Monday, November 30, 2009

Bisbee, “Queen of the Copper Camps,” and “Little San Francisco.”

Following early exploration by Hugh Jones, Cavalry Sgt. Jack Dunn discovered rich outcroppings of copper ore in the Mule Mountains in 1877. George Warren followed up to create the Warren Mining District and the Copper Queen mine. The town was named after a San Francisco investor who never saw the place. Two events soon stimulated economic development in southern Arizona. By 1880, the Southern Pacific railroad had completed its line from Yuma into New Mexico. The following year, Thomas Edison opened the first electric generating plant in New York City giving birth to a new age of electricity, dependent upon copper conductors.

With the arrival of the railroad mining began in earnest and the town of Bisbee grew to serve the industry. Rails reached Bisbee in 1889. Water came from a well at Naco. A second railway from El Paso came in 1902. James Douglas and his Phelps Dodge company purchased an interest in the Copper Queen mine in 1881. The other large mine was the Calumet and Arizona.
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At least two of the hills surrounding Bisbee contained massive ore bodies, the removal of which left underground caverns with cathedral ceilings called “stopes.” Timber cribbing was used to support overhead rock. Tunnels in the Copper Queen mine led to particularly large stopes like this one pictured in the 1880s. Because one caption calls this photo “first ore,” it may show the “glory hole” in the side of Queen Hill where digging first began. The hole was open to the air at the top and proceeded down into the hill for more than 300 feet. After 1910, new ways of moving massive amounts of soil learned in Panama and Jerome, Arizona, led to the development of open pit mining.

Biggest city between St. Louis and San Francisco.

Mining provided jobs and miners required a service industry. The population of Bisbee soared. The 1890 census of 1,535 residents made Bisbee the fifth largest city in the territory behind Tucson, Phoenix, Yuma and Prescott. By 1900, some estimates pointed to 24,000 inhabitants living in the Mule Mountains. Bisbee was said to be the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco, certainly between Los Angeles and El Paso.

Detail from a geology map prepared by Ransome (1904, op. cit.) shows the City of Bisbee surrounded by hills (shown with contours) and mines (tunnels in blue). The black rectangles are buildings and houses. Colors show geologic formations.

The company store and library, fine hotels, churches, fraternal orders and the Bank of Bisbee clustered around a square at one end of Main Street. The other end of the street wound around Castle Rock past the rich homes on Quality Hill and up Tombstone Canyon. There were impressive schools and two large hospitals. One source says Bisbee had the first community library, baseball fields and golf course in the state. Large YMCA and YWCA recreational facilities downtown were somewhat affectionately called “welfare factories,” because they showed a progressive concern for employees on the part of mining companies. Less progressive amenities were also common. The narrow way called Brewery Gulch was lined with saloons and bordellos euphemistically called “cribs.”

Built on the side of Quality Hill near the entrance to Tombstone Canyon in 1931, the Art Deco halls of the Cochise County Court House are now said to be haunted by a former judge. Tombstone was county seat until 1929. Courthouse Triangle is flanked on one side by St. Patrick’s Catholic Church (1916) and on the other side by Horace Mann School (1917). At the point of the triangle stands the miner’s monument, a copper-gilded statue of a worker holding a hammer and chisel erected in 1935.

Wherever men and women worked hard for a living in dangerous conditions, owing their soul to the company store, they demanded progress. They dreamed life would get better in coming years for themselves and their children. But Bisbee would always be at the mercy of fluctuating market prices for copper.

By April 1881, the Copper Queen mine had shipped 112 tons of pure copper by mule team wagons to the railhead at Benson then sold the operation for $1.2 million. But every year huge new “lenses” of copper ore were discovered in the surrounding hills. By 1904, the Bisbee mines had produced 400 million pounds of copper, then another 1.5 billion pounds from 1909 to 1918. One mine, the Irish Mag, would eventually return $15 million to investors. By the time the Lavender Pit played out in 1974, the Queen of the Copper Camps had earned at least $2 billion from more than 8 billion pounds of copper. Add to that nearly four million pounds apiece of lead and zinc, 2.7 million ounces of gold and a million ounces of silver.

When high market prices for copper inflated profits, workers wanted their share or went on strike. The demand for copper during World War I, strong demands by the federal government for patriotic support of the war on the part of all Americans and the radical Industrial Workers of the World union clashed to blow the lid off Bisbee in 1917. With the backing of the county sheriff’s office and the president of Phelps Dodge an angry mob rounded up everyone suspected of supporting the I.W.W., marched them to railroad cattle cars and forcibly deported 1,286 to New Mexico.

Rounded up by a mob wielding guns, axe handles and sticks, IWW “sympathizers” are marched from Bisbee and Lowell to the ball park at Warren July 12, 1917. Deportees were marched between two lines of armed men, some of whom wear white arm bands to show they are deputized. Behind the marchers, on the left, is the Calumet & Arizona Junction Mine, with Lowell’s Main Street on the right.

Evolving market forces changed Bisbee forever.

When the war ended the price of copper plunged. It had already fallen from 20 cents a pound to 13 cents during the recession of 1907-1909. It was back up to 27 cents in 1916, then fell to 18.6 cents following the armistice and 12 cents in 1921. Unemployment in Bisbee was sporadic, but nothing like what was to come. After the stock market crash of 1929, the price of copper declined 70%. The Sacramento Pit fell silent, Calumet & Arizona merged with Phelps Dodge and one of the smelters in Douglas closed. Phelps Dodge mines at Ajo and Morenci ceased operations in 1932. Only the coming of another world war in 1939 returned miners to work.

