Early Payson Mining History


In the 1870s folks were starting to come into Tonto Basin and what we now call Rim Country. There were the cattlemen, who saw green grass and plenty of open space. There were also the mining men, who came in search of a big strike that would make them rich. Arizona had seen its fair share of mining activity by the late 1870s. Southern Arizona had some major finds in the 1860s and early 1870s and the Vulture Mine in Wickenburg was found in 1863. Finds in the area of Jerome in 1876 opened the door further to mining activity in the state.

The early miners in this area were a hearty bunch. There was no guarantee of gold and silver and the area was a very rough and dangerous place with the threat of Indian attacks always looming. The possibility of minerals was described by U.S. troops that had been in the area before. The occasional traveler who had come through the area gradually put the word out. The April 30, 1875 Weekly Arizona Miner newspaper in Prescott relays what William Clarke had found when traveling through the area.

“Mr. Clarke did not prospect for gold but saw good indications on the streams and has been informed by others that gold has been found there. The formation of the hills is decomposed granite, slate and large veins of white quartz. Iron ore in quite a pure state is also found in leads in the foot-hills, where the gold is believed to exist.”

A little over a year later in the June 15, 1877 Weekly Arizona Miner, the first strike in the area was reported.

“Four miles from Green Valley has been discovered a large gold ledge, assaying into the thousands, which is causing much excitement. The assayer from the Globe district, accompanied by others, are now at the new discovery, testing the ore and making locations.”

In November the discoveries were getting hyped in the Weekly Arizona Miner. “Recent discoveries in Tonto Basin are of a character to warrant us in the assertion that soon will be seen another mining camp spring up in that section which will equal the “New Jerusalem” of the Big Sandy and McCrackin country.” (November 9, 1877 Weekly Arizona Miner) Miners in search of fortune quickly flocked to the area.

Who were the first ones to claim mines in the area? Based on recorded claim date, Irvin Monroe House and some others were the first, with the Golden Waif, State, and Lyda True mines being recorded on May 23, 1877. The Golden Waif sits in the shadow of the Mazatzals southwest of Payson. Edward O’Dougherty was next, recording the Tonto mine on July 7, 1877. Surely though, there were other early miners who combed the region in search of riches.

Over the next few years the area received many more miners. The September 6, 1879 Arizona Sentinel carried the following article about discoveries in the area.

“By the Phoenix Herald we see that rich discoveries of gold have been made in Delshaw or Delshay Basin by Judge DeForest Porter and William Burch.

“They first found rich float and following it up found the ledge and located several claims, the principal claim is called the Excursion, the others are the Orleans, Albion, E.K. Hart, Quien Sabe, Lockport and the Edwin.

“A force of men was at once put at work on the Excursion, and a cut run tapping the ledge at a depth of four feet. About 500 tons is the amount calculated as in sight average from one to two hundred dollars per ton. The lead is of white quartz and thirty one inches wide, widening at the bottom of the cut. The vein of the Lockport is from six to eight inches in width, the Orleans eight, Albion eleven, the E.K. Hart thirteen, the Edwin thirteen and the Quien Sabe seven.

“Mr. L.P. Nash has several claims and intends putting up an arrastra to work them. Men who have worked in the Vulture in its malmiest days pronounce it insignificant beside the large, well defined ledge of the Excursion. The Judge is also interested with C.M. Clark in several good locations in the Sierra Ancha Mountains.

“The grade from Porter’s mines to their mill site on the East Verde, five miles distant, is an easy one over which a wagon road can be built at comparatively small cost.

“Judge Porter and Wm. Burch also rediscovered the old and much hunted for, Joe Green mine, this eighteen inches wide and is in it self a fortune.

“We congratulate the Judge on his good fortune and trust soon to see him rolling in opulence.”

Judge Deforest Porter was one of three Arizona Territory Supreme Court justices and would later become Mayor of Phoenix. William Burch in many respects was a founding father of Payson, an early rancher who also dabbled in mines and was well respected.

Mining in the area continued to pick up into the 1880s and the town of Marysville was formed west of today’s Payson. This boomtown was said to have had more than 300 residents at one point before going bust. While the early 1880s showed great promise, things quieted down by the end of the decade. Irvin Monroe House was one who stayed around, living in the area for nearly 40 years before moving to Mesa, but he was the exception rather than the rule. Most of the early miners moved on in search of greater success. Meanwhile, mining activity has continued in the area with varying degrees of success.


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