Apache Junction News, July 14, 2014
Guest commentary: Arizona History Threatened
A threat to Arizona history
by Dick Zimmermann
The first European settlers came to Arizona for gold and grass, in that order. Marcos de Niza (1539) and Coronado (1540) searched for golden treasure and were disappointed. However, in 1736, Spanish prospectors discovered a rich silver deposit near Nogales. Spain then established military garrisons at Tubac (1752) and at Tucson (1776) to suppress hostile Indians. Toward the end of the 18th century, some ranches were established as well as mines. However, most Mexican ranchers were eventually expelled by Apaches.
American prospectors began exploring for Arizona mineral s after 1848, when Arizona became a part of the United States. Rich deposits of gold and copper, as well as silver, were discovered. A mining boom followed, leading to the establishment of military posts, mining towns, and railroads across the territory. Ranches and farms were then also established'
After the civil war, Texans brought large scale ranching to Arizona, and huge cattle herds occupied Arizona by 1890. At approximately the same time, large scale copper mining began at Bisbee, where a smelter was built. A flourishing economy built on mining and ranching, in that order, supported a successful application of statehood in 1912. While ranching is certainly a key part of Arizona history, mining preceded it. Ranching is also not unique to Arizona, as many other states were also ranching states. Arizona’s unique geology and mineral resources made mining a unique and prominent part of Arizona’s history. Also, after ranching faded to some degree due to overgrazing in the early years, the vast Arizona copper deposits continued to produce to this day. Arizona is still the leading copper state, contributing over half of domestic US production.
Time has slowly been erasing the traces of the early Arizona miners. Antique equipment and structures have been cut up and sold for scrap. Rust, rot, and vandals have eliminated others. In some cases, modern mining operations have obliterated historic mine sites and entire towns. For example, the entire original town site of Morenci, Arizona disappeared by 1983 as the result of modern open pit mining.
A handful of concerned citizens worked tirelessly to preserve a bit of Arizona mining heritage. Over a period of 20 years, a group of dedicated volunteers at the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in Phoenix labored for many thousands of hours to preserve some of the historic mining artifacts. Major structures and pieces of mining equipment were relocated from old mine sites to the museum grounds. There, they were carefully reassembled and restored to operating condition. Eventually, the museum became one of only a few places in the country where visitors could see historic mining equipment process ore just as it did over a century ago.
A 40 foot tall mine head frame was moved to Phoenix from Bisbee. It was completely reassembled, along with the winch house, and appeared just as it did a century ago when it lifted ore cars from deep, underground copper mines.
A stamp mill, used to crush ore so that gold could be extracted, was moved to the museum from the Swallow Mine north of Wickenburg, AZ. Restored to operating condition, it fascinated visitors as it shook the ground and smashed rock into sand sized particles.
A mucker from the Red Rover mine north of Carefree, AZ was also returned to operating condition. The restored mucker loaded ore carts just as it did in the past. Visitors could see how large ore chunks from a mineshaft blast were loaded, transported to a jaw crusher where they were broken into egg sized chunks, and then transported to the stamp mill where they were crushed into fine material that allowed extraction of the gold.
Favorites with children visiting the museum were the big mine shovel bucket from Hayden, AZ and the baby gauge locomotive from Morenci, AZ. The locomotive moved ore cars at the old underground mine at Morenci before it became an open pit mine. It came to Arizona from New Mexico in pieces hauled in horse drawn wagons. Today, it is one of only a few surviving baby gauge mining locomotives.
Today, this historic Arizona mining equipment is seriously threatened. In 2010, the Arizona Historical Society gained control of the mineral museum. They intended to use the building for an Arizona Centennial Museum to be completed in 2012. The architectural drawings for the centennial museum showed no trace of the mining equipment. The AHS clearly planned to remove it. However, fundraising for the centennial museum failed, and the centennial museum was never built. Today, the building stands empty, and the historic mining equipment still surrounds it at the corner of 15th Avenue and Washington Street in Phoenix.
However, it appears that the equipment is still threatened. The AHS is attempting another project to replace the mineral museum. Now, teamed with the 48 Arizona Women Group (http://www.48women.org/), they are attempting to raise funds to convert the building into a “public center for events”. The AHS already has such a facility in Tempe that is four times larger and much newer. Why they are interested in constructing a smaller, redundant facility in Phoenix is unknown. Since the AHS planned to remove the mining equipment for a centennial museum, it may be presumed that they also intend to remove it for a facility that is not even a museum.
Removal and possible destruction of this historic mining equipment would be a senseless loss of Arizona history, and an insult to the volunteers who labored for decades to preserve it. It would be somewhat like Philadelphia scrapping the liberty bell, or Texas demolishing the Alamo.
Dick Zimmmerman, of Tempe AZ, is a retired aerospace engineer, former mineral museum supporter, and author of the blog Mineral Museum Madness.