Geology Home Page physical geology historical geology planetary gems
Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Mikey Cota
Bisbee was once known as “The Queen of the Copper Camps,” because of their
mines. Bisbee is full of history, whether it is past or present. That history is
a beautiful town. The miners worked hard to find the minerals that the Earth has
laid within its layers. Those uncovered layers can be seen as a person is
driving into old Bisbee and toured too. The families of Bisbee are the reason
Bisbee prospered. The union wants all the people of the miners to be treated
fairly and to be safe. Bisbee mining corporations had their own thoughts. A
miner’s work is very dangerous but it also brought a piece of the Earth to the
people. Copper contains many uses and the exquisite looks of turquoise are
shared with all.
To begin history,
“in 1877 a reconnaissance detail of army scouts and cavalrymen was sent to the
Mule Mountains to search the area for renegade Apaches” (Graeme).
Jack Dunn was a civilian tracker that found “signs of mineralization” and Bisbee
was among those many found. “Bisbee was founded as a copper, gold, and
silver mining town in 1880, and named in honor of Judge DeWitt Bisbee, one of
the financial backers of the adjacent Copper Queen Mine”
Bisbee’s popular mines then began to grow and
with the increase of population, the need for medical care and sanitary water
did as well. The Copper Queen Mine transported its product in ore wagons to the
Copper Queen Smelter (Price 14). A Bisbee smelter has a thimble-cart by the
furnace and a man working as a "skimmer" strands with a bar sometimes called a
"picky poke." “The smelter's powerhouse, c. 1891, was noisy!” “Steam engines
provide the drive for a belt going to the drive shaft.” A tall pipe brings steam
to the inlet valves and come in the engines while balls provide a check on
central engine speed (Price 23). “On January 9, 1902 a city charter was
approved and the City of Bisbee was incorporated.” To work on sanitary water
and other matter a temporary city council was formed. Main Street attacked by a
fire in 1908 and quickly became a pile of ashes (“Bisbee History”). In 1910, the
city was considered the largest in the territory, with over 25,000 people.
While Bisbee was
growing, the union got involved wanting the mining corporations to better their
safety for the workers. Bisbee depended on the mining companies. Phelps Dodge,
the main mining corporation, refused all of the unions thoughts and actions. The
union wanted safety and equality for all workers, regardless of race (Bonnand).
Anyone who supported the union was fired immediately. Bisbee miners loyal to the
mining companies had heard rumor of the union planning to sabotage Bisbee mines.
Those who stood for the Bisbee mining companies had a meeting and decided to
gather up the men and women of Bisbee ‘and marched them two miles to the Warren
The men who would not agree to the loyal Bisbee miners were put into boxcars
with manure and abandoned in New Mexico. A later train gave them food and water
but left them without shelter until the U.S. troops came and brought them to
Columbus, New Mexico (Bonnand).
Then, the Cochise
County seat was relocated from Tombstone to Bisbee in 1929” (Graeme).
During the duration of the mining in Bisbee “8 billion pounds of copper, 102
million ounces of silver and 2.8 million ounces of gold along with millions of
pounds of zinc, lead and manganese were produced” (Graeme).
By 1950, Bisbee was not booming so much anymore and began losing its people.
Sometime around 1951, Phelps Dodge Corporation took a chance at the more cost
effective open-pit mining and started work in the Lavender Pit. The Lavender Pit
was not named because it had Lavender tinted walls but because Lavender was the
last name for mine manager Harrison. The Lavender Pit not only produced a
massive amount of Copper but also a fair amount of gold, silver, and ’Bisbee
Blue’ turquoise. “In 1974-1975, the Phelps’
Dodge Corporation finally halted mining operations in its massive Bisbee mine,
the Lavender Pit” (Western Mining History). Phelps Dodge discontinued mining
operations because the mines became unprofitable and the mining employees left
to go elsewhere.
