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