The History of Copper in Bisbee
The History of Copper in Bisbee
What does copper mining, electric lights, hippies and artists all have in common? Bisbee, of course. These disparate things are forever linked in history. Let's go back to the beginning.
Discovering Copper in Bisbee
In 1877, a scouting party with the US Cavalry set out from Fort Bowie for the Mule Mountains. Lt. John Rucker, TD Byrne and John Dunn combed the area in search of signs of the Apache. They were also looking for a reliable source of fresh drinking water, and in the process stumbled across something that may have proven to be even more valuable.
Dunn was fairly knowledgeable about geology, and when he noticed an outcropping of iron oxide, he correctly guessed there may be even more valuable minerals nearby. His instincts lead to the discover of one the country's most important copper deposits in what came to be known as Bisbee.
Mining Companies Spring Up
The newly discovered minerals eventually drew prospectors and miners from all over. Dozens of mining companies set up, but only four found lasting success: The Copper Queen Consolidate, Calumet & Arizona, Shattuck-Arizona and Denn-Arizona.
Eventually, buyouts and mergers led to one consolidated company: Phelps Dodge, the main descendent of the Copper Queen Minin Company.
Right Place, Right Time
With the advent of electrical lighting across the world, the demand for copper exploded. People from around the world made their way to Bisbee to seek their fortune. The journey was harsh, with the threat of bandits, Apaches and renegades throughout the west. The harsh desert climate was a constant challenge for settlers who found that acclimating to the arid surroundings posed a steep challenge.
A Settlement Grows
Eventually, the burgeoning town began to attract a stable workforce that included more skilled miners and amenities to lure families to make their home in Bisbee, and the mining camp began to prosper. By 1913 the numbers swelled to over 20,000 people living and working in the Bisbee and the surrounding communities. At one time it was possible to smell, hear, and feel the signs of the bustling mining industry from everywhere in Bisbee. The scent of the smelter, the sound of mine bells ringing, and the shake of the open-pit mining blasts were ever present throughout the growing town.
End of an Era
The industry was at its apex in the 1910s, when Bisbee boasted a population of close to 25,000 people, with the mining industry at its center.
By 1975, the ores that were once believed would last forever, were depleted. The Lavender Mine copper pit is a monument to the bygone era.
These days, strolling down Bisbee's Main Street the little town seems to be frozen in time, but a closer look reveals Bisbee’s transformation. World famous for its cooler climate, Bisbee’s Main Street now boasts unique restaurants, art galleries, specialty boutiques, antique stores and one-of-a-kind shops, and attracts hippies, hipsters and travelers from all over the world.
If You Go
Take the I-10 Freeway and exit 303. Take AZ-80 East toward Douglas/Tombstone for about 47 miles and watch the signs for old Bisbee.
Bisbee is a great city for walking, so be sure to pack comfortable shoes and be prepared to amble the streets, climb stairs, grab a delicious bite at one of the unique restaurants, and be sure to stop by the Bisbee Grand Hotel or St. Elmo’s Bar for an adult refreshment.
Source: Graeme Larkin, Annie. Postcard History Series: Bisbee. Arcadia Publishing, 2013.