Mining was the lure that opened Arizona to Anglo-American settlement and, subsequently, led to its statehood. However, Arizona mining began with the Spanish discovery of the rich Planchas de Plata silver deposits just west of Nogales in 1736. In the century that followed, Spanish miners opened numerous mines around Tubac, Patagonia, Ajo and Arivaca.
After the California gold rush subsided, many prospectors, hearing stories of Arizona's mineral wealth, turned hopeful eyes eastward. The latter half of the 19th Century witnessed a series of booms and busts in Arizona as new mineral deposits were discovered and worked out. While gold and silver were the initial enticement, copper eventually became the state's most important mineral.
The richest silver strike in Arizona occurred in southeastern Arizona, east of Fort Huachuca, in 1877. Here, a short time later, the boisterous town of Tombstone was founded, later the site of the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Within two years, Tombstone was the largest town in the territory and had several neighboring mill towns to support the mines.
However, by 1888 the boom in Tombstone had ended because groundwater limited the depth of the mines. Today, Tombstone is still very much alive, having preserved many of its historic buildings and sites for visitors.
Did You Know?
· The name "Arizona" comes from a tiny Tohono O'odam Indian village named "Arizonac", near the site of the 1736 silver discovery.
· In 1863, miners near present-day Wickenburg reported they found gold nuggets worth $500,000 per acre in surface soil that could be stirred up with a knife.
· The richest gold mines, the Tom Reed and the United Eastern, were located side by side in Oatman, and yielded nearly $27 million between 1908 and 1933.
· Nearly six million ounces of silver were extracted from mines around Tombstone in the single year of 1882.
· Arizona produces more than 15% of the world's copper output.
· Over half the mining and smelting of copper in the United States occurs within 200 miles of Tucson.