"Southeastern Arizona has a rich mining history dating back over 1,000 years. The indigenous people known also as the Hohokam or vanished ones were the first to exploit the vast mineral resources in the landmass known today as Arizona. They used minerals such as copper and turquoise for ornamental jewelry and to trade among settlements. Hopi Indians near the present day town of Holbrook mined coal as a means of keeping warm in the winter, for cooking and also firing of ceramics. There is evidence that the Tohono O'odham (Papago) Indians mined Hematite in the Ajo area for use as war paint in the fifteenth century shortly after the disappearance of the Hohokam. Native Americans were involved in mining turquoise in the Cerbat Mountains and cinnabar in the Castle Dome Mining District near Yuma. They also mined salt near Camp Verde. Although they were the first to mine the surface of Arizona, it was the Spanish who were the first to extensively penetrate its earth in search of mineral wealth most notably in Southeastern Arizona.
The Spanish first entered the region later called Arizona in the early sixteenth century. Their mission was to obtain the “Three Gs” for Spain (glory, God and gold). The two primary objectives were to Christianize the natives and obtain mineral riches for the Spanish crown. Early Spanish exploration of Arizona began with the exploration led by Fray Marcos de Niza in 1539. The following year his reports of great wealth in the form of gold and silver, reached Francisco Vasquez de Coronado who mounted a several pronged expeditions aimed at discovering the “Seven Cities of Cibola" rumored to rival the Aztec and Inca gold caches in Mexico and South America. The mineral wealth of the fabled “Seven Cities of Cibola" proved elusive for the Spanish however, they did succeed in colonizing New Mexico and establishing distant mining claims across the southwest including Southeastern Arizona.
During the time of Spanish rule advancements were made in mining and refining minerals. The Spanish used an arrastra to pulverize ore deposits of gold and silver. Run by animal power usually a horse or mule, the raw ore was crushed, sometimes amalgamated and later sent to a sluice to maximize the most collection of mineral content. The process of amalgamation was introduced to the New World by the Spanish in the sixteenth century as a means of separating silver from its ore. Mercury is mixed with silver removing it from its ore forming amalgram. The applications of heat or nitric acid remove the mercury from the silver. Placer mining was also conducted by the Spanish as a low cost alternative for finding mineral wealth using techniques such as panning and the sluice box.
The arrival of the Jesuit missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino in the 1690s along with the added protection of recently established missions of Guevavi, San Xavier del Bac and Tumacacori gave the Spanish impetus to explore the region for precious metals. According to the accounts of Father Kino the Tubac-Tumacacori area was mined by both the Spanish and the Pima Indians for rich veins of gold and silver. Some sources speculate the origin of the name “Arizona” may have been derived from a mining district called Real de Arizonac located in northern Sonora southwest of the present town of Nogales. The mine produced two tons of silver during its operation in the late 1730s. Located in the historic mining district often referred to as slabs of silver "Plancas de Plata” or balls of silver “Bolas de Plata”; some weighed in at 2,500 pounds.
Mining proved a risky venture in many parts of Arizona until the late nineteenth century because of the danger posed by the Apaches and Navajos. The Spanish continued to mine the region during a thirty year reprieve of hostilities brought about by the Viceroy Galvez introduction of the "Peace by Deceit" plan. In return for a cessation of hostilities against the Spanish, the Native Americans were given food, guns and whiskey. Hostilities in the region resumed after Father Hidalgo's "Grito de Delores" initiating Mexico's long War for Independence from Spain. The Mexican Revolution of 1822 further reduced military protection for miners in Arizona against the onslaught of deprivation perpetrated by Apaches and outlaws.
Manifest Destiny brought American mining interests into Arizona by 1847. Tom Childs, Jr. led a party of 19 Americans into the region on the quest to discover Plancas de Plata in search of the fabled cache of silver. He discovered abandoned copper mines in Ajo before his expedition was evicted by Mexican inhabitants. However, the discovery of gold in California brought about a resurgence of mining activity to the American southwest. The combination of land acquired from Mexico after the Mexican War and the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 brought the remaining land comprising Southeastern Arizona under the jurisdiction of the United States.
The Americans drew upon many sources of mining to develop Arizona’s mineral deposits. Beginning with the site of Arizona’s first gold rush in the defunct town of Gila City, mining became more prevalent across the state with additional major gold strikes found in La Paz, the Bradshaw Mountains, Rich Hill, Vulture Mine and Greaterville. After the War Between the States the value of silver increased and so too did the mines in Arizona. Some of the more prominent silver mines in Arizona during the latter half of the nineteenth century included the Silver King Mine in the Pinal Mountains and Tombstone.
Whereas gold and silver were the initial draw to the region by the Spanish and early Americans; copper mining became more standard especially the southern portion of the state. Demand for copper increased by the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Because copper is a good conductor of electricity and has many uses that range from pipes, electrical wiring, machinery, transportation and coinage.
By the twentieth century mining towns in Southeastern Arizona such as Bisbee, Clifton and Ray were well established and noteworthy for their large deposits of copper. Technology revolutionized the mining industry with the advent of Pneumatic drills which replaced the standard single and double jacking techniques employed by miners during previous centuries. Block caving, a mass mining method for extracting large bodies of lower grade ore along with open pit mining revolutionized the mining industry. Advances in the refinement of mineral extraction led to the ability to remove greater amounts of copper from otherwise lean ore deposits. The floatation process, cyanide leaching and electrowinning are examples of some twentieth century advancements in copper production.
The 1906 strike in Cananea, Mexico certainly had its influence in the region. Many of the participants on the American side were from southeastern Arizona and had a vested interest in the mines of Cananea. The Arizona Rangers were called in to quell the strike by Colonel William Greene President of the Cananea operation and southeastern Arizona miner, cattle rancher and land mongul. Although the strike was forcibly ended the repercussions would be far reaching with the Mexican Revolution several years later and the impetus for future labor strikes in Northern Mexico and Southeastern Arizona.
Despite many decades of tension throughout the twentieth century relations between miners and mining companies have improved over the past 100 years. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, miners had to work under primitive conditions ten to twelve hours a day six days a week. Wages were lucrative although most were spent by the miners at the company store or the gambling hall to buy spirits, food, and partake in ventures with the ladies of the night. At the turn of the century labor unions began to gain a foothold in the state much to the disapproval of mine managers. During the period of 1884 through 1917 conflict between miners affiliated with the union and mine companies resulted in strikes, firings and deportation. However, improvements were made such as a reduction in daily work hours, medical benefits, and salaried positions, adding to a more unified workforce present in Arizona mining operations today.
Today copper mining remains a major industry in Southeastern Arizona and is one of the state’s renowned “Five Cs” which include cattle, citrus, climate and cotton. Over 400,000 documented mining claims have existed in Arizona since the arrival of the Europeans in the 16th century. Sixty percent of the copper produced in the United States owes its provenance to Arizona. Arizona’s mining localities active, inactive and future attract national attention for both economic and environmental concerns. Some of these inactive mining towns have become meccas for artists and tourists alike who thrive on the vintage architecture and the historic experience that characterize the latter years of territorial Southeastern Arizona."
Ø Southeastern Arizona Mining Towns. Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia Press 2011