Work of Art

Work of art or Art of Work

What does art mean to you?

A beloved statue from Bisbee Arizona’s past is more than just a metal image of a mine worker.  To many who grew up in Bisbee it embodies the hard-working father, husband, brother, son or friend who spent his life underground in the local mines. It is a tribute both to those who survived and those who did not.

Bisbee's Iron Man, now painted copper, for the mineral wealth of the mines.

Bisbee’s Iron Man, now painted copper, for the mineral wealth of the mines.

Iron Man

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


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.


Bisbee samples with the Smithsonian book on their display from the Bisbee mines.

Bisbee samples

Bisbee Collection

Aurichalcite, a coopper mineral, Bisbee, Arizona

Aurichalcite, a copper mineral, Bisbee, Arizona

Macachite (green) and Azurite (blue) secondary copper minerals

Malachite (green) and Azurite (blue) secondary copper minerals

Native Copper, Bisbee, Arizona

Native Copper, Bisbee, Arizona

Malachite, Bisbee, Arizona

Malachite, Bisbee, Arizona


My Dad's Carbide Lamp

My Dad’s Carbide Lamp

Collecting Arizona, a great resource

Collecting Arizona, a great resource


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.