(Bisbee Lavender Pit)
as the mines grew so did Bisbee. The families that dwelled there needed the
necessities of life. All of the needs of the people created other jobs but
Bisbee still revolved around the mines. “Southeastern Pima (now
Cochise) County was devoted not just to mining; cattle ranches provided food for
the miners, the settlers” (Price 14). The rain in Bisbee was harsh and if not
for the mines, Bisbee was not the place to live. The rain would flood those who
lived toward the bottom of the mountains with
the rich being the only ones who could afford houses up the hills.
offered other recreational pursuits in that it was home to the state’s first
community library, a popular opera house, the state’s oldest ball fields and the
state’s first golf course. (“Bisbee History”).
Bisbee became modern with automobiles and electricity helping with the town.
Although Bisbee has become more modern because of the steep hillsides, burros
and mules were still used to haul timbers to the mines or bring the rich ore to
the surface (Price 72). Since telephones were becoming increasing popular, the
copper was needed for the wires and that made business for the mines.
However, Bisbee miners had to
deal with a lot in their conditions. They worked in a confined, cool
(about 47o year-round) space that was also humid and obscure. Due to
dense selenite, crystal growth the water the miners did have was unsanitary and
the pipes would become obstructed with crystal growth. The unsanitary water made
the miners sick. In a method, copper cementation, pieces of scrap iron are
placed in a copper rich solution, and the iron is dissolved away and replaced
with copper. Copper cementation was very effective but also unquestionably
dangerous. This gave the miners copper and a solution that also ate through
nails, rails, the miners’ tools, and many other things exposed to the solution
for a long period. Tools the miners used were shovels, picks, axes, knives, and
anything to carry out the minerals. Miners were riding ore cars down into the
inside of the mountains that will help with time (Price 20). Some miners would
also take copper, popularly by placing it in their lunch boxes to take home.
Not to mention, dynamite is an ample threat to a
miner. The explosives vary from small to large depending on what the miner has
intended to do with it and if a miner does not place the dynamite in the correct
way, the underground structure may cave in. Standing too close when the
explosives go off may result in a death. Dynamite is of course a threat to a
miner but the threat of “’the committee’” is more intimidating. Time is money
and if structures are, ruined time is being used fixing the structure rather
than mining. For miners their family and that job is all they have and cannot
afford the committee getting angry with them. The committee may even have an
interesting chat with that miner outside before the miner leaves for the day.
In the past, mining was done by hand and drilling overhead was very dangerous as a large piece of the ‘silica-rich walls’ falls a miner’s life would be over.
The little particles from the underground mine
over a long period of inhaling ‘silica dust, resulted in silicosis, a
progressive, sometimes fatal lung disease’ or disabling. These symptoms occur
over a long period but because miners were around and inhaling silica dust
constantly they had acute silicosis. Chronic silicosis occurs after many years
of overexposure while acute silicosis happens very fast, even just a few weeks (National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).
A miner may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms: shortness of breath
following physical exertion, severe cough, fatigue, loss of appetite, chest
pains, and fever (National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).
Later by wetting, the walls before drilling made it so it was impossible to
became involved, the miners had to be careful of being damp and near
wires. The lamps improved the work the miners had to do but became a threat at
the same time. While lighting makes everything easier, if a miner got wet while
wetting the walls and got a little too close to the wiring they will be
electrocuted. The train that goes into the tunnels to make transportation easier
also made another hazard. Sometimes the train would fall off its tracks and
crush anyone in the way. Being electrocuted or crushed by a derailed train also
made a very dangerous day-to-day life for miners.
As a result, cooper was used for many things. The
first use of copper was to be coin. Then copper was found to be incredibly
helpful in wiring and telephones were made possible. Anything with wiring was
possible with copper and that made Bisbee mining grow useful. Copper is a very
common metal. The use of copper grew since the 1990’s and now used for many of
the same functions but in different ways. The copper wires for telephones are
now within a cellphone’s chip and processor. The same thought of the cellphone
chip and processor came originally from the computer. Even vehicles had copper
within in the engines. While in 1917 copper sold for thirty-seven cents a pound,
now American pennies are zinc with a copper coat upon it and are worth one cent.
