The Mercury Mines Of Mount Ord

BACK WHEN

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Did you live in the Rim Country before state route 87 was a divided highway? Then you remember coming down Slate Creek hill and driving through the Main Street of a ghost town called Goswick's Camp. Until 1975 travelers could still see old rock fireplaces standing, and the green cabins where miners and their families had lived. Not far from the highway were the long abandoned operation buildings for the mine. When the highway was divided and widened, what remained of Goswick Camp was leveled and covered over.

Now, who remembers what was mined there and why the mining camp was named Goswick?

The ore was cinnabar, from which mercury (often called quicksilver) was taken, and Wesley Goswick was the man who first staked the claim.

Mercury bearing ore had been found here as early as 1903, and by 1920 the Arizona Mining Journal could say, "The Mazatzal Mountains have acquired the reputation for cinnabar, an ore of mercury. This mineral has been found about on the border of Maricopa and Gila counties."

Mercury is extracted from veins of soft, flaky, reddish-brown rock called cinnabar. After being mined, the ore is tumbled to finer pieces and placed in a vertical furnace called a retort. There it is heated with coke until the mercury vaporizes and rises to the top of the furnace. It goes through a series of U-shaped tubes, where the gas is condensed into liquid mercury, for use in thermometers and electrical equipment. The heavy quicksilver was put in 76-pound flasks and sold for as much as $123 each. Mercury continued to be mined at various locations in that area until well into the 1960s, when the price of a 76-pound flask of mercury had risen to $537.

Wesley Goswick was born in 1884, and like many early settlers in Arizona, moved about, taking jobs in mines or as a day laborer. He and his wife Mary worked on the Pyle ranch, and hunted and fished to supplement their diet. While they were there, two of their little ones, Willie age 4 and Rosie age 2, died of diphtheria and are buried near Ellison Creek. This prompted a move back to Globe, where Wes worked in the Radium Mine, hauling ore to the smelter in Miami.

When the Roosevelt Dam was under construction, he found employment there and the family lived in Roosevelt. After the dam was completed, Wes and Mary were divorced, a frequent happening among families who faced the hardships of frontier life.

Wes lived with his daughter Belle and her husband Alfred Packard in Tonto Basin, hunting bear and lion for the government bounty. During this time he did a lot of prospecting, and in 1920, found cinnabar on the side of Mount Ord.

During the boom days of Goswick camp, the ore was processed on the site, and then shipped by truck to Phoenix by way of the Apache Trail. The camp was a busy community, with a store, guest house, recreation hall and family housing.

At least 15 Tonto Apaches worked there. Vinnie Ward said, in a 1970 interview, "My father used to work over at the Ord Mine (Goswick Camp), and then we lived down there for a few years. My mother used to carry me on foot over there when I was a baby in a cradleboard."

Rose and Paul Burdette camped there while he worked the mine. She said other Tontos also worked there, coming from San Carlos, Gisela and Payson. After the mine near Goswick camp closed, other cinnabar mines continued, and Paul Burdette worked at the National Mine until he was drafted into the service in 1942. His family then returned to living on Payson's Indian Hill.

In 1929, the Mercury Mines of America bought the Ord Mine from Goswick, and the small mining town that had grown up around the mill was called Goswick Camp. That operation collapsed in 1932, during the Great Depression. Goswick, meanwhile, continued moving about, but always returned to Tonto Basin where he suffered a stroke in 1939 and died in 1943. Wes and Mary's children married into other local pioneer families.

Ruins of old mercury mines and camps, like the National Mine, often called the Sunflower Mine, can still be found off the highway at the border between Gila and Maricopa counties. One needs a four-wheel drive and must enjoy mountain roads with sheer drops to travel forest road 25A. On the way to one mine, the traveler will be stopped by the lack of a bridge over the west fork of Sycamore Creek. The infamous Viper Militia, playing with explosives, blew up the bridge for practice. The road from there must be negotiated on foot.

One cannot help wondering how much mercury got into the water table, affecting the lives of cattle and ranchers in the Slate Creek and Sunflower Creek drainage.

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