Virtual Tour of the Greenlee County Historical Museum
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Bibliography for research

History of Mining in Arizona by M. Canty and M.N. Greeley

Roadside Geology of Arizona by Halka Chronic

Ice Age Mammals of North America by Ian M. Lange 

The Gila, River of the Southwest by Edwin Corle

The Great Journey by Brian M. Fagan

Arizona the Beautiful by Dorothy F. Robinson

A Century Has Passed: Duncan Centennial 1984 edited by Helen R. Cole

Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of New Mexico by Jim Cooper

History of AZ’s Clifton-Morenci Mining District, Vol. I&II by Ted Cogut & Bill Conger

The Chinese Experience in AZ & Northern Mexico by Fong & Hu-DeHart

History of Clifton by James Patton

Clifton Editor by Al Fenn

 In Our Own Words: Lives of AZ Pioneer Women by Barbara Marriott

Teresita by William Curry Holden

AZ Rangers by M. David DeSoucy

Morenci Memories by Joaquin B. Oviedo

The Heart and Hub of Eagle Creek by Edie Fitch

Welcome to Greenlee County by Duncan P.R.I.D.E. Society

Geronimo: His Own Story by Geronimo as told to S.M. Barrett

Down On The Blue: Cleo Cosper Coor

Vision and Enterprise: Exploring the History of Phelps Dodge Corp. by Carlos Schwantes

(Numerous Internet historical websites, Greenlee Museum, and personal communications)

Greenlee County, Arizona

200 million years BP (Before Present), during the Triassic Period of the Mesozoic Era of geological history, what would become Greenlee County was covered by an intrusive sea.


150 million years BP (Before Present), during the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods of the Mesozoic Era of geological history, what would become Greenlee County was lush forest and swampland with dinosaurs present. The Gila River was 50 feet deep and two miles wide. Faulting, small intrusions, and volcanism were widespread. With the uplifting of the California coastal Sierra Nevada Mountains, much moisture was denied the area and desertification increased. The Era of Mammals began as the dinosaurs waned and disappeared.


60 million years BP (Before Present) the Cenozoic Era began. Regional uplift and volcanism produced mountains and accelerated erosion. Megafauna that lived in what would become Greenlee County included Columbian mammoths, camels, giant ground sloths, prehistoric horses, flat-headed peccary, long-horned bison, glyptodonts, and others. Fossil remains that haven’t been lost to erosion still occasionally turn up in Greenlee County.


10,000 to 40,000 years BP (Before Present) Paleo-Indians who had probably crossed the land bridge between present day Siberia and Alaska roamed the Southwest area including present day Greenlee County. The only traces left of them are a few sites showing fire-broken rocks from campfires, bones from prey species such as mammoths, and well-crafted lithic (rock) projectile points designated as "Folsum” or "Clovis”. These last two were their culture’s signature artifact. As the climate became warmer and Ice Age megafauna began to die out it was replaced by smaller mammals such as we know today.


1500 to 9,000 years BP (Before Present) saw the evolution of Desert Archaic peoples in present day Arizona. These included three main divisions based of geographical locations: the Anasazi to the north, Hohokam to the west, and the Mogollon to the southeast, including the area of present day Greenlee County. These native cultures implemented the atlatl, or spear thrower, and later the bow and arrow to hunt with. They built more permanent shelters in the form of pit houses and walled-up caves. They traded as far south as Mexico and corn was one of the most important items they brought back from there. Basket making was generally replaced by pottery, including the now world-famous black on white Mogollon style. Artifacts of all sorts from this culture may still be found in Greenlee County, especially along the many miles of waterways including Eagle Creek and the Blue, San Francisco, and Gila Rivers.

900 years BP (Before Present) nomadic Athabascan speaking people arrived from the northwest. There were two groups, both calling themselves Dineh, "the people”. Those that stayed to northern Arizona became known as the Navajo and those in the south were nominated as Apaches, or "enemies”. The Apaches were hunters, gatherers, and raiders of the more sedentary groups they found here. They quickly became the dominant force from the Rio Grande River to the California border and from mid-Arizona and New Mexico into Old Mexico. They were pre-imminent when the first European explorers reached the Southwest. It should be noted: later Apaches would have the distinction of having gone from the Stone Age to the Atomic Age in one generation, an amazing transformation.


