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The Wild West
Anjali Abraham, Sally Benford, Martin Cizmar, Keridwen Cornelius, Tom Marcinko, M.V. Moorhead
December, 2012, Page 84
“Rivers without water, clouds without rain, men without honor, women without shame.”
So went a familiar toast to the mining town of Jerome at the end of the 19th century, according to amateur historian Charles A. Brown. And he would know. As a young man, Brown was one of the laborers who helped blast Arizona’s nascent copper industry into existence. “Perhaps there was some basis for such a nasty toast, perhaps not,” Brown later wrote in his unpublished memoir.
The Illinois native came to Arizona in 1896 as an 18-year-old to work at a mining camp “about two days by burro from Jerome.” He also toiled in a foundry operated by United Verde Copper Company. Brown’s memoir, provided by the Jerome Historical Society, doesn’t sugarcoat the town’s hardscrabble conditions: “The mountain, Mt. Mingus, is sear. All vegetation that had earlier flourished among the jagged outcroppings, had long past given up the ghost… As one came in from the ‘Junction’ on the dwarf-sized cars snaked along behind Shay cog-engines; he was greeted with stinging and stinking sulphur fumes wreathing from roasting ore pallets, located on the various mine ‘levels.’”
The 70-odd pages of verse-laced purple prose, whimsical philosophy, and deadpan humor reveal that miners of the era were not necessarily the uneducated, grim-prospected prospectors one might have thought them to be. They were merchants, bankers, and farmers. They came from Great Britain, Germany, Italy, the Balkans, and across North America. Many followed a well-trodden boomtown path – California Gold Rush, Nevada’s silver bonanza, Arizona’s silver and copper boom.
Ore mining in Jerome
Some were prospectors, like the classic stock figure with the bushy beard, the pack mule and the pickax, wandering lonely deserts in search of elusive bands of ore. A few of those achieved folkloric status, like Ed Schieffelin, George Warren and Henry Wickenburg, whose rich finds resulted in the founding of Tombstone, Bisbee and Wickenburg, respectively. Other mining men were businessmen, investors or innovators, like Charles Poston, “The Father of Arizona,” and James Douglas, founder of the eponymous Arizona town and president of Phelps Dodge mining company.
To no small extent, mining is the history of Arizona. This is the case – as the Arizona Mining Association modestly points out on its website – not only because the promise of mineral wealth drew explorers, prospectors, capital and development to the region, but also because the products of mining, especially copper for electrical power to run air conditioning and the like, have been instrumental in making Arizona more habitable.
One could go a step further: Mining is the reason the West was settled – or at least the reason it was settled at such breakneck speed. Ore was the magnet that pulled pioneers to the frontier by the hundreds of thousands – and not just miners, but a support staff of saloon-keepers, Chinese laundrymen, Jewish tailors and prostitutes. Mining was the dot-com boom or real estate bubble of the day, except that it didn’t require a technology degree or a substantial nest egg to start – just a pickax and some pluck. Anybody, theoretically, could strike it rich.
And a few did: Prospectors found gold in Arizona towns like Gila City, La Paz, and Wickenburg; silver in Tombstone and Jerome; and copper in Bisbee and Jerome. Initial 19th-century prospectors hoped for gold and silver, but eventually, with corporate backing – and with the rise of copper jackets on bullets, and of copper electrical wiring – territorial Arizona began to earn its future nickname, the Copper State.
Peak mining years: 1863-1942
Population at peak: 5,000 (1920s)
Mined: Gold, silver
Est. value of ore mined: $30 million
Peak mining years: 1888-1953
Population at peak: 15,000 (1920s)
Mined: Copper, gold, silver, zinc
Est. value of ore mined: $1 billion+
Peak mining years: 1877-1890
Population at peak: 10,000 (circa 1882)
Est. value of ore mined: $40-$85 million
Peak mining years: 1877-1975
Population at peak: 9,019 in 1910
Mined: Copper, gold, silver
Est. value of ore mined: $6.1 billion
But many people found a reality that was far more grim than their El Dorado dreams – especially the mining laborers. If you were a miner in this sense, says Colleen Holt, Collections Manager for the Jerome Historical Society, “You worked, and maybe you drank, and maybe you had a family, and you didn’t have much money.”
