Mine Tales: Railroads spurred mining’s growth in Arizona – by William Ascarza (Arizona Daily Star – July 27, 2014)


William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. Email him at mining@tucson.com

Railroad transportation proved indispensable to the development of the mining industry in Arizona, connecting it to lucrative markets in California and the Eastern states.

The arrival of the “iron horse” established towns and injected capital to advance mining interests through delivery of equipment and supplies while providing ease of ore transport to distant markets for refinement and profit.

Early talk of involving rail transportation in Arizona dates to shortly after the end of the Mexican-American War, when Congress financed surveys with the intention of establishing transcontinental railroad lines through what was then part of New Mexico Territory. Euphoric Manifest Destiny aspirations of the late 1850s included a railroad connecting mining operations around Tubac to Guaymas, Mexico.

This connection was deemed essential by William Wrightson, superintendent of the Santa Rita Mining Co.

Attempts to annex Sonora, Mexico, including a final expedition led by Henry Crabb in 1857, resulted in failure, as was the proposed rail line at the time. The Civil War, coupled with lack of financing, hindered rail in Arizona for the next two decades.

By the early 1880s, two major railroads operated in Arizona.

They included more than 384 miles of Southern Pacific Railroad across the 32nd parallel in Southern Arizona, originally surveyed by A.B. Gray and W.H. Emory, and the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, later known as the Santa Fe, across the 35th parallel through Flagstaff in Northern Arizona, originally surveyed by A.W. Whipple.

The latter arrived in 1882 from the East, opening Northern Arizona to commerce with the rest of the United States and allowing businesses like the Arizona Lumber and Timber Co. and early ranchers, including the Babbitt brothers, access to Eastern markets.

In September 1877, the Southern Pacific Railroad — Arizona’s first — arrived at Yuma from California. By 1880 it arrived in Tucson, connecting to the Texas and Pacific east of El Paso the following year. Track-laying across the desert regions provided some notable achievements, including laying more than a dozen miles of track a day. Southern Arizona towns created by the railroad included Benson, Bowie, Cochise and Willcox.

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