The Father of Bisbee Or The Scoundrel

Updated: Aug 28

Is George Warren the father of Bisbee or the scoundrel? Bisbee is a historic mining city nestled in southeastern Arizona near the Mexico border. Warren helped start mining in the Bisbee area by opening the first underground mines. Warren also started the mining camp which grew to be the largest city between the Mississippi River and San Francisco. Despite Warren’s early contributions and popularity, acts of deceit and carelessness hurt his reputation. Warren is a talented, colorful, and lovable character who started Bisbee but is not the real father of Bisbee, it is James Douglas.


In 1877, the Army hunted Geronimo and his band of Apache Indians in the Bisbee area when they camped on the flat area below Bucky O’Neil Hill. Having found contaminated water nearby, they needed a fresh water source for themselves and horses. Lieutenant Rucker, the leader of the group, sent his scout, Jack Dunn up Mule Gulch in search of fresh water. Dunn found fresh water at the Apache Springs Well, which is there today by-the-way, and trekked back to his Army camp. Along the way he noticed interesting minerals on Bucky O’Neil Hill and returned to camp with them.


Jack Dunn
Jack Dunn


Dunn, Rucker, and T.D. Bryne decided to pursue mine claims in the area based on Dunn’s samples and returned to their home base, Fort Bowie, near the Chiricahua Mountains. They even filed the first mine claim in the area called the “Rucker Claim”. At base, they decided to grubstake George Warren to start additional mine claims in the area in their names. Warren agreed, proceeded to Tombstone, and invested the soldier’s money in a long alcohol binge at the Tombstone area bars and saloons. Warren eventually headed to Bisbee at the end of 1877 and successfully started mining claims in the names of himself and his drinking buddies from Tombstone. Lieutenant Rucker couldn’t follow up on his investment because he drowned soon after in a Chiricahua Mountain flash flood trying to save his fellow soldiers. Lucky for Warren.

Fort Bowie


George Warren


Warren’s mother died when he was very young and he lived with a maiden aunt until he was 10, when he was sent to New Mexico to join his father, who was a government teamster and later a herder. While herding horses, the Warrens were attacked by Apaches. Warren was wounded, and his father was killed. Warren was held captive for 18 months until prospectors saw the white boy among the Indians and traded 15–20 pounds of sugar for Warren's freedom. Warren remained with these men for some time and learning about prospecting.

George Warren


Warren had two serious injuries from fights. He was also known to be a heavy drinker. Once, in a duel, he was shot in the neck. Another time, he was shot in the arm and the leg, and he survived both incidents. In other words, he was one tough 'son-of-a-bitch'.

Warren was an excellent miner and his claim, the Copper Queen Mine, became the most successful mine in the area at that time. Warren built the first smelter close to where the Army officers who grubstaked him camped in search of water. That first smelter, by-the-way, is responsible for clearing the Mule Mountain range of its heavy timber of Pine, Oak, Juniper, and Cottonwood trees. It was used to burn in smelter operations and to stabilize underground tunnels. Eventually, Warren’s mines developed a mining camp called the Warren Mining District.


Warren started the area mines and mining camp quickly, but he lost it just as fast. In 1880, while day drinking in Charleston (Tombstone Suburb), Warren bet his drinking buddy, George Atkins, that he could outrace Atkins on horseback with Warren on foot. The race was 100 yds and Warren lost the race, of course. The wager was Warren’s ownership in the famous Copper Queen Mine. The value of his loss was $20 million at today’s rate.


In May of 1881, the scheming Atkins had a Cochise County Judge, J.H. Lewis, declare Warren insane and had him held in an institution in California (possibly for a few years). A man named George Praidham became Warren's guardian and Praidham was ordered to sell the rest of Warren's assets. He sold them for $923 at an auction. Warren was released a while after the sale and only learned about the sale after the release.

Warren left Bisbee to find his riches in Mexico but found trouble again. He was translating for a Mexican Judge to pay off his debt when another Judge in Bisbee discovered his fate. The Bisbee judge paid his debt and brought Warren back to Bisbee where he tried to work as a blacksmith and tool dresser but failed. He had to satisfy his alcoholic urges and work in Bisbee saloons cleaning spit and sweeping floors for free gut-rot whiskey.


A short time went on and George died in either 1892, 1893, or 1894. Though the most descriptive date puts his death as the date of February 13th, 1893, and the cause of death as pneumonia and heart failure. Broke at the time of his death, Warren was originally buried in a pauper's grave with a wooden grave marker, with the text G.W. 24, marking his grave in the Bisbee-Lowell Evergreen Cemetery.

