Mining History Association

21st Annual Conference, June 10-13, 2010

Global Resource Center

Western New Mexico University

Silver City, New Mexico

 

SILVER CITY’S MINING HISTORY

Silver City is at the center of a number of historic mining districts.  The history of mining in the area covers several centuries. Native Americans mined native copper at Santa Rita and turquoise in the Burro Mountains long before the arrival of the white man.   Spanish soldiers, with help from the Indians, “discovered” the Santa Rita del Cobre deposit around 1799.  Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821.  The end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, the end of the Civil War in 1865, and construction of the transcontinental railroads in the 1880’s brought waves of prospectors to the area.  Their discoveries led to the establishment of several important mining districts.

Pinos Altos District

Placer and lode gold was discovered in the Pinos Altos District around 1860.  Thirty mines were soon in operation.  Production was frequently halted because of Indian attacks.  The Pacific Mine was the largest of the early producers.  Lead and zinc production began in 1904.  The Pinos Altos Mine was discovered in 1948 by U. S. Smelting, Refining, and Mining Company (USSRMC).  It operated until 1995.  Through 1994, the value of production from the district is estimated to be over $10.3 million.

Chloride Flat District

Silver was discovered in the Chloride Flat District in the early 1870’s by John Bullard.  This led to the establishment of Silver City.  The most important production years were from 1873 to 1893.  The silver ores were smelted locally in crude adobe furnaces.  In the early 1900’s, two copper and lead smelters were operating at Silver City.  They used Chloride Flat ores as flux which kept treatment costs low.  Mining continued sporadically until 1923 when government purchases stopped and the mines closed. Interest in the district was briefly revived in 1934-1937 when the government set an artificially high silver price.  Total production from the district through 1946 is estimated to be 4 million ounces of silver plus smaller amounts of copper, gold, and manganiferous iron with a total value of $5.0 million.

Map of mining districts in the vicinity of Silver City, New Mexico. (Modified from     Anderson, 1957)

 

Solitary placer miner near Pinos Altos, ca 1940. (Russell Lee photograph, courtesy Library of Congress)

 

Burro Mountains District 

Native Americans mined turquoise in the Burro Mountains in the 1600’s.  Early mining claims were filed in the Burro Mountains Mining District in the 1860’s.  Gold, silver, copper and lead deposits were discovered in the early 1880’s.  Mining of rich silver deposits continued until 1885.  A number of mines worked the Tyrone deposit until Phelps-Dodge (P-D) consolidated the properties in 1909.  P-D built an attractive planned community of Tyrone to house its employees.  Underground mining stopped in 1921 and the town was abandoned.  After an extensive exploration program to define the extent of the Tyrone deposit, P-D began stripping in 1967.  Ore mining and processing at the Tyrone Concentrator began in 1969.  Solvent extraction/electro-winning (SX/EW) of copper was started in 1984. The Tyrone Mine and concentrator were closed in 1992 and were being reclaimed by Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold (FMCG) in 2010.

Buildings in the abandoned company town of

Tyrone, ca 1940. (Russell Lee photograph,

courtesy Library of Congress)

 


Old mine in the Burro Mountains, ca 1940. (Russell Lee photograph, courtesy Library of Congress)

 Central Mining District

The Central Mining District, the largest and most complex in the Silver City area, is composed of three sub-districts., Hanover-Fierro, Santa Rita, and Bayard.  The Hanover-Fierro portion includes the small towns of the same names.  Magnetite iron ore mining near Fierro started in the 1880’s and expanded when the railroad was extended to Hanover in 1891.  Initially the ore was mined for smelter flux but after 1891, most of the production was shipped to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company in Pueblo, Colorado.  Iron ore mining continued until 1931, after which there was only small, sporadic production.  The major producers were the Union /Republic and the Jim Fair Mines of the Hanover Iron and Copper Company.  In 1919 the company was purchased by USSRMC.

Around 1904, zinc production began at Hanover.  Early production was limited, but it increased after 1910.  The Empire Zinc Company, owned by the New Jersey Zinc Company, operated the Empire Mine.  An electromagnetic mill was operated from 1916 to 1927 when it was replaced by a flotation mill.  The mine closed from April 1931 to June 1937 due to decreased demand and low zinc price during the Depression years.  It reopened and stayed in production until 1953.  The Empire Mine was the location of a 15-month long strike from 1950-1952 over the dual wage system in which Mexican miners were paid at a lower scale than white miners.  The Empire was a major producer until 1969.

The Peru Mining Company was another important zinc producer.  It took over the Pewabic Mine, northeast of Hanover, in 1927 and operated it until 1961.  The company also operated the Copper Flat Mine until 1947 and the Kearney Mine until the 1970’s.  The company’s mill was built in Wemple, near Deming, in 1928.  During World War II its capacity reached 1,000 tons per day.

Map of the Central Mining District showing the locations of major mines in the Hanover-Fierro, Santa Rita, and Bayard sub-districts. (Modified from Anderson, 1957)

The Hobo and Combination Mines, located southwest of Hanover, were owned by the Black Hawk Consolidated Mining Company.  It operated a custom mill which also treated ores from the Groundhog and San Jose Mines near Bayard.  The mines and mill were purchased by USSRMC in 1948.

