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The history of mining in the Silver Bell Mountains is fairly convoluted,
largely due to the dynamic nature of the copper business in the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. According to geologists
and researchers, the richest, most densely exploited area occupied
a narrow zone along the southwest flank of the range. Although copper
was of primary interest, some silver, lead, and gold were also mined.
The first documented prospecting began in the early 1870s under
the leadership of Tucsonan Charles O. Brown. By mid-1874, he and
his partners had opened the Mammoth Lode, the Young America Mine,
and a smelter. Other claims and mines established in the latter
quarter of the century included the Atlas, Old Boot, and Prospector
Mines; each was exploited by various short-lived partnerships, companies,
and lessees. At this time in the American West, it was common for
miners working in proximity to form self-governing “mining
districts” in the absence of strong territorial authority.
Miners elected a leader and a recorder, and they formed committees
to establish district rules and boundaries. In time the term “mining
district” developed a less formal, more geographical meaning.
In the 1890s, two English companies entered the Silver Bell Mining
District: the Silver Bell Mining and Smelting Company, Ltd., and
the Tucson Mining and Smelting Company, Ltd. Both had very limited
By the turn of the century, it must have become clear that consolidation
was the best means of achieving profitability, and a partnership
under Zeckendorf and Steinfeld managed to acquire a large group
of claims in the district. This partnership held one of the most
productive mines, the Old Boot. Another group of claims was developed
by the Oxide Copper Company; this company retained another major
mine, the Young America. In 1901, there was enough mining activity
in the district—and enough of a family presence—that
Pima County established a public school. It had seventy-five students
that year. Two communities were included in the 1900 census: Pelton/Peltonville
(est. 1881), with eighty inhabitants, and Atlas Camp, with fifty-nine.
In 1903 Zeckendorf and his partners sold approximately sixty claims
to the Imperial Copper Company. Formed by Staunton, Gage, and Murphy
in May of 1903, Imperial proceeded to systematically develop its
operations in the district. By September of 1904, the Arizona Southern
Railroad (AZ AA:10:19[ASM])—a fully owned subsidiary of Imperial—was
established, built, and operating between Red Rock and Silver Bell.
Imperial subsequently built a smelter at Sasco (again via a subsidiary,
the Southern Arizona Smelting Company) in late 1907. More than twenty
residential and commercial buildings were erected in this planned
community. An electrical plant associated with the smelter supplied
power to Sasco, the mines, and Silver Bell.
Although Imperial was the foremost mining operation in the Silver
Bell Mining District between 1903 and 1911, the Oxhide Copper Company
continued operations in the area intermittently until the early
1930s. A third company, the Cleveland-Arizona, organized around
1906. It was succeeded a year later by a company that eventually
optioned its claims to Imperial, and ultimately ceased operations
in 1919. A lessee continued on until about 1925.
Soon after its inception, Imperial Copper established the “town”
of Silver Bell (a portion of which is designated AZ AA:10:20[ASM])
over the remains of a mining encampment that dated to the 1880s.
Reaching a population of 1,000 people in 1905, the community included
a post office (est. 1904), the offices of Imperial and the railroad,
a Wells Fargo, the Imperial company store, a school, two saloons,
a Chinese bakery, a barber, a doctor, a justice of the peace, and
a deputy sheriff. By 1907 services expanded to include a company
hotel, a cobbler, more barbers, and another bakery; a dairy and
a notary public had arrived by 1909. E. Glen Baker, the most notable
local entrepreneur, opened his saloon in 1909. His ventures soon
encompassed general merchandise, a billiard parlor, and an auto
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