Arizona’s mining history: Danger for many, riches for a few – by Weldon B. Johnson (Arizona Republic – September 10, 2018)

The lure of gold sparked the mining boom in the Arizona Territory in the Old West, but other shiny metals helped the industry catch fire here. Many prospectors who arrived in the mid-1800s with dreams of striking it rich with gold quickly adapted to the more abundant copper and silver. There were times during mining’s boom period when those metals were more valuable than gold.

But those miners weren’t the first seek a fortune, or at least make a better life, by exploiting Arizona’s mineral riches. As early as 1000 B.C., native inhabitants used cinnabar, coal, turquoise, clay, pigments and other minerals. Spanish explorers followed a few hundred years later, searching for fabled lost cities of gold and other riches.

Charles Poston, sometimes called the father of Arizona (he played a significant role in securing Arizona’s territorial status), opened mines near Tubac in 1854 that employed nearly 1,000 miners. Four years later he was literally printing money. He owned the state’s first printing press.

In 1858, Arizona’s first gold rush began when Jacob Snively led an expedition that discovered a deposit of gold on the Gila River about 19 miles east of Yuma. Many cities flourished while the mines produced, but they didn’t all survive.

Gila City (which sprang up from Snively’s find) and La Paz were boom towns that grew around around gold findings. Both were left high and dry when the Gila and Colorado rivers shifted.

Tombstone had a population of more than 4,000 people and at one point in the 1880s was the biggest city between New Orleans and San Francisco.

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