The Kennecott Copper Corporation (KCC), Chino Mines Division, became a major zinc producer at its Ivanhoe and Oswaldo #1 and #2 Mines, located north of the Chino pit.  The Oswaldo properties operated from 1942 to 1969.  The ores were processed at the Empire Mill.

Manganese was mined in the district during both World Wars with the Lost Treasure Mine as the major producer.  In 1967, copper production began at the Continental Mine.  The mine was inactive in 2010 and FMCG has announced that it intends to reclaim the property.

The Bayard portion of the Central Mining District includes the towns of Bayard, Central, and Vanadium.  The San Jose Mine produced gold, silver and copper before 1869.  The adjoining Groundhog and Lucky Bill claims were located in 1900.  In 1928 the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) took over both mines and operated them as a unit, the Groundhog Mine.  After World War II, the mine operated sporadically.  In 1969 production resumed until 1978 when it was closed.  The Owl Mine was a small operation that operated until 1905.  In 1940, it was acquired by the USSRMC and renamed the Bullfrog Mine.  Mining began in 1943 and continued until low prices caused it to close in 1953.

The Santa Rita portion of the Central Mining District is dominated by the Santa Rita/Chino open pit.  After the Spanish discovery of the copper deposits at Santa Rita, Col. Manuel Carrasco and Francisco Manuel Elugea received the Santa Rita del Cobre land grant.  Small mines produced high grade copper oxide ores but harassment by the Indians kept production small.  In the 1880’s, a stamp mill and smelter were built but the venture failed.  Next, the Santa Rita Mining Company acquired the property, but failed to discover the main orebody.

The turning point for Santa Rita occurred in 1904 when John M. Scully recognized the similarity between the ores there and those at the Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah.  After an extensive sampling campaign, he obtained the necessary financial backing and, in 1908, formed the Chino Copper Company.  Open pit production began in 1910 using steam powered shovels and rail haulage in the pit.  The first concentrator was built in Hurley in 1911. Flotation circuits were added in 1914.  Ore was hauled from the mine to the mill by rail.  The company merged with the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company in 1926 and with KCC in 1933.  The mine was inactive from October 1934 to January 1937.  During part of that shutdown, mine haulage was electrified and electric shovels were purchased.  The Hurley smelter began production in 1939.

View of the Santa Rita/Chino Mine with new electric rail haulage system.  The town of Santa Rita is to the left.  The Kneeling Nun rock formation is on the horizon, ca. 1940.  (Russell Lee photograph, courtesy Library of Congress)

In the 1950’s, KCC discovered ore under the town of Santa Rita.  To expand the Chino pit, the townsite was abandoned.  Its residents moved to nearby towns.  A new concentrator was built adjacent to the mine in 1982.  The Hurley smelter was modernized in 1985 to meet the pollution control requirements of the Clean Air Act.  It closed in 2002.  Both the Hurley concentrator and smelter were demolished in the mid-2000’s and the sites are being reclaimed by FMCG.

Today the Santa Rita/Chino Mine is 1,500 feet deep, 1.5 miles across, and still growing.  After a temporary shut-down in 2008, FMCG resumed production in 2011.  Lower grade ores are leached and the copper recovered by SX/EW.  The higher grade sulfide ores are processed at the mill and the concentrates are sent to the company smelter in Arizona.

Santa Rita/Chino Mine ore transfer point for rail haulage to the Hurley Concentrator and Smelter, ca. 1940.  (Russell Lee photograph, courtesy Library of Congress

Written by L. Michael Kaas

REFERENCES 

Waldemar Lindgren, L. C. Graton, and C. H. Gordon, “The Ore Deposits of New Mexico,” U. S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 68, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1910).

A. C. Spencer and Sydney Paige, “The Geology of the Santa Rita Mining Area, New Mexico,” U. S. Geological Survey, Bulletin 859, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1935)

Eugene Carter Anderson, “The Metal Resources of New Mexico and Their Economic Features Through 1954,” State Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, Bulletin 39, (Socorro, New Mexico: New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, 1957).

William Rich Jones, Robert Mann Hernon, and Samuel L. Moore, “General Geology of Santa Rita Quadrangle, Grant County, New Mexico,” U. S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 555, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1967).

Virginia T. McLemore, David M. Sutphin, Daniel R. Hack, and Tim C. Pease, “Mining History and Mineral Resources of the Membres Resource Area, Dona Ana, Luna, Hidalgo, and Grant Counties, New Mexico,” Open File Report OF-424, (Socorro: New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, 1996).

John M. Sully II, “Copper King,” Desert Exposure, October 2007, http://www.desertexposure.com/200710/200710_santa_rita_copper.php, Accessed 21 December 2011.

“Mining Reclamation in New Mexico,” a Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold Corporation brochure, http://www.fcx.com/envir/pdf/brochure/reclamation_NewMexico.pdf, Accessed 22 December 2011.


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