This is the first in a two-part series on railroading and its effect on mining in Arizona.

Railroad transportation proved indispensable to the development of the mining industry in Arizona, connecting it to lucrative markets in California and the Eastern states.

The arrival of the “iron horse” established towns and injected capital to advance mining interests through delivery of equipment and supplies while providing ease of ore transport to distant markets for refinement and profit.

Early talk of involving rail transportation in Arizona dates to shortly after the end of the Mexican-American War, when Congress financed surveys with the intention of establishing transcontinental railroad lines through what was then part of New Mexico Territory. Euphoric Manifest Destiny aspirations of the late 1850s included a railroad connecting mining operations around Tubac to Guaymas, Mexico.

This connection was deemed essential by William Wrightson, superintendent of the Santa Rita Mining Co.

Attempts to annex Sonora, Mexico, including a final expedition led by Henry Crabb in 1857, resulted in failure, as was the proposed rail line at the time. The Civil War, coupled with lack of financing, hindered rail in Arizona for the next two decades.

By the early 1880s, two major railroads operated in Arizona.

They included more than 384 miles of Southern Pacific Railroad across the 32nd parallel in Southern Arizona, originally surveyed by A.B. Gray and W.H. Emory, and the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, later known as the Santa Fe, across the 35th parallel through Flagstaff in Northern Arizona, originally surveyed by A.W. Whipple.

The latter arrived in 1882 from the East, opening Northern Arizona to commerce with the rest of the United States and allowing businesses like the Arizona Lumber and Timber Co. and early ranchers, including the Babbitt brothers, access to Eastern markets.

In September 1877, the Southern Pacific Railroad — Arizona’s first — arrived at Yuma from California. By 1880 it arrived in Tucson, connecting to the Texas and Pacific east of El Paso the following year. Track-laying across the desert regions provided some notable achievements, including laying more than a dozen miles of track a day. Southern Arizona towns created by the railroad included Benson, Bowie, Cochise and Willcox.

Renowned entrepreneur and railroad investor Frank M. Murphy, with money he acquired from his uncle in Chicago, Simon Murphy, and the estate of mining mogul “Diamond Joe” Reynolds, established a viable railroad system in Central Arizona during the early 1900s.

Murphy obtained tax-exempt status from the Arizona Territorial Legislature for his railroad ventures.

The result was prominent railroads, including the 195-mile-long Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway, known as the Peavine for the number of twists, curves and challenging grades along its mainline. The Peavine connected Prescott and Phoenix with the mainline of the Santa Fe mainline at Ash Fork.

Additional railroads connecting Prescott to the mineral wealth of the Bradshaw Mountains included the Prescott and Eastern and the Bradshaw Mountain Railroad. Subsequent branch lines from these railroads connected to the mines at Poland, Tiger and Crown King, as well as the Humboldt smelter, which handled ore from hundreds of mines in Central Arizona.

The New Mexico and Arizona, the Arizona and Southeastern, and the El Paso and Southwestern railroads serviced Benson and Fairbank, which were major transportation hubs along the San Pedro River.

Fairbank (named after N.K. Fairbank of Chicago) was the nearest point of rail access to the Tombstone mines prior to the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad’s arrival to Tombstone in April 1903. The New Mexico and Arizona established a line in 1882 that traveled from Benson through Fairbank, with Nogales as a destination.

A line between Fairbank and Bisbee was established in 1888 by the Arizona and Southeastern, later connecting the smelter at Douglas.

Sources: Gerald E. Thompson and Thomas J. Cram, “Railroads and Mines in Arizona: The Cram Memoir of 1858,” Arizona and the West, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Winter, 1968); P.R. Griswold (1992), “Arizona’s Railroads: Exploring the State by Rail”; David F. Myrick (1975), “Railroads of Arizona Vol. I-III”; John W. Sayre (1985), Ghost Railroads of Central Arizona: A Journey Through Yesteryear.

William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. Email him at