By Nicole Underwood / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(SUPERIOR, AZ) - The mining of precious minerals in the 1800’s is a rich part of Arizona’s history. While Arizona is known for the copper boom, there are many other minerals - like silver and other metals - that played a key role in the mining industry and later led to the population boom in our state.
Pinal County in particular has also been known for mining and has produced a variety of minerals over the centuries, like silver, bornite, chalcopyrite, and stromeyerite. One such mine in Superior, Arizona located in Pinal County — named Silver King Mine — has an interesting history with a mysterious past.
At its peak, Silver King Mine, produced an estimated $42 million worth of silver ore between 1875 and 1900 according to a 1972 Prescott Courier article. Once the government demonetized silver in 1893, there was an immediate silver output reduction, causing miners to shift to focus on other minerals like gold or copper mining near Tucson.
Silver was an abundant mineral in Arizona, and during the early 1800’s, was even more valuable than gold. The history of silver mining goes deep; it was a vital mineral for many desirable items back in the day, such as jewelry, film and coin production, prior to the use of copper nickel. Early silver production in Arizona even can be traced to the 18th-century in the Santa Rita, Patagonia and Cerro Colorado mountains in Pima County, and created cities like Jerome, Clarksdale and Bisbee, each that have their own mining history stories.
Research provided in an Arizona Geological Survey report by Geologist David F. Briggs mentions an original soldier named Sullivan who, in 1873, found “black nuggets of metallic material” near Stoneman’s Grade. Sullivan thought nothing of it and kept his discovery a secret for a time, but later would confess his findings to a nearby rancher named Charles Mason. While he never pursued his findings, Sullivan never revealed the location of the mysterious minerals.
Years later, the rancher Mason who became privy to this black nugget discovery, now known as "nugget silver,” later became curious if there was something worth exploring. He decided to organize a group of prospectors to Stoneman Grade trail at Picket Post Mountain, named after General George Stoneman (who later became governor of California). There, they discovered a “king” of a mine, unusual rocks projecting out from the earth with markings left by Sullivan. The area was filled with bountiful amounts of silver ore, and the prospectors appropriately named the site Silver King Mine.
After registering their historic find, the location near Silver King Mine then became the “Pioneer Mining District.” According to American Pioneer and Cemetery Research Project, the amount of silver that was originally mined was equivalent to only approximately 10% of the silver available to be extracted. This leaves 90% of payable waiting to be extracted. Thus began the robust operation to construct the mine, with large shafts and cages to dig seven levels, or 830 feet down in the earth, of silver that was present.
What started as 50 miners grew to a flurry of activity, where extracting this valuable mineral was an estimated worth of $2,000 per ton of silver. Interestingly, the former military camp at the processing site, located at Picket Post mountain, grew to be known as Pinal City. In 1876, the Silver King Mine was sold to Comstock Nevada and later acquired by the Silver King of Arizona Mining Company in 1916 after two decades of inactivity at the mine. The run was short lived once the silver disappeared, concluding their operations in 1888.
The Silver King Mine is currently privately owned and one has to be granted permission to access the area. To date, the Silver King Mine was both the richest silver mine in Arizona and the site of a frontier mining camp, home to two hotels, saloons and a post office. However, not much else is known about this site or what happened there. Much exists in our state.
Keep digging — maybe you can discover more interesting facts about Arizona’s southwestern history.