In his pious and amusingly unromantic diary, A Tenderfoot in Tombstone, banker-turned-miner George Whitwell Parsons describes the working conditions in a Tombstone-area mine: “Hard, hard work. I used to think the laboring man’s a hard life at the best, but their work is child’s play alongside of this. Breaking stone, making mortar, shoveling dirt… The terribly cramped and strained positions at times and strength required to manage a hole in soft ground enforces a great physical strain and much nerve when the swinger of the heavy sledge hammer has to aim over and draw in to prevent hitting you and sometimes will graze the edge of your mustache in striking a hundred pound blow upon a piece of steel ¾ of an inch in diameter… Why even these rough miners themselves – men used to manual labor all of their lives – are sometimes laid up for weeks at a time when they first try the mines. Hands, arms, bodies all used up.”
Eventually, many of the mines were used up, too, and almost as quickly as the miners moved in, they and their entrepreneurial entourage moved out. By 1950, Arizona’s mining boom was over and the baby boom was on. But those rough-and-tumble heydays laid a sturdy foundation for Arizona’s statehood, and the spirit of both the mining towns and the miners lived on.
— M.V. Moorhead
Copper Queen bullion yard, Bisbee, circa 1900
“A bit Dantesque,” is how a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star described Bisbee in 1901. Today a lazy, pretty drop-out for artists and retirees, Bisbee was once the opposite of small and quaint. In the late 1800s and very early 1900s, it was one of the most populated cities in Arizona, and one of the more consequential towns between the Mississippi and the Pacific. For more than half a century, it hummed with industry, drama, labor strife and eccentrics, one of whom resides in the middle of the state’s official emblem.
Ever look closely at the Great Seal of the State of Arizona? Noticed the little guy standing under the words “Ditat Deus” (“God bestows wealth”) with a shovel and pickax? That’s prospector George Warren.
For centuries, Southeastern Arizona’s Mule Mountains area was scary, isolated Apache country. “Nobody was coming here except the stray prospector, or the Apaches,” says Annie Larkin, curator of collections at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. Enterprising U.S. Army officers and scouts passing through the region began to suspect it was mineral-rich, and in 1877 scout Jack Dunn and Lt. John Rucker employed Warren to find out if they were right. Warren discovered the spot that would become the Copper Queen Mine.
“He did file some claims,” Larkin says, “but not with Mr. Dunn’s name on them. Warren had millions of dollars’ worth of claims in his hands at one time or another, but he had a drinking problem and a gambling problem, and a third problem: He did both at the same time.”
Warren eventually gambled away his claims; most ruinously, it’s said, in a massive bet on a horse race – between himself and a horse. Ditat Deus, maybe, but not upon those who think they can outrun a horse.
Developing copper mines wasn’t a job for lone prospectors anyway. It required corporate commitment, and the growing town soon had it. Prompted by mining engineer James Douglas, Phelps Dodge acquired the Copper Queen in the mid-1880s, and Bisbee – named for another early investor, DeWitt Bisbee – became a magnet for a striking diversity of miners.
“When the word got out that there were jobs here, miners came from all over,” says Larkin, but especially from parts of Europe where mines were beginning to play out. “Italy, Serbia, the Isle of Man and Cornwall – I believe there were about 50 countries represented here ethnographically. It’s quite a melting pot. We have one of the few Serbian Orthodox churches in the state.”
Copper became big business with the rise of commercial electrical power during the early 20th century, and the companies that owned Bisbee mines enjoyed major profits. The miners themselves, not so much. Labor relations worsened, culminating in the notorious Bisbee Deportation of July 1917, a reaction to organizing efforts by the International Workers of the World. More than a thousand striking miners, suspected of being “Wobblies” (IWW members), were forcibly herded into and detained at Warren Ballpark by Cochise County Sheriff Harry Wheeler and a huge force of deputies, then shipped out of town in freight cars and stranded in the New Mexico desert.
Despite the introduction of open-pit mining, the industry declined in Bisbee throughout the first half of the 20th century. The depleted mines had closed by the mid-’70s. The town gradually reinvented itself as a hip, artsy retirement community and tourist destination, thanks to its distinctive hillside architecture.
“I’ve visited pretty much every mining camp in the West,” historian Dr. Peter Molloy says, “and Bisbee’s the prettiest.”
— M.V. Moorhead
Photos - From left: Main Street, Jerome • George Lanham’s Saloon, Jerome, 1897
By 1890, most towns in Arizona had calmed down and assumed some semblance of civilization. But Jerome apparently didn’t get that memo. The “Wickedest Town in the West” stayed wild well into the 20th century.
