Sometimes referred to as the Bunker Hill district, the Copper Creek district is located on the steep banks of the western slopes of the Galiuro Mountains in southeastern Arizona 75 miles northeast by road from Tucson.
Mining in the area dates back to 1863 with the Blue Bird mine with ore transported to Yuma and sent over to Swansea, Wales, for reduction.
Two decades later, prospectors William N. Miller, Theodore H. Peters and Ely H. McDaniels sought to further develop the outcropping of breccia pipe deposits officially organizing the Copper Creek Mining District in April 1880.
Prior to the 1900s, the focus was on lead-silver ore freighted from Mammoth to Willcox. Ore shipments were later shipped 35 miles northwest of Copper Creek to Winkelman for enhanced transport by the Phoenix & Eastern Railroad.
By the turn of the century, copper mining became prevalent in the area and involved three mining companies, including the Calumet & Arizona, Copper Creek and Minnesota-Arizona Mining Co. Copper concentrates were shipped to the Douglas and El Paso smelters.
Ten miles east of Mammoth, a town by the name of Copper Creek was established in 1907 with its own stage line, commissary, physician and post office. More than 200 miners and their families lived in the town that consisted of 50 buildings.
By 1914, a 150-ton gravity concentrator operated at the site along with an electric hoist, dam, power plant, three Wilfley tables, a machine shop and an aerial tramway across the Gila River. Production occurred at the American Eagle and Old Reliable mines — up to 30,000 tons prior to shutdown in 1919.
The Minnesota Arizona Mining Co. was managed by Roy Sibley who acquired the Copper Creek Mining Co.’s claims. Sibley and his wife, Belle, the Copper Creek postmaster, built a 20-room stone mansion at the site to entertain investors. Martin E. Tew, a partner in the mining company, acquired the property as part of Monte Bonito Ranch after the Sibleys’ departure in 1910.
The district is known for several of its mines, including the Copper State-Copper Creek, Bluebird, Bunker Hill, Clark-Scanlon, Old Reliable and American Eagle mines.
Between 1905 and 1930, the district produced a profit of $430,000. The Old Reliable Mine included an 18-ton Porter locomotive with eight cars; and a 31-mile telephone line connecting the mine with Mammoth, Winkelman and Hayden.
The Arizona Molybdenum Corp. further developed the mines at Copper Creek beginning in 1933, becoming the second-largest producer of molybdenum in the United States four years later while employing 200 miners.
However, by 1942 the mines, town and post office had closed.
Future activity included geologic mapping, geochemical and geophysical surveys coupled with an active drilling program initiated by the Bear Creek Mining Co. in 1959 and later utilized by additional companies, including Occidental Minerals Corp. and Magma Copper Co., a subsidiary of the Newmont Mining Corp.
The Old Reliable Mine saw heightened activity in 1972 when a three-stage detonation of over 4 million pounds of chemical explosive was used to shatter 5 million tons of 0.8% copper ore.
The project, undertaken by the Ranchers Exploration and Development Co., involved leaching with diluted sulfuric acid culminating in 12 million pounds of cement copper — impure copper — recovered upon the expiration of their lease in 1981. Initial projections were a copper recovery of 30 million pounds in five years.
Subsequent field investigation initiated by Arizona Mineral Technology in 1995 and by Redhawk Copper Inc., which acquired the 29-square-mile property in 2005, revealed in 2012 the potential of extracting ore grades valued at 7.75 billion pounds of copper at 0.72 percent, 150 million pounds of molybdenum at 0.013 percent, and 32 million ounces of silver at 2.63 parts per million through underground mining of the 2,000-foot-deep main porphyry mineralized zone.
A recent mineral discovery was made by Tucson engineer Mark Ascher at Copper Creek. The aptly named markascherite, with green, transparent, subadamantine luster bladed crystals, was found on the surface of the south glory hole of the Childs-Aldwinkle mine.