MINE TALES

Finding rock with silver, gold led to Pearce mining

Commonwealth Mine ran from 1895 to 1942; tiny town still exists
2013-07-08T00:00:00Z 2013-07-08T12:03:48Z Finding rock with silver, gold led to Pearce miningWilliam Ascarza For The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Named after a Tombstone hard-rock miner by the name of John "Jimmie" Pearce, the Pearce Mining District and the town contributed much to Southeastern Arizona's mining history.

Pearce and his wife left Tombstone after silver was demonetized in 1893, which had a negative impact on mining. In the spring of 1894, Pearce and his wife bought a ranch in the Sulphur Springs Valley, 25 miles northeast of Tombstone.

Several stories tell of how in early 1895 Pearce or one of his sons discovered a quartz rock containing silver chloride and free gold in the valley. The next day, Pearce and his two sons staked five claims.

An assay at Tombstone was arranged, with the result showing $22,000 in silver and $5,000 in gold.

Pearce sold his property through an option agreement for $250,000 to John Brockman, a Silver City banker, with the stipulation that Mrs. Pearce retain control of a permanent boarding house at the fledgling camp. If Brockman could develop the property for the said sum in 90 days or less, it would be transferred to him. Brockman mined the necessary ore to fulfill Pearce's request in only 60 days.

The signature mine in the district is the Commonwealth Mine, which by 1927 had 20 miles of underground workings at eight levels. It extended to 450 feet deep.

The Commonwealth Mine transferred to several different owners, including to Count de Pourtales for $1 million in 1903. Two years later, because of challenges and setbacks - including a mine cave-in in 1904, flooding and the declining value of ore - the property was leased to A.Y. Smith and D.T. Swatling.

The mine continued to produce until defective wiring destroyed the mill in 1910. The Montana-Tonopah Mining and Milling Co. shortly thereafter bought the property and built a 350-ton cyanide mill, which operated into the 1920s.

Mining continued through various leases until precious metal mining was halted in accordance with the Second War Powers Act in 1942. From 1895 through 1942, the Commonwealth Mine produced 12 million ounces of silver and 138,000 ounces of gold.

Since the 1970s, renewed interest in the district has involved step-out drilling (holes drilled to intersect a potential mineral deposit) to determine the extent of silver mineralization. One noteworthy company involved in exploring the area today is Commonwealth Silver and Gold Mining Inc.

The town of Pearce, originally known as Pearceville, was established in 1895 and included a stage line to Tombstone. In 1903, the Arizona and Colorado Railroad Co. established a line running from Cochise to Pearce, expediting ore shipments to the Phelps Dodge smelter at Douglas.

Before the arrival of rail, all shipments were transported by mule teams.

The town included saloons, hotels, a school, restaurants and even a motion-picture theater. The population of Pearce reached close to 2,000 by 1919. During the Great Depression, the town shrank to fewer than 30 people, with one store operated by Albert Rothe and a post office operated by Gladys McLeod.

A small population remains to this day, hosting Old Pearce Heritage Days, a local festival celebrated every year the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Share your photos

"Mining Tales" writer William Ascarza is working on a book about the history of mining in Arizona, and he's looking for historical and modern-day photographs depicting mining operations, towns and camps to include in the book. If you'd like your photos included, email him at willascarza@gmail.com

William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. Email him at mining@azstarnet.com

Sources: Stanton B. Keith, Index of Mining Properties in Cochise County, Arizona; Nell Murbarger, "Ghosts of the Adobe Walls"; David F. Myrick, "Railroads of Arizona, Vol. 1"; NI 43-101 Technical Report on Resources Commonwealth Silver and Gold Project Cochise County, Arizona USA Report Date: March 15, 2012; Eldred D. Wilson, Guidebook 1-Highways of Arizona U.S. Highway 666, Arizona Bureau of Mines Bulletin 174.

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

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