After gold was discovered in Prescott in 1863, prospectors swarmed Yavapai County, and in 1876, famous Army scout Al Sieber filed a claim near an old Indian excavation on Mingus Mountain. A few years later, United Verde Copper Company took over the operation, and soon a mining camp took root on Cleopatra Hill above a rich deposit of copper, silver and gold. The settlement was named after Eugene Jerome, a New Yorker who invested money in the mining operations but never visited his namesake town.
Over the next few years, the price of copper dropped, yet the hardscrabble town hung on. Then, in 1888, William Clark bought the United Verde Copper Company and proceeded to put Jerome on the map. Clark was a wily entrepreneur who didn’t want to depend on mules and wagons to haul his precious minerals to the valley below, so he built a narrow-gauge railroad. The technology helped the mine become a 24-hour, three-shift operation. This spurred an influx of miners, plus businessmen, saloonkeepers, gamblers and prostitutes like famous madam Jennie Bauters, aka Belgian Jennie.
Rowdy and raucous, Jerome wasn’t the kind of place to set down roots and raise a family; people came to make a quick buck and get out. This transience allowed them to endure the harsh conditions and indulge in a “What happens in Jerome stays in Jerome” philosophy. Every day and night, the noise of gunfire, saloon music and fistfights filled the air.
Johnnie Hudgens was a hard-nosed sheriff who took the job of keeping law and order in Jerome after Sheriff Charlie King was gunned down in the street in 1910. During his first two years on the job, Hudgens killed two men and shot two others.
With the outbreak of World War I, copper prices soared and Jerome continued to grow, at one time boasting 13 hotels, 21 saloons and eight brothels, many of which were located in the “Cribs” district in an alleyway between the town’s winding streets. By the 1920s, more than 15,000 people lived and worked in Jerome. (Today, as a repurposed art colony, the town is home to just over 400.)
Mining operations in Jerome all but ground to a halt when the Great Depression hit. Phelps Dodge bought the majority of the mineral rights and began using explosives to open a pit. The blasting caused many of Jerome’s buildings to crumble and slide downhill. The town jail slid hundreds of feet below its original location, much to the delight of residents.
Finally, after another roller coaster market fluctuation coinciding with World War II, Jerome’s days as a wild mining town were over. In 1953, Phelps Dodge closed its operations in Jerome, burying a mining legacy that yielded a billion dollars worth of gold, silver and copper.
— Sally Benford
The Changing Cartography of Arizona
: In the Gadsden Purchase, Mexico cedes what is now Southern Arizona and Southwestern New Mexico to the U.S. It becomes part of the New Mexico Territory.
: A provisional Arizona Territory is created with Arizona located south of New Mexico.
: President Abraham Lincoln signs an act creating the Arizona Territory, with Arizona now located west of New Mexico.
: Nevada absorbs Arizona’s northwest corner into its borders. Arizona had protested but had no clout because it had sided with the
Confederates in the Civil War.
: Arizona becomes a state.
Tortilla Flat stage in 1908
“Our route was not only dreary, it was positively hostile in its attitude towards every living thing except snakes, centipedes and spiders,” wrote Martha Summerhayes about her wagon-road journey through Arizona in 1874. “At every stage of the road we saw evidences of hard travel, exhausted cattle, anxious teamsters, hunger and thirst, despair, starvation and death.”
It would be easy to brush off Summerhayes’ remarks as the complaints of a pampered woman, except that she was a well-traveled wife of an army officer and had endured overland journeys to frontier military forts across the country. Arizona was just much tougher and wilder.
The harsh land – desolate, rough, and stubbornly unyielding to human comforts – took its toll on the pioneers who traveled West looking for adventure or a better life. But still they came from all around the world, facing arduous months-long journeys by steamship, train, paddle boat, wagon train, and stagecoach.
Stage travel involved a bumpy journey along boulder-strewn trails, where dust and sand swirled through the air surrounding the stagecoach, filling the passengers’ eyes, ears, throats and nasal passages. Water was scarce along the way, and was generally found only at designated stage stops where desert wells provided some liquid relief – if they hadn’t dried up in the summer heat.
