Mining

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Description

The search for gold, silver and copper resulted in the birth of a state.

Transcript

Narrator:
The story of Arizona would not be complete without telling the story of the early days of mining in Arizona .

Mary Poulton:
Mining really was the reason, to some extent, that we have the state of Arizona .

James McBride, Ph.D.:
It was mining that brought in the people, that brought in the businesses, that brought in the transportation.

Bruce Dinges:
Without mining, Arizona would not be.

Narrator:
The huge open-pit mining operations we see today are a fairly recent phenomenon. In 1848, gold was discovered in California . Prospectors, or placer miners, headed West, many traveling through Arizona . These were solitary men looking for flakes and nuggets of gold in mountain streams. Armed with little more than a burro and a pan, few struck it rich.

James McBride, Ph.D.:
As people didn't strike it rich in California , they began to think of what they had come through and come back here.

Narrator:
In the 1870s, following the Civil War, prospectors scoured the State for gold and silver. Merchants followed the miners, and soldiers followed them both in order to protect them from Indians angered by this invasion of European immigrants. Soon it became clear that the real wealth lay not on or near the surface, but in the mineral veins hundreds, then thousands of feet under Arizona .

Mary Poulton:
And as you deplete those near-surface deposits rather quickly and you need more sophistication and more money, then you need more investment. And it's no longer the realm of the individual prospector to do the mining; you have to bring in companies. And the mining then developed the transportation networks, the communications networks, the supply lines, built the communities, secured the funding for educational systems, hospitals, and built our civil society.

Narrator:
Throughout the 1870s, '80s, and into the '90s, Boomtowns sprang up all over Arizona . Mining camps grew into towns such as Bisbee, Jerome, Morenci, and Tombstone . While communities developed aboveground, miners spent most of their time far underground, drilling rock or filling and even pushing carts. It was the era of silver and gold, but it was also the era of electricity, and that meant a demand for copper wiring.

James McBride, Ph.D.:
Copper prices are high enough, and the ore in many cases rich enough that you could continue the same kind of load mining with copper that you had done for gold and silver.

Mary Poulton:
Living in these mining camps, you were definitely living on the edge of civilization and living on the edge of being able to survive most of the time. It's dirty and rough, especially for the underground miners. The tools were so primitive.

James McBride, Ph.D.:
It was dangerous. You're dealing with explosives, you're dealing with shifting rock, falling rock. And as they followed the load downward, quite often you're dealing with mines that are at a great depth: 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 feet.

Bruce Dinges:
It was grueling kind of work, and people didn't last at it terribly long.

Narrator:
Hard rock miners, as underground workers were called, spent 8 to 12 hours a day, six days a week, performing the backbreaking work of blasting, drilling, and hauling rock out of a labyrinth of tunnels. On occasion, they would stumble onto caves full of crystals. The men might take time for a photo. More often than not, they would blast on through. While the men left the mines at the end of their shift, the animals put to work in Bisbee did not. Mules lowered into the shafts spent their entire lives as beasts of burden underground. Above ground, the mining towns were booming.

Bruce Dinges:
They were noisy, they were muddy, they were dirty. There was something going on around the clock because mines worked 24 hours a day.

James McBride, Ph.D.:
You would see livery stables, teamsters, merchants. The people needed food, they needed clothing, they needed equipment, they needed housing.

Bruce Dinges:
There was always restaurants open, there were always saloons open, there were always stores open. And so they eat very well. These restaurants, if you look at the menus, for example, they imported oysters and champagne.

James McBride, Ph.D.:
You would see entertainment. The miners needed somewhere, even though they were working six days a week, somewhere on that seventh day where you could go relax, drink, gamble. Prostitution was rampant. Ladies of the line would be available.

Bruce Dinges:
They were really raucous, noisy -- and we're not used to having horses in the road -- smelly kind of places.

Narrator:
Despite the conditions, mining was considered a good way to make a living. It paid well and the work was often abundant. The men worked together but lived in racially segregated communities. Their pay was also based on race, Mexican workers making less than their Anglo co-workers. None of them got rich.

Bruce Dinges:
The people who really made money off the mines were the people who sold things to the miners.

Narrator:
The lifespan of these early Arizona boomtowns varied. Some disappeared before they ever became more than a collection of tents. Others thrived, but only for a few years. Still fewer would last into the 20th century. Most towns died when the ore quality declined or simply ran out. In Tombstone , miners struck water, which flooded the mine, making it too costly to continue mining.

Bruce Dinges:
Tombstone practically disappeared. The only thing that really saved it around the turn of the century, and particularly in the '20s, was the boom in tourism. And that's what has really kept it continuing down to the present day.

Narrator:
the decline in the quality of ore, combined with the development of new technologies and massive equipment, ushered in the era of open-pit mining in the early 1930s. Mines such as the Copper Queen in Bisbee survived until the mid-1970s through a combination of open-pit mining and tunneling, until a drop in copper prices forced both to close. Today, visitors can board an old mining train and travel deep into the Copper Queen for just a hint of what it felt like to be a miner. Since, most mining is done in an open pit. Originally an underground mine, the copper mine in Morenci is one of the largest open-pit mines in the world. It produces the most copper in Arizona , and Arizona produces the most copper in the United States . But the future may take mining back under Arizona .

Mary Poulton:
We're talking about mines now that aren't just a mile or two miles deep, but we're starting to think about how do we mine in the ground three miles deep? Phenomenally difficult, and it's going to require a whole new set of technology. So we've gone full circle from the underground mining to the surface mining and now back to the underground mining in Arizona and much of the world.