Early Mining In Payson Had A Big Impact

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Stan Brown photo

Mining was one of the enterprises that gave settlement by anglos a foothold in the Rim Country.

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Northern Gila County Historical Society photo

Grinding ore was a hardrock job and required lots of water and a good mule.

One of the biggest “forgotten” stories in Rim Country is the impact that mining had early in Payson’s history. The area is known for its ranching, and certainly it became a big part of the economy. Mining though was a key thing early on. The early settlers found lots of promise on the surface, though as time went on it never materialized as much as hoped. Here’s a look at some of the early happenings.

One of the earliest finds in the Payson area was the Golden Waif mine south of Payson. Irving Monroe House and Derrick J. Rouse were the registrants of this mine. It was registered May 23, 1877. House was a major player in the mining scene of the area in those days. A clip from Globe’s Arizona Silver Belt newspaper in 1880 discusses the progress these gentlemen were making.

“Messrs. House and Rouse, of Tonto Basin, were in town last Saturday and Sunday. They report that in their camp everything is quiet, but that on the River Verde, times were lively. Their mine which we are assured is a valuable one, was bonded to San Francisco parties. They have 150 tons of good ore on the dump and the mine is looking well. They tell us that on the East Verde the miners have taken out a ditch to carry water to arrastras by which process they intend for the present to work their ores. The mines along the Verde are gold mines. Mr. Rouse is largely interested in mines along this river, and he claims that some of them will prove as valuable as any yet discovered. Wood, water and grass are plentiful. There is a wagon road from that country to Globe. Mr. R. says that Globe will have to look to its laurels or a new district will be organized on the Verde that will eclipse it.”

Over the following few years House became an “expert” of sorts, at least in the eyes of the newspapers, as this clip from the Coconino Sun in 1892 shows.

“I.M. House mineralogist and surveyor of wide and honorable reputation, is another enthusiast in the belief that the new placers are the best ever yet discovered.”

The above clip refers to a new find up on the Arizona-Utah border, a boom which eventually turned bust.

Another early miner in the area was Davey Gowan, who is most closely associated with the Tonto Natural Bridge. It is west of there where his most notable find, the Gowan Mine, is located. The April 16, 1881 Arizona Silver Belt had the following to say about this mine.

“The owners of the Gowan mine have sent for a battery and pans for their new water power quartz mill. The mine justifies its erection. Gray and Caldwell (Uncle Joes) have some good properties upon which they are working.”

The year 1881 was one of the early high points of mining expectations in the area. A great number of claims were being filed throughout the region and there was a great deal of buzz. It was in this environment that Marysville, a small town just west of Payson, and ultimately Payson itself, sprung up. This is also part of the reason why the idea of a railroad gained such traction. So what happened? Well, a lot of the early discoverers managed to sell out to Eastern capitalists, bringing in money that they were able to use on other things, like cattle. Some mines did have some success and over the next five decades there were occasionally spurts of potential booms.

The two mines that seemed to have the most success after they were first discovered were the Golden Wonder and Single Standard Mines. A 1916 business directory for Payson lists the Golden Wonder Mining Company with C.E. Chilson as its manager. This mine is still listed in business directories into the 1930s.

The potential booms were in part based on commodities prices. One such revival was in the early 1940s, as the following clip from the Casa Grande Dispatch shows.

“Mining operations in the Payson and Sunflower districts are maintaining the steady pace reached during the past year, and several new operations have been undertaken recently. The latter will serve to fill the gap caused by the discontinuance of work at one or two properties.”

The potential for big mineral discoveries that the early pioneers saw in the area can still be found on the surface throughout Rim Country. Rock hounds continue to find a variety of minerals throughout Rim Country, though usually not in the quantities required to make a mining operation worthwhile. Nevertheless it’s easy to see how the anticipation of more great mineral finds was a key factor in the establishment of Payson.

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