Later, the Bisbee Elks Lodge erected a beautiful white monument of WARREN’s grave, and it remains there today.


Warren Headstone in Evergreen Cemetery
George Warren Headstone


Warren was loved by many, and his fame is noteworthy. For example, the first mining district in the area was called “the Warren Mining District”. The first planned community in Arizona was named for Warren, Warren- Arizona started in 1902 and is a suburb of Bisbee today.

Additionally, the Arizona State Seal includes an image of a miner in the middle of the seal. The image is Warren from a C.S. Fly photo of the time.


James Douglas


DOUGLAS, (born Nov. 4, 1837, Quebec—died June 25, 1918, New York City), Canadian-born U.S. mining engineer, industrialist, and philanthropist who contributed greatly to the industrial growth and welfare of the U.S. Southwest. He attended the University of Edinburgh for two years, studying medicine and theology. He then returned to Canada, graduating in 1858 from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont., where he was later chancellor.

Dr. James Douglas
James Douglas

Douglas' Scottish-born father, Dr. Douglas, was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He had earned the reputation of being the fastest surgeon in town, capable of performing an amputation in less than one minute. Dr. Douglas transmitted his thirst for adventure to his son, taking him on numerous expeditions to Egypt and the Middle East in the mid-19th century. He brought back several mummies from these journeys, selling them to museums in North America. One of these, sold in Niagara Falls, was recently discovered to be the corpse of Ramses I.

Ramses Tomb


Douglas came to Bisbee representing Phelps Dodge to see if the area could support a successful mining investment and determined that it could. Consequently, Phelps Dodge invested in mining activity in the area with Douglas in charge of operations. Warren’s Copper Queen Mine dried up leaving Douglas and others in search of productive copper ore. After a few years of searching and the Bisbee mines almost disappearing, Douglas discovered a massive ore vein in the middle of the same hill as Warren, Bucky O’Neil Hill. That discovery coincided with the age of electricity and Bisbee’s population exploded with new miners, residents, culture, and commerce.




Douglas’s contributions to area mining success are monumental. For example, he developed the first railway that allowed Coke and Cole to be delivered as smelter fuel, saving area timber. Douglas also introduced San Francisco investors who helped fund the second area smelter, where the Queen Mine Tour is today. In fact, the city of Bisbee is named after one of those investors who never set foot in Bisbee, Judge Dewitt Bisbee. The railway also provided efficient ore and smelted results transport causing mining profits to explode. Furthermore, the current Bisbee Museum is the former Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company headquarters built by Douglas.


Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company Headquarters


Douglas’s community contributions are what set him apart form other famous Bisbee residents. When Bisbee’s population exploded, it needed a new water source to meet its demand. Douglas found the water supply below Naco, AZ and piped it up 1500 feet in elevation to water tanks around the Bisbee area. The water source and tank locations are Bisbee’s water source today.

Douglas also recognized the need for a community hospital and donated his private residence, next to the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company’s headquarters, as the first Copper Queen Community Hospital. Although it moved three more times, the Copper Queen Hospital still serves the Bisbee area today and is in Warren.



Copper Queen Hospital



Douglas also built the Copper Queen Store across the street from the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company headquarters. When Bisbee’s population increased so rapidly during the boom, local merchants started price-gouging its residents. The residents were trapped unless they wanted to engage in a day-long trip to Tombstone. Consequently, Douglas started the Copper Queen Store to combat the price-gouging of Bisbee’s residents. The store sold groceries, clothing, and textiles, etc. at a very low price – combating the price gouging and forcing the other merchants to fall-in-line. The other merchants lowered their costs and Bisbee’s residents’ quality of life improved.



Phelps Dodge Mercantile (Copper Queen Store Location)



Another problem was the smelter where the Queen Mine Tour is now. By 1900, the residents had enough of the noxious fumes settling in the Bisbee area and wanted change. Douglas came to the rescue yet again for the residents of Bisbee. He moved the smelter to new location 23 miles southeast of Bisbee near the Mexico Border. The community that started nearby from smelter workers was founded as Douglas, Arizona, Bisbee’s daughter city. Agua Prieta across the border flourished and grew as well.



Warren is a colorful and lovable character who started Bisbee but is not the real father of Bisbee. Warren started Bisbee and offered expert mining that attracted more people and mine claims, but he was a swindler with much controversy. Douglas came qualified, expertly competent, community oriented, and discovered an ore vein that supported Bisbee’s community for 70 years. Douglas also tackled issues within the community to enhance the quality of life for Bisbee residents. James Douglas is the father of Douglas, and also the father of Bisbee, Arizona.


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