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The Lost Mine of Sycamore Creek


Named for the Spanish governor of New Mexico from 1712 to 1715, the rugged Mogollon Mountains of southern New Mexico are part of a huge Tertiary-age volcanic complex that covers much of the southwestern quarter of the state. The Mogollons have a venerable history extending back to Pre-Columbian times. Evidence for this early occupation occurs along the rim of the high mesa overlooking Whitewater Canyon. Here, a series of ancient Indian ruins dot the landscape.

The Mogollons comprise some of the most rugged and forbidding country in the American Southwest. One of the last bastions of the fierce Apache Indians, the Mogollon Mountains were eventually opened up to mining during the late 1800's. The early American miners focused most of their attention on the western flank of the range, near the San Francisco River. Here, they found a number of rich mineral deposits.

Most of the Mogollon strikes occurred in the area drained by Whitewater Creek, Silver Creek, Copper Creek, and Mineral Creek. Mineral Creek was the site of the old mining town known as Cooney. Named for Sergeant James C. Cooney, the town sprang up next to the nearby silver mines. Close by, an old stone tomb still graces the grassy banks of Mineral Creek. Within that lonely tomb lie the last earthly remains of James Cooney.

Stationed in Fort Bayard, New Mexico in 1870, Sergeant James Cooney discovered the famous Silver Bar Mine while scouting the western canyons of the Mogollon Mountains. Ten years later, he was killed by Apache Indians and entombed along the creek named for its rich mineral deposits. Shortly thereafter, his brother, Captain Michael Cooney, showed up in the Mogollon country.

Like his brother James, Michael Cooney thrived in the heady atmosphere of the mining camps. He speculated on various mining properties and grubstaked a number of prospectors during the 1880's. One prospector in particular would turn out to have a profound effect on Michael Cooney's life.

Known only as Turner, the prospector discovered a fabulously rich mine somewhere near Sycamore Creek in the Mogollon Mountains. Turner's strike took place in 1883. Later that same year he mysteriously disappeared into the mountains, never to be seen again. At least alive. In 1889, his skeleton was found in Sycamore Canyon.

Michael Cooney became interested in Turner's lost mine during the 1890's. He thought enough of the story to make numerous trips into the mountains in search of the lost mine. In 1914, Cooney made his last attempt to find the mine. He never came back from that trip. The following year, Cooney's body was discovered in Sycamore Canyon.


The history of mining in the rugged Mogollon Mountains of southwestern New Mexico must surely begin with the early Spaniards who penetrated this country during the 1600's. Old Spanish mines, prospect pits, tools, and smelters have been found throughout New Mexico's mountain ranges. Evidence of early Spanish mining activity can be found in the Pedernal Hills, the Sandia Mountains, at the old Mina del Tiro in the Cerrillos Hills, in the Ortiz Mountains, the Manzano Mountains, and the Socorro Mountains near Magdalena. Certainly the Mogollons were touched by these early Spanish prospectors.

The Americans first came to the American Southwest as fur trappers, then as explorers and gold seekers. In 1850, a man named Aubrey discovered gold in the Mogollons, but nothing came of it. It wasn't until 1870 that the first significant strikes were made in the Mogollon Mountains. It was during that year that Sergeant James Cooney discovered amazingly rich silver and copper ores on the western flank of the range, near Mineral Creek. Five years later, Cooney filed the first claims in the area and by 1877 he was working the deposits that came to be known as the Silver Bar Mine.

The 1870's also saw mineral discoveries on Copper Creek, located just north of the Cooney camp. A mining town known as Clairmont sprang up nearby, but by the 1880's it was gone. In 1889, the mines in Silver Creek Canyon began to pour out a stream of precious metals. By 1913, the Mogollon mines had produced over $1.5 million worth of gold and silver, mostly from the Maud S. and Deep Down Mines near Silver Creek.