Column No. 57

George B. Williams maintained lifelong, long-range love affair with mining

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

Arizona’s early borderland mining was often a part time proposition, with the mine owners working their real jobs somewhere else, usually Tucson. George B. Williams is the ultimate example of a part time, long distance miner. Two thousand miles away in Geneva, New York, Williams was a newspaperman, who eventually rose to the position of Editor and Publisher of the Geneva Times. But Williams was also a miner who owned El Oro mine, three miles southwest of Ruby, for more than 60 years.

A group of businessmen from Rochester, New York located (mineral rights only) El Oro in 1892, built a small mill, and reportedly produced $30,000 in gold rather quickly. In the mid 1890s the Oro Mining Company, with principal stockholder James B. Williams, took over operation of the mine. Then, in April 1898 James Williams’ son George B. Williams came west to take charge of Oro Mining Company’s operations.

G. B. Williams was born September 8, 1873 in Rochester, where he attended public schools. In 1897, during the presidency of William McKinley, Williams received a degree from the University of Rochester with a double major in chemistry and political economy.

According to the Geneva Times, reporting on Williams new mining assignment, “here, in the atmosphere of the truly Wild West, he established himself, learned the business by working at it, and gained the respect and admiration of his associates. … He grew a glowing black beard – much thicker than the close-cropped goatee that later became his trademark. He wore high leather boots for protection against rattlesnakes. He worked long hours improving operating methods.”

By April 1899 Williams was postmaster of Old Glory (not the nearby gold mine, but the stage stop at the Warsaw mining camp’s store), about a mile and half east of El Oro on today’s FR 219. Later in 1899 Williams met Canadian brothers Alexander and John Fraser, recently arrived in southern Arizona from Colorado, where they had been mining. The Fraser brothers began locating and working Los Alamos mining claims, just over a mile northwest of William’s El Oro.

Production at El Oro slowed in late 1899, operations there were closed down, and Williams returned to Rochester, New York. From 1900 to 1903 he was the cashier in the office of City Treasurer. The following year he began a stint as City Comptroller. While there, he organized the National Association of Comptroller and Accounting Officers.

In 1906 George William’s father Samuel B. Williams attained majority control of Geneva, New York’s major newspaper, the Geneva Times. And in January 1907 George Williams joined the newspaper as Secretary and Treasurer.

Williams devoted his early years at the newspaper to development of the business side and the editorial department. He insisted that the Geneva Times emphasize “constructive news of the territory.” Foreshadowing “truth in advertising” movements 50 years later, each day Williams ran this credo on the editorial page, “The Geneva Times strives to publish only clean, truthful, dependable advertising. Annually, it refuses much that does not comply. Readers who find any advertisements that are misleading or make misrepresentation are earnestly asked to report at once at the Times.”

Meanwhile, back in southern Arizona, not much was going on at El Oro. Now as sole owner of the mine, Williams made periodic trips to inspect his property and evaluate conditions for restarting operations. From 1906 to 1912 Williams located several other mining properties close to El Oro, many of these in conjunction with either John or Alexander Fraser.

Finally in July 1912 newspapers reported that, “work has been resumed at El Oro and that sinking of a main shaft is to start at once. Alexander Fraser is in charge of the property.” By November 1913 El Oro’s shaft had reached a depth of 340 feet, “following a quartz vein in which gold is the principal mineral.” Over the next nine years the Fraser brothers helped their friend Williams work his mine and dig 400 feet of tunnels. In a February 17, 1920 letter to Williams, then in Geneva, Alexander reported a cave-in in the main shaft that had recently been “cleaned out and new timbers in.” Alexander also happily told Williams that he and his brother looked forward to getting out of the horribly tough mining business by buying the general store in the nearby Ruby mining camp.

Ten days later on February 21st Alexander and his brother John were shot and killed by Mexican bandits in the store that the brothers had purchased only a month earlier. In a March 5th letter to John Fraser’s widow, Ines Fraser, Williams wrote, “I have waited a day or two before writing you to get over the shock. Friday I received such a nice cheerful letter from Al telling how things were going. It looked to me as though matters had begun to straighten out … Al and John were both good men, and they’ve gone home. They will be waiting for you some day.”

Williams offered to help Ines get settled in the area after the tragedy, but Ines quickly sold the store and moved back to the family’s permanent home in San Diego.

From 1920 on, Williams divided his time between mining at El Oro and the newspaper business in Geneva. El Oro grew to a group of 10 contiguous mining claims, seven of which Williams patented (received permanent title to the land) in 1922. But, the mine never regained its early production success.

Williams stayed in the background in his newspaper business until 1945 when the editor died. Williams then took over as editor and became sole owner and president of the newspaper in 1955.

Williams never lost his love for mining and his beloved El Oro mine in Arizona. During his later years Williams often visited his inactive mining property.

George B. Williams died in 1966 at the age of 93 and El Oro mine remains in Williams’ family today.

George B. Williams, editor and publisher of the Geneva Times, owned El Oro mine for over 60 years. (Courtesy of the Geneva Times)

El Oro mine was a significant Oro Blanco mining property in 1916. (Courtesy of Fraser family)
These are the stone ruins of El Oro’s ore processing building. (Photo by Bob Ring, 2004)

(Sources: James Brand Tenney, History of Mining in Arizona, Vol. 1, Tucson, 1927-1929, University of Arizona, Special Collections Library, AS198; George A. Ballum, “Oro Mine,” Department of Mining & Mineral Resources, Phoenix, Arizona, August 1, 1949; “One of Nation’s Oldest Active Newspapermen – G. B. Williams, Dies,” Geneva Times, September 19, 1966; Arivaca Briefs (Arivaca, Arizona, January 6, 1958; Fraser family records)

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