Another Look At Some Sunflower Mining History

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The recent Sunflower Fire is in an area with a rich mining history, some of which probably burned during the course of the fire. Let’s take a look back.

The mines in the Sunflower area are probably best known for their production of mercury. But there were other minerals mined, as this clip from the July 26, 1908 Bisbee Daily Review shows.

“Sunflower District Claims Valuable

“Company Organized to Develop Tellurium and Gold Deposits Found There.

“Walt Hill and O.D. Merrill returned yesterday from the Sunflower mining district, located about sixty miles northeast of Mesa, in the vicinity of the Saddle Mountain country, says a special to a Phoenix paper, and report that the claims they have been working for the Tellurium Mining company are showing splendid indications of free gold as well as a widening of the tellurium vein.

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Photo courtesy of Tim Ehrhardt

“When the tellurium ore was first discovered by the Merrill brothers, about a year ago, there was considerable excitement at the time on account of the assays, which ran as high in some instances as $5,000 to the ton. Claims were staked out in the vicinity and Mr. Porterie of Phoenix, who made the assay, laid off a townsite in the heart of the section, in all probability with the expectation of a boom. While the ore in some instances ran to nearly incredulous values, other samples ran very low, which was probably accounted for by the fact that most of the men were strangers to the tellurium and could not handle fair samples. The high grade ore was found in the foot of the Ora Grange location shaft at the depth of fifteen feet.”

Soon after the claims were discovered a company was formed in Mesa, with Dr. A.J. Chandler as president and A. Mortensen as secretary. A tunnel 120 feet in length was run on the tellurium claim, while one 100 feet in length was run on the Oversight. Two shafts were sunk, one on the Big Find to a depth of 27 feet, and one on the Tellurium to a depth of 20 feet.

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Photo courtesy of Tim Ehrhardt

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Photo courtesy of Tim Ehrhardt

One of the most important discoveries was one in the Big Find, where free gold was encountered in the bottom of the 20-foot shaft. Next to the discovery of the free gold in importance was the widening of the vein from 7-1/2 inches to more than 3-1/2 feet.

According to Wikipedia, tellurium is a “silver-white metalloid, which looks similar to tin.” This was around the same time that mining activity was picking up in Sunflower, leading to the discovery of the Sunflower Mine in 1911 by E.H. Bowman.

According to Ironminers.com, Bowman had gone looking for gold, but discovered cinnabar and malachite instead. This mine would produce an estimated 3,973 flasks of mercury between 1913 and 1965. Other noteworthy past mines in this general area include the Pine Mountain and Ord mines.

The production of mercury mines in the area tended to vary, with production increasing at times when the mercury price was high. One of those times was the 1940s, as conflict escalated around the world, boosting demand for mercury as this clip from an article in the April 6, 1941 Arizona Republic shows.

“Defense Needs Boost Mining Of Quicksilver

“MESA, Apr. 5 - One of the busiest mining areas in the state is that which is generally known as the Sunflower district, embracing a belt across the Mazatzal mountains along the line between Gila and Maricopa counties, according to Newton Wolcott, field engineer for the Arizona Department of Mineral Resources. During the past year, activity has been steadily increasing, particularly in the cinnabar properties, and several of these are now producing at the peak of their capacity.

“At the property of the Ord Mercury mines on Slate creek about 30 men are employed in the plant and underground workings, two shifts being worked in the mine, while the plant is operating continuously. Ore is being mined both from the Ord group and from the Rattlesnake mine, where recent development work has definitely proven that the ore shoots increase both in value and size with additional depth.

“Satisfactory recovery of quicksilver is being obtained from the furnace, and the entire operation at this property appears to be eminently successful, Mr. Wolcott said. L.E. Foster is general manager and J.D. Hill is superintendent in charge of operations.

“Another steady producer of quicksilver is the Pine Mountain cinnabar property. This property was taken over last year by Henry Stromsen of San Pedro, Calif., from the original owners, William and Guy Boardman, Grady Harrison, and William Reynolds of Payson. The new owner has built a road in to the mine, installed a modern rotary furnace, and for the past several months has been producing and shipping quicksilver.

It’s important to recognize that this was a strong mercury producing area. According to a 1965 circular on United States Mercury Potential, mercury production in this part of Arizona, accounted for 96 percent of the Arizona total.

The Sunflower mine had old processing equipment that was still standing. Over three stories high in some parts, this made it a popular exploration site for hikers and jeep riders. Whether or not the plant survived the fire is unknown at this point. There were also some remnants of other mines in the area, some of which already had suffered damage during the 2004 Willow Fire.

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