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Ghost Towns & Mines  

Within a 3 hour drive from the greater Phoenix area, there are dozens of fascinating relics of turn-of-the-century Arizona history to explore.  Unfortunately, many mines and old mining towns have been victims of thoughtless and unnecessary vandalism and destruction.  Here are a few that are steep with colorful history — see them while you still have a chance, before they're gone.

 
An except from Marshall Trimble's Roadside History of Arizona

 

"The rugged, sprawling mountains west of I-17 are among the richest of all the mineral-laden ranges in Arizona.  They were originally called the Silver Range because of rich silver lodes, but the name was changed to honor Bill Bradshaw.  Bill and his brother Ike ran a freighting business from San Bernadino to Ehrenberg-La Paz in the early 1860s when gold was discovered nearby.  Ike built a ferry and hauled freight and passengers across the Colorado River at Olive City.  In 1863 Bill found gold in the mountains that were later named for him.  The Bradshaw  Mining District was created, and in 1871 Bradshaw City sprang up along the road to Prescott.  At its peak, the town boasted about 5,000 residents.  Soon after the town was laid out, prosperity began to fade, and by the 1880s Bradshaw City was a ghost town.

At the height of mining in the Bradshaws, mines and towns with picturesque names like Tip Top, Columbia, Oro Belle, Big Bug, Senator, Bueno and Crown King produced millions of dollars in gold and silver, leaving an indelible mark on the colorful history of Arizona.

In 1899 the vast riches in the Bradshaws prompted Frank Murphy to take on what seemed to be a mission impossible, building a railroad from Mayer to the source of the minerals at Poland, on the north side of the mountains, and another line to Crown King, on the south side.  Building railroads over rough terrain was nothing new to Murphy — he'd already completed a line from Ash Fork to Prescott to Phoenix, and another from Prescott to Mayer.

Murphy advertised in eastern newspapers for strong-armed tracklayers willing to work for a dollar a day, which was twice the usual pay of that time.  By October 1901, 350 men were ready to tackle what was being described as an impossible railroad project.  The determined crew of tracklayers and gandy dancers sliced their way into the Bradshaws, across rough arroyos and along steep barrancas.

When a dynamite blast exposed a rich body of ore, Murphy lost most of his crew to gold fever; however he had no difficulty replacing his crew from eastern labor markets at a dollar a day.  On April 21, 1902 the first locomotive steamed into Poland on shining narrow-gauge rails.

In 1902 miners, following a vein of gold, cut through the mountain separating Poland from Walker.  This turned out to spark an economic boom for Walker, named for famed trailblazer Joe Walker — up to then ore had been hauled over precipitous mountain trails for several miles; now it could be hauled through the tunnel to the railtown at Poland.

The other part of Frank Murphy's "impossible" railroad headed southwest of Mayer to Crown King, clinging tenaciously to the sides of the lofty Bradshaws, with more kinks than a cheap lariat.  Twelve switchbacks had turns so tight passengers in the  caboose could look across and see the engine going the other way.  The mine was finally completed in 1904 after exceeding its projected cost by about 300%.  It was worth every penny — by 1907 the mines at Tiger, Big Bug, Turkey Creek, Pine Grove, and Crown King were producing over a million dollars in gold and silver.

The boom times lasted until the end of World War I.  By this time old age was catching up with the narrow-gauge line; furthermore, the price of metals was down, freight costs were up, and the mines were starting to play out.  The glory days were almost over, and by 1920 both the Poland and Crown King lines were abandoned."

Marshall Trimble is a colorful speaker and author of Arizona history.  He speaks at many local engagements around the Phoenix-Prescott-Ash Fork area — don't miss a chance to see him.  He has many fascinating books available on old Arizona history, full of flavorful tall tales of this area.  Visit his website at www.marshalltrimble.com.

The Vulture Mine and Ghost Town

outside Wickenburg, Arizona

The Vulture Mine was discovered in 1863 by Henry Wickenburg. Henry sold the mine after a few years. The Vulture, however, went on to become the most productive gold mine in the history of Arizona. Vulture City grew to a population of almost 5.000 people the 1920’s and 30’s.

Henry Wickenburg initially worked the mine by himself, but began to sell the gold ore to other prospectors. By 1866, Wickenburg had had enough of gold mining. He sold 80% of the mine to a man named Benjamin Phelps, who represented some eastern investors, and the Vulture Mine was born.

The Vulture Mining Company announced plans to introduce modern mining methods, and to build a twenty-stamp mill on the Hassayampa River. The stamp mill site was to be twelve miles to the northeast, about one mile north of an existing settlement on the river. This settlement had already attracted merchants eager to provide the Vulture with goods and services. Henry Wickenburg retired from mining and established a farm near this settlement. The settlement became known as Wickenburg.

Henry Wickenburg, for his 80% interest, received $20,000 in cash, and a note for $65,000, not realizing the true potential of the mine. The new owners soon claimed that Wickenburg didn’t have a clear title to the property, and refused to pay the remainder of the price. Wickenburg spent most of his $20,000 trying to collect on his note, but never succeeded.

The Vulture Mine produced more than $200 million dollars worth of gold, as valued at that time (approx. $12 an ounce). The exact amount is really unknown. Some say that nearly half of the Vulture’s gold was stolen from highgrading, a sort of "personal profit sharing". Highgrading was a side benefit of the mine, stealing the highest grade of ore, and was by no means approved by the mining company. Miners would often work the mine during evenings and weekends for their own benefit. Freighters would line up at the mine with wagons to transport the gold ore. As soon as they were out of sight, the freighters would begin picking through the gold, pocketing the best pieces. The early owners of the mine treated harshly anyone caught highgrading. There are persistent tales of men being hung at the Hangin’ Tree for highgrading, but there are no actual records. Legend says that at least eighteen men ended their lives on the Tree at Vulture City.

The Vulture Mine, a hard rock mine, had no need of support timbers. The mining company found it necessary to leave about 40% of the ore in place as supporting columns, and these columns were very rich in gold ore. In 1923, some "personal miners" were working in one of the large underground chambers, and were chipping away at these columns when they suddenly gave way. One hundred feet of rock over their heads collapsed on them. The cave in killed seven miners and twelve burros. Above ground, what had been a small hill became a pit. The collapsed chamber area became known as the "Glory Hole". Ironically, the miners soon discovered that the new Glory Hole was an excellent place for personal mining.

When President Franklin Roosevelt closed the mine in 1942 (WWII), people left believing they would return in six months. The mine never reopened. Almost overnight, a once thriving community became a ghost town.

John and Marge Osborne have been the caretakers and hosts at the Vulture Mine since 1970. John Osborne probably knows more about the Vulture Mine than any living person. He has mined for gold in the Glory Hole, and has assisted in a survey of the miles of underground tunnels. His 30 year tenure is the only reason the Vulture Mine is still in the condition it is today. Though most of the building are now on the verge of collapse, few places offer a look into the living history of Arizona, with relics and timeless treasures still standing around, that the Vulture has. Most all other mining sites and ghosts towns have been long since obliterated by pilfering and senseless vandalism.

The Vulture Mine, outside Wickenburg, was the most productive gold mine in Arizona

You can possibly arrange a special private tour of the mine with the Osbourne's.  It's a long and steep hike back up the rail tracks to get out.

There are many old ore carts still standing in good condition

On one level the miners quarters still stands, and gives you an appreciation of an above-ground job!

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