In August 1874, Summerhayes and her party traveled 200 miles by steamboat up the Colorado River from Fort Yuma to Fort Mohave. From there, they joined a wagon train to their new post at Camp Verde. Writing her memoir, Vanishing Arizona, in 1908, Summerhayes explained that the heat was unbearable and the always-present dust irritating. “The first day’s march was over a dreary country; a hot wind blew and everything was filled with dust. I had long ago discarded my hat as an unnecessary and troublesome article; consequently, my head was now a mass of fine white dust, which stuck fast, of course. I was covered from head to foot with it and it would not shake off, so although our steamboat troubles were over, our land troubles had begun.”
In the desert, dust, wind and heat were constant companions in the summer months, and mountain winters could be brutal. In 1881, John and Viola Slaughter drove a herd of cattle from New Mexico to Arizona when a blizzard hit as they crossed the mountains west of Fort Bayard. It snowed heavily for three days, and later Viola recalled, “Mr. Slaughter had an ear frozen and I had a foot frozen. We had no tents or shelter and often in the morning we could hardly turn over for the snow on us.”
Together, the couple built the famous Slaughter Ranch in Cochise County, but the rigors of ranch life were challenging. In 1887, an earthquake destroyed every building on the ranch, and falling beef prices offered little income. When John told Viola he wanted to quit, she wouldn’t give in. “We’ll go out there and put our shoulders to the wheel. We can’t give up now and I can help.” So went the lives of Arizona settlers.
Far from the comforts back home, long hours of hard labor, dangerous living conditions and financial hardship faced these pioneers. In the rural areas, where most of the ranches and mines operated, extremes of every manner filled everyday life. Settlers had to worry about the scarcity of water, wild animals, foul weather, raiding Indians and lack of medical care. While at Camp Verde, Summerhayes wrote that she gave birth alone because the army doctor “was much better versed in the sawing off of soldiers’ legs than in the treatment of young mothers and babies.”
People in towns like Tucson, Phoenix and Prescott had less to worry about. In Phoenix, the Maricopa and Pima Indians afforded protection from rival tribes, newly dug irrigation ditches meant a steady water supply, and the comforts of city living were beginning to take hold. According to a January 3, 1872 story in the Arizona Miner, Phoenix was growing into its own. “One year ago, to-day, Mr. Hancock was making the adobes for the first house in town, now we have a flourishing village with three stores, one brewery, three saloons, two boarding houses, two blacksmith shops, corrals, and a great number of private dwelling houses.”
Away from town, many ranches were built and lost to invading Indians. Along the remote and unruly stretch of land between Tucson and the Mexico border, Pete Kitchen ran a ranch where other settlers didn’t dare. Near Potrero Creek, Kitchen built his ranch, El Potrero, from the ground up with the help of his Mexican wife, Rosa, their extended family and a crew of 30 Opata Indians recruited from Sonora. They tilled the land and planted corn, potatoes and melons, and dug irrigation ditches to water the crops. Kitchen raised cattle, horses and hogs, and built a main ranch house of 25-inch thick adobe, calling it “The Stronghold.”
Kitchen created a self-supporting ranch with its own blacksmith, saddler and wagon-maker, as well as cooks, cowboys, field workers, seamstresses and sharpshooters. El Potrero sat along a raiding route used by Apaches, who coveted Kitchen’s horses and livestock. Although the ranch buildings and corrals were enclosed behind thick adobe walls, every worker, including the women, carried rifles or revolvers.
In a written account, Army officer John G. Bourke, who served in Arizona during the Indian Wars, described a “ceaseless” war between Kitchen and the Apaches. Bourke gave harrowing details of the attacks on Kitchen’s ranch, saying, “His employees were killed and wounded, his stock driven away, his pigs filled with arrows, making the suffering quadrupeds look like perambulating pin-cushions.”
Despite attempts by the Apaches to overrun it, Kitchen’s ranch became a safe haven for travelers along the dangerous road between the border and Tucson. In 1880, the railroad came to Tucson and brought with it opportunities for commerce and growth. The old days of wild conquest were changing and, in 1883, Kitchen sold his ranch and moved to Tucson.
By 1886, when the Apache warrior Geronimo and his band surrendered to General Nelson Miles, Arizona had begun the difficult task of transforming its rough and rowdy reputation. And, while still fiercely independent, the Territory’s residents seemed ready to leave the frontier experience – along with the romance and excitement of the Wild West – behind.
— Sally Benford
John Wesley Powell
John Wesley Powell
If John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) were alive today, he’d have a Discovery Channel show: King of the Colorado: A One-Armed Man’s Quest to Tame the Mighty River.
