Arizona Mining History

The history of mining in the Western United States and specifically Arizona is a very colorful and enlightening study as the development of the American West was driven by the lure of gold and silver. In 1532, a Spanish expedition led by Cabeza de Vaca departed from Culiacan, Mexico in search of Cibola, the legendary “Seven Cities of Gold.” Subsequent expeditions led by Fray Marcos de Niza and another in 1840 by Fransisco Coronado also failed to find the fabled “Cities of Gold”, they did find large outcroppings of gold, copper and very fine silver. So fine was the silver of the region that they named this area of present day Arizona “Oro Blanco,” which means white gold or silver in Spanish.

Arizona Gold Rush

Gold Rush, The development of the American West

In 1848, gold was found in California which led to the first western gold rush. Up until this point, the economy of California was mostly hides and tallow from cattle ranching. The discovery of gold created the “California Dream” that fast riches could be attained without a lot of hard work. This dream attracted 300,000 people to migrate to the region. By 1850, the population of San Fransisco grew from 500 before the rush to 25,000 full time residents. Large scale agriculture, schools, roads and civic organizations were all formed. Towns and cities were chartered, a state constitution was written, elections were held and on the 9th of September, California was admitted as the 31st state in the union.

By the end of 1850, most of the easily accessible gold in California had been collected, and prospectors turned their attention to finding gold in neighboring regions. West thru Nevada, Arizona and into New Mexico, North thru Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and into Alaska and everywhere in between. Wherever gold was discovered, hundreds of miners would collaborate to put up a camp and stake their claims. Each camp often had its own saloon and gambling house. When there was a large quantity of gold found in the region, these camps would develop into towns with banks, jails,  general stores and eventually mills and smelters .

In the early 1860’s, Union soldiers stationed in Arizona with previous prospecting experience in California, found gold near the Colorado River  in western Yuma County. This attracted other prospectors and by the 1870’s, gold was being discovered all across Arizona. From 1860 through 1965, Arizona produced a total of about 13,321,000 ounces of gold, an average of over 126,000 ounces per year!