Column No. 6

The Old Glory Gold Mine

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

The most successful gold mine in the early years of the Oro Blanco Mining District (OBMD) was the Old Glory, about two miles southwest of the Montana mine, a half-mile off today’s Forest Service Road 217. The Old Glory is a good example of a mine with a long history, but under different names.

The Derre-Townsend Syndicate of Arivaca first located the mine in 1875. The company did no work on the property within a year, so by the provisions of the Mining Law of 1872, the original location lapsed.

A Frenchman named Amedec Blanc then relocated the property. Blanc dug a few holes over a large area to satisfy himself that he had a paying gold mining proposition and then in 1883 negotiated a sale to a group of Boston investors.

The buyers renamed the mine the Esperanza (means hope in Spanish). Operations began with great energy.

The major new building was a 20-stamp ore-crushing mill.

The new owners built a very large dam across a gulch upstream from the mill to collect runoff water to run the steam generators that powered the mill. The dam was 20 feet thick, 38 feet high, and 125 feet long. The reservoir had a capacity of 12 million gallons of water! The problem was, it didn’t rain very often.

After a couple of years of successful operation, the Esperanza ran into trouble. First, the mining process was expensive to run and only recovered about sixty per cent of the gold. (Some people said that cattle roaming about licked the tailings in the pan amalgamators for their salt content, thereby ingesting a considerable amount of the gold.) Second, the gold in the vein the miners were working ran out.

So, in 1887 the owners quit mining, packed up, and left the area. Local people considered this abandonment of the well known and highly regarded Esperanza mine to be a real black eye for the OBMD.

After a year of inactivity, the Diana became the next reincarnation of the mine. Soon abandoned again, another Frenchman, Pierre Peyron, relocated the claim in 1889. Peyron renamed it La Francia.

Pierre Peyron was not your typical miner. He was born in Marseille, France in 1832. As a youngster in 1843, he escaped “impressment” on a French ship off Vera Cruz, Mexico. Somehow he avoided recapture and made his way to the Guaymas country of Sonora, Mexico. By the early 1870’s, family tradition says he sold house wares from a burro-driven wagon. In 1888 Peyron brought his family to the Oro Blanco country.

Peyron quickly demonstrated that all the gold had not been taken from La Francia. He explored in a different direction from the Esperanza miners and found good ore left in great quantities. For four years Peyron and his sons worked with three burro-powered arrastras to crush the ore.

In 1894, Peyron sold his interest in La Francia mine to the Old Glory Mining & Milling Company of Los Angeles. On April 11, 1894, the company recorded the Old Glory mining claim.

Intense activity started immediately. Miners dug a tunnel to tap the ore body from underneath and brought in two milling machines of 35 tons per day capacity.

New buildings included a large adobe general office; frame buildings for the mill men, and for assay and laboratory work; a large frame store and boarding house; two blacksmith shops; and four cottages. There was also a very substantial 40-foot by 80-foot frame mill building. The mining camp grew quickly to a population of 50 people.

Mining developments included 500 feet of underground workings. There was a double-track steel rail inclined tram, 850 feet in length, leading downhill from the mine entrance on top of a plateau to ore bins and automatic ore feeders in the top of the mill below. Along the plateau, there were 1,300 feet of steel railway with a dozen self-dumping iron ore cars. The tram operated by gravity, controlled by an automatic pulley. The powerhouse was a stone structure.

Water flowed down to the mill through steel pipes from the reservoir behind the dam that the Esperanza Company had built ten years earlier.

At peak activity, the Old Glory treated 35-40 tons of ore daily, the largest operation in the district.

Business boomed and there was a lot of ore to get to the railroad. In 1894, the owners of the Old Glory gold mine built a wagon road extending 28 miles from the mine to Calabasas (seven miles north of Nogales) on the railroad. One hundred men built this dirt road over steep mountain trails, through the Atascosa Mountains, in just over two months. The new road cut freighting costs in half, compared to shipping ore north from the mine through Arivaca to Amado. (This road, that later would be called the Ruby Road, now extended its full length from Arivaca to Calabasas.)

But the Old Glory mining operations did not continue to go well. The ore was so hard that milling machines were hardly suitable for handling it. Miners recovered a disappointingly low percentage of the gold. So, in 1895, with many debts outstanding, Old Glory mining operations terminated.

Over the next 40 years, mining at Old Glory continued, but only sporadically.

In 1904 and 1905, brothers Alexander and John Fraser were part of the management team attempting (unsuccessfully it turned out) to make a profit from the Old Glory. (The Fraser brothers will reappear in dramatic fashion in future columns.)

By the 1930s, with gold fever apparently still affecting local prospectors, the Old Glory had expanded to 18 individual contiguous mining claims.

In 1935, James D. Culbertson bought five of the 18 claims. By 1938, Culbertson thought enough of mining prospects to patent two of his claims (secured title to the land). He patented the Old Glory No. 1 (original mine) and Old Glory No. 4 (mill site and dam).

The Old Glory operated intermittently until 1940, but the mine never again regained the success of its earliest years. Mining historians estimate total production value at over a half million dollars.

Old Glory No. 1, over the years known as the Esperanza, the Diana, and Old Glory, is still owned by the Culbertson family. Warren E. Culbertson, James Culbertson’s son, and a helpful source for this story, lives now in Green Valley.

(Sources: Old Glory File – 1900, Arizona Historical Society; James Brand Tenney, History of Mining in Arizona; Engineering and Mining Journal; Peyron family records; Fraser family records; Culbertson family records)

Photos of Old Glory mine – yesterday and today

The Old Glory gold mine can be seen in its heyday in this mid 1890’s photo. (Courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society/Tucson, Photo B89317) A few stonewalls from the old powerhouse are all that remain today. Most of the old ore tram’s steel track disappeared during World War II. (Photo by Bob Ring, 2001)

NEXT TIME: ALONG THE RUBY ROAD A Very Dangerous Place to Live

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