The Planet Mine, located in the northwest corner of La Paz County in the Buckskin Mountains in central western Arizona, was prospected by Richard Ryland in 1863, and is one of the oldest copper mines discovered by and worked by Americans in Arizona.

Between 1864 and 1874, the mine produced high-grade ore, ranging from 15 percent to 40 percent copper valued at $500,000.

Most of the ore at that time was shipped to Aubrey Landing on the Colorado River, then to San Francisco for smelting. Some of the ore was sent to Swansea, Wales, for smelting.

The nearby Bill Williams River provided water for mining operations at the Planet Mine, which was on its northern bank.

Expenses in freight transport to the Planet Mine from Bouse, 28 miles south by wagon road, averaged $10 to $18 a ton.

The Planet Mine peaked in 1867, with more than 500 miners, and was noted as the liveliest camp next to Wickenburg by the local Prescott paper the Arizona Miner.

The next year the Planet Copper Co. assumed ownership of the property. A reduction in the market price of copper from 47 cents per pound in 1864 to 23 cents per pound in 1868 temporarily halted mining operations.

By 1884, more than 6,000 tons of ore had been shipped from the Planet Mine, and the Matilda Mining Co. built a new smelter at the site, replacing an earlier adobe furnace while improving the workings and roads.

The ore was so rich that slag dumps from these early smelting operations assayed at 5 percent copper. However, within a year, lower copper prices again were a factor in the closure of the mine.

Later mining operations at the site were conducted with several gasoline hoists, a diamond drilling plant and a five-drill air compressor and engine.

Several thousand feet of underground workings through granite gneiss, limestone and schist greatly expanded the Planet Mine.

The mine operated until 1917, with the surrender of the lease of the Northwestern Leasing and Development Co. By then it had produced 3 million pounds of copper, while the neighboring Swansea-Clara Mine — which operated from 1910 to 1930 — produced 27 million pounds of copper.

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The Planet post office operated from 1902 to 1921, and there also were several general stores and private dwellings in the area.

Mining continued around the Planet Mine by multiple lessees. More than a carload of rich gold ore was mined during 1933 and 1934.

During World War II, the U.S. Bureau of Mines mapped, sampled and drilled the Planet deposit to ascertain its value as a source of iron ore for the steel industry.

A few scattered structural remnants are all that is left today of the Planet Mine, which is currently leased by the Santa Fe Gold Corp. The company is considering the potential of low-cost open-pit mining of micaceous iron oxide.

Another nearby mine, the Lost Six-Shooter Mine, reportedly located between the Planet Mine and Quartzite, yielded gold ore that assayed $25,000 to the ton.

The mine was discovered by the Planet Mine’s superintendent, who ended up dying in the desert after falling off his horse. The superintendent described the mine’s location in a note, pocketed ore samples and left his coat and his two six-shooters to mark the spot.

William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. His latest book, “The Chiricahua Mountains: History and Nature,” is available at Barnes and Noble online. Email him at

Sources: H. Bancroft (1911), “Reconnaissance of the Ore Deposits in Northern Yuma County, Arizona”; John D. Mitchell (1933), “Lost Mines of the Great Southwest”; Stanley W. Paher (1990), “Western Arizona Ghost Towns”; Harvey Walter Weed (1920), “The Mines Handbook”; Eldred D. Wilson, J.B. Cunningham and G.M. Butler (1967), “Arizona Lode Gold Mines and Gold Mining.”