Bisbee, ‘Queen of the copper camps’

Bisbee circa 1910.
Bisbee circa 1910.(Western Mining History)
Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 8:45 PM MST
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BISBEE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - In southeast Arizona, near the border with Mexico, the city of Bisbee is situated on the side of a steep hill. The tough little city has transformed over the years, from a rough and tumble mining camp to the quirky tourist destination it is today.

Precious metal mining, was one of the main reasons the rough western lands of the United States became attractive to settlers from all over the world. Like many Arizona towns, Bisbee seemed to grow out from the minerals buried deep in the Mule mountains. Nearly 3 million ounces of gold and more than 8 billion pounds of copper, along with silver, lead, and zinc was pulled from the earth before the mines shut down in the mid-1970s. The area grew into one of the richest mineral sites the world has ever known. Found by happenstance, the men who located the rich ore claim would never see any money out of their discovery.

Here’s how the tough mining town came to be. It was 1877 in the Arizona territory, and soldiers from Camp Bowie had been tasked to round up some renegade Apaches in the area. Their scouting party had followed the Apaches to the red hills of Mule Gulch. One of these scouts, John Dunn, while searching for a watering hole had found an outcrop of promising ore near what is today’s Castle Rock. Dunn partnered up with two others in the troop, Lt. Rucker and T.D. burns, all three intending to make their claim on the site. But Army duties were not to be kept waiting and the soldier’s orders said they were to continue chasing the Apache band they were pursuing.

They counted on a prospector they met, George Warren, to stake their first claim for them. He was also to continue to locate as many more claims as he could to stake for the group. But Warren was a bit of a drinker and instead he found himself in a bar where he got drunk and gambled away the money he was given by Dunn to locate more claims. He did find a way to go on and stake many claims in the area, only they were in Warren’s name, not Dunns. The area proved to be prosperous, and Warren ended up with a one-ninth interest in the new Copper Queen mine, later estimated to have produced roughly $6.1 billion worth of ore during its operation.

Fast forward about two years later, when Warren was drinking with a friend, George Atkins, in a saloon in Charleston. He somehow got the notion that he could outrun a horse over the distance of a 100-yard run. He argued with Atkins until the two made a bet about the man vs beast match-up. If Atkins won he would get Warren’s one-ninth share of the Copper Queen mine, worth an estimated $20,000,000. If Warren beat the horse he would get the horse. The race took place on July 3, 1880. Warren lost the race and his share of the mine. He died penniless in 1893 and it seemed history would forget about George Warren. But ole Warren is still hanging around to this day, sort of...

Years later, when a picture of Warren was seen in the back room of the old bank building, the founders of the state thought the rough picture of a miner would be the perfect addition to the new official Arizona state seal. So Warren’s image lives on as part of the great seal of the state of Arizona where his image is seen as representing the historical significance of mining in Arizona. The same year Warren lost his horse race, 1880, Bisbee officially became a town. Locals named their town after a financial backer of the Copper Queen Mine, Judge DeWitt Bisbee; In a sad irony, Bisbee died before he paid a visit to the town that was named after him.

Today, the historic city of Bisbee is known as “Old Bisbee” and is home to a thriving downtown cultural scene. Bisbee’s streets are popular for tourists who wander along Main Street, Brewery Gulch, OK Street, and Tombstone Canyon, for an afternoon spent browsing the galleries and shops. It’s no wonder Bisbee earned the title as the ‘Best Historic Small Town’ in both Sunset magazine and USA Today online reader polls.

Bisbee is noted for its turn-of-the-century architecture, including Victorian-style houses and an elegant Art Deco county courthouse. If you want to learn more about where to stay, what to see and do, and any other Bisbee-related information, the Bisbee Chamber of Commerce can help you out.