Mining in Southwestern New Mexico

“It should be noted that the commencement of the Chino Copper Company’s open-pit mining operation at Santa Rita in 1910, was the reason that the city of Hurley, NM was created.”
      In the early 1800s when the Spanish colonial government was at war with the Apaches, soldier Jose Manuel Carrasco was befriended by an Apache tribesman. From him, Carrasco learned of the location of rich copper deposits at what is now Chino Mines. The area was then known as Santa Rita del Cobre. Today Chino is owned by copper giant Freeport McMoran and is located in Bayard, NM, east of Silver City.
     Carrasco interested Don Francisco Manuel Elguea, a merchant from Chihuahua. To Elguea was given a concession known as the Santa Rita del Cobre Grant. As early as 1801, the mine served as the principal source of copper for the mint in Mexico.  The mines produced as much as 41 million pounds of copper prior to 1843. Later deposits yielded another 124 million pounds between 1845  and 1910, the date when open-pit mining began.
     After Elguea died in 1809, others worked the mine. The property was subleased in 1825 to Sylvester Pattie and Robert McKnight, both Americans, Mr. Coursier, a French resident of Chihuahua City, and Leonardo Siquieros. Santa Rita was under Mexican rule for 25 years following the War of Independence from Spain in 1821. Mule trains carried the copper south through Janos and Chihuahua to Mexico City. The property was a frustration, because Apaches held the surrounding mountains, and mines were sometimes abandoned for years at a time.
     From 1838 to 1860, when New Mexico shifted allegiance to the United States, Santa Rita was a ghost town.  Siquieros sold the property in 1860 to partners Sweet and LaCoste, who operated it off and on until 1871. At the time the operation had a small blast furnace yielding 12,000 pounds of metallic copper, shipped to Kansas, Pittsburgh and other markets.
     The property was sold to Joel Parker Whitney of Boston in 1881. Whitney formed two companies to work the mines.  One was the Santa Rita Copper and Iron Company. But success still eluded the operators of the Santa Rita claims.  Even though the railroad was now in Deming (only 50 miles away), the property was idle by 1890.
     Whitney leased the property to the Hearst estate of California, and in 1899 he sold it to a group of men in New York associated with the Standard Oil Company, some of whom formed the Amalgamated Copper Company, which later became Anaconda. The Santa Rita Mining Company, which these men organized, made no fortunes. Geologists of the time believed that the copper porphyry deposits, of the type occurring at Santa Rita, had little value because their reserves were low-grade.  Mines of the day processed only higher-grade ore. Until 1910, most production from the area was spotty.  Primitive underground mining methods, often relying on Chinese immigrants for labor, yielded most of the copper.  Facilities were few and rustic. The interval from 1903 to 1912 witnessed very little production, but there was plenty happening.
      John Murchison Sully, a mining engineer from MIT, evaluated the property on behalf of General Electric Company.  Far from being disappointed by what he found, Sully was excited.  He directed a drilling program amenable to open-pit mining methods of the type being perfected at the huge Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah. There, Daniel Jackling had proved to the world that open-pit mining of low-grade copper ores could be enormously profitable. Sully reasoned that steam shovel mining could finally make the Santa Rita deposit a success.
 In 1909, the Chino Copper Company was born. The first steam shovel bit into Whim Hill in September 1910, and construction was underway on a concentrator, power plant, and ancillary facilities at the old railroad siding known as Hurley. Ten miles from the mine, Hurley was a natural mill site because of the available water supply, gentle slope of the land, and adjacent flat ground for construction of shops, offices and the townsite.
     The community of Santa Rita grew from a frontier settlement into a self-contained company town with over 5,000 residents. When the mine expanded in the 1950s, higher-grade ore was discovered directly under the town of Santa Rita. Residents were directed to relocate, and the mine encompassed what had been the town. People born in Santa Rita (which no longer existed after the 1960s) came to call themselves “People Born in Space.”
     Today, Chino, now the Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Company, continues to produce copper through the electro-winning process.  The tailings of the original mine are being leached with a combination of sulphuric acid and water and the results sent to a processing plant to create copper cathodes.
Take Hwy 152 east of Silver City (toward Kingston) to view the 1500 ft. deep and 1.5 miles across Chino Mine.

Bayard Historic Mining District Tour
Tours begin at 10 am from the City Hall in Bayard.  The tour is about 1 ½ hours in length. Fee: $5.00 per person.  The guided Tours are onboard the Corre Caminos transit buses and are fully accessible. For more information: Bayard City Hall, PO Box 728 Bayard, NM 88023. For reservations: Call 505-537-3327. Reference: Mining Tour.

The Old Hurley Company Store
     In 1910, Chino Mining Company took over the old Santa Rita Mines and began what is now one of the world’s largest open-pit mining operations. To process the ore, Chino built a converter and established the town of Hurley just 10 miles south of the Santa Rita site. The Company Store was one of the first buildings in the new town. Chino supplied merchandise for the store from trains that passed within 10 feet of the back of the buildings. A steel door beside the tracks was opened and the goods slid down a cement chute into the basement. A large hand-pulled elevator was used to move the merchandise up into the store.
    The company store carried everything miners and their families needed; from clothing and groceries to kerosene