Bisbee, Arizona ~ Queen of the Copper Camps

January 18th ~ Bisbee, Arizona

Downtown Bisbee

Downtown Bisbee

Bisbee, another rough and tumble mining town is just a short drive from Tombstone. Instead of the silver that put Tombstone on the map, it is COPPER that created the surge here.

In 1877, cavalrymen were doing reconnaissance in the Mule Mountains looking for renegade Apaches. Instead of Indians, Lieutenant Rucker found signs of copper. Shortly thereafter, claims were staked and prospectors came in droves, hoping to find their fortune. 

Today, Bisbee has a complex composition of Wild West history, bygone days where saloons and bordellos occupied the famed Brewery Gulch district, a now shuttered Queen Mine that offers daily tours, the scared landscape of an above ground mining operation named Lavender Pit and a modern-day freedom vibe where visitors are invited to kick-back, be yourself and enjoy the vibrant art and music scene.

“In 2016, Bisbee earned the title of Best Historic Small Town in both Sunset magazine and a USA Today online reader poll” ~ Wikipedia

Queen Mine Tour

Led by former miners, this is an excellent way to ask an “old-timer” what it was really like working below ground back in the day. Reservations may be advised during the summer, but we were able to walk in 1/2 hour early and gain admission on the next tour.

Your “ticket” is a brass round medallion that is to be pinned on your shirt or jacket and visible at all times. (More about the history behind this below)

After being outfitted with a hard-hat, bright yellow net vest or heavy yellow jacket, a rugged leather belt that holds the battery pack for your individual light, and a brief safety introduction, you straddle a narrow bench on tracks to be pulled deep into the narrow, dark, rocky bowels of the mountain.

Tim decked out, ready to enter the Queen Mine

Tim decked out, ready to enter the Queen Mine

This is the sled style "train" we road on deep into the mountain

This is the sled style “train” we road on deep into the mountain

And what it looked like down below

And what it looked like down below

The original method of breaking up the rock was by drilling deep holes with a metal rod. This was all done by hand, originally by one person at each position. They were issued 3-4 candles at the start of the shift. The candle was held in place, above where they were working, in a metal holder with both a pointed end and a hook to hold the candle firmly in place for them to see where they were working.

The man, (sometimes as young as 16) would have held a long metal rod in one hand, tapped with a mallet with the other hand, and after each tap, the rod was turned, in effect drilling into the rock.

Later two-man teams were formed, where one man held and turned the metal rod while the other man hit the end of it with a large sledge-hammer. One needed to really trust your partner swinging a sledge-hammer near your head, and needless to say, there were many injuries and broken bones.

Here our guide "Bulldog" explains the two man job with me as his assistant

Here our guide “Bulldog” explains the two-man job with me as his assistant holding the metal rod

And as he prepares to strike the rod I am holding with a LARGE hammer

And as he prepares to strike the rod I am holding with a LARGE hammer

Luckily, he stopped short of hitting the spike or me 🙂

Right next door, at the top of the hill where Ellie Mae is parked, we have an overlook into the Lavender Pit, which is an open-pit copper mine.

Lavender Pit

Lavender Pit – Open pit copper mine

In operation from 1950 to 1974, with approximately 86 million tons of ore, which yielded about 600,000 tons of copper, with gold and silver as byproducts.

Turquoise, known as Bisbee Blue was another by-product and is reportedly amongst the finest found anywhere in the world. An additional 256 million tons of waste was removed.

A short walk brings us into Historic Bisbee.

Brewery and Stock Exchange

Brewery and Stock Exchange

The Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum

The museum was originally the headquarters for the Copper Queen Mining Company. It is the first rural affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution nationwide. The museum itself is small, but well done, as you might expect with its connection with the  Smithsonian.

Faro gambling table

Faro gambling table

The local high school presented students with a certificate of graduation on copper.

The local high school presented students with a certificate of graduation on copper.

With progress, came improved mining methods including this style drill. Gus decided to help out...

With progress, came improved mining methods including this style drill. Gus decided to help out…

As I mentioned above, we were issued a metal medallion which was pinned on our clothing as our ticket to enter the mine. The museum further explained the purpose and how these were originally used.

Board in the office where minors clocked in and out with their medallions

Board in the office where minors clocked in and out with their medallions

It was called “Brassing In”. Instead of punching a time clock, or some other method of keeping track of their hours, the miner was issued a brass medallion at the start of their shift. Each brass had a number stamped on it and was a vital piece of identification and must be kept on their person at all times while in the mine.

It was to be turned in to the timekeeper at the end of their shift before leaving. This was a way that the crew chief could immediately know that all the miners were safely out of the mine. If someone did not return then it was assumed that they were lost or injured and a search was quickly organized.

Another more grizzly reason that they were issued the brass tags, was that in the event of a cave-in or explosion, the tag would survive and help identify the remains.

