Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bagdad and Skull Valley Arizona

Our first adventure begins in the little town of Bagdad, Az. Located north and east of Wickenburg, it was always merely a sign on US 93 on the way to Vegas. Bagdad was founded in 1880 by John Lawler. It was identified as a possible site for mining but was not developed right away. Giroux Syndicate bought the right to the mine in 1906 but still did not develop a mine at the location. It wasn't until 1906 that attempts were made to develop a mine by Lewishon interests but they were not very successful. It wasn’t until 1927 when the mine was acquired by the Bagdad Copper Company that things began to take off. Although hampered by the depression starting in 1929, the mine did not stop and operated with little success until 1941. In that year, the company received a government loan and was able to purchase new equipment for the mine which helped but did not solve the problems of mining underground for such a low grade ore that was barely profitable at best. As the mine converted to an open pit operation, they began to see the mine finally become successful. Over the years, the mine has led the way in advancing techniques to mine copper more easily and efficiently. Today they mine produces about 160 million pounds of copper per year and various other by-products of the mining process. The mine, owned by Freeport-McMoran employs about 825 people who call Bagdad their home. The town of Bagdad and the land, homes, and other buildings are all owned by the mine. In order to live in Bagdad today, you need to be an employee of the mine, school, police, or other support businesses within the community. The population is, according to different sources, between 2000 and 2700.

The most famous person we learned about in Bagdad actually came from Phoenix by way of Ohio. Some of you may recognize the name John C. Lincoln. He got his start building the Camelback Inn in Phoenix when he and his wife Helen moved here from Ohio due to her failing health. John became the CEO of the Bagdad in 1944. He brought with him some new and innovative ideas on how to treat employees. He had the idea of profit sharing bonuses that was unheard of at the time. Lincoln was head of the mine from 1944-1959 when he passed away. He held 75 patents in mines, mining processes, and innovative machines. After his passing, his son David became head of the mine. John and his wife Helen are very well known for their extensive philanthropic work through their donations of millions of dollars to the Sunnyslope hospital, which later was renamed, John C. Lincoln Hospital. His wife Helen help to establish the Phoenix Boys Choir which she felt was a good way for young men to learn to become good citizens. She was their greatest benefactor and is revered by the Boy’s Choir to this day. Of course, this was especially interesting to us because of Zach’s membership in the choir.

Our adventure continued in Bagdad with a tour of the mine. We were first able to ride by van through the mine and up to a communication building where we had a bird’s eye view of the massive pit. Thankfully, the rain of the previous day and that very morning had stopped and we were able to see the mine in action. If you can imagine, the biggest hole you can imagine with steps measuring 50 feet high all along the sides of the whole, you have a good idea of what the mine looks like. Huge scoop loaders chew through mounds of rock and earth and dump them into massive dump trucks that hold hundreds of tons at a time. The trucks move slowly up the winding dirt road to the crusher at the top of the massive hole. From there, the rocks are crushed into smaller, more manageable pieces and moved by conveyer belt to another building. Here, a series of crushers pulverizes the rock into a fine powder and sends it on to be “washed” by acid and other chemicals to pull the copper ore from the rock. The ore is then loaded into semi trucks and shipped to Morenci Mine on the eastern side of the state for smelting. We also learned of another process which baths the rocks in acid, removing copper oxide from the rocks. Another chemical is then added to the acid which draws the copper out of it. It is then put through a process called electrowinning which uses electricity to collect the copper into sheets. This process was developed and tested at the mine decades ago and is now used in many mines throughout North America.

Of course, the mine trip would not have been complete without a trip to the “garage” where the mechanics work on all the heavy equipment used at the mine. We were able to stand next to massive CAT haulers and scoopers that dwarfed even Tom. The tires are twice as tall as he is and cost about $30 or $40 thousand each. The highlight of the “garage” was the new CAT scooper that was not even completely assembled yet. The mechanic was like a little kid in a candy store talking about his very own Taunka toy.

Our next adventure took us further up the road toward Prescott to a small town called Kirkland. Unfortunately, nothing is open on Sundays so we were not able to stop. It will have to wait for another day. On we pressed to the little town of Skull Valley. Nestled in a narrow valley along the old Santa Fe Railroad line, this quaint little town has a lot of history to offer. Though small, it has several notable landmarks; the General Store, the old schoolhouse, and the Skull Valley museum. A local resident even boasts the largest Cottonwood tree in the county. We found the Skull Valley museum to be a wealth of historical information. It is maintained by the local historical society who offer tours on Sundays from 2-4 during the summer months. At the museum you will find the original train depot that serviced Cherry Creek near Dewey, Az., a few miles away. It was moved to Skull Valley in the 1926 where it was in use as a train stop for passenger and freight trains until the late 1960’s on route from Congress to Prescott. The last passenger train used the depot in April of 1962 and the last freight in March of 1969. The depot and a section house from 8 miles down the tracks are now housed at the museum today. Memorabilia from the time both were in use is displayed throughout both buildings. Our tour guides are members of the local historical society and provided a wealth of information about the town and the railroad.

The history of Skull Valley dates back to the time when the Yavapai-Apache lived near and hunted the area. The name conjures up all manner of sordid tales and the truth, or rather legend, does not disappoint. It all began when the Yavapai were suffering through a horrible drought and decided to flee their land to the more fertile valleys of the south, the Pima-Maricopa Indian community, present day Phoenix. Losing nearly half the tribe, they made the journey south under the worst of conditions. When they finally reached the Pima, they remaining tribesmen were starving and dying. Though they distrusted the Yavapai, the Pima could not turn the dying people away. They fed them and nursed them back to health. However, they did not want the Yavapai to remain in their village for fear of attack or looting. They told the Yavapai to go back to their home and leave the fertile valley. The Yavapai, not wanting to return to their drought stricken land, left the valley but only went as far as the surrounding hills. They watched the Pima and pondered what to do. As luck would have it, the Pima were preparing to leave for their annual harvest festival where all able-bodied Pima went to celebrate. The village was all but deserted, leaving only the very old and the very young who could not travel. The Yavapai, seeing this, saw their opportunity. They plundered the homes and food stores of the Pima village and they kidnapped those left behind. They marched for days toward their home when they realized that they would soon be out of food if they continued to bring their captives along. They killed their Pima captives and continued on their way. The rains soon came and solved the problems of their land and the Yavapai returned to their previous life of hunting the area near Prescott. The Pima, however, did not forget how their generosity was met with betrayal. They traveled far to the land of the Yavapai and exacted their revenge. Only the most fleet-of-foot were able to escape the wrath of the Pima. The massacre was so profound that the Yavapai bodies were scattered all over the area and were not buried. The area became known to the Yavapai as the Valley of Skulls and later, when discovered by the soldiers traveling from nearby Fort Whipple to join the Union Army, was called Skull Valley. For years, farmers and ranchers continued to dig up bones from the devastating massacre.

And so ends our very first “History” adventure. We experienced the beautiful countryside of central Arizona and learned a little of the history that shaped this interesting land. We may not have found many places still open and accessible, but what we did find was a wealth of historical information. Here’s hoping that the next adventure produces as much or more opportunities to learn.

1 comment:

  1. It was great having you visit our new home town. One thing I've learned about the people who live here is that they love the small town. Many of the mine workers are third generation residents of Bagdad. The next time you're in the area you'll have to turn the other way at Kirkland and visit Peeple's valley and Yarnell. Nice job guys. Keep it up