Circa 1533 A.D. (also known as C.E. or Common Era/Current Era, that which follows the birth of Christ) After a Spanish ship wreck in the Gulf of Mexico, four survivors including a black Moorish slave named Esteban (there are many different spellings for his name) and Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, traveled on foot through present day Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Their trail apparently passed south of present day Greenlee County. They finally arrived in New Spain (Mexico) and reported rumors of wealthy cities to the north worth plundering.


1539 A.D. The first documented exploration of the Southwest began. Spanish missionary Fray Marcos de Niza, with Esteban the slave as a guide, led a group into present day Arizona by following the San Pedro River from Mexico north to the Gila (it is believed that this name originated from a Yuma Indian word meaning "running water that is salty”) River. They turned east and followed the Gila to an Indian pueblo called Chichilticalli (near present day Solomon, AZ). An advance party including Esteban went north from here as far as the Zuñi pueblos near the present day border between Arizona and New Mexico. The Moorish slave was killed by Indians and Fray Marcos, upon hearing the news while he was still on the Gila River, turned tail and fled south. Upon reaching New Spain he reported an erroneous tale to the Viceroy, confirming that the gold filled Seven Cities of Cibola were real.


1540 A.D. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, a Spanish nobleman and conquistador, led a group of 1,100 men north to find and plunder the Seven Cities of Cibola. Fray Marcos was brought along as a guide and to instill Christianity on the Indians. 350-400 of the group were Spanish, the rest were Indian slaves or indentured servants (all of these numbers are subject to debate). They brought with them the first horses (since the extinction of the native pre-historical species), cattle, and domestic sheep to the present day United States. Their route followed the San Pedro River north to the Gila River then east to the Indian settlement of Chichilticalli. Coronado called the river "deep and reedy”. They went north from here but the exact route is not known. They probably cut through the northwest quarter of present day Greenlee County. Upon reaching the Zuñi pueblo of Hawikuh which was considered the first of the Seven Cities of Cibola, the hopes of golden wealth were dashed. He continued exploring for more than two years, going as far as present day Kansas then returned empty-handed to Mexico City. He and Fray Marcos both were completely disgraced by their failure to find riches.


1821 Mexico became independent from Spain. The territory that includes present day New Mexico and Arizona was designated as "New Mexico”.


1824-25  James Ohio Pattie, his father, and a small band of other fur trappers received permission from the Mexican provincial seat in Santa Fe, New Mexico to trap beaver on the Gila River. Their expedition was the first American exploration of what is present day Greenlee County, Arizona. They descended the Gila River and ascended many of its tributaries including Eagle Creek, the San Francisco River, and the Blue River. They found lots of beaver but also much danger in the form of Apache Indians and grizzly bears. Pattie’s description of the area is the same as what one sees today.


1829 Geronimo, originally called Gokliya, was born near where three rivers come together. Some historians say this is around Clifton, others contend it is near the upper forks of the Gila River. Even Geronimo in his autobiography couldn’t clear things up as the states and rivers had no names to the Apache. He was of the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apaches and would become a respected shaman and feared war leader.


1846 The United States went to war with Mexico in order to acquire more land. The Mormon Battalion traveled from the Midwest as far as California and throughout the Southwest aiding the war effort. Much of present day New Mexico and most of present day Arizona north of the Gila River was taken by the United States (along with California, Texas, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming) under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the end of the war in 1848. The Mormons liked what they saw in the Southwest and would later return to colonize some of it.


1853 The United States signed the Gadsden Purchase with Mexico, buying the remainder of what constitutes Arizona and New Mexico for ten million dollars.


1856 The first mineral discoveries of the Morenci/Clifton area were found by California volunteers pursuing Apaches.


1860 The true Apache wars against Anglos began after army Lt. Bascom falsely accused the Chiricahua chief, Cochise, of abducting a boy (Mickey Free, who would later play a major role as an army scout). What could have easily been settled diplomatically was completely bungled by Bascom; a few people were killed on both sides and a war that would exact a heavy toll in Arizona, including Greenlee County, erupted and would last for 26 long years.


