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Swansea, AZ

Taking Highway 60 west past Salome few short miles I came to Hope, Arizona and took a right on Highway 72. Following it to Bouse where I turned on Swansea Road and crossed the RR Tracks. The road remains hard surface for approximately 3 miles then turns to gravel. It is a good road, but I would advise not to travel it in heavy rain as there are many washes that are part of the road. At midway turn left and travel to the four-way stop, then turn right. In total it is approximately 26 miles to Swansea from Bouse.

Looking for gold, the first prospectors came to the mountains surrounding the Bill Williams River in the late 1850’s. The first mines were established at the Mineral Mill and Planet claims west of Swansea in 1862. That same year the first 100 tons of ore were sold from the Planet mine. The ore was taken 20 miles overland by pack mules, loaded on a steamer for the trip down the Colorado River, and shipped on schooners to San Francisco. Although shipping ore was impractical and costly, new mining districts were established, along with pack trails and roads. Mine owners hoped the high quality ore, and the chance to get rich, would attract needed investors.

The Swansea area was first investigated in 1862 by three prospectors who were disappointed when the ore showed only copper and silver when they struck silver-lead ore on the Ruby Silver Claim. Soon the silver ran out, leaving “worthless” copper deposit. Copper became a more marketable product by 1896. One of the men returned with a new partner and mining began.

In 1867, U.S. Mining Commissioner J. Ross Browne favorably evaluated the Bill Williams mining district. He reported that “the whole county appears to be formed of the ores of iron and copper, the hills for miles around being colored red by the iron, or green and blue in patches where waters containing carbonate of lime in solution have percolated through the copper.”

The geological reports on the Buckskin Mountain emphasized the potential of the area to match the world’s richest copper mines. Browne’s 1867 report however held the clue to the unavoidable failure of these mines: they were too rich in low value materials that impeded mining.

Browne noted. “… the miners ran considerable risk of injury by being crushed by heavy masses of ore . . . having been held in place by large quantities of powdery oxide of iron, . . . which is nothing more nor less than iron rust . . . will come rushing down and block all further work until the opening can be timbered up.”

Thousands of board feet of big timber would be needed to expand the mines underground, quite a challenge in the treeless Sonoran Desert.

Taking its name from Swansea, South Wales, Untied Kingdom, where most of its copper was shipped. The ore got there via a combination of local railroads, the Colorado River and shipped from the Gulf of California around Cape Horn to the United Kingdom.

John W. Johnson eventually sold his mining claims in 1904 to the Signal Group. Serious efforts to mine the copper in the area didn’t begin until the arrival of the railroad. After the Arizona & California Railroad started construction from Wickenburg to Parker in 1904. The new owners found the key to fully developing the copper mine lay with the new Railroad line.

Newton Evans and Tomas Jefferson Carrigan saw an opportunity to further develop existing mines in the area and acquired investment money and began to develop Swansea. T.J. Carrigan began looking for investors. He convinced George Mitchell to take a 21 mile buckboard ride through the desert to visit the claim in 1908. It worked. Mitchell, a Swansea born Welshman, bought 132 claims in the Signal Group, and planned a town to support his dream, named after Mitchell’s birthplace. Mitchell capitalized the Clara Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining Company for $3 Million and incorporated the following year.

On May 2, 1910 George Mitchell’s smelter was “Blown in”, and the first copper was poured, reported the Los Angeles Mining Review (May 7, 1910) Mitchell wired the Los Angeles and French investors, “started furnace this morning without a hitch and everything running smoothly. Turning out matte (refined copper) at a rate of 50 tons per 24 hours”. Relating to metal market prices at that time, which would be $15,000 per day.

Hoists for five mine shafts were under construction by 1908 and a water pipeline from the Williams River, a distance of 3.5 miles had been completed and a 350 ton capacity furnace had been built.

The shaft hoists and associated mining equipment were either steam powered or electric. Two steam powered generators furnished electricity for the smelter, town, ore trains and water pumping station on the Bill Williams River. The large water tanks stood on the hill south of the dust chamber. Some estimates say as much as 400,000 gallons of water per day were required for the smelter and town operations. The Bill Williams River flowed freely in the early 1900’s, before Alamo Dam was built upstream in 1969. The energy all came from coal, which along with the other supplies, required shipping into Swansea by rail.

500 people occupied Swansea in 1909. In 1910 the Arizona and Swansea railroad began operation from Bouse. You can still see the railroad bed as you travel from Bouse to Swansea. The key in moving, ore, supplies and people in and out of the growing mining towns was the railroad.

Unfortunately George Mitchell never did anything in a small way and by 1911 his enormous plant had drained the treasury and the Clara Consolidated was bankrupt. Author Harvey Weed (Mines Handbook, 1911) described Mitchell’s Swansea as “an example of enthusiasm run wild, coupled with reckless stock selling and the foolish construction of surface works before the development of enough ore to keep them busy…

In 1914 much of the town was rebuilt under the ownership of The American Smelting and Refining Company. Mining operations under the present ownership continued until 1927 when the Great Depression closed most of the mines for good in 1929.

Swansea’s survival depended on the copper prices. Copper at one time was selling for 12 cents a pound and cost 15 cents per pound to produce. The concentrator, which should have been built many years before, reduced the 1920 price of producing copper to about 13 cents per pound.

Attempting to operate the mine, the French investors, capitalized another $4 million in stock, hired Lane as the new Superintendent, enlarged the operations and followed Mitchell into bankruptcy.

Mitchell retained control of the railroad for a time and sued the French investors. By 1920, following further financial troubles. Mitchell retired to Las Angeles.

In 1920 Charles Clark sold out to mining engineer George M. Colvocoresse, who mined and milled ore worth $2 Million from 1921 to 1924.

American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) acquired a lease in 1928, made a number of improvements and rebuilt the concentrator just in time to meet the Great Depression and the fate of their predecessors.

By 1937 Swansea was a ghost town although periodic small operation mining did continue until 1949.

During Swansea’s peak period, (believed to be 1908 – 1929) there was an electric light company, with a gigantic generator to operate the mining equipment, a automobile dealership, a lumber company, two cemeteries, a bar, insurance agent, the local mining and smelting operations, concentrator, dairy milking house, hospital and school. With a peak population swelling to 750.

From 1906 to 1949 production from the mines was 27 million pounds of copper.

WWI was the demise of Swansea’s short existence when copper prices dropped.

In 1937, the remaining employees cut up all the steel and the railroad, sold the materials to recover lost wages, and left the area.

Swansea GraveThe two cemeteries that were mentioned earlier are still there. The passing of time, elements and destruction is taking a toll on the remaining graves. With approximately 11 interments, one of the Pioneer Cemeteries is along the road as you enter from Bouse. One lone white cross remains with a plaque of 9 month old Sandra Lynn Ducas, born September 6, 1936, died May 16, 1937. Obviously the Ducas family still maintains this grave. In this cemetery there is evidence of derelict wooden crosses. Several of the graves have imploded on themselves leaving only an indentation as evidence of these Pioneers final resting places. If you come upon remote pioneer cemeteries, please pay your respect’s and leave them in better condition than you find them. These historic sites could be a member of your Pioneer Heritage. Protect, maintain and preserve these historic museums of our heritage. It’s against the law to disturb any cemetery in Arizona.

Today there is much to see and explore in Swansea. There are a number of buildings, including most of the main street. A railroad station and remains of the copper mine. The miner’s adobe housing is being preserved by putting up new roofing over the structures by the BLM.

BLM has erected self guided tour signs with historical references to all the existing structures and land marks.

Last 5 posts by Neal Du Shane

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