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Roger Weller, geology instructor

by Mikey Cota
Physical Geology
Spring 2014


                                                            Bisbee’s Origins!

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 History"). 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 Ballpark’ (Bonnand). 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)

Furthermore, 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.  Bisbee 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 breathe in.

When electricity 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.



Works Cited


"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.