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By Way of Rails
History in the making
With Clifton-Morenci mining activities on the rise many travelers passed through theUpper Gila Valley never seeing the valley as much more then a riverside byway. Settlers were first noted in the Gila Valley in 1874; shortly after there were enough homesteadsto establish a post office in Richmond now Virden, NM. “The Virden 24” settled within the Richmond area in 1882, which included a group of 24 families -- mostly related. Virden then gained its namesake after a military
officer well known to frequent this area.
Purdy, now Duncan, was established
alongside the NPB Ranch by its owners R. V. Newcomb, Rueben Purdy and George Batchelder. It was located on the north banks of the Gila River in the area of today’s Greenlee County Fairgrounds.
In 1884 saw the beginning of such ranches as the XXX Ranch established alongside Blue River. The ranching community of Whittum, now Blue, and the many settlements along the river and its creeks that flow from it were
first settled in 1878.
A coin toss between Toles Cosper and Robert Hannagan resulted in the meadow’s name. Mr. Hannagan was a Nevada miner who came to the area in the late 1890’s to raise cattle.
Apache Indians were still a constant threat to the Upper Gila Valley and lower Blue areas bringing soldiers on patrol to insure the settler’s safety. A decrease in raids to this area’s lands readied it for it’s next notable steps. During 1890 settlers from Mexico and Texas were over 300 strong with ranches and farms established all along our rivers and creeks. Over twenty canals were in use irrigating
Gila Valley farmland in 1895. With progression efforts such as these, Duncan Valley becomes the hub of Greenlee County’s agricultural activity -- and remains so today.
In 1878, rail use to the area was introduced. The building of a railroad along the bed of Chase Creek called the Coronado Railroad was completed in 1879 with the help of the Chinese laborers who were brought here in 1877 to work the mines. J. W. Evans changed the town of Clifton forever by building a smelter, storefronts and new housing options during 1880, the same year the first locomotive arrived -- the Copper Head Locomotive of the Coronado Railroad.
In need of connection to the lands beyond Clifton-Morenci Mining District, Arizona Copper Co. built a narrow-gauge railroad from Lordsburg, NM to Guthrie. The new railroad of Arizona & New Mexico Railroad connected with the Southern Pacific Railroad at Lordsburg, NM. The stage stop of Purdy was no longer considered town and Duncan was established in 1883 on the southern banks of the Gila River, where the new rails were located. Efforts to create “The New Southwest” were set forth by J. Duncan Smith with his prominent role as a director of the Arizona Copper Co. as well as the managing director of the Arizona and New Mexico Railroad. This quickly changed to a standard-gauge railroad and tracks were built into Clifton.
By 1901 the community of Morenci was
5,000 strong and building was completed of The Company Store. [Whimsical note: “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford, written and first recorded by Merle Travis in 1946, lyrics “I owe my soul to the company store” was written about coal mining, not copper -- this statement rang true time and again in Morenci during these days. Another artist, George Jones, sings of life in Clifton and Morenci
in his song “Open Pit Mine” which was
released in 1962.]
Phelps-Dodge & Co. purchased all holdings and became the undisputed owner of the town of Morenci after it bought Detroit Copper Co. in 1896 and Arizona Copper Co. in 1917. Starting the open-pit mining concept in 1937, with rail haulage and ten miles of railroad track, provided a safer working environment. Strikes of mining laborers occurred in 1903, 1915, 1955, with the most significant in 1983 lasting three years. Today’s Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. continues the mining legacy in Greenlee County.
Greenlee County was established in 1909, splitting Graham County after mining interests persuaded the Legislature to do so. Greenlee County Courthouse was built in 1911 in what is known today as South Clifton and is the oldest functioning courthouse in Arizona.
During this time fire destroyed many of the buildings on Chase Creek Street and new construction immediately began the very next year. The jail to the east was built in 1913, a year after Arizona achieved statehood.
In 1872 Detroit Copper Co. laid its claims on this land and Copper Mountain Mining District took a major change. In the following year, Camp Joy was dubbed “Morenci” by Detroit Copper Company’s Eben B. Ward from Morenci, Michigan. The town of Clifton was founded and the communities of Longfellow and Metcalf are organized as well. With these introductions of communities in the Copper Mountain Mining District area, the title of “Clifton-Morenci Mining District” is born. This name still depicts the area to this day.
By 1880 mining camps, their associated
mine shafts and excavation equipment began dotting the maps of these lands. Camps or “mining towns” like the one found north of Steeple Rock was not nearly as populated as Clifton or Morenci due to the great distance from life-giving rivers and were still well off the beaten path. Private mining operations did not find it prosperous to haul the gold, silver, copper, and fluorite from this mining district area. Significant mining began in 1880 and lasted until 1897, during which most of the gold and silver production came from the Carlisle mine. The surrounding mines are then named the Carlisle Mining District. Ash Peak was another such mining area located below the landmark mountain west of Duncan. A stage route and old wagon road to Safford/Solomon area utilized the spring below and was routinely ambushed by the Apaches. This road would become state route 70, now “The Old West Highway US 70”. It was later improved and a bridge was built across the Gila River at Duncan in 1912.
Phelps-Dodge & Company was established in Morenci in 1881. New concentrators were in operation in 1886 and the mines of the Clifton-Morenci District were in full production two years later. By 1890 it was documented that the population of Clifton had reached over 2,000. At this point, Clifton became a hub for the Morenci Mines to the west and was known for being a melting-pot for settlers. At full swing, especially on Chase Creek Street, Clifton was not short on entertainment.