1863 A.D. President Abraham Lincoln declared Arizona a territory of the United States. The state’s population had loyalties that were divided between the northern and southern armies, and it was briefly considered Confederate. After the Battle of Picacho Peak was won by Union forces the state once again became part of the USA. Not counting the Indians that had lived here for thousands of years, Arizona, including present day Greenlee County, has been governed by four historical entities: Spain, Mexico, the United States, and the Confederation of Southern States.


1864 Placer mining for gold and silver took place near present day Clifton/Morenci. Apache Indians, including those following Geronimo, made this occupation extremely dangerous.


1871 Mason (or Masin) Greenlee, a mining man from Virginia who had done well in Colorado, came to the present day Morenci/Clifton area to seek his second fortune. He would eventually go bust and be buried in an unmarked grave at public expense.


1872 Soldiers from Silver City, New Mexico, including Jim and Bob Metcalf (or Metcalfe, take your pick), were looking for renegade Apaches near present day Clifton and Morenci and discovered rich copper deposits. The town of Clifton was founded by Charles Shannon and Henry Lezinsky and supposedly named after an early prospector, Henry Clifton. Others claim that Bob Metcalf named it "Cliff town” which was shortened to Clifton. Nearby "Joy’s Camp” was named for Captain Miles Joy, a mineral surveyor. Chase Creek was named for army Captain Chase who was with the Metcalfs searching for marauding Indians.


1874 Apache chief Cochise died, altering the relationships between the Indians and the Anglos.


1875 The Detroit Copper Company was headed by William Church who was from Morenci, Michigan. He renamed Joy’s Camp "Morenci” and the name stuck. (Or was it really from the stage name of an actress from the dance halls of Denver, CO as some claim – take your pick.)


1876 Geronimo led a group of Apaches off the San Carlos Reservation to live as they always had, raiding, killing, and plundering both in Arizona and Mexico.


1878 (or 1879) Arizona’s first railroad ran from Clifton to the Longfellow Mine. It utilized a narrow, 20 inch track.


1878 The Clifton jail was blasted out of solid rock. Local tradition has it that the first inmate in it was the miner who built the jail, Margarito Verala.


1880s (early) The Arizona Copper Company built the Arizona & New Mexico Railroad line to tie Clifton to Lordsburg and Hatchita, New Mexico.


1881 For the first time ever, the Phelps Dodge Company invested in the copper mining industry with $50,000 going to the Detroit Mining Company under the leadership of William Church.


1882 Newspapers reported several miners killed by Apaches near Clifton.


1883 Arizona copper miners at Morenci and Clifton went on strike.


1883 The Graham County Seat (which still included present day Greenlee County) was organized in Solomonville, named for Isadore E. Solomon who founded the town in 1876.


1883 The way station of Purdy was listed in the Post office register. It was on the north side of the Gila River in present day Duncan and served the ore hauling trail that ran between Clifton and Silver City, New Mexico. In 1884 the Arizona Copper Company financed a narrow-gauge railroad that ran between Clifton and Lordsburg, New Mexico. The settlement of Purdy moved to the south side of the river where the tracks ran and was renamed Duncan, after James Duncan Smith, the managing director of the Arizona Copper Company (or perhaps it was named after "the Duncan brothers who settled on the Gila River in 1885 and were both killed by Apaches” – take your pick).


1883 Carlisle Mine was located in the Steeple Rock District. A post office was opened in 1884 and was extant until 1896. The town of Carlisle was named after the first baby born there and at one point had a few thousand people living there. A five-stamp mill known as East Camp was located three miles away. Herbert Hoover, the future president of the United States, arrived there in 1898 and worked as assistant superintendent of the Steeple Rocks Mine. Saloons and shops catered to the miners needs and the town was rip-roaring throughout the 1880s and 1890s. Activity declined until a second period of major mining for copper, gold, and silver took place for fifteen years beginning in 1932. Mining activity in the area has been sporadic from then until the present day. Carlisle has always had close ties with Greenlee County.


1885 Geronimo broke out of the San Carlos Reservation and went on the war path. His band murdered some ranchers on Eagle Creek.


1886 Geronimo surrenders to General Miles in Skeleton Canyon and the Apache wars, the last of the real conflicts between Native Americans and the conquering Anglos, came to an end. Geronimo and other Apaches were relocated to Florida and Oklahoma; most would never see their homelands again. Treaties made by the U.S. government with Apaches and other Indians were routinely broken, usually out of greed on the side of the Anglo populace wanting lands and mineral wealth.


