Mine Tales: At its height, Silver mining district boasted 60-plus mines

2014-01-27T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T16:16:25Z Mine Tales: At its height, Silver mining district boasted 60-plus minesBy William Ascarza Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Located 25 miles north of Yuma in the barren, rocky Trigo Mountains, the Silver mining district was established after the railroad had reached Yuma in 1878.

It was prospected as early as the 1860s by miners who were initially attracted to gold-bearing deposits along the Colorado River.

Before mining, the region was farmed by the Yuma Indians, who grew wheat in the river bottoms — “trigo” means wheat in Spanish.

By the early 20th century, the district boasted more than 60 mines. Some of the more well-known included the Red Cloud, Silver Clip, Black Rock and Silver Bonanza.

The primary minerals mined in the district were silver, gold, lead, zinc and manganese.

Established in 1880, the town of Silent — named for Arizona territorial magistrate Charles Silent and later renamed Pacific City — grew from a mill that serviced the nearby Red Cloud Mine.

The town served as a trade center for the mines in the community while providing a way station on the Yuma-Ehrenberg stage line and hosting a smelter.

A dance hall and saloon known as La Cantina La Plata, along with a hotel, three general stores and a post office, operated in Silent around 1882. The population reached 500 before the mines closed as a result of the demonetization of silver in 1893.

Due to the scarcity of lumber and lack of water necessary for adobe construction, miners lived in five-foot-high dugouts beneath eight feet of mudstone overburden. These holes remain today, including one with a chimney pipe extending to the surface.

Ore from the mines was freighted down a sandy wash to Norton’s Landing on the Colorado River, where riverboats waited to transport the ore to the Selby smelter in San Francisco. The riverboats would also drop off supplies destined for the mines in the district.

One of the greatest silver-producing mines in the district was the Silver Clip Mine, five miles north of Silent. Between 1884 and 1887, the mine produced $750,000 in silver and led to the short-lived town of Clip, which had a post office and several stores.

The Red Cloud Mine was registered as a claim in 1878. During the 1880s, it was mined by the Red Cloud Mining Co., producing $330,000 worth of silver and 1.9 million pounds of lead. During the 20th century, the Red Cloud Mine was mined intermittently, with a greater focus on mineral collecting. Collectors went to great lengths to uncover underground stopes, or pockets, of wulfenite.

The Red Cloud Mine is well-known throughout the world for its brilliant barrel-shaped red vanadinite and bright-red blades of wulfenite crystals.

The best crystals (larger than two inches) discovered at the mine are credited to mineral collector and dealer Ed Over in 1938. By the latter 20th century, commercial owner-operators of the Red Cloud Mine employed open-pit mining techniques to extract mineral specimens.

Discoveries in the past 20 years include those of renowned mineral collector and dealer Wayne Thompson, who successfully mined wulfenite crystals of more than an inch in size.

Active mining ceased in 2003 due to lack of funds. The property has since been reclaimed according to government regulations and backfilled with more than 20,000 tons of waste rock.

William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. His latest book, “The Chiricahua Mountains: History and Nature,” will be available Feb. 4 at Barnes and Noble online. Email him at mining@azstarnet.com

Sources: Blair, Gerry. (2008) “Rock Hounding Arizona: A Guide to 75 of the State’s Best Rockhounding Sites.” Morris Book Publishing LLC; Dollar, Tom. (1998) “Guide to Arizona’s Wilderness Areas.” Westcliffe Publishers Inc. Colorado; Elsing, Morris J. and Robert E.S. Heineman. “Arizona Metal Production.” Arizona Bureau of Mines, Economic Series No. 19 Bulletin No. 140. Tucson, University of Arizona, 1936; Paher, Stanley W. (1990) “Western Arizona Ghost Towns.” Nevada Publications. Las Vegas, Nev.; Sherman, James E. and Barbara H. Sherman. 1969. “Ghost Towns of Arizona.” Norman, University of Oklahoma Press; Wilson, E.D. (1933) “Geology and Mineral Deposits of Southern Yuma County, Arizona.” Arizona Bureau of Mines Bulletin; Wilson, Wendell E. “Bonanza at the Red Cloud Mine.” The Mineralogical Record 27.5 (1996).

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