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The Lost Spanish Mine of Sycamore Canyon


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The year was 1581. It had been 40 years since Coronado's fateful expedition into what is now Arizona. As always, the Spaniards had come looking for gold, but Coronado found none. Although he covered a vast amount of territory extending from the plains of Kansas to the mountains of Arizona, he found no precious metal deposits. That the Spaniards waited 40 years to return was due in large part to Coronado's failure to find gold. But now, plodding up the Rio Grande River, was a second expedition of Spaniards led by Antonio de Espejo. At the Rio Grande villages known as Tiguex, the expedition turned west, leaving the river behind. Eventually the Spaniards reached the Hopi villages near Oraibi. From there they headed southwest into the rugged mountains of central Arizona.

The Spaniards under Espejo were entering an awesome wilderness of mountains and canyons, but for the first time they began to see evidence of mineralization in the rocks. Near present-day Jerome, the Spaniards discovered rich silver and copper deposits, some of which had been previously worked! The Spaniards realized that the local Indians had been mining some of the oxidized copper ores for paints and pigment. Espejo discovered a large mine shaft, hacked out of the rocks by the Indians.

North of the Jerome deposits, one of Arizona's most beautiful canyons empties into the Verde River. It is called Sycamore Canyon. Sycamore Canyon was prospected by members of the Espejo expedition while the Spaniards were in the area in 1582. The Jerome deposits were a bit of a disappointment to the Spaniards. Unfortunately, very little free gold was ever found. But in the Sycamore Canyon area, prospectors from Espejo's party did find gold. The Spaniards recorded the location on a map and eventually returned to Mexico City, loaded down with mineral specimens. Unfortunately, Espejo was denied permission to return to the mines, and they slept for nearly 40 more years. In 1620, Jesuit priests visited the area, but apparently did no work in the mines. The gold mine in Sycamore Canyon again lay dormant. It wasn't until 1720 that the gold mine was reactivated. Spanish priests worked the deposit for a number of years until hostile Indians drove them off. Again, the mine slumbered. In 1853, an American prospector stumbled on the gold deposit but was driven off by the Indians. Twenty years later, prospectors again located the mine. The miners found some Spanish relics and plenty of gold! But, as before, hostile Indians ran them off. When some of the prospectors returned to Sycamore Canyon a few years later, they couldn't find the mine! The Indians had apparently concealed it forever.


The nearest mining district to Sycamore Canyon is the old Jerome copper district, located less than 10 miles south of the Sycamore Canyon area. The Jerome area has a venerable mining history extending back to Pre-Columbian times. When the Spaniards arrived in the area in 1582, they discovered abundant evidence of previous mining activity, including primitive tools, small carved-out pits, and at least one mine shaft. The Spaniards also discovered rich silver and copper deposits. These deposits were visited and mined sporadically throughout the next three centuries. In 1598, a party of Spaniards led by Marcos Farfan de los Godos showed up in the area. Twenty-two years later, Jesuit priests visited the mines. In 1720, the Spaniards again returned to the Jerome area. They worked the mines for a number of years until driven off by Indians. Their excavations and tools were found a century later by American prospectors.

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In 1876, the famous Army scout Al Sieber filed a claim on an old Indian excavation on Mingus Mountain. Sieber's claim was one of the first in the area, but American prospectors soon found much richer deposits nearby. The Little Daisy Mine proved to be one of Arizona's richest copper mines. It also produced gold and silver as a by-product. In 1914, Jimmy Douglas and George Turner discovered the richest vein ever found in American copper mining history in one of the tunnels of the Little Daisy Mine. It was a huge vein of copper, 5 feet thick! The Little Daisy Mine eventually produced over $150 million in copper, gold, and silver.