1887 Ike Clanton, of the Clanton Gang/OK Corral shoot-out in Tombstone fame, was shot and killed by lawmen on Eagle Creek.


1890 The settlement of Richmond, New Mexico, on the Gila River upstream from Duncan, was named after the Richmond Mining Company. The site was an old Indian camp ground that Anglos and Mexicans later developed. The early 1900s saw an influx of Mormon settlers, many coming up from colonies in Old Mexico where they had originally gone to avoid religious persecution. They were then escaping war-torn Mexico and the constant threat of bandits. The Gila Ranch Company owned most of the land. Earnest W. Virden was the president of the company and the town was renamed "Virden” after him. In 1895 800 acres were sold to the Mormon refugees for $50,000. A Methodist church had been erected in 1894 and a Mormon church was finished in 1928. A bridge was built across the Gila River at Virden in 1925. The Virden School became accredited as a four-year high school in 1930. Virden has always had close ties with Greenlee County.


1894 A post office was established on the Blue River at the site where Nat Whittum was killed. The settlement was originally named "Whittum” after him but was renamed in 1898 as "Blue”, after the Blue River which in turn had been named because early Spanish explorers supposedly called the mountains of the river’s headwaters the sierra azul, or Blue Mountains. In 2000 the population was 36.


1895 Ruthless killer and bandit, Augustín Chacon, robbed a store in Morenci and killed the shop keeper, Paul Becker. He was arrested but escaped and killed some prospectors on Eagle creek before fleeing to Mexico. He was captured years later and hanged at Solomonville in 1902.


1897 A fire destroyed all the saloons and gambling halls in Morenci.


1898 Famous Southwest lawman, Jeff Milton, killed the outlaw Billy Johnson near the Black River; Johnson was buried at the Double Circles Ranch cemetery on Eagle Creek.


1898 Rancher Fred Fritz Sr. was severely mauled by a cattle-eating grizzly bear on the Blue River; he never completely recovered and died in 1916.


1899 The Copper Era Newspaper was established. It has served the Greenlee County area to the present day. The editor from 1949 to 1958 was Al Fenn, who wrote a book called "Clifton Editor” about his experiences and the history within Greenlee County. The current editor is Walt Mares.


1900 Mining in the Morenci/Clifton area had long been a hodge-podge of various claims and companies but now had been consolidated into three large entities: the Arizona Mining Company, the Detroit Copper Company (Phelps Dodge), and the Shannon Copper Mining Company.


1900 The Detroit Copper Company Store was begun and finished the next year. It was an expansive, four-story brick building.


1901 The Arizona Rangers law enforcement group was established by territorial legislation.


1901 "The corkscrew railroad of America” looped its way from the San Francisco River uphill to the town of Morenci, a 1,400 foot rise in elevation. It was considered a scene of "wonder and curiosity” with its many loops and complex trestle construction. It connected Morenci with the Arizona and New Mexico railroad at Guthrie.


1903 Morenci mining district went on strike and all the Arizona Rangers were called in to keep the peace.


1903 The beautiful Morenci Hotel was constructed at a cost of $25,000. The Morenci Club was also built in this time period and housed a theater, a library, billiard tables, and a bowling alley.


1909 Greenlee County was established on March 10th. Prior to its separation from Graham County a lively debate over the name ensued. The Arizona Copper Company of Clifton wanted it named after its superintendent, James Colquhoun. The Detroit Copper Company of Morenci wanted it named after its CEO, James Douglas. Clifton leaders later substituted the name Lincoln for Colquhoun. A bill to pass the division into two counties was amended to change the proposed name from Lincoln to Greenlee (after the relatively obscure mining man Mason Greenlee) as a delaying tactic. It failed and the new county was formally called Greenlee, making the genesis of its nomenclature a true political oddity. Clifton and Duncan fought to be the county seat and Clifton won the honor.


1909 Ettore "Ted” DeGrazia was born in Morenci. He went on to become a world-famous artist with a unique style. He died in Tucson in1982.