Government intervention to stabilize copper prices and sustained economic growth around the world kept many families employed through the 1950s and 60s. Then, the market forces of globalization came into play, along with new demands for profit from investors. Copper mining in Arizona shifted to more profitable locations in Pinal, Pima, Greenlee and Gila counties. Bisbee’s Lavender Pit closed in December 1974 and Copper Queen underground operations ceased six months later. Like Ajo, Bisbee survived as an art and retirement community and has retained the county seat.

See also:

Lynn R Bailey, Bisbee, Queen of the Copper Camps (1983).
Rob E. Hanson, The Great Bisbee I.W.W. Deportation of July 12, 1917 (1989).
Boyd Nicholl, Bisbee, Arizona Then and Now (2003). University of Arizona Digital Library, Bisbee deportation Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum University of Arizona Miners Story Project Bisbee mining photos

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Life in old Bisbee went full blast.

Early Bisbee residents choked on fumes from the mining operations, especially the Copper Queen smelter seen in this view from near Sacramento Hill looking west about 1903. But as long as the smoke kept billowing the paychecks kept coming. Smelting operations moved to Douglas shortly after this photo was taken, though a concentrator plant still operated at Bisbee.

“Junipers and oaks of some size were formerly abundant. . . . But with the demand for firewood these have disappeared. Such trees as still grow on some of the northern hill slopes are little more than bushes. Prior to 1893 oak trees stood in the streets of Bisbee, and the neighboring hill slopes were dotted with shrubs. But this vegetation was destroyed soon after the introduction of the matte process in the Copper Queen smelter with its attendant sulphurous fumes.”
-- p.17, Frederick L. Ransome, The Geology and Ore Deposits of the Bisbee Quadrangle, Arizona. (1904)

A faro game goes full blast at the Orient Saloon in Bisbee, 1893, captured by noted Tombstone photographer C. S. Fly. Tony Downs, part owner of the saloon, holding a paper with bowler hat and cigar is standing at left. Seated on the left side of the table is the case keeper. On his left hand is a concert hall singer named Doyle, then a man wanted by the police shielding his face under his hat from the camera. At right, in top hat is a gambler named Smiley Lewis, with dealer Johnny Murphy sitting on his right hand, then “the lookout” sitting with legs crossed in a high chair. Among the onlookers were men with names like “Dutch Kid” and “Sleepy Dick.”

All classes of men, miners and businessmen, frequented the more than 40 saloons up Brewery Gulch for gambling, drinking, and prostitution. The tense atmosphere of the faro table drew a crowd wherever gold, silver or copper brought wealth. In fact this photo from the National Archives and Records Administration was reproduced frequently over the years, often erroneously captioned with a Virginia City Nevada location. In 1907, efforts to bring respectability and hasten statehood, led authorities to outlaw gambling, and prohibit women working in saloons which put the damper on prostitution. Prohibition of alcohol came to Arizona in 1919, turning one Bisbee saloon into an ice cream parlor.

Arizona cities wholeheartedly celebrate holidays. This postcard mailed in July 1909 seems to show the Independence Day parade on Main Street in front of the Copper Queen Hotel and Phelps Dodge mine office as an occasion to welcome a contingent of cavalry, possibly to nearby Ft. Huachuca. In mining towns like Bisbee, hand drilling contests also drew large crowds.

In some ways the automobile had less impact in Bisbee because much of the town is inaccessible by car. Still, by the time this photo was snapped around 1936, residents could motor up Tombstone Canyon for a late night hamburger and Coca-Cola at the Big Meal Drive Inn.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

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Old Bisbee bathed in fire,
flood, smoke and money.

This postcard view from about 1918 looks east over downtown. Chihuahua Hill is on the left, Queen Hill on the right. Between the two, steam shovels have recently begun cutting copper ore out of Sacramento Hill, most of which would become inverted as the Sacramento Pit. Nearby, aggressive digging after World War II would create the 1,000-foot deep Harry Lavender open pit. An earlier “glory hole” is visible in Queen Hill.

Bisbee built itself in the dry gulches between a collection of hills in the Mule Mountains. At the bottom, stores lined narrow winding streets like Brewery Gulch, streets that flowed with water following each summer storm. Miner’s shacks and family homes hung from Castle Rock or climbed Young Blood Hill and at least half a dozen other steep slopes. Mine shafts, shops and smelters were propped up against Queen Hill and Sacramento Hill. There was no planned development, no zoning rules. Land had value according to mineral content or gradient. Wage earners had to climb long flights of stairs to get home. Some residents were impressed by the jumble as a “bit of Switzerland in America,” while others saw only a “city of sighs and tears,” or “signs and beers.” A devastating fire in 1908 wiped out the downtown, but substantially constructed masonry buildings followed and most of those survive today.

Opera Drive heads north up Opera Hill from a point behind the Copper Queen Hotel downtown. This view of the neighborhood from about 1907 shows the kind of mixed development that characterized Arizona mining towns. Notice the lumber yard at lower right, and farther up the hill the Buxton Smith Company (coal & wood fuel sales). Stimulated by changes in postal regulations and new color printing techniques in 1898, postcards became tremendously popular items sold in drug stores, curio shops and “five and dime” stores. This postcard, like many before 1910, was printed in Germany. Originally in black and white, I have added a tint.

A scene of middle-class prosperity beneath the twin turrets of Castle Rock about 1907. The sky is blue this day (thanks to color printing on the original postcard) and the air is clear. Sheets are hung out to dry on a southwest facing porch, There’s the outhouse conveniently located along the stairs. Below this scene runs Main Street, winding around the rock to enter Tombstone Canyon. But everything had to be hauled up the stairs, water, groceries, furniture, and the building materials to construct these homes. In many areas of town burros could bring supplies, and the valuable animals had a large population in old Bisbee. The two big houses pictured are still there.