Bisbee

"Queen of the Copper Camps"

Initial discoveries in the Mule Mountains were made by a detachment of the US Calvary from Fort Bowie in the summer of 1877. Scout Jack Dunn accidentally found lead carbonate - known to carry silver - while searching for water. He shared his find with Lieutenant J.A. Rucker and Ted Byrne, and the three staked the "Rucker" claim on August 2nd. As the detachment was ordered to continue on their search for rogue Apaches, the three met with 42-year old George Warren, a prospector, and provided him with a grubstake and supplies to locate additional claims for them. Unfortunately, Warren got sidetracked at a saloon and drunkenly gambled away the grubstake. He managed to recruit backers and headed to Mule Gulch, where they staked a number of claims - one of which would become the famed Copper Queen mine. The mining district became known as the Warren District, and Dunn's name was soon forgotten.

Main Street

For the next few years, development at the camp called Mule Gulch was slow. In 1879, Warren drunkenly bet away his share of the Copper Queen mine (Warren spent the rest of his life doing odd jobs and died penniless). The next year, Edward Reilly and Levi Zeckendorf had the option to purchase the Copper Queen mine for $20,000. With ore assaying at 23% copper, they convinced DeWitt Bisbee, William H. Martin, and John Ballard of San Francisco to invest in the purchase. The camp was renamed Bisbee, and growth was accelerated by construction of a railroad along the San Pedro River, which reduced transportation costs.

In June 1881, Phelps Dodge & Co. purchased the Atlanta claims adjacent to the Copper Queen for $40,000 at the recommendation of Dr. James Douglas. Following the discovery of a rich ore body by both mines in July 1884 led to the merger of the two in August 1885, creating the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company. By May 1887, Phelps Dodge gained full ownership and commissioned a new smelter. By 1893, much of the Copper Queen's rich oxide ore had been mined, with sulfide bearing ore remaining at lower levels. The smelter was upgraded in 1894, but quickly became obsolete because it lacked the capacity to handle the amount of ore being mined. In 1900, a new location twenty miles away along the Mexican border was chosen as a new smelter site. A townsite, named for Dr. Douglas, was laid out and in May 1904 the new smelter was commissioned for $2.5 million; at its completion, the smelter in Bisbee was closed. Before long, a second smelter was started at Douglas by the Calumet & Arizona Company. Bisbee, its numerous mines, and its network of railroads continued to thrive into the early 20th century and a number of suburbs developed in the surrounding area. A large fire in 1908 destroyed much of the business district, but new, more substantial buildings were quickly erected.

In 1917, Bisbee became home to one of America's most controversial labor disputes. In response to rising racial tension and poor working conditions, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union organized a strike on June 26. More than 3000 miners - 85% of Bisbee's workforce - went on strike. On July 11, executives from Phelps Dodge met with Cochise County Sheriff Harry Wheeler and a posse of 2200 men to plan a mass deportation of the striking miners. The following morning, the posse raided Bisbee and arrested 200 miners, before marching them down the hill to Warren, assembling at the Warren Ballpark. Those that were not members of the IWW were given the option to return to work, which roughly 700 agreed to. The remaining 1,286 were loaded on cattle cars provided by the Phelps Dodge-controlled El Paso & Southwestern Railway and deported to Hermanas, New Mexico - over 150 miles away - and told not to return.

Within weeks of the Bisbee Deportation, Phelps Dodge began to employ a new method of high volume ore extraction: open pit mining. The Sacramento Pit began production that year, operating until 1929 as an open pit with glory hole production lasting until 1931. Meanwhile, underground operations continued at several other mines until the price of copper dropped during the Great Depression. In 1931, Phelps Dodge acquired the holdings of the Calumet & Arizona Company and closed the Copper Queen smelter in favor of using the C&A Smelter facility. That same year, Bisbee took the county seat from Tombstone.

Copper mining continued to gradually slow until 1950, when work began on a new, larger open pit: the Lavender Pit, named for Phelps Dodge Vice-President and General Manager Harrison M. Lavender. Worked until 1974 when mining ceased in Bisbee, the Lavender Pit grew to an overall size of 5000 feet long, 4000 feet wide, and 850 feet deep, almost entirely displacing the suburb of Lowell. By the time mining ended, Bisbee had produced approximately 53 million tons of copper. The smelter in Douglas continued to operate intermittently until 1987, and was finally demolished in 1991. Today, Bisbee is a lively tourism-driven town with several narrow, winding streets lined with hundreds of historic homes and businesses. Despite its somewhat remote location, it is well worth the trip for any ghost town or history enthusiast and hours can be spent exploring.

I Visited Bisbee
1.19.2019 & 11.9.2019

See Also
LowellWarren

Bibliography