Copper is even used as a craft to make jewelry. Beautiful pieces of art can be
made from copper as well like statues and trophies. Copper is easily formed to
become whatever it was needed to be even a weapon or a tool. When strength
needed to be enforced people began mixing copper with other metals to make a
stronger metal. In order to mix metals one would have to apply them in extreme
heat to form one. Copper has a lot of uses and is easily formed.
While copper is a main piece of society,
turquoise cannot be forgotten. The famous Bisbee Blue is a byproduct of copper
mining but is used for beautiful jewelry. Turquoise is very pretty and worth
getting a little piece of Old Bisbee. The veins within the rock are called the
matrix. Once turquoise is uncovered, the miners had to use hand tools to mine it
out. The air hammer was used to drill around the turquoise to open up the seam
more and then shovels and picks were used to obtain it. The jewelry turquoise
makes is exquisite.
Although the Bisbee mines are closed, many people
of the crafty sort stayed in Bisbee. There is artwork along the walls of Bisbee
and the shopping places are very original. The original Bisbee is now known as
“Old Bisbee”. Bisbee now educates those willing to go to the Bisbee museum or
even the Copper Queen Tours. The Bisbee museum is
“part of the Smithsonian Institution's Affiliations Program, the first museum in
the southwest to be designated – and distinguished – as an Affiliate”(
"Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum: The Museum”).
Thanks to Bisbee Mayor Chuck Eads, the Copper Queen Tours was opened on February
1, 1976 with the help of Phelps Dodge and volunteers to clean up the mines.
Those who decide to go on the underground tour will be issued hard hats,
jackets, and helmets that have lights. The tours have a cart that everyone sits
in, so nobody has to walk. Although a walking tour is offered as well. The tour
is very educational especially with the known fact that those who are speaking
to the people are retired miners ("History
of The Queen Mine Tour in Bisbee, Arizona”).
Bisbee brought a piece of the land to the people. History is not far away. Bisbee, The Queen of the Copper Camps, once was a town full of miners and settlers. Now Old Bisbee is a town of crafty people. The people are treated fairly and contain more safety regulations than in the early 1900’s. Phelps Dodge may have closed down the mining camps but opened up a tour with the Bisbee Mayor Eads’s help. The tour is a great experience that someone never forgets. The history of Bisbee never died. The museum lives to tell the stories and the retired miners work to educate those who travel with them to the unground roads they once worked on. Finally, a piece of the land was distributed to the people. Copper with all its uses helped the world develop further into the future. Copper is even used as a delicate piece of jewelry as well. Then the famous Bisbee Blue, now known as Bisbee Turquoise, is used to make exquisite jewelry. All the dangers the miners faced became the history and the present of Bisbee. All the history is right next door in a now little town called Bisbee.
"Bisbee History." Bisbee, Arizona. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.
"Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum: The Museum." Welcome to the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum. The Bisbee Mining & Historical Museums, 2007. Web. 23 Mar. 2012.
Bonnand, Sheila. "The Bisbee Deportation of 1917." Historical Context. A University of Arizona Web Exhibit, 1997. Web. 21 Mar. 2012.
Graeme, Jennifer L. "City of Bisbee, Arizona Online." City of Bisbee, Arizona Online. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.
"History of The Queen Mine Tour in Bisbee, Arizona." Queen Mine Tours. Web. 23 Mar. 2012.
Price, Ethel Jackson. Bisbee. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2004. Print.
United States. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. U.S. Department of Labor. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). By National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Web. 17 Mar. 2012.
"Western Mining History : Reliving the Industrial Revolution of the West." Bisbee, Arizona. Western Mining History, 2004. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.