Southeastern Arizona has a rich mining history dating back more than 1,000 years. The indigenous people known also as the Hohokam, or vanished ones, were the first to exploit the vast mineral resources in the area known today as Arizona. They used minerals such as copper and turquoise for ornamental jewelry and to trade among settlements.
Elsewhere in Arizona, Hopi Indians near the present day town of Holbrook mined coal as a means of keeping warm in the winter, for cooking and also for the firing of ceramics. Native Americans were involved in mining turquoise in the Cerbat Mountains and cinnabar in the Castle Dome Mining District near Yuma. They also mined salt near Camp Verde.
There is evidence that the Tohono O’odham mined hematite in the Ajo area for use as war paint in the 15th century shortly after the disappearance of the Hohokam. Although the O’odham were the first to mine the surface of Arizona, it was the Spanish who were the first to extensively penetrate its earth in search of mineral wealth, most notably in Southeastern Arizona.
The Spanish first entered the region later called Arizona in the early 16th century. Their mission was to obtain the “Three Gs” for Spain — glory, God and gold. The two primary objectives were to Christianize the natives and obtain mineral riches for the Spanish crown.
Early Spanish exploration of Arizona began with the exploration led by Fray Marcos de Niza in 1539.
The following year, his reports of great wealth in the form of gold and silver reached Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who mounted several pronged expeditions aimed at discovering the “Seven Cities of Cibola” rumored to rival the Aztec and Inca gold caches in Mexico and South America.