Historic: Wild West


Wild West

For many, the southern Arizona town of Tombstone embodies Arizona’s frontier days. That would be true.  Tombstone was once bigger than San Francisco.  In the 1880s it had quite a reputation as a boomtown of the West.  But Tombstone wasn’t alone in its notoriety.  Around the same time as Tombstone’s heyday, other towns in Arizona were equally lively.  Just 24 miles from Tombstone is Bisbee, my home town.

Just as gold and silver had motivated the Spaniards to search for mineral wealth in southern Arizona, it seemed that everyone was a prospector after the discovery of gold in California.  The Mule Mountains where Bisbee is located first gave a hint of a wealth to a cavalry scout.  Just as other boomtowns were doing, Bisbee attracted prospectors and investors from the 1880s on and  grew and prospered. At the turn of the century Bisbee housed 20,000 inhabitants and Brewery Gulch hosted  50 saloons, gambling establishments and brothels. It even had its own Stock Market Exchange.  Its reputation as the wildest city between St. Louis and San Francisco was well-earned.

Bisbee was built along two canyons. The main canyon came to be called Tombstone Canyon, and the other was Brewery Gulch.

Brewery Gulch 2

Brewery Gulch


The original mineral exploration in Bisbee was for silver and gold.  But as the demand for copper grew, Bisbee’s rich copper ore built large mining corporations and Bisbee was one of the biggest cities in Arizona.  The copper ore was accessed deep underground. Immense bodies of high grade ore made Bisbee mines some of the richest in the world.

Headframe of the Campbell Shaft.

Headframe of the Campbell Shaft.

Sacramento Pit

Open pit mining became feasible during WWI. In 1917 tons of explosives were used to blast the top of Sacramento Hill in Bisbee and terracing began to get to the copper ore.

Lavender Pit

By the mid-1950s Sacramento Hill was a hole in the ground, and the pit was expanded to become the Lavender Pit. This necessitated the removal of roads, homes and businesses that lay in the path of the proposed open pit copper mine.

By 1915, times had changed.  Families lived in Bisbee, and the brothels and gambling had been shut down.  Prohibition had been declared in Arizona and the bars in Brewery Gulch disappeared.  Bisbee had a railroad, street cars, churches, schools and celebrations.  There were hard rock drilling contests between  miners from all over the West. Every fourth of July there were coaster races down Tombstone Canyon, parades and fireworks.

Coaster Race

The mines closed in the 1970s and Bisbee avoided becoming a ghost town because its wonderful climate made it attractive to retirees and artists. A visit to Arizona should include a trip to Bisbee.  Much of the Main Street and surrounding homes on steep hillsides have been well-preserved and you have choices of great places to stay.  The Copper Queen Hotel pictured in the Cuprite photo above, other historic inns and bed and breakfasts, even an old jail!  The Queen Mine tour is not to be missed.  The mine opened in 1877 and will give you a tiny taste of what made the Bisbee miners such well-thought of workers:

Bisbee's Iron Man statue has been painted copper.

Bisbee’s Iron Man statue has been painted copper.

The plaque at the foot of the Copper Miners Statue at the top of this page.

The dedication for the Copper Miners Statue.





Historic: Spanish and Mexican Periods

San Xavier Mission is a National Historic Landmark in Tucson.

San Xavier del Bac is a National Historic Landmark in Tucson.

The Spanish Period 1528-1821

The Mexican Period 1821-1848

Nearly two centuries after the decline of the large Archaic cities, when the first Europeans arrived, most of the natives were living in simple shelters in fertile river valleys, dependent on hunting, gathering, and small-scale farming for subsistence. (More at link.) Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, and a dwindling number of would-be settlers roamed the desert of the southwest from 1528-1536. Cabeza de Vaca became one of the first Europeans to encounter the indigenous peoples of North America.  He found those nomadic groups who spoke of the magnificent cities built to the north of Mexico. Upon his return to Spain, his writings stirred interest in further explorations of the land he had travelled because an old Portuguese legend spoke of lost cities of gold. The expeditions of Fray Marcos de Niza, and Coronado followed, all in pursuit of the riches they imagined from the tales told by the indigenous for whom the pueblos of the Zuni seemed marvelously rich.

The Arizona Indians they encountered belonged to three linguistic families: Uto-Aztecan (Hopi, Paiute, Chemehuevi, Pima-Papago), Yuman (Yuma, Mohave, Cocopa, Maricopa, Yavapai, Walapai, Havasupai), and Athapaskan (Navaho-Apache). The Hopi were the oldest group, their roots reaching back to the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi); the youngest were the Navaho-Apache, migrants from the Plains, who were not considered separate tribes until the early 18th century.

