A sense of history
In 1877, a reconnaissance detail of U.S. army scouts and cavalrymen was sent to the Mule Mountains to search the area for renegade Apaches. What civilian tracker Jack Dunn found instead were signs of mineralization indicating the presence of lead, copper and possibly silver. The first mining claim was staked in what would later become the City of Bisbee. The filing of this claim, and a multitude of others sent prospectors and speculators scurrying to the Mule Mountains in hopes of striking it rich. Numerous ore bodies were located, and Bisbee soon became known as the "Queen of the Copper Camps."
Early mining years
Mining in the Mule Mountains was quite successful, and Bisbee proved to be one of the richest mineral sites in the world, producing nearly three million ounces of gold and more than eight billion pounds of copper, not to mention the silver, lead and zinc that came from these rich lands.
By the early 1900's, driven by the booming mining industry, Bisbee had become the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. With a population of over 20,000 people by the beginning of the century, Bisbee was one of the most cultured cities in the west. The town is still home to the the nation’s (arguably) oldest ballfield (Warren Ballpark), Arizona’s first golf course (Turquoise Valley), and the state's first community library (Copper Queen), all dating from this period, and all still currently in operation, and open to the public.
Along with Bisbee's cosmopolitan character, the colorful, rough edges of the mining camp could still be found in the notorious Brewery Gulch, with its saloons and brothels. In its heyday, the Gulch boasted nearly 50 saloons and was considered the one of the liveliest spots in the west. Historic taverns still retain the rich character and boom-town flavor of this period.
The Bisbee Deportation
Not all of Bisbee's colorful history is rosy, however. The Bisbee Deportation of 1917 was not only a pivotal event in Arizona's history, but one that had an effect on labor activities throughout the country. The notorious anti-labor crime involved the illegal kidnapping and deportation of about 1,300 striking mine workers, their supporters, and citizen bystanders by 2,000 members of a deputized posse on July 12, 1917.
The action was orchestrated by Phelps Dodge, the major mining company in the area. When miners attempted to organize to gain better working conditions and wages, the company, attempting to prevent unionization, made allegations that the workers were members of the Socialist-affiliated Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies).
The arrested were first held at the Warren ballpark before being loaded onto cattle cars and deported 200 miles (320 km) to Tres Hermanas in New Mexico, for a 16-hour journey through desert without food or water. Once unloaded, the deportees, most without money or transportation, were sternly warned against returning to Bisbee.
Late mining period
Beginning in 1917, open-pit mining was successfully introduced to meet the copper demand during World War I.
During almost a century of mining, 8 billion pounds of copper, 102 million ounces of silver and 2.8 million ounces of gold along with millions of pounds of zinc, lead and manganese were produced. By 1974 ore reserves had been depleted and December brought the announcement of the impending closure of mining operations in Bisbee. Phelps Dodge curtailed open pit operations that year and ceased underground operations in 1975.
Bisbee remained an active mining community until the mid-1970's. When the mine closed, a tremendous shift occurred in the local population. As many mining employees and their families left to pursue work elsewhere, an influx of creative free spirits found Bisbee's historic district to be an attractive, inspiring, and inexpensive location to settle and pursue their artistic endeavors.
The cosmopolitan present
Today, Bisbee is known as a culturally rich community that includes an active and varied population. Bisbee retains its welcoming spirit, offering visitors a rich mix of art, music, history, architecture, outdoor activities, dining and nightlife.
The Smithsonian-affiliated Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum has welcomed, educated and entertained more than a half-million visitors over recent decades. Featured among its exhibits is "Bisbee: Urban Outpost on the Frontier", an in-depth look at the lives of the miners and settlers of this unique area of the southwest. And the world-famous Queen Mine Tour offers a fascinating, up-close experience of the underground world of the miners who carved their community and a living out of bedrock.
Yearly events like the Bisbee 1000, Bisbee Pride Festival, and the Historic Home Tour draw crowds from around the region and across the globe. Ongoing Bisbee highlights include the monthly Bisbee After Five artwalk and a weekly farmer's market featuring regional artisanal goodies.
Come be refreshed, be inspired, be yourself ... Come be Bisbee for awhile.