Prospectors and investors moved into Arizona after the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. To obtain the silver and gold they hunted, miners dug into the sides of hills and into shafts dug down into the earth. Boom towns like Tombstone called to talented hard-rock miners world-wide, who came to Arizona to find work and a future underground.
My father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather all worked underground in the mines of Bisbee, Arizona. I grew up listening to tales of the dangers and excitement of the mines. The near-misses, the rescues, the mammoth roaches and the temperatures. Two thousand miles of underground tunnels hollow the earth beneath Bisbee and the surrounding countryside. Sometimes Dad worked the night shift and we would go pick him up after work still in the dark. The daily afternoon blast siren was a normal occurrence. Every Bisbee child was well-versed in blasting cap safety.
I recently taught several groups of first graders a bit about Arizona geology, and was surprised to realize how little students today know about mining. “Who can tell me what a mine is?” I asked. The quick response was, “like Mine-Craft?” I realized it will be a large task, helping Arizona’s future know about Arizona’s past.
Please take time to enjoy this terrific video presented by the City of Bisbee, the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and the Bisbee Queen Mine Tour. Watch the video here.
Underground miners were certainly aware of the monetary value of the silver, gold and copper that they mined, but they also were awed by the beautiful caverns formed deep underground and covered with the secondary forms of the ore they blasted, shoveled and hauled up from the mines. These often take the form of delicate crystals with wonderful colors. As a child I was lucky to visit one such crystalline cave. In 1997 the Smithsonian Museum in Washington recreated one of these Bisbee caverns in the Museum. I keep a copy of the book commemorating it in my rock case, Treasures of the Queen by Richard Graeme.