Monday, February 6, 2012

The Silver King Mine

January 30, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Arizona will be celebrating its centennial on February 14, 2012. The 48th Annual Lost Dutchman Days, Feb. 24-26, will honor the statewide celebration of Arizona’s 100th birthday by featuring a President Theodore Roosevelt re-enactor as the Grand Marshall for the annual Lost Dutchman Days Parade (Feb. 25). After the parade he will drive to locations on the historic Apache Trail to speak about the building of the road to carry materials for the construction of the Roosevelt Dam.

This is the fourth in a special centennial series about Arizona by Tom Kollenborn.

The dream of riches is what brought the first Europeans to what is known as Arizona today. The mineral wealth of Arizona continued to bring men here after the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. James D. Poston, known as the father of Arizona, brought miners to southern Arizona in the 1850’s to mine silver. By the time Arizona reached territorial status in 1863, much of the Central Mountain region was known for its mineral wealth. First, there was gold, then silver and, finally, copper.

There were many stories about lost mines throughout Arizona. Few lost mines or treasures have been found in the annuals of the American Southwest. Actually, only a few of these stories are based on fact. Most lost mines and treasure stories are based on fiction, distortion and outright lies.

This is not the case with the fabulous Silver King Mine north of Superior, Arizona. This is a true story from beginning to end about a lost mine actually being found in the wilds of Arizona Territory in 1875. This story may have fired the imagination of the early pioneers who searched this area for mineral wealth. These men also told stories about lost mines and embellished on their tales.

Silver was first discovered in the Globe area prior to the great American Civil War. The approaching civil war, the hostile Apache and extreme cost of transportation discouraged the development of the ore bodies in the area until 1873. The close of the Civil War and the suppression of the Apache led to the development of the mining industry in Arizona Territory. At first, the development was slow, but then it boomed. As men and equipment made their way into the Globe area, other prospecting ventures were started in other parts of the region.

The United States Army construction of a wagon road between Camp Pinal and Globe began in 1873. The Stoneman Grade was located near the foothills of the Pinal Mountains directly east of the present site of the old Silver King mine. The work crew, a group of soldiers, took a lunch break. A soldier named Sullivan was wandering around and noticed an outcrop of black rock. He broke off a piece of what appeared to be rock but it turned out to be somewhat malleable.  Finding this unusual sample of rock to be metallic and heavy he put it in his pocket to keep.

Sullivan showed his heavy metallic rock to a rancher named Charles Mason who lived along the Salt River west of Superstition Mountain. Mason informed Sullivan his black rock was a rich specimen of native silver and silver sulfide.

Mason tried hard to convince Sullivan to let him grubstake him for a percentage of the mine. Sullivan kept the secret of the “black nuggets” to himself, planning to return someday and staking a claim on his discovery.

He returned to the area a year later after being mustered out of the army. Sullivan searched the area of his discovery, but couldn’t locate the source of his “black nuggets.”

Shortly thereafter, Sullivan gave up his search and moved on to California in hopes of finding a gold mine. Mason was still intrigued by Sullivan’s rich specimen of ore and soon planned an expedition to search for the “black nuggets” of the Pinal Mountains.

Mason reasoned that Sullivan must have found his silver nuggets somewhere along the route of the wagon road constructed by General Stoneman. This was the area where Mason concentrated his search.

Mason and his prospecting party were attacked by Apaches in a canyon near the foot of the Pinal Mountain on March 20, 1875. After a brief skirmish, Mason’s men searched the surrounding area for their horses and pack mules. One of Mason’s pack mules was standing on a knoll. The animal was nervous because of the gunfire. Mason’s men spread out and approached the animal from four different directions. As they approached the animals they discovered the source of Sullivan’s “black nuggets” at their feet.

There on the ground, a short distance from the abandoned wagon road was the richest outcrop of silver ore any of the party had ever seen. Sullivan’s “black nuggets” had been found.

Mason immediately returned to Florence and filed the Silver King claims on March 21, 1875. The Silver King proved to be a rich vertical chimney. The mine operated continuously day and night from 1876 to 1887. The greatest obstacle for the Silver King planners was transportation of supplies and ore. As the price of silver fluctuated on the market, the Silver King had its ups and downs.

There was a large town at the Silver King mine site and another town grew up at the mill site on Queen Creek. The mill town was known as Pinal.

Finally, by 1895 and at the depth of 1,100 feet, the mine played out. This was not the end of mining in the Pioneer District. A short distance from the Silver King, the Silver Queen was developed, first for silver then for copper in 1895.

The development of the Silver Queen Mine led to the founding of Hastings at the base of Apache Leap in 1882. Shortly thereafter, it was suggested that the town be named after the mine’s superintendent Sieboth, but the United States Post Office chose to name the town after the superintendent’s company, the Lake Superior Mining Company.

Today, little remains of old Silver King. There are foundations of old stone buildings, underground workings, a cemetery and old dumps to remind us of the glorious past of the Silver King. Occasionally, men have tried to reopen the old mine and recent  underground exploration at the Silver King has shown some promise.

Even through Private Sullivan was insignificant in the history of the Silver King Mine, he did plant in the minds of men that sometimes lost mines turn out to be real. The Silver King was a classic example of a lost mine actually existing.

Mason and Reagan’s discovery of silver in 1875 eventually led to the discovery of vast deposits of copper in the area in 1895.

The opening of the Magma Mine, and other copper mines in the area and throughout the territory put Arizona on the path to statehood one hundred years ago.