The rest of the town was fun to simply wander through, although we do not recommend doing so on a Wednesday as many of the shops were closed. It appears that weekends are the prime time here and many businesses take advantage of the slow weekdays to take some time off. This may be different during summer months.

One shop also boldly stated his preference for taking this Friday off as well.

Please, no nasty comments one way or another - I just thought it was interesting to see.

Please, no nasty comments one way or another – I just thought it was interesting to see.

1

Peace Wall

1000 Steps

The Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb

“The Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb is a five-kilometer run through the city that traverses 1,034 stairs. Billed as “the most unique physical fitness challenge in the USA!” by the organizers, the Climb includes runners being serenaded by musicians at various locations among the stairs. The event has grown to include the Ice Man Competition, designed to honor the history of men delivering blocks of ice by hand before the advent of refrigeration. In the Ice Man Competition, entrants race up 155 steps carrying a ten-pound block of ice with antique ice tongs.” ~ Wikipedia

Bronze Pueblo Deco style entry doors for the Cochise County Superior Court

Bronze Pueblo Deco style entry doors for the Cochise County Superior Court

St Patrick Catholic Church from 1917, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

St Patrick Catholic Church from 1917, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

We were originally planning on continuing on from here to the Chiricahua National Monument (pronounced cherry-cow-wha), but we have received storm warning for the next several days that include up to 36 inches of snow. As much as we love the snow, it is NOT what we want to encounter in our RV.

Another change of plans will now take us back north toward Benson where we plan to visit the Kartchner Caverns State Park. Stay tuned.

GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful that above ground open-pit mining is being contested by many environmental groups. Since I know next to nothing about the mining industry, I hate to even voice an opinion. However, the blight on the scenery, the contamination of streams and waterways, the damage to vegetation resulting in the loss of local biodiversity is a concern that we should all be aware of.

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About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our "next chapter". At a stage in life where traveling the world, taking pictures, and sharing our adventures with friends and family will be our dream come true.
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39 Responses to Bisbee, Arizona ~ Queen of the Copper Camps

  1. tippysmom2 says:

    Love your descriptions and pictures of your adventures. I found it interesting that you placed the picture of the Peace Wall underneath the one with the “closed for inauguration” one. I’m sure there was not meaning there, but….
    I can’t imagine doing the stair run. Me and stairs do NOT get along. How unique are the HS diplomas?! I absolutely love that!
    Thanks for sharing. I am enjoying traveling with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. piratepatty says:

    What a great town! Love the pictures and you looked like you were having fun! Thanks for sharing your adventure!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anna Cottage says:

    Just so wonderful, great photos. If you head to San Francisco I will so pleased, hope to be there in September. Take care and thank you for great blog, Anna.

    Like

  4. joliesattic says:

    Thanks for the share. My former acting coach and dear friend does her “live” filming workshops in Benson. I’m not exactly sure where though. She is a Benson as well. I never went to those but they always look like fun.

    Like

  5. I’ve always wanted to visit Bisbee because of the creative community that I have read about. Hopefully I will one of these days. Another wonderful Arizona town with a rich history is Jerome. I really recommend it if your travels bring you anywhere near (although the steep, windy road up and back might be a challenge in an RV). Happy travels!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a great adventure….as always. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Terry says:

    SO fun, you two are having a great time I can tell.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fascinating post about a place I’ve never heard of. The town looks like something out of a movie set. The stair climb sounds really cool. Timely of you to add the photo of the sign in the shop window (that’s all I’ll say).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for the tour through Bisbee. I went on a mine tour once and it was fascinating. Not a place I’d like to work. 🙂

    Like

  10. lorigreer says:

    Your post was so well written with great pictures. I feel as though I have been there. I am definitely putting this on my list of places to see in Arizona!

    Like

  11. mopana says:

    Wow! That’s so cool. Last summer I have visited a cave, too. It is so mysterious 🙂

    Like

  12. Robyn Haynes says:

    Such an informative post! I share your concerns about the mining industry. The open cut coal mines in this country are a blight on the landscape and ecologically unsustainable.
    Just a thought: is there anyone at all who will admit voting for Trump? Looking from afar, he seems to be universally thought unfit to run the country.

    Like

  13. Miriam says:

    Absolutely fascinating. Loved learning more about the history and the area.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. colonialist says:

    A wonderfully informative tour, ably reported. Dare I say that the ‘unfit for office’ closure would have been valid for most leaders recently elected the world over? Which puts everyone in a sad state! 🙂

    Like

  15. neha98blog says:

    I have a urge to go there just seeing your pictures.

    Like

  16. Rupali says:

    Wonderful post.

    Like

  17. Habiba says:

    Amazing photos and interesting details. ☺

    Like

  18. brickthomas says:

    Thanks for sharing a great post and I have to agree with you that damaging waterways just doesn’t seem to make any sense. Brick

    Like

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