Mine Tales: Silver Bell district yielded millions of pounds of copper – by William Ascarza (Arizona Daily Star – March 31, 2014)


The earliest recorded mine in the Silver Bell Mountains was the Old Boot Mine in 1865. The mine, later renamed the Mammoth Mine, was developed by prospectors and financed by a group of Tucson merchants including Zeckendorf and Steinfeld, who were drawn to the heavy, black garnet-stained rock formations in the mountains.

Several small rich pockets of lead silver ores were discovered in the area over the next several decades. Other mines later developed included the Young America Mine, Imperial and El Tiro.

By 1904 the Silver Bell district was mined in earnest by the Imperial Copper Co., whose interest included 61 claims. The Oxide Copper Co. also developed claims.

Mining was challenging due to lack of water and high transportation costs involving ore shipments hauled by mule-drawn wagons to the main line of the Southern Pacific Railroad at Red Rock. From there it was transported to El Paso or the Copper Queen smelter at Douglas.

That was remedied in 1904 when the Imperial Copper Co. — a subsidiary of the Development Company of America — built the Arizona Southern Railroad from Silverbell to the town of Red Rock.

Eleven million pounds of copper were mined in 1909 and shipped to the Sasco smelter along the route of the Arizona Southern Railroad, seven miles west of Red Rock near the Samaniego Hills and two miles from a water source — the Santa Cruz River.

Known at one time as “The Toughest Town in Pima County” or “The Hell Hole of Arizona” the company town of Silverbell reached a population of 1,200 during World War I.

A post office established in 1904 was followed by several grocery stores, saloons, Wells Fargo, barber shops, a dairy, a hospital and a school with 75 students.

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