Abandoned Mine History

The earliest indication of mining in Arizona may be as old as 1000 BC when inhabitants of the area were already using turquoise, coal, clay and many minerals in their daily life. Even before the Spaniards came to the southwest, Native Americans were using copper and turquoise to fashion jewelry that was traded over much of North America.

With the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, mining increased in the southwest. Coronado searched for the Seven Cities of Cibola, fabled to be constructed of gold. Although he never found these cities he opened up the area for further exploration. Several small gold and silver mines were established, especially in the Tubac area but with the pueblo revolt in the 1680's mining expansion was limited.

American mining history in Arizona begins after the American-Mexican war in the 1840's. In the 1850's prospectors from the played-out gold fields of California began exploring more of the American West in search of gold and silver. By the 1860's large discoveries of gold were occurring in the Bradshaw Mountains, especially along the Hassayampa River. The early prospectors and fledgling mining companies added pressure to the movement to make Arizona a territory which happened in 1863.

In the 1880's silver was discovered in several important deposits in Arizona including the eastern Bradshaw Mountains and around Tombstone. In 1893 the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed and the silver mining industry in Arizona died.

With the demise of silver mining came an increase in the demand for copper. Although many of the copper mining areas had been discovered earlier, they did not become large scale productions until the 1890's. Many of these originally small companies have grown into some of the worlds largest corporations.

But in general it is not these large companies that have created the dangerous abandoned mines in Arizona. Instead it was the small-time prospector who worked a site for a few weeks or months until the mine played-out or the financial backing ran-out. Then they moved on, leaving unprotected hazards for later generations to find. This especially happened at the time of Great Depression and through World War II.

Since the Mining Law of 1872, over a million mining claims have been filed in Arizona. Arizona State Mine Inspector's Office estimates that roughly 10% may have had actual mining conducted on them leading us to set a number of approximately 100,000 abandoned mine openings within the state.

History of the Arizona State Mine Inspector's Office, Abandoned Mine Program:

In the 1970's deaths and injuries in abandoned mines began to make the news. Two men from Fort Huachuca visited the bars in Tombstone and on their way back to base stopped to relieve themselves along the road side. One of the men disappeared and was thought to have fallen in one of the numerous shafts near the road. In north Phoenix was an area popular with teens for "boondockers", weekend keg parties just out of town. After drinking for quite a while a group went four-wheeling in the area and ended up nosing their jeep into a mine shaft. Fortunately they were rescued with relatively minor injuries. In the mid 1980's near Globe a young teen went exploring an adit with a group of friends. The boy was ahead of the others and in the dark walked off into a hidden deep shaft. His friends remarked he did not make a sound as he fell. His body was recovered 200 feet down the shaft, floating in water.

Also in the mid 1980's a young man was hiking with his family near Gleeson when he fell into a shaft. Fortunately he was able to be rescued with minimal injuries. It was this incident that came to the attention of a state legislator who decided to address the issue and re-write the laws regarding abandoned mines. The Arizona Revised Statutes were rewritten (ARS §27-318) to increase the penalties for owners who did not fence their mines. The revision also stiffened penalties for anyone vandalizing existing fences or signs.

The first formalized abandoned mines program began in 1987 with the inception of an intern program. Under this program U of A students assessed abandoned mines where owners were already known. The interns visited the sites, rated the dangers present and then wrote notification letters informing the owners of their responsibilities. After two years the program ended due to lack of funding.

In the spring of 1992, the Arizona State Mine Inspector entered into an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management to survey federally-managed lands and inventory abandoned and inactive mines. To fulfill the terms of this agreement, the Mine Inspector established a new student intern program. Students from colleges and universities across the state have participated in the program, conducting field investigations and writing reports. These reports make up the bulk of our abandoned mine knowledge. In 1997 state funding for the program began and extended the inventory to state managed lands and to privately-owned lands. Since the programs inception in 1992 approximately 10,000 abandoned mines have been visited and inventoried.

In 1996, the Mine Inspector finalized an agreement with the National Park Service (www.nps.gov) to assist in closures of abandoned mines in national parks, monuments, and recreational areas throughout the state. As part of this agreement, ASMI will contract local companies to conduct the required mine closures at selected parks. The first large project ASMI is involved with NPS is the large fencing project at Katherine Mine near Bullhead City.

In the Second Regular Session the Abandoned Mines Safety Fund was introduced as Senate Bill 1250. The objectives of the Safety Fund are to encourage private contributions that can be used directly to abate public safety risks on State Lands and leverage legislative appropriations to increase funding for this work. Money placed in the fund is limited to covering the direct cost of work and cannot be used to cover administrative costs. The bill passed through the Senate and the House, and in a formal ceremony in September 1998, the Governor signed the bill into law, formally initiating the Abandoned Mine Safety Fund.

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