Bisbee, Arizona in 1917

Arizona the Wonderland, by George Warren James 19717A traveling writer, George Wharton James, wrote about Bisbee, Arizona in 1917, in a book called Arizona the Wonderland. This book is available from Google books. The following is an excerpt on Bisbee in 1917:


Why they called them the Mule Mountains no one knows, yet it so denominated in the bond — on the United States maps, and when the camp was first located, the settlement that sprang up around it was called Mule Gulch; and near by was Mule Pass. That was in November, 1879. At that time the mountain slopes of the Gulch were lined with oak and other trees, festooned with mistletoe, which presented a very different sight from what they do to-day. There were a few tents and shacks, and in one of them lived George Warren, from whom the town of Warren was named, Marcus A. Hering, D. B. Ray, George Eddleman, and Joe Dyer. These men had located some claims, and had smelted a little of the ore in a primitive smelter built on the spot. As early as August, 1877, however, Jack Dunn had located and recorded a mineral claim in this region, and he it was who induced Warren to go into the Gulch.

From this meager beginning has grown the world famous mining city of Bisbee, which, in the year 1916, mined in the neighborhood of $57,000,000 worth of ore, and is the home of three of the greatest copper mines in the United States,— the Copper Queen, the Calumet and Arizona and Shattuck. Yet, strange to say, this city is built in the heart of a canyon in the last place in the world that one would have imagined a city could have been established. Quaint and peculiar, it is picturesque in the extreme. The trains of the El Paso and South Western Railway deposit one in the very heart of it. As one steps out from the depot-platform to the main street he finds it as narrow a spot as Wall Street, New York, where William Street crosses it. Parallel with the railway is one street leading down to Lowell; off at an obtuse angle is Brewery Gulch, directly ahead is an alley-looking opening going up hill to the Copper Queen hotel, and to the left and separated from it by a huge brick building, is another narrow opening and this latter is Main Street, leading up to where it branches, one branch becoming Tombstone Street or Avenue. Crooked as a dog’s hind leg, so narrow that you wonder that business can be done at all, the streets have been compelled to follow the natural contours of the mountain. You are really at the head of a canyon, and every available inch of reasonably level ground has been occupied, and then houses and stores, churches and Y. M. C. A., apartment houses and hoisting-works began to climb the mountain slopes on each side and there they are, hanging by the eyebrows, terraced up to the stars.

Up and down the narrow streets automobiles ply in perfect safety. There is prohibition in Arizona, hence there are few, if any, reckless drivers. They have to be careful or a hundred accidents would occur every hour. Side by side with these powerful modern appliances of conveyance a drove of laden burros come, plodding along, patiently bearing their heavy sacks of ore, or carrying firewood or supplies to mines. The next moment a modern, full-sized, powerfully-motored street car comes along, with its full quota of passengers — miners in their working garb, Mexicans with their tall sombreros, ladies of refinement going to their club, and gentlemen interested in mines who have just stopped over while on their way to California, or going back to New York.

Picturesque! It is the streets of Cairo, the bustle of Broadway, the wealth and mental activity of Wall Street, and the primitive simplicity of the mountain miningcamp, all combined in the lesser degree, while towering up on either side are the slopes that lead one’s eyes to the very heavens. He who crosses the continent and fails to see Bisbee deprives himself of one of the unique sights of the country. The city of Bisbee with its principal suburbs Lowell, Warren and Don Luis, with several smaller suburbs, occupy only seven miles of surface, and the whole combined area is known as the Warren District. For all practical purposes it is one community, though Bisbee is the only incorporated city, and has no control over the affairs of its sister communities.

If, however, one assumes from what I have written that Bisbee is a rough, rude, frontier mining-camp, he must immediately get rid of this misapprehension. He is taken to the Copper Queen Hotel, built and owned by the great Phelps-Dodge Corporation that owns the mines, the railway from El Paso, the smelters, etc. It is a city hotel,— quite like Chicago or Boston or New York — transplanted bodily to this quaint nook in the heart of the Mule Mountains. Jostling elbow to it is a fine, large, architecturally pleasing brick church. Skew-angularly across from this is as fine a Y. W. C. A. building as the country possesses, built as a memorial to Miss Kate Dodge. Still higher up and curved around to the right is a Y. M. C. A. that would be the pride of hundreds of large cities — cities of 100,000 population — in the Middle West, were they fortunate enough to possess it. And so it is whichever way you go. Everywhere you are met with the most striking evidences of modernity and progress, business enterprise and success. Here is the great Phelps-Dodge store, where you feel at once that you are in a gigantic establishment conducted on the same high plane as are those of John Wanamaker in New York and Philadelphia. Across the way is the fine and striking building of the Bank of Bisbee, classic in its outlines, and perfectly adapted for the banking needs of a great city. A few doors above is the Miners and Merchants, the largest single bank in the State.

Whichever way you turn you find Bisbee a city of surprises, of the unexpected. For instance here is Brewery Gulch — yet the city is ” bone dry,” the once-brewery is now used for a restaurant, and other good and commercial purposes. A little further on, hemmed as the churchyards are in the heart of crowded London, is one of the daintiest, prettiest, and most attractive parks imaginable. It used to be a graveyard, by the way, but a few years ago the progressive citizens of this eagle’s eyrie decided to convert it into a park. The necessary steps were taken, voluntary subscriptions solicited, to which the mining and other companies readily and generously responded, the City Council found the balance needed, and at a cost of over $25,000 the place, that had always been an eyesore and a receptacle for all the old tin cans and other trash of the neighborhood, was converted into a beautiful resting place, where in the summer the band discourses sweet music, and everybody comes to enjoy the delicious evening air.

As you ride up Tombstone Canyon a large ecclesiastical-looking building in course of construction demands one’s whole attention. Inquiry reveals that it is a Catholic Church, which however, local pride denominates a Cathedral, and insists that ere long it will be the seat of a bishop. It is to cost in the neighborhood of $75,000, yet the grading upon the steep mountain side, the digging of the foundations, etc., was all done by the generous hearted miners for the church of their faith, as a gift of love.

In this same canyon a towering rock shoots up directly from the roadside, like a rude monument. It is a wonderful example of the way intrusive rocks are found throughout this formation. Locally it is known as Castle Rock.