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Mineral History Timeline

Gold panning, silver prospecting, and copper finds in the Arizona Territory called people back from the California Gold Rush.

The search for mineral wealth defines Arizona’s human history. There is evidence that Arizona’s earliest known inhabitants mined turquoise, cinnabar, coal, and other minerals and pigments as early as 1000 BCE. For centuries, Native Americans used heat to melt copper and shape turquoise into jewelry and other decorations. The Tohono O'odham people mined Hematite near Ajo and Apache tribes used cinnabar (mercury sulfide, thought to come from the Dome mountain range in what is now La Paz county) to create crimson body paint.

Over the years, approximately 400,000 mining claims have been filed in Arizona, and about 4,000 companies formed for mining. Minerals drew settlers and explorers, built towns, created railroads, and wowed the world with semiprecious stones. Arizona is the site of the quest for the Seven Cities of Cibola, the discoveries of Mountain Men, violent clashes between prospectors and Native American tribes, and, between miners and their bosses.

Look at the entire timeline for an overview of Arizona’s mining history from the time of the Spanish explorers, or search the drop-down menu by topic. Click on any point for more information.

Rare silent footage from 1927 of Linn trucks working at mine sites in Jerome.

 

Surface deposits of gold near Prescott drew boom camps of up to 5,000 prospectors. Prospectors at Lynx Creek near Prescott are using water for placer mining.

A turn-of-the century stereogram depicts inclines to copper mines in Metcalf, located between Morenci and Clifton. Click on the image to watch modern stereogram animation.

This early Clifton jail put troublemakers in their place. Find out more about life in early mining towns.

Arizona Rangers, shown here in Morenci, were ordered to the area in 1903 to resolve ongoing strikes.

 

Mining engineer James Douglas helped make Phelps Dodge a mining powerhouse. He advocated for modern amenities such as hospitals and schools in early towns.