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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.

As one rides higher up this canyon he sees ahead a road of wide proportions and perfect grade, that climbs to the stars. This is the famous prison-labor-built road of the great Borderland Highway connecting El Paso, Douglas, Bisbee and Tucson with the California Coast. Our powerful car climbs the hill with ease. Soon we leave the street of the city which has climbed along with us to a couple of miles distance from the depot, and now, swinging around to the right we are upon this noted highway. It is a superlative piece of road-building, and whatever fault one may find with Governor Hunt for his determination to enunciate his pet humanitarian theories, one feels that here, at least, he has made good. Prisoners, sentenced to a life of uselessness and brooding at the state penitentiary, were here put to work at a useful and beneficial occupation, a work that means much to the comfort and pleasure of the citizens of, and visitors to, the State, and at the same time gave the state’s prisoners healthful outlet for their energies. Miles of this fine highway were built on the way to Tombstone, where the state’s prisoners were removed, and the city’s prisoners have now taken up the work and are carrying it along to the extreme confines of the city’s territory.

A ride over this road is one of the pleasures offered visitors to Bisbee. To those of a romantic and historic turn of mind, however, this quaint mining-camp has several places of especial interest. It is well to recall the fact that in the early ‘eighties there were many of the criminal element that purposely came to the active camp of Bisbee, not only because much money was in circulation, but it was near the Mexican border, whither they could flee if their crimes seemed to be bringing upon them merited punishment. In August, 1880, a murder of a Mexican was committed above Castle Rock, the criminal escaped, and this was but one of many similar murders.

In December, 1883, occurred the Bisbee massacre, an event of horror that is often narrated even to this day. On the first of the month five strangers came to the city. They made themselves agreeable and no one suspected them of ulterior motives, but on the evening of the eighth they rode masked, up the Gulch, three of them entering the leading store, the other two remaining outside, as sentinels or guards. While robbing was going on inside, the miscreants outside commanded two men who were passing to throw up their hands and enter the store. These men refused, one rushing into a near-by saloon, the other dashing down the street. Firing at once commenced. The bandits fled, but not until they had killed the deputy sheriff, and an innocent woman bystander who was about to give birth to a child, and two others. A posse was organized, and a courier sent to Tombstone, the county seat, to apprise the sheriff, the ride of twenty-eight miles over the mountains being made on horseback in less than two hours. In about two weeks’ time though two of the murderers had escaped into Mexico, the whole five were captured and securely held in the Tombstone jail. With one of the posse was a man named Heith. He was exceedingly solicitous about catching the bandits, but it was soon observed that whenever the sheriff was anxious to follow a trail that seemed to him to be sure, this man would lead him off in another direction. In due time it was discovered that this man was one of the gang, had undoubtedly planned the “hold-up,” and had guided his confederates in their movements. He was arrested and jailed with the others. In due time the five principals were tried and sentenced to be hung. Keith’s trial resulted in a judgment that he be imprisoned for life. But the citizens took him from the officers and hung him to a telegraph pole, and on the 28th of March, 1884, the other poor misguided wretches were officially swung into eternity upon a gallows erected in the Tombstone jail yard. The scene of the massacre is still pointed out in Bisbee. These are but samples of the actions of the lawless days. Men were often shot with their boots on, and it seemed incredible that the quiet, orderly, progressive, cultured city of the Bisbee of to-day can be the outcome of the wild camp that it certainly was thirty or more years ago.

Every visitor who has never inspected a mine, should go into one or other of the famous mines of the camp. Permits can always be obtained by reputable visitors. Here may be seen the actual workings, with all the latest modern appliances and inventions. There are literally scores of miles of tunnels, with vast chambers of ore, of wonderful variety and astonishing splendor and beauty of color.

In the Shattuck mine is a cave of vast proportions where stalactites and stalagmites abound. Some of the former are several feet long and the latter assume a multitude of forms. Bunches of white grapes, large and small masses of familiar and unfamiliar shapes attract the eye in every direction. On some portions of the walls filmy silken threads seem to intermingle with white satin-surfaced ribbons, but all thrown together in inextricable confusion.

After the mines are visited a ride should be taken over the magnificent Borderland Highway, before described, to Tombstone. Another trip is to Ramsay’s Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains, where a dashing mountain stream of pure water, a forest of trees and garden of fruits and flowers make a scene that enchants the eyes even of those who are familiar with pictures of wooded beauty.

Mount Huachuca and Miller’s Canyon are other interesting spots in the Huachucas, and the hunter or fisherman can enjoy his chosen sport to the uttermost in these desirable regions.

During this time the Copper Queen Hotel affords one a delightful stopping-place to which he returns each night with comfort.

Lowell is in reality an extension of Bisbee, while Warren is the residence section of both. Here there is room enough on the foothills to expand, and many exquisite sites and outlooks are already occupied by fine residences, some of which have cost many thousands of dollars in their erection, and far more in their equipment and furnishing.

To working men of the steadier class — those with families, this district makes an especial appeal. They are needed and welcomed. There are the best of schools for the children, and churches, clubs, etc., for the adults. and as good stores as can be found in any city in the world outside of the great metropolises.

The wages paid are the highest of any camp in the United States, the men and their employers working together for the best interests of each. Over a million dollars wages a month are now being paid out by the three leading mining companies.

Hence to tourist and pleasure seeker, workingman and investor, Bisbee and the Warren District are peculiarly attractive and should be visited by all who wish to know Arizona as it really is.

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