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Silver mining in Arizona: Wikis


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Silver mining in Arizona was a powerful stimulus for exploration and prospecting in early Arizona. Cumulative silver production through 1981 totaled 490 million troy ounces (15 million kg).[1] However, only about 10% of Arizona's silver production came from silver mining. More than 80% of the state's silver was a byproduct of copper mining; other silver came as a byproduct of lead, zinc, and gold mining.[1]


The Spanish and Mexican eras

Silver ore was first discovered in west-central Arizona in 1583 by Spanish explorer Antonio de Espejo, but no mining resulted. Again in 1598, Juan de Oñate led another expedition searching for Espejo’s silver; many claims were staked, but the expeditioners returned to Santa Fe without mining any silver, and the deposits remained unexploited. Espejo’s silver discovery is thought to be at the site of present-day Jerome, which later became a major copper-mining district.[2]

Father Eusebio Kino, in charge of the Spanish missions in southern Arizona from 1687 to 1711, noted a number of “minas” in the mountains bordering the Santa Cruz valley (present Santa Cruz County, Arizona), but the Spanish word “mina” can mean either a mine or an unexploited mineral deposit. A noted silver discovery in 1736 at Planchas de Plata, Sonora, just south of the present Arizona/Sonora border drew attention to the silver potential of the area. Later Spanish documents record mining in the 1770s in Quijotoa, Aribac, and Arivaca, in southernmost Arizona. Mining was held back because Arizona was the northern fringe of the Spanish frontier, and plagued by guerilla war with the Apaches.[3]

Start of American mining in Arizona

When southern Arizona became a United States possession by virtue of the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, American prospectors and investment started mining silver deposits previously known to the Spanish and Mexicans in present Santa Cruz and Pima counties. The Santa Rita mine in the Santa Rita Mountains and the Heintzelman mine in the Cerro Colorado Mountains both started in 1856, the Mowry mine in the Patagonia Mountains started in 1857, and the Salero mine in 1858.

American prospecting and silver mining in the Santa Rita Mountains on the east side of the Santa Cruz Valley led to conflicts with the Apaches, known as the Apache Wars. One Apache raid killed all but one employee of the Santa Rita mine.

Arizona silver belt

Silver was discovered at Globe in 1873, and within three years numerous other silver mines were operating near Globe, Pinal, and McMillenville, in Gila and Pinal counties.

A soldier named Sullivan discovered native silver while building a military road in central Arizona. Sullivan returned to the area after he left the army, but could not relocate the outcrop. However, Sullivan told his story to rancher named Mason, who with four others found Sullivan’s lost silver lode three miles north of present-day Superior, and started the Silver King mine in 1875. The Silver King mine operated from 1875 to 1889, and again 1918 to 1928, producing 6.2 million troy ounces (190 metric tons) of silver.[4]

The success of the Silver King drew other prospectors, who discovered the Silver Queen mine nearby. The Silver Queen shut down around 1893. Investors bought the property in 1910, renamed the Silver Queen the Magma mine, and started mining the rich copper ores that the silver miners had ignored. The Magma copper mine became one of the most productive copper mines in Arizona, and through 1964, produced more than 25 million troy ounces (780 metric tons) of silver as a byproduct of copper mining.[4]

Miners exhausted the best silver ores in the area by the mid-1880s, most of the mines closed, and most of the towns were deserted. But attention turned to copper veins, and the former “Arizona silver belt” became the rich Globe-Miami and Superior copper districts.[5]

Bradshaw Mountains

The first big silver strike in the Bradshaw Mountains was at Tiger, Yavapai County, in 1871. The Peck mine at Alexandra was discovered in 1875. That same year silver was discovered at Tip Top.[1]

Bisbee (Warren district)

In 1876, a soldier and an army scout staked mining claims over silver mineralization at Bisbee. Bisbee later produced more silver than any other district in Arizona, 102 million troy ounces, but mostly as a byproduct to copper mining.[2] Bisbee is historically the 10th-largest silver producing district in the US.[6]

Tombstone district

Ed Schieffelin discovered the Tombstone district in 1877

His friends told Ed Schieffelin that all he would find in the Apache country of southeast Arizona was his tombstone. When he found a silver bonanza he named the camp Tombstone, and named his mining claim the “Graveyard.” Tombstone, in Cochise County, became the most prolific silver producer of any mining district in Arizona that was mined primarily for silver. The district produced 32 million troy ounces (1,000 metric tons) of silver.[1] Tombstone boomed, but Schieffelin sold out for $10,000 a mine that would later produce millions, and went back to prospecting.[7]

Pearce district

A rancher discovered the silver lode of the Commonwealth mine in Cochise County in 1892. At its peak the adjacent town of Pearce had 1,900 inhabitants; it is now deserted. The district produced 12 million ounces (370 metric tons) of silver.[1]

After the silver boom

Silver mining declined after the demonetization of silver in 1893, yet the boom in copper mining was soon producing more silver as a byproduct than had been produced during the bonanza silver days.

In 2006, all the silver produced in Arizona came as a byproduct of copper mining.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Melissa Keane and A. E. Rogge (1992) Gold & Silver Mining in Arizona, 1848-1945, Arizona State Preservation Office, p. 14-15.
  2. ^ a b Richard T. Moore and George H. Roseveare (1969) Silver, in Mineral and Water Resources of Arizona, Arizona Bureau of Mines, Bulletin 180, p. 254-255.
  3. ^ John C. Lacy, Early history of mining in Arizona, acquisition of mining rights 1539-1866, in History of Mining in Arizona, Tucson: Mining Club of the Southwest Foundation, p.1-6.
  4. ^ a b Donald F. Hammer (1968) Geology of the Magma Mine Area, Arizona, in Ore Deposits of the United States 1933-1967, New York: American Institute of Mining Engineers, p.1282-1310.
  5. ^ Wilbur A. Haak (1991) Arizona’s silver belt, in History of Mining in Arizona, v.2, Tucson: Mining Club of the Southwest, p.31-35.
  6. ^ W.C. Butterman and H.E. Hilliard, (2004) Mineral Commodity Profiles, Silver, US Geological Survey, Open-File Report 2004-1251, p.4 PDF file, retrieved 31 December 2008.
  7. ^ Marshall Trimble (1986) Roadside History of Arizona, Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press, p.57-59, ISBN 0-87842-197-1.


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