1910 The first county elections were held with Democrats leading, a situation that persists to the present day.


1912 Arizona Statehood is approved.


1912 A bridge across the Gila River was built at Duncan.


1912 The classic train station in Clifton started. Construction was finished a year later.


1913 The worst mining disaster in the Morenci/Clifton area took place on the Coronado Incline when nine miners lost their lives in a derailment accident. The deaths went unreported in safety/fatality reports by the mine. Death certificates show the men were thrown from the cars or crushed.


1921 Phelps Dodge and Company had now consolidated all mining in the Clifton/Morenci area through buy-out acquisitions.


1930 Sandra Day (later O’Connor) was born. She was raised on a cattle ranch near Duncan.


1935 The last documented grizzly bear to be killed in Arizona was shot by government hunter Dick Miller in the Strayhorse Canyon area of the A-S National Forest in Greenlee County north of Clifton/Morenci.


1936 The town of Duncan was incorporated.


1937 Hal Empie bought the Duncan Drug Store and later changed the name to the Art Gallery Drug where he was both pharmacist and resident artist. One of his best known works was a large mural depicting the history of Greenlee County that has been displayed in the Duncan High School cafeteria for years and was recently restored.


1937 Phelps Dodge and Company switched from underground mining to open pit in 1937 in the Morenci/Clifton mining area.


1941 The Gila River flooded the town of Duncan,


1947 The Arizona Cowbelles were organized to promote beef, family, and community. There have been as many as fifteen local Cowbelles groups in the state.


1949 The Gila River flooded the town of Duncan.


1964 The Great Seal of Greenlee County, portraying the helmeted head of the explorer and conquistador, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado was officially approved and authorized. Before this time the county had not had an official seal.


1981 Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court where she served for 25 years.


1983 In October hurricane Octave, the worst tropical storm ever to hit the state, inundated Arizona. The Gila River flooded Duncan and the San Francisco River overflowed its banks and inundated Clifton.


1983 On July 1st thirteen unions representing workers at Phelps Dodge Company in Morenci went on strike. It lasted for three years and ended in 1986 with the decertification of all thirteen unions and a complete lifestyle change for the town and company workers. It became known as the Great Arizona Copper Strike, with Phelps Dodge getting the state governor to employ National Guard troops to keep the peace. The mining company meant to break the workers union representation no matter what the cost and it did so. As one writer put it: "A hundred years of collective bargaining that progressively and ultimately held Phelps Dodge accountable for its economic injustices, racism, environmental degradation, and historic exploitation, were set back.” Women auxiliaries picketed alongside men for the first time. Nonunionized workers crossed the picket lines. Families were broken up or moved away. The old ways of life in a copper mining town were gone. The profits to Phelps Dodge Company rose exponentially in the years after the unions were broken.


1984 Phelps Dodge and Company mining operations in Clifton/Morenci had once operated two smelters. The last one was torn down this year and material from both was recycled.


1992 AZ State Route 666, "the devil’s highway”, was re-numbered as AZ State Route 191. It is also referred to as the Coronado Trail in honor of the Spanish explorer and conquistador who passed through somewhere in the area on his trek north to locate the Seven Cities of Cibola.


1998 Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced into Greenlee County amid much controversy. The original goal of 100 or so wolves still had not been reached sixteen years later.


2000 Duncan town library finished and dedicated.


2001 In March, the Duncan P.R.I.D.E. Society (Preservation, Restoration in Duncan’s Enhancement) was initiated under the urging of Peggy Crotts and others. There were 17 charter members. Walt Mares, editor of the Copper Era newspaper, was given an award for his help in promoting the organization in the paper. April 17th was dedicated as Duncan P.R.I.D.E. Society day. The society has been responsible for the renovation of Spezia Square, the Sandra Day O’Connor walkway, Veterans’ Park, new face-lifts to various buildings, new paint for old structures, lovely street lamps and flower baskets, as well as routine town and road clean-ups. An historical museum is being considered.


2003 The Gila River overflowed its banks and flooded parts of Duncan.


2007 Phelps Dodge was acquired by Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Incorporated on March 19th. The company is currently called Freeport McMoRan Inc. Morenci is one of the last "company towns” in America.


2014 A 5.2 earthquake rocked southern Greenlee County, June 28, 2014. Scores of aftershocks and tremors were felt during the following weeks.


2014 Hal Empie’s mural depicting the history of Greenlee County is completely renovated and placed back on display in the cafeteria of the Duncan High School.

~~Narrative written by Dexter Oliver