One of the mining district's sites in a photo taken before 1917. The end of World War I brought a decline in demand for copper, but new technologies revived output in the 1940s.


Located 65 miles east of Tucson on the eastern slopes of the Little Dragoon Mountains, the Johnson Camp Mine is a working copper mine in Cochise County.

Substantial mining operations didn't start there until the early 1880s upon the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad through the nearby town of Dragoon, seven miles south of the mine.

The property has been the site for underground mining, open-pit mining and mineral processing. Early smelting operations began with the erection in 1882 of a 30-ton smelter that had an output of 4 tons of copper bullion a day. The ore during that time contained as much as 7.4 percent copper.

Two towns emerged in what became known as the Cochise (Johnson) Mining District. The first was Russellville, which was soon replaced by Johnson.

Russellville lasted from 1881 to 1883, reaching a peak population of 100, with a small business district. Its demise was caused by the relocation of the smelter to the Peabody Mine, about three miles away, along with the ravages of a spring blizzard.

Earlier that year, the Russell Gold and Silver Mining Co. sold its Peabody claims for $350,000 after removing $100,000 in ore.

The town of Johnson was built a half-mile from the new smelter site, which by that time accommodated two 30-ton smelters. It became the headquarters in 1883 of the Peabody Co., which employed 150 men. The camp was named after George J. Johnson, who served as the general manager of the Cochise Copper Co.

The Johnson Post Office operated from 1900 to 1929. By World War I the town included a pool hall, a schoolhouse and a movie theater. High metal prices made it a prosperous town and the target of an 1918 robbery at the Peterson grocery store. The thief scored $3,000 in cash, notes and securities.

The district's most productive mine was the Republic-Mammoth, with a total value of copper and silver mined between 1905 through 1928 of $5.6 million. By comparison, between 1882 and 1915 the Peabody Mine produced $410,000 in metal.

After World War I copper prices plummeted, causing a decline in mining. However, selective flotation during the 1940s and 1950s enabled companies to separate zinc from copper concentrates. Zinc became the profitable metal at Johnson, exceeding copper, until the low profitability of the ore caused the mines to close in 1957.

Active mining resumed at Johnson in the mid-1970s with the establishment of two open pits (the Burro and Copper Chief) and a production facility.

Today, the Johnson Camp property is in the care of Nord Resources Corp., which conducts solvent extraction and electrowinning at the site. It also sells landscape rock from the site's stock-piles. A recent study concluded that reserves at Johnson Camp exceed 70 million tons of ore.

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"Mining Tales" writer William Ascarza is working on a book about the history of mining in Arizona, and he's looking for historical and modern-day photographs depicting mining operations, towns and camps to include in the book. If you'd like your photos included, email him at

William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author of five books, including "Southeastern Arizona Mining Towns" and "Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum." Email him at Sources: Johnson Camp Mine Project Feasibility Study Cochise County, Arizona, Technical Report Prepared for Nord Resources Corp., Sept. 28, 2007; Morris J. Elsing and Robert E.S. Heineman, Arizona Metal Production, Arizona Bureau of Mines, Economic Series No. 19 Bulletin No. 140; Stanton B. Keith, Index of Mining Properties in Cochise County, Arizona, Arizona Bureau of Mines Bulletin 187; David F. Myrick, "Railroads of Arizona" Vol. I; W.A. Scott, "Mining Operations at Johnson, Arizona," Mining and Engineering World, July 22, 1916; Nord Resources Corp. website.