MINE TALES

Col. Greene put Cananea on mining map

US entrepreneur was savvy booster of his Mexico copper venture
2013-05-27T00:00:00Z 2013-05-27T09:59:33Z Col. Greene put Cananea on mining mapWilliam Ascarza For The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Editor's note: This is the first part in a two-part series about "Colonel" William C. Greene. Read Part 2 next Monday.

"Colonel" William C. Greene is credited with having developed the mines in Cananea, Mexico.

Born in Duck Creek, Wis., on Aug. 26, 1853, Greene ventured west to Arizona in 1877 honing his mining experience in the ore-rich Bradshaw Mountains in Central Arizona. He finally settled in Tombstone, where he prospected, ranched and farmed in the San Pedro Valley.

Greene was known for being affable and having many friends in high places in Tombstone. This served him well when a dam on his property was blown up, drowning his 9-year-old daughter. His nearby neighbor, Jim Burnett, formerly a justice of the peace in nearby Charleston, was suspected of sabotaging the dam because of past water disputes with Greene.

An enraged Greene confronted and shot and killed Burnett on the streets of Tombstone. Greene was acquitted of any wrongdoing by local authorities, who were later given positions of prominence in Greene's business ventures in Mexico.

Greene was given the title "Colonel" either from leading a posse pursuing Apaches or from his financial activities in New York.

Greene's financial break came in the late 1890s upon his discovery of a massive copper ore deposit in Cananea, Sonora.

Greene, a man of financial ambition, recognized the value of the copper deposit on the "Cobre Grande" property. The Cananea mines had been worked in the 18th century by the Spanish Jesuits and later by Mexicans for gold and silver. However, the copper was looked at as gangue - worthless - material until the advent of electricity during the Industrial Revolution.

Greene acquired an option to the mine for $47,000 from the widow of Gen. Ignacio Pesquiera, who originally owned the property.

Greene's gift of gab enabled him to convince two of his Tombstone friends, Ed Massey and Jim Kirk, of the financial benefit of his venture.

In the beginning, local miners worked for free meals and the promise of wages when the mine got up and running. Greene also acquired the help of George Mitchell, a former superintendent of mines in Jerome, in Northern Arizona. Mitchell's experience with mining and metallurgy was essential to ensuring the success of the Cananea venture.

Greene continued to sensationalize his Cananea mines across the United States to obtain capital to erect his smelting operations. By the early 1900s, he had a labor force of more than 3,500 men along with eight furnaces that handled 2,500 tons of ore a day.

Cananea attracted a workforce made up of 40 percent Americans and 60 percent Mexicans. Many of the Americans were miners from Bisbee, Globe and Tombstone. The town of Cananea (Apache for "horse meat") was established in 1901 with a population of 25,000.

Greene stopped at nothing to increase the price of his shares. He used the influence of Phelps Dodge's investment in his stock to drive his shares higher, and he sold stock to the general public. The enterprising Greene invited his stockholders to Cananea to experience the successes of his mining operations while promoting additional investment.

Next week: Greene faces challenges, including a deadly strike.

Writer William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author of five books, including "Southeastern Arizona Mining Towns," available at Antigone Books, Cat Mountain Emporium and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Email him at mining@azstarnet.com Sources: Bernstein, Marvin D., "Colonel William C. Greene and the Cananea Copper Bubble," Bulletin of the Business Historical Society, Vol. 26, No. 4; Hadley, Diana, "Landholding Systems and Resource Management in the Sky Island Borderlands," 2005, USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-36; Sonnichsen, C.L., "Colonel Greene and the Copper Skyrocket: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of William Cornell Greene, Copper King, Cattle Baron and Promoter," Arcadia Publishing, 1974; and Sonnichsen, C.L., "Col. W.C. Greene and the Cobre Grande Copper Co.," The Journal of Arizona History, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Summer 1971).

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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