voice outside saying, “I lost my knife—with a pencil and some money.”
Everyone’s spirits sank. Janeen started to cry. “We were back to zero, and I became very depressed. I went from the highest high to the lowest low,” she says.
Back at the mine, Bishop Townsend saw that each arm of the shaft had many colors of paint and tape showing that dog teams and searchers had combed the area again and again. From a secular view, things just weren’t adding up. There was no evidence that Josh was in the mine, and no evidence that he had left. Now the faith that had carried the searchers to this point was being tested: there was a growing unspoken fear that not many more days could pass before it would be obvious that Joshua was dead. By late Tuesday, the rescue team had agreed that they would call off the search early Wednesday evening.
Janeen and Terry began to approach an acceptance that the mine might become Joshua’s grave, and they spoke of placing a marker at the entrance as a memorial. Janeen called assistant Scoutmaster Kevin Weaver, who had once been Joshua’s soccer coach, to ask if he would speak at Joshua’s funeral.
Despite the wave of despair on Tuesday, Wednesday appeared to be a peaceful morning. Most of the searchers were gone by then, and the mine site was nearly deserted. In the Dennises’ motel room, Terry and Janeen, along with their bishop, Phillip Fielding, and his wife, Gail, fasted and prayed. In his prayer, Bishop Fielding stressed being strong and holding on to their faith.
“After he ended his prayer, I just sobbed,” Janeen remembers. “We all remained kneeling. I said that I would like to pray. I said, ‘Please protect Joshua. If he is in pain, please help him.’ Then I paused in my prayer because I was crying very hard. Everyone remained kneeling and waited patiently. When I started praying again, I began to plead with the Lord in a way that I had never done before. I told Heavenly Father that we would accept it if it was his choice to take Joshua, but we could no longer bear not to know. I asked him to please inspire someone to find our Joshua, whether he was alive or not.”
Another man in Tooele was also praying for inspiration. The news that a ten-year-old boy was lost in the mine brought back memories to John Skinner, who had spent time there as a child when his grandfather was the mine superintendent. John had recently become more active in the Church and had been sealed to his family in the temple. He valued his new religious commitment and hoped that more spiritual experiences would be part of his future.
On vacation from work the week Joshua was lost, John had tried to get to the mine on Saturday. “They said they already had enough people to search, but I was determined not to give up,” he says. On Sunday, he went to sacrament meeting and prayed about the situation. He tried to get to the mine again that afternoon, and again he was turned away. “Every day I wanted to go,” he says. “I had a strong feeling that Joshua was alive in the mine. When I read the newspaper Tuesday, I learned they were going to call off the search. I felt inspired to try again.”
Bishop Townsend remembers the man dressed in jeans and a wool shirt who walked up to the sheriff and said, “I’m aware of a part of the mine that you may have missed. Joshua could be there.”
Ray Guymon, head trainer for Utah Power Mine Rescue Team, listened seriously, then asked, “Do you really believe that?”
When John Skinner again expressed his feelings, Ray gave him a hard hat and took him into the mine, along with Gary Christensen, another member of the rescue team.
There it was! The searchers! They were finally here! Rousing himself and sitting up against the rock, Joshua struggled to project his words past his dry and swollen mouth. “Help!” Why was it so hard to talk? “Help!” he tried again.
After searching two sections where John Skinner thought Joshua might be, the men stood quietly in a third area. Ray Guymon heard a muffled cry. At first he wasn’t sure—he had received a low score on his company’s hearing test for years. “I think the Lord gave me perfect hearing for five minutes,” he says. “When Joshua called out again, I knew it was him.”
The men worked their way toward Joshua’s voice, continuing to call his name and listen for his response.
First he saw a flashlight. Then he saw a face. He thought the person who found him would be his dad or a Scout leader, but this was a man he had never seen before. The man’s face was smudged with dirt and smeared by a river of tears. “Come on, Joshua. Were going to take you to your mom and dad,” the man said. “My dad will be here, but my mom is home,” replied Josh, remembering that his mom had said she was going shopping while the Scouts went to the mine. As the group emerged into the light and Josh saw all the people and equipment, he decided maybe he hadn’t been found the first day he was lost. Maybe it took two days.
