The Aravaipa district in western Graham County includes the town of Klondyke, named after its first settlers who returned from the Klondike gold rush in the early 1900s.

The area, first prospected in the 1870s, produced minerals including lead, zinc, copper, silver and gold.

In the beginning, the area proved challenging to develop because of its remoteness and because it was inhabited by hostile Apaches.

In the late 19th century, cattle rustlers and outlaws were known to hide out in the canyons of the Santa Teresa and Turnbull mountains, making the area even less hospitable.

The small burg of Bonita near Camp Grant, 27 miles southeast of Klondyke, was the site of Billy the Kid’s first murder on Aug. 17, 1877. The victim was a local blacksmith named Frank “Windy” Cahill, who Billy the Kid shot in the gut while gambling at a local cantina. He then fled to New Mexico.

The final surrender of Geronimo in September 1886 and the establishment of more law and order in Southeastern Arizona allowed for greater development in the district during the 1890s.

The Grand Reef mine in Laurel Canyon — on the west flank of the Santa Teresa Mountains, 4 miles northeast of Klondyke — was first developed in the 1890s.

A principal producer in the district of lead-silver ore, the Grand Reef Copper Mining Co. employed 30 men in September 1897. Unsuccessful attempts were made to expand the operation with a supply road to the town of Geronimo for concentrate shipment.

Although John W. Mackay of Comstock fame invested heavily in the property, developing it below 300 feet from 1890 through 1902, no significant shipments were made until after 1915, when an ore dressing mill was erected on site along with a blacksmith shop, engine house, boardinghouse and school.

A 100-ton per day concentrator was built onsite in 1939. One of the largest producers in the Aravaipa district, the Grand Reef mine produced over 40,000 tons of ore by 1941. The quality of ore averaged 9 percent lead, 2 percent copper and 7 ounces of silver per ton.

The Grand Reef mine encompassed more than 4,000 feet of workings, including numerous crosscuts and stopes, along with an adit 1,200 feet long with a winze extending 300 feet deep.

In 1931, the mine had the distinction of being the second-largest lead mine in Arizona. It was the largest producer in the district with its lead and silver deposits extracted and shipped to Willcox between 1915 and 1920 at a value of nearly half a million dollars.

The host rock includes a mixture of rhyolite porphyry, diabase and granite.

Between 1942 and 1957, the Athletic Mining Co. operated the largest group of producing mines in the area, including the Head Center mine and the Iron Cap mine.

By 1948, a flotation mill was constructed by the Athletic Mining Co. along Aravaipa Creek. It operated until all mining activity ceased in the area by 1958. Between 1915 and 1958, its mineral production would equate to over $61 million in 2014.

Today the Grand Reef mine contains several tailings piles, boilers and scattered structural remains.

The mine is popular among mineral collectors because of deposits of linarite found in both individual crystals and crystal clusters mixed with quartz. The crystals appear a darker blue than the azurite deposits also found there.

Some lead fluoride minerals that are unique to the area include aravaipaite, artroeite, calcioaravaipaite, grandreefite, laurelite and pseudograndreefite. The Dog Water mine located three-quarters of a mile south of the Grand Reef mine is known for its wulfenite deposits.

Sources: W.W. Besse (1981), “The Mineralogy of the Grand Reef Mine, Aravaipa Mining District, Graham County, Arizona,” master’s thesis, Department of Geology, California State University at Los Angeles; R.W. Jones (1980), “The Grand Reef Mine, Graham County, Arizona,” Mineralogical Record; Leon Claire Metz (2003), “The Encyclopedia of Lawmen, Outlaws and Gunfighters,” Facts on File Inc.; Clyde P. Ross (1925), “Geology and Ore Deposits of the Aravaipa and Stanley Mining Districts, Graham County, Arizona;” Frank S. Simons (1964), “Geology of the Klondyke Quadrangle, Graham and Pinal Counties, Arizona,” Geological Survey Professional Paper 461.

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