This post is well out of sequence as we were in Bisbee several weeks ago – oh well – we are confident you will forgive us or more likley that you don’t care.
But, under the better late than never category, we wanted to post about Bisbee. Any place where the town motto is “Keep Bisbee Bizarre” is worthy of comment from our perspective.
We knew we had to visit Bisbee after reading about it’s storied past. Bisbee is located in the Mule Mountains of Southern Arizona, a stones throw from the Mexico border. It’s origin lies with the discovery of minerals in the area – predominately copper. The Copper Queen Mine (which we toured) was one of the richest mineral locations in the world. More than three million ounces of gold and eight billion pounds of copper were extracted from this mine alone. Copper mines also yield turqoise – Copper Queen turqoise is considered some of the best in the world. You may have heard of Bisbee Blue which is the name given to turqoise from Bisbee mines.
The storied past – Phelps Dodge Mining consolidated most of the mining claims in Bisbee and owned and operated the massive mining operation that once supported 20,000 residents. But in 1917 everything changed when the International Workers of the World local (IWW) went on strike. Phelps hired thousands of strike breakers to round up all the union employees. The employees were marched out to a local ballpark and given an ultimatum – go back to work or else! About 800 workers agreed to go back to work. The remaining workers received the “or else” now known as the “Great Deportation”. They were put on railroad cattle cars full of manure. They were taken to Hermosa, New Mexico where they were taken off the train and told to never return to Bisbee – none ever did.
Today Bisbee is an eclectic town of approximately 6,000 residents. It is a mix of transplants fleeing cold weather, artists, individualists, hippies and off-gridders mixed in with a steady flow of tourists. Think a combination of Key West and Provincetown with a mountain backdrop in lieu of the ocean!
Our various treks have taken us through the quaint town of Patagonia several times. Patagonia is nestled in the Patagonia Mountains and its heritage is mining – not unusual in this part of the world. During our stops in Patagonia we have had the opportunity to chat with a number of people. One thing that became clear during conversations is that there is a lot of animosity between newer residents of the town and long time residents. Many of the newer residents are artists and environmentalists who oppose the current plan to expand the mining operations. The current investment is known as the Hermosa Project and is backed by Australia based mining company, South32. This company has paid $1.3b in order to gain the rights to mine for zinc and copper at this site. Many long time residents work at the mine or are involved in businesses that support mining operations.
Copper mines are not attractive to say the least. The are huge open pit mines. In this case the current mine is a 4000 foot long by 900 foot deep hole, however, it is located six miles from town and is not visible from the road. At the same time there is no arguing that there is a demand for copper and zinc in the technology driven world we live in today.
South32 plans to expand the mining operation underground using environmentally compliant technology they have used successfully in Australia. The newer residents insist it does not matter because all mining is bad for the environment (at least in Patagonia).
One of the individuals we met is Charlie. He grew up in Patagonia and is the owner of Pat Gas & Services. Charlie voiced support for the Hermosa Project at a town hall meeting. The newer residents then began boycotting his business and his fuel contract with the town was terminated. Charlie is currently trying to sell the business.
We are not smart enough to know if there is a pure right or wrong here in regard to the environmental or financial issues. We do think it is a shame that residents whose families have lived in Patagonia for generations can be driven out of their town by monied newcomers.