FIRST OPEN PIT IN BISBEE
The Genesis of Bisbee's Mining Saga
Bisbee, Arizona's mining narrative began in the late 1870s, tracing back to Lt. Dunn of the Fort Huachuca cavalry. During a mission against the Apache Indians, he camped near Old Bisbee, where he discovered intriguing rock specimens. This accidental discovery, shared with prospector George Warren, led to the staking of claims, marking the start of Bisbee's mining era. However, Warren betrayed Dunn's trust, changing the course of Bisbee's mining history.
The Rise of Phelps Dodge Corporation
By 1880, copper production commenced in Bisbee, gradually evolving from individual efforts to corporate dominance. Phelps Dodge Corporation, through its subsidiary, the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company, became the leading force in the mining district. This corporation played a pivotal role in shaping Bisbee's mining legacy, establishing it as a major copper producer in the United States.
The Sacramento Pit Copper Mine: An Engineering Feat
In 1909, exploration of the Sacramento Porphyry led to the discovery of two significant ore bodies: the East and West Ore Bodies. The latter, with its higher grade, was particularly notable. Three mining methods were considered: open-pit mining with steam shovels, underground block caving, and underground top slicing. The open-pit method, eventually chosen, enabled the use of less skilled labor and was perceived as safer compared to underground methods. This decision initiated a significant phase in the mine's operation, starting on April 5, 1917, with the deployment of steam shovels for stripping and haulage via 20 and 25-ton rail cars.
Overcoming Challenges and Emphasizing Safety
The onset of World War I posed staffing challenges, affecting the quality of the mining operations, especially blasting. The surrounding areas, including the town of Jiggerville, frequently suffered from flying rocks during blasts. To enhance safety, precautions like monitoring drilling speeds, erecting steel blasting shelters, and hiring bilingual staff for better communication with Spanish-speaking workers were implemented. A major incident in 1918, involving premature blasts that killed eight men, underscored the need for stringent safety measures. Subsequently, the number of fatalities reduced significantly.
Water Management and Mining Innovations
Water supply was crucial for the steam-powered machinery. Initially, water from Naco, Arizona, was unsuitable, leading to the utilization of water from the Junction Mine and the establishment of a water softening plant. This plant supplied between 100,000 and 180,000 gallons of softened water daily. Post-World War I, the copper market's downturn and delays in concentrator construction halted stripping operations in the pit in 1921. However, mining resumed in 1922 and continued until 1929, employing innovative techniques like "Glory Holes" for the extraction of the last ore segments.
Legacy and Transformation
The Sacramento Pit, initially named "Sacramento Hill," transformed into the "Sac" Pit and later "Glory Holes." This engineering marvel, which yielded significant quantities of copper, silver, and gold, became a popular tourist site. The mining operations were eventually integrated into the newer Lavender Pit, with the Sacramento Pit being almost entirely mined through by 1965.
The Copper Queen Mine Tour: Preserving History
After Phelps Dodge closed the Bisbee underground mines in 1975, Mayor Chuck Eads, with the corporation's support, initiated the Copper Queen Mine Tour. This project, aimed at preserving and showcasing Bisbee's mining heritage, opened to the public on February 1, 1976. It has since attracted over a million visitors, offering a unique glimpse into the rich mining history of Bisbee.
The Bisbee Mine Tour not only provides a fascinating journey through the Sacramento Pit Copper Mine but also embodies the enduring spirit and ingenuity that characterized the mining industry in Bisbee, Arizona.