Mine Tales: Chiricahua Mountains yielded sought-after wulfenite

2014-01-13T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T16:16:26Z Mine Tales: Chiricahua Mountains yielded sought-after wulfeniteBy William Ascarza Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The first recorded mining claim in the Chiricahua Mountains was the Hidden Treasure, worked by Jack Dunn in early 1881. It later became part of the Hilltop Mine, the largest and most profitable mine in the Chiricahuas.

Located on the northwest slope of Shaw Peak, the mine was worked for rich oxide lead silver ore near the surface. It consisted of three interconnected levels encompassing 20,007 feet. Several miles of workings, including tunnels such as the Kasper Tunnel, were developed between the 1880s and the late 1920s.

Ore was hand-sorted and shipped originally by mules and later by heavy-duty trucks to the railroad in Rodeo en route to Willcox or Lordsburg, N.M., then on to the smelter in El Paso.

Some of the ore at the Blacksmith level of the Hilltop Mine was milled nearby at the town of Paradise.

Frank and John Hands acquired the Hilltop Mine in the 1890s. The copper, lead, silver and zinc ores proved profitable, allowing them to invest in the mining equipment necessary for extraction.

In 1913 they sold their interest to the Hilltop Metal Mining Co. for $120,000, which was the largest recorded profit made in the history of mining operations in the Chiricahua Mountains at the time.

The town of Hilltop owed its existence to the nearby Hilltop Mine. It was located on the east slope of the Chiricahua Mountains on two sides of the 7,700-foot-tall Shaw Peak and accessible through the Kasper Tunnel workings.

The main tunnel sat above other tunnels dug below it whose entrance originated from Whitetail Canyon on the east side of the mountain.

The ore was mined and transported through winzes (steeply inclined passageways) and vertical shafts, eventually dropped down to the lowest tunnel, then transported to the surface by mule-drawn carts.

The town of Hilltop included an assortment of miners’ bunkhouses, billiard halls, restaurants and managers’ quarters. Some of these structures exist to this day although they are on private land.

All that remains of the western slope of Hilltop are several concrete structures and abundant mine tailings from the Kasper Tunnel entrance.

Although the town of Hilltop reported 100 people in 1930, its population would decline in the following year due to the inactivity of the mine. The post office was active from Jan. 26, 1920, to June 20, 1945.

One of the most sought-after minerals in the Chiricahua Mountains other than gold is wulfenite, which was extracted in a stope at the Hilltop Mine between 1890 and World War I. Wulfenite, a lead molybdate mineral, is noted for its tabular, square-shaped crystals.

The wulfenite found at the Hilltop Mine is thickly bladed, taking on a distinct butterscotch color in contrast to wulfenite found in other localities in Arizona. Large specimens of wulfenite from the Hilltop Mine are uncommon. Prices for specimens range in the hundreds to thousands, depending upon the size of the specimen.

William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. His latest book, “The Chiricahua Mountains: History and Nature,” will be available Jan. 28 at Barnes and Noble online. Email him at mining@azstarnet.com

Sources: Ascarza, William. “The Chiricahua Mountains: History and Nature.” History Press, Charleston, S.C. 2014; Bigsby, P.R. 1983. “Mineral Investigation of the North End Roadless Area, Cochise County, Arizona.” U.S. Bureau of Mines Mineral Land Assessment MLA 1-83. Denver, Colo.; Brown, S.D. 1993. “Mineral Appraisal of the Coronado National Forest: Part 2, Chiricahua-Pedregosa Mountains Unit, Cochise County, Arizona.” Intermountain Field Operations Center, Denver, Colo.; Drewes, Harald, and Frank E. Williams. “Mineral Resources of the Chiricahua Wilderness Area, Cochise County, Arizona.” Geological Survey Bulletin 1385-A. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C., 1973; Keith, Stanton B. “Index of Mining Properties in Cochise County, Arizona.” Arizona Bureau of Mines Bulletin 187 (1973); Sherman, J.E., and B.H. Sherman. “Ghost Towns of Arizona.” Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.

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

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