According to Bishop Townsend’s watch, the men had been in the mine for twenty-three minutes when he saw John Skinner poke his head out of the entrance and shout, “We found him—and he’s alive!”
“Each one of us had to touch him,” John Skinner remembers. “And we sobbed all the way out of the mine as Gary carried him.”
Bishop and Sister Fielding had left the Dennises in their motel room and had gone to break their 24-hour fast. During the meal, Gail felt an urgency to get back to Janeen and Terry. “We stopped at the sheriff’s office to see if there was any news, and the woman at the desk broke into a big smile and said that Josh had just been found alive. We tore out of the office and sped to the motel.”
Before Bishop Fielding even stopped the car, Gail jumped out and started pounding on the door of the Dennises’ room. As Terry opened the door, she screamed, “They found him—and he’s alive!” Janeen lifted her arms heavenward. “Thank you,” she said.
Throughout the area, people cheered as the news was announced in stores and shouted in their homes as they were alerted by TV news bulletins.
Janeen started trembling as she walked into the Tooele Valley Hospital. Someone handed her Joshua’s blue-and-gray parka, and she hugged it tightly against her. She wanted to touch Joshua, but held back. “When he was born, I wanted to touch him, but I didn’t dare. I felt the same way then,” she says. “The only words I spoke were ‘I love you, Joshua,’ and he said, ‘I love you too.’”
In contrast, Terry’s relief at seeing his son overcame his usual reserve, and he grabbed Joshua in a hug that lasted until a nurse gently pulled him away. Janeen thought her son looked surprisingly well, although his face was an ashen gray color and his eyes had a sunken appearance. His feet were so swollen that doctors had to cut his shoes off.
Doctors in Tooele sent Joshua to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City by helicopter. His red and bruised feet ballooned until he wondered if his shoes would ever fit again. They throbbed, too, as if each held a tiny heartbeat. But really, he hardly noticed. It felt so good to see his mom’s and dad’s faces again. And when his mom held his little brother Jacob up for him to see, Jacob said, “My Joshie,” and held up his hand to give Josh a “high five.”
As the Dennis family gathered around Josh’s bed in the hospital, their front yard at home became a sea of yellow ribbons. Neighbors hugged, sobbed, and laughed as the tension was released.
Taking a single mustard seed left over from the home evening lesson on faith that her family and the Dennises had given, Joan Venema walked around the corner to the Dennises’ yard. A bright sunrise bathed ribbons, signs, and banners in light. Relishing the early morning silence and the lingering spirit of togetherness from the day before, Joan read the outpourings of love from neighbors and friends. She thought of the letters that were pouring in from all over the country from people who wanted to tell Josh how happy they were that he was safe. One was simply addressed, “Boy Scout Who Was Lost in the Mine, Somewhere in Utah.” Then Joan walked up to the front porch and placed the seed on the step.
When his dad visited him in the hospital, Josh asked, “What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?” As Terry pondered, Josh said, “I think the worst thing that ever happened to me was when I broke my arm last year.”
Surprised, Terry realized that Joshua’s prayers were answered for him—as far as the young boy knew, he was found quickly.
Joshua cleared his throat as he scanned the congregation. Everyone was dressed differently than they had been at the mine, but he saw many people who had been there and were now here at the fireside. He caught his mother’s eye as he began to speak. “I wasn’t alone in the mine. Heavenly Father sent angels to be with me. I didn’t see them, but I knew they were there because I was comforted. I would like to bear my testimony. I know God lives and that he answers prayers.”
“Events like this cause us to reflect and realize who really is in control of life,” says Bishop Townsend. “This experience brought home how special each human being really is. If we could teach the world what we felt during those five days, I believe we could have heaven on earth.”