The first Europeans to live in Arizona were Franciscans, who in 1629 established a mission to the Hopi at the village of Awatovi in northeastern Arizona.  This did not end well for the Franciscans and it wasn’t until 1692 that San Xavier Mission was founded by Father Eusebio Kino in southern Arizona. The Spanish quest for riches continued and in 1736  silver was reportedly found near a Pima Indian village southwest of present-day Nogales.  This brought more settlers and Spanish prospectors north out of Mexico.  The Pima people were uneasy with the Spanish incursion and as a result, Spain created a military outpost at Tubac. The garrison was moved to the new fort at Tucson in 1776.

As missions, ranching and mining prospered, Spanish troops campaigned against the Apache in southern Arizona and eventually worked out a peace.  The attention of the Spaniards turned to the Revolution and in 1821 Mexico gained independence.  Most of modern-day Arizona was part of Mexico at that time.  The 1835 Texas war against Mexico weakened its hold over the land in the southwest.  The US Army of the West fought the Mexican War and the US took control over New Mexico (including Arizona) and California.  With the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the war ended and the US gained title to Texas, California and New Mexico.


In 1910 a devastating wildfire tore through Idaho and Montana. In just two days’ time, the Big Blowup consumed almost three million acres of forested hillsides. Drought and high winds created the perfect conditions for a firestorm. The National Forest Service had recently been created, but fighting the fire required additional help from the US Army and the local miners. At last, a cold front brought a rain storm that put the fire out. Eight-nine lives were lost and the horrifying stories of the survivors motivated the country to create a fire suppression policy.

For most of the last century, the Forest Service put out almost every fire.  The result, unfortunately, has been severely increased forest density. The first settlers in northern Arizona described the forest as possible to ride a horse through at a full gallop.

Thick forest

Today riding at a gallop through the woods around Flagstaff would not be advisable. According to turn of the century reports from the early 1900’s, northern Arizona was mixed conifer forest with grassy undergrowth and large, open areas.  Because of the distance between the large old growth trees, when a wildfire occurred, it burned along the ground, not in the crown of the tree as today.  This allowed the trees to survive a fire, whereas today, everything is killed.

Burned hillside

You can see a burned off area at the top of this hill, with standing snags. The area below the hill was saved by fire-fighting efforts.

Arizona has a dry climate.  Arizona has experienced long drought periods in the past. When the Ponderosa Pines are distressed by lack of moisture, they are prone to the Pine Bark Beetle.  In 2010, 9.2 million acres (Out of 749 million acres of forest land in the United States) of tree mortality was caused by insects and disease. 74 % of that damage was done by the Bark Beetle. Once these stands of trees die, they are tinder waiting for the next lightning strike, careless camper, or tossed cigarette.

The problem is compounded by the number of homes built in the interface area between the forest and the urban areas.  Firefighters are put at risk to save homes from the fast-moving fires.  Much has been learned about caring for our wild lands, and one of the projects now underway is 4FRI. This is the Four Forests Restoration Initiative, working to restore the structure, pattern and composition of fire-adapted ecosystems, which will provide for fuels reduction, forest health, and wildlife and plant diversity. 4FRI aims to implement comprehensive restoration over the next twenty years, including thinning of predominantly small trees across one million acres, and safe controlled burning and natural fire management on much of the landscape.

Downed Ponderosas

Bark Beetle-downed trees

Dry slash pile

Slash piles ready for burning

Fire from car

A controlled burn

Hopefully 4FRI is a solution for implementing landscape-scale forest restoration. It is a problem that will take twenty years or more to solve, with new fires happening each year.  Home owners in the urban interface areas attempt to clear areas around their homes, and create emergency plans for escape should a fire start.

Welcome to My Arizona

I was born and raised in Arizona and have lived here almost all my life.  My only goal in keeping this blog is to share with you some amazing things about this state from my perspective. I have many areas of interest and will cover everything from Aurichalcite to Ziziphus obtusifolia. Lots of photographs will be included as I am an unapologetic snapper of pictures and feel that truly a picture is worth a thousand words or so. Arizona is a place of interest for scientists and tourists and residents.  The geology lies exposed for all to see and study the forces that have created the mountains and canyons.  Because of the great range of elevations, a great variety of plants and animals are found here.  Studies in the 1890s led to the establishment of 6 different life zones. These zones describe the differences between the desert land that Arizona is famous for, and also the high plateaus and pine-covered mountain peaks that may surprise visitors. Human history has left a deep footprint in the state and the stories told give us a dusty window into the wild west.

I invite you to come along if you think it all might sound interesting. Follow me on Twitter as Fan of Arizona, @fanofnmtn.