Ranches & Outlaws
Wild West Legends
When the first mountain men, like James Pattie and others ventured up our many rivers and large creeks in 1825. They were looking for “soft gold” in the form of beaver pelts. Their presence is documented in 1831.
Geronimo, born in 1829 “where the three rivers meet” tells his own tales of the county. Insisting he was born in Arizona, not New Mexico, has led historians to believe Clifton or the nearby area is his birthplace. The close proximity of the confluence of Eagle Creek and the San Francisco River with the Gila River, known
today as the Gila Box Riparian Area, meets his description. It is also said that Geronimo asked his captives to allow him to live out the remainder of his days in Arizona, off the reservation, on Eagle Creek (believed to be referencing the Lower Eagle Creek area near Clifton).
In 1879, a warrior named Victorio left the San Carlos Apache Reservation and raided the town. Geronimo’s band did likewise in 1882 and killed eleven Mexican teamsters twelve miles to the south.
Mid-1800’s was the beginning of ranching
in the area, bringing large groups of pioneer settlers. This particular area’s Wild West American Frontier is established with new boundary lines of the New Mexico Territory in 1850 and then Arizona Territory in 1863.
Where there are cattle and new settlements on the uprising, there are cattle rustlers, renegades and outlaws ready to terrorize the area. Names like Black Jack Christian, Augustin
Chacon (1896 tried for his Morenci robberies and murders), Red Sample, Tex Howard, Nicolaus Olquin, Rufus Nephew and gangs like the “Wild Bunch”. While Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid work as trail-hands, fellow gang members Harvey Logan “Kid Curry” and another unidentified man haul off with $12,000 of the banks money in 1898 Clifton. Working ranches such as the WS, the SU and the Double Circle along our many rivers and creeks established along the varied
paths of the Outlaw Trail.
When the outlaws were in need of
provision, they counted on legendary allies, possibly like Charlie Moore. The Outlaw Trail, running its course through this county, offered many hideouts and ranch hand opportunities for the outlaws. Renegades disguised as traveling cowhands looking for their next opportunity for a steady pay made this a
These outlaws working the area’s ranches would appear to be on their best behavior in Alma (NM) to the east. The streets of Clifton saw many an outlaw running amuck. Clifton’s Chase Creek Street, in particular, was bustling with entertainment and thievery galore -- and the ranch boss’s would never catch wind of the cowboy’s antics. Clifton quickly became the second-most dangerous town in Arizona, only surpassed by the reputation of Tombstone. At its worst locals begin to call it “Hell Town”.
Spanish exploration of the area’s lands
began after Cortez conquered Mexico for Spain in 1521. In 1540, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado lead an expedition through Arizona in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. It is believed that Coronado’s expedition and many past explorers including Spanish conquistadors traveled this route currently known as the Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway (US 191). Many unrecorded excursions of Spanish and Mexican explorers took place throughout the county’s present day boundaries. Members of expeditions made note of the expansive copper deposits in the area and its many mining opportunities in the early 1800’s, but they were more interested in other minerals and the Apaches made the area too dangerous.
The first minerals were discovered during 1856 and marks the beginnings of mining communities such as Camp Joy (aka: Joy’s Camp). Prospecting began in 1860 in the district then known as Steeple Rock (Carlisle). Located north of the Upper Gila Valley, making the soon-to-become Greenlee County a gold and silver mining mecca. In 1862 sporadic placer mining claims for gold and silver took place with the arrival of entrepreneurs such as William Church, General James H. Carlton and Henry Clifton. New mineral discoveries and mining claims took place during these years leading to set regulations of the Mining Act of 1866.
During 1870 copper company claims
sprang up with the arrival of Captain Chase and his scouting expedition. Among this group were Robert & Jim Metcalf and Joe Yanki. Within the year, many companies including the Metcalf brother’s Longfellow Copper Co. were established. Mason Greenlee, an early-day
mining man from Colorado, arrived in 1871 with J. H. Holbrook and nearly twenty others. They stayed in the vicinity most of the winter but returned to Colorado when the Apaches became troublesome. Greenlee was very impressed with the gold prospects he had come to know and was determined to return. He sold his valuable mine in Colorado and returned to Clifton in 1878 where he would live out his remaining days.
Rich Historical Past
Begin your quest...
Crops & Cattle
Over the last two centuries Greenlee County has seen the impacts of many Spanish explorers, early Native American raids, outlaws, epidemics, destructive fires, devastating floods, the building of Arizona’s first railroad, fluctuation in beef prices and extreme transitions of many mining districts. Yet our communities carry on with vitality and momentum, never losing site of the common goal to retain our country charm and hospitality. Greenlee County Tourism Council and the people of its diverse lands graciously invite new explorers seeking “Wild”adventures, “Old West”history and “Authentic Southwest”flare to partake in the endless “Quest” to see all that Greenlee County has to offer its visitors. Come join us for a welcoming vacation and “Hideout”from the masses, seclusion only found right here in Greenlee County, Arizona!
A New Century
Fossils of prehistoric animals and the remains of prehistoric life in the form of metates, stone hammers, pottery, petroglyphs, ruins and so forth have been found in different areas throughout Greenlee County. Documentation of prehistoric findings began in the early 1840’s with the “Army of the West” led by General Stephen Kearny. Historians believe that from 800 BC - 1450 BC Mogollon, Hohokam and Anasazi Indians all populated this area, disappearing over a thousand years ago for reasons still unknown. A new society, the western Apaches, took their place in 1500. This warlike group was here when the first Europeans began making forays into the region.
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Mining Boom Towns