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The Lost Mine of Salt River Canyon


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Gila County, Arizona lies in the southeast quadrant of the state and was named for the famous river that forms part of its southern boundary. The southwest part of the county is well-endowed with mineral deposits and has a rich mining history. The town of Globe sprang up around one of Arizona's greatest copper-producing districts. The famous prospector and Indian fighter King Woolsey discovered rich mineral deposits here way back in 1864. McMillenville was a short-lived silver mining camp located about 7 miles northeast of Globe. It is a ghost town now but at one time it was larger than Globe. The town was named in honor of Charlie McMillen, a prospector who discovered a nearby ledge of nearly pure silver back in 1876. The mines near McMillenville produced millions of dollars in silver before closing down in 1890.

McMillenville maintained a tenuous relationship with the local Apaches. In 1882, the town was actually raided by a war party of Apache Indians led by Nahtiahtiah. But in the years prior to the raid, the town served as a trading center for the nearby Apaches. In 1879, a man named Charles M. Clark was living in this bustling silver camp. Residents of this part of Arizona were accustomed to seeing rich silver ore, and Charles Clark was no exception. After all, the great silver strike near Superior occurred only 25 miles to the southwest. That discovery took place in 1873, only three years before Charlie McMillen's strike. One day in 1879, Charles Clark got the opportunity to see some extremely rich silver ore. The ore was brought in by an Apache Indian who found it near a ledge "3 days journey to the northeast". It was a rich silver sulfide, probably acanthite. Clark hired a tracker to follow the Apache back to the silver ledge, but the Apache eluded his pursuer in the rugged Salt River Canyon.

The Apache's silver mine was taken seriously by local prospectors. The famous Ed Schieffelin thought enough of the story to attempt a search in 1879. Schieffelin had prospecting in his blood. He was born in 1848, the year of John Marshall's momentous discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill. His father was a prospector in the goldfields of California and Schieffelin grew up learning the skills of the trade. He came to Arizona in 1876 or 1877 and almost immediately made a huge silver strike in the hills near present-day Tombstone. Schieffelin went on to prospect many other parts of the West. He was a restless wanderer and prospected till the end of his days. Ed Schieffelin died in the mountains of Oregon in the spring of 1897. He had been prospecting.

The Salt River Canyon country is incredibly rugged and does not easily give up its secrets. The Apache's silver ledge has never been found.


Arizona has a venerable mining history. It is a land of diverse geology, rich in mineral deposits. Mining began well before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1540. Pre-Columbian Indians mined native copper and turquoise for ornamental purposes and azurite, malachite, and hematite for paints and pigments. Various clays and natural ochres were also utilized by the early Indians.

The Spanish came to Arizona searching for cities of gold. They found no golden cities but eventually discovered that the land itself was made of gold - or at least silver. In 1582, the Espejo expedition discovered rich silver deposits near present-day Jerome. In the early 1700's, the incredible silver deposits known as the "Planchas de Plata" were discovered near the border town of Nogales. Huge sheets and nuggets of pure native silver were found just lying on the surface of the ground.

Other rich deposits were located by the Spaniards and then the Mexican prospectors who followed them. By the middle of the 1800's, the Americans had entered the scene. They did so with a bang! The first bona fide gold rush in Arizona was precipitated by an American prospecting party led by Colonel Jacob Snively. The Americans discovered placer gold on the Gila River, some 20 miles above its junction with the Colorado River. The year was 1858. The next few years would see monumental gold strikes throughout Arizona. Indeed, the decade of the 1860's was the "Age of Gold" in Arizona. Fabulous strikes occurred at La Paz, on Lynx Creek, and in the Vulture Mountains of central Arizona. The 1870's and 1880's were different. Silver was now king as prospectors turned their attention to the white metal. A flurry of rich strikes occurred including the Silver King Mine at Superior, the Red Cloud and Clip mines in the Trigo Mountains, and the Stonewall Jackson Mine at McMillenville. When the silver ran out, a new metal reared its head. Copper would prove to be Arizona's richest metallic resource. Copper production in Arizona has far outstripped that of gold and silver put together!