Located 14 miles south of Patagonia in the Patagonia Mountains, the Mowry Mine was originally worked by Native Americans under the supervision of Jesuits during the Spanish era, in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The lead-silver deposit was reworked in the 1850s by Mexican miners, who called it the Patagonia Mine.
Sylvester Mowry acquired the holdings of the mine for $22,000 by 1860 and renamed it after himself. Using Eastern capital, he built 12 blast furnaces and other smelting equipment to reduce the ore to bars of silver and lead.
The bars were shipped to Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico, and later to Swansea, Wales.
Mowry spent $200,000 operating the mine for a profit of $1.5 million.
Mowry was both an entrepreneur and a fighter. In 1859 he fought a duel with Edward Cross (editor of the Weekly Arizonan) over a public defamation of character. Neither man was injured during the duel, and Mowry ended up buying the newspaper several weeks later.
Mowry employed several hundred men, many of whom also were responsible for fending off Apache raids on the mine.
After U.S. troops were withdrawn from the region during the Civil War, Mowry sought the protection of the Confederate forces of Capt. Sherod Hunter, who arrived in Tucson in late February 1862.
But Hunter didn't have men to spare, and the Confederacy withdrew from the region several months later when the California Column, under Col. James H. Carleton, arrived.
Many of the men who were part of Carleton's force were more motivated by getting a free trip to acquire Arizona mineral fields than by patriotic duty. As a result, Union forces seized the Mowry Mine under the Confiscation Act of 1862. They put it up for public auction two years later for $4,000.
Mowry was charged with supplying lead bullets for the Confederate military and held for several months at Fort Yuma before being released for lack of evidence.
Mowry published a book in 1864 titled "Arizona and Sonora."
He died at age 39 of Bright's disease - a kidney disorder - in 1871 in England while trying to revive his health and his fortune.
John R. Browne visited the Mowry Mine in 1864, providing sketches of buildings and historical anecdotes that historians later used to describe the mine. Lacking U.S. military protection, the mine was raided by Apaches, who destroyed the smelter and surrounding buildings. Still, some claim jumpers, including Pete Kitchen and Solomon Warner, worked the site in the 1860s and 1870s.
By the 1890s, the town of Mowry flourished with money from new mine ownership and a new smelter. It grew to 500 residents, several stores and saloons, and a schoolhouse. A post office operated at the town until 1913. Re-smelting operations were carried out at the site in the 1950s. Remnants of the historic mine can still be seen today.
new weekly column
Mine Tales is a new weekly column exploring the region's rich mining history. Email writer William Ascarza at firstname.lastname@example.org
William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author of five books, including "Southeastern Arizona Mining Towns," available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com online. Sources: Brandes, Ray, "A Guide to the History of the U.S. Army Installations in Arizona, 1849-1886," Journal of the Southwest, Vol. 1, No 1; Browne, John Ross, "Adventures in the Apache Country: A Tour Through Arizona and Sonora"; Fontana, Bernard L., "The Mowry Mine: 1858-1958," Kiva, Vol. 23, No. 3; Hinton, Richard J., "1,000 Old Arizona Mines"; Lamar, Howard Roberts, "The Far Southwest, 1846-1912; "A Territorial History"; Schrader, Frank C. and James M. Hill, "Mineral Deposits of the Santa Rita and Patagonia Mountains, Arizona. United States Geological Survey Bulletin 582"; Sherman, "Ghost Towns of Arizona."