The son of a New England abolitionist preacher, Powell lost most of his right arm serving under Ulysses S. Grant at the battle of Shiloh. After the war, the Washington, D.C. power-elite laughed at his plan to explore the Colorado River and its canyons. He financed the trip by striking a deal with the Illinois Museum of Natural History: equipment for specimens.
In May of 1869, his 10-man expedition, the first of its kind on record, set off toward the Colorado via the Green River in Wyoming. Along the way, they traversed and named Glen Canyon (later flooded to form Lake Powell) and became the first expedition to navigate the Grand Canyon. A second, larger and better-organized expedition in 1871-72 yielded a Mars-probe’s worth of data and images. As Wallace Stegner notes in his introduction to Powell’s Exploration of the Colorado River, this Merriweather Lewis of his day didn’t want land, gold, or conquest. He wanted to see, know, and report back.
— Tom Marcinko
In front of Wickenburg’s City Hall stands a bust of the town’s namesake. To judge from the surviving photographs of the subject, the sculptor has done an impressive job, not only capturing Henry Wickenburg’s likeness but also his expression: thoughtful, melancholy, haunted.
Wickenburg may have been a brooder, but he was certainly adventurous. Details about his life are sketchy and tied up in legend, but he is said to have been born in Prussia in 1819, and to have served in that empire’s army before finding his way, as part of the crew of a steamship to California, where in the 1850s he became a Gold Rusher.
He was in Arizona by 1863, prospecting along the Hassayampa River, when he discovered the Vulture Mine – on the spot where a vulture he shot fell to the ground, according to one tall tale. He sold 80 percent of the mine in 1866 to Benjamin Phelps for a fraction of its value, and took up farming at the place where a town would one day bear his name. The Vulture Mine ultimately became profitable, producing an estimated $30 million in gold and silver ore before closing in 1942, but Wickenburg never saw his hoped-for millions. With no family and little property, he died in 1905 of a gunshot wound to the head, apparently self-inflicted.
— M.V. Moorhead
It was known as the governor’s mansion, but the log structure that now houses the Sharlot Hall Museum was originally built without floorboards or glass windows and looks like a restaurant that serves blue-plate flapjacks. The humble structure says a lot about Prescott during its time as Arizona Territory’s capital, from 1864 to 1867 and 1877 to 1889.
Though it sits near the center of Arizona, Prescott was picked chiefly for its remoteness. The Civil War raged back east when Arizona was made a territory in 1863. Its largest city, Tucson, was a snake pit of rebel sympathizers and unsuitable as a capital. Prescott was deemed safely indifferent to Union-Confederate issues.
John Noble Goodwin, the governor who laid the city along the banks of Granite Creek in 1864, wanted to stay far away from the people he was governing. So Prescott was built amongst mining claims and named not for a soldier or saint but for blind history book author William Prescott.
Photos - From left: Ruffner Stagecoach in Prescott •
newspaper office, Prescott, 1878
The forces of demand quickly shaped Prescott into a place where miners could exchange their hard-won bullion for strong drink and sexual favors. It was much the same for
Arizona’s political elite. Once a year, statesmen traveled to the capital, leaving their families behind for what amounted to a prolonged stag party. Having made the arduous journey, either by braving the rugged hinterlands or taking a circuitous train journey through Los Angeles, the politicians became a part of Prescott’s licentious tapestry, funding their exploits with bribes and government slush.
The chief concerns of the territorial legislature in Prescott were lobbying the federal government to exterminate or remove American Indians, and divvying up the territory’s money. The group met every year until 1869, when the U.S. Congress, which had been hustled to double the legislators’ per diem the year before, intervened, rescheduling the party for only once every two years.
The group still found time to pass gag legislation, like an 1879 prohibition on horse racing at the behest of one legislator who’d lost a big bet and asked for a vote on outlawing the sport. The Thirteenth Legislature in 1885 was particularly out of hand. Dubbed the “Thieving Thirteenth,” the session saw legislators rack up $46,744.50 in expenses – 11 times their budget – accompanied by fistfights in the statehouse and local bars.
The party cost Prescott in the end. In 1889, Phoenicians convinced legislators to move the capital to their then-sleepy farm city, thanks to one of the Yavapai County delegates’ dalliances with a prostitute. Read about that on page 113.
— Martin Cizmar
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