The Gila Bend region of Maricopa County, Arizona was perilous country for early mountain men, emigrants, and settlers. In 1826, the first mountain men arrived in Arizona. They came in search of beaver but found hostile Indians instead. One of these early mountain men, James Ohio Pattie, claimed that after only one year of trapping on the Gila River, he could remember only 16 men left alive out of a total of 160 who started the season.
The emigrants and 49'ers who passed through the Gila Bend region during the mid-1800's also encountered a hostile land and people. In 1851, tragedy struck the family of Royce Oatman who were on their way to California. While camping near present-day Gila Bend, the Oatman family was attacked by Yavapai Indians who killed both parents and two of the children. Two other girls, Olive and Mary Ann, were abducted by the Indians. Mary Ann died in captivity but Olive was eventually ransomed from the Indians and returned to civilization.
The settlers who carved out their ranches and farms from the land also encountered hostile Indians. One such attack in 1869 led to the discovery of a fabulously rich deposit of gold-bearing quartz in the Gila Bend Mountains of southwest Arizona. It was in that year that the Gila Bend farm of Abner McKeever was raided by hostile Apaches. The Indians kidnapped his daughter Belle and headed north into the Gila Bend Mountains. Several scouting parties went out in search of the war party; one group in particular penetrated deeply into the Gila Bend Mountains. This party was made up of three soldiers, a sergeant named Crossthwaite and two privates named Wormley and Flannigan. The three men soon lost their way and found themselves wandering through some low hills. In a depression filled with water they discovered nuggets of pure gold. Above the pool of water were two veins of gold-bearing quartz, one 5 inches wide and the other an incredible 16 inches wide! The soldiers filled their saddlebags with gold and headed southeast in search of the Gila River. Eventually they were forced to separate in a desperate attempt to reach water. Unfortunately, Crossthwaite died in the wilderness. Wormley made it back to civilization but was mentally never the same again. But Private Flannigan managed to reach safety with his saddlebags full of gold! He mounted many prospecting expeditions into the mountains but never found the pool of gold. Finally, in 1881, his body was found in the desert of northwest Yuma County. He had been carrying his saddlebags with him when he died - they were full of gold nuggets again.
The mining history of the American Southwest began with early Spanish explorers in the middle of the 16th century. In 1582, the Espejo expedition discovered rich silver ore in the mountains of central Arizona. In the following century, a unique deposit of native silver was discovered by Spanish miners near present-day Nogales, Arizona. Huge sheets and nuggets of pure silver were found lying on or near the surface. One chunk of silver weighed 425 pounds! By the 1700's, Spanish prospectors had scoured many of Arizona's mountain ranges. The Little Harquahala Mountains, home of the famous Harquahala Mine, were first prospected in 1762 by Spanish miners. Their workings were discovered by American prospectors a hundred years later. Mining in Arizona began in earnest in 1858. This was the year of the first real gold rush in the state. A party of prospectors led by Colonel Jacob Snively discovered rich deposits of placer gold some 20 miles above the mouth of the Gila River.
No major mining districts occur near the Gila Bend Mountains, but many of the surrounding ranges and the Gila Bend Mountains themselves, contain mines and prospect pits. The Gila Bend Mountains are host to several mines and prospect pits - these occur on the northern flank of the range, near Gillespie and the old site of Crag. The Idazona Mines, the Harcan Mine, and the Buckeye Copper Mine are all found within 5 miles of each other along the northern front of the range.
Seventeen miles east of the Gila Bend mines lie the little-known Dad's Creek placers. These placers occur at the foot of the Buckeye Hills, on their southern flank. A small amount of gold was recovered from the gravels in 1935.
The Eagletail Mountains lie just to the northwest of the Gila Bend Mountains, in fact, less than 5 miles separate the two ranges. Both ranges trend northwest-southeast. The Eagletails contain many old prospect pits; the most common ore minerals in these excavations are chrysocolla, malachite, and bornite. Gold has also been found in the alluvial deposits on the northeast flank of the range.
The Little Horn Mountains lie 15 miles west of the Eagletail Mountains. The Little Horns are also dotted with prospect pits and are home to at least one lost mine, the Lost Mine of the Little Horn Mountains. The Sheep Tank Mine, which produced nearly a quarter of a million dollars in gold and silver, is located nearby.