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Researching a Depression Era Mine – Part II: Living Conditions, Historical Context, and Location

Part 1 of this two-part series, introduced readers to this depression era mine and provided details and many photos of what could be found there. This second part completes the series by providing observations on what living conditions were like, some history, and directions for finding the site for exploration.

Living Conditions

Finally, let’s examine the small settlement area near the mine. Figure 10 shows the only wall at this site. It is not a dry stack and, importantly, it is not adobe. Instead, this wall was built using a combination of mortar and local rock. The coloration on the right face indicates that dirt was added to the mixture, possibly as an “extender.”

Figure 10
Figure 10, Settlement Wall

The wall is actually pretty solid and shows no signs of weathering or erosion. Notice also there are three crude bricks in the lower foreground near the cactus. I have not been able to piece together the surface features, but the bricks might have been used in a fire pit or some type of improvised oven. Because there are no other walls in the settlement area, it is possible this structure may have served as a “lean to.”

Figure 11
Figure 11, Debris Field at Settlement

Figure 11 shows a small portion of the trash dump at the mine settlement, which is uphill and out of view to the left. The trash extends left and downhill from this location for another twenty yards. Considering the modest nature of the mine, this is one of the largest debris fields I have encountered. The debris field helps establish an upper and lower time line for the mine and settlement; that is – none of the cans appear to be “Hole and Cap” or soldered, but were constructed using the Norton’s Side Seam method. This would indicate the site was occupied no earlier than the end of World War I. A thorough examination of the trash dump will probably yield information that further refines the date.

Other features of the settlement include the remains of a collapsed outdoor privy, a burned out metal drum that was lined with cement, and a few boards and pieces of pipe. The metal drum may have been an open air fireplace. There is no evidence that heavy machinery or electrical generators operated at the mine. In other words, the work and living conditions were about as primitive as you could imagine.

There may be three or more graves near the settlement and arrastre, but much more survey work is needed to develop a complete understanding of the overall site.

Historical Context

I do not know when this mine was established or how long it operated. Surface features strongly point to an occupation no earlier than the 1920’s, but it was more likely established in the 1930’s. The Great Depression was a brutal time for everyone – no jobs, lost homes and little hope. There are anecdotal records that up to 20,000 people lived in the mining districts east of Wickenburg during that time. This unnamed site is probably one of the locations where hopeful people tried to scratch out a meager living.

How to Get There

The route to this mine is provided in the attached topo map. I should point out that the old trail that crosses the northern flank of Morgan Butte is particularly rough and absolutely requires high clearance 4WD or ATV type vehicles. The trail has not been maintained for many decades and, today, is bare granite with deep runoff trenches in many locations. You should consider taking a back up vehicle if you make this outing. The trail continues east (beyond the subject of this article) into a basin and passes on the southern slope of Table Mountain. It then drops into another basin before taking you to Roberts Camp near the upper end of Buckskin Canyon. As rough as the Morgan Butte segment of the trail can be, the portion that traverses Table Mountain is even worse.

  1. From the Wickenburg Rodeo Grounds, proceed east on Constellation Road.
  2. Turn right onto Buckhorn Road at GPS N 34D 02′ 32″ by W 112D 36′ 46″.
  3. Turn left at GPS N 34D 02′ 55″ by W 112D 33′ 24″. This turnoff is easy to miss. It is in the bottom of Slim Jim Creek (upper end). There have been several washouts in the past few years and the trail may not be obvious. Following the trail, you will pass a corral and water tank on your right. Remain on the trail. It will lead you east out of Slim Jim Creek.
  4. Bear right at a mine gate and continue up the trail as it climbs the northern flank of Morgan Butte in an easterly direction.
  5. You will come to a livestock gate shortly after cresting the top of the trail on Morgan Butte. This gate should always be closed.
  6. Continue down the trail until you arrive at GPS N 34D 03′ 40″ by W 112D 32′ 41″. You have the option of either parking in this saddle or driving down the trail to the mine settlement. Caution – there are a lot of old nails on this portion of the trail. You might want to check it out on foot before choosing to drive to the settlement and arrastre.
  7. The arrastre is located at the bottom of the trail (south of the gulch) at GPS N 34D 03′ 35″ by W 112D 32′ 38″.
  8. Follow the gulch uphill (west) to locate the adits, well and panning area.

Map

Before You Go

As previously stated, this area is a combination of private, deeded land and BLM/State Trust land. If you meet someone, they may very well be a land owner. Always be courteous and respectful. Ranchers have grazing leases in the area and have a vital economic interest in the well-being of their cattle.

  • Always let someone know where you will be and when you plan to return.
  • Bring plenty of water and energy snacks for this outing.
  • Be aware of weather conditions and high temperatures.
  • The gulch and hillsides leading to the adits are covered with thick foliage and most foot trails are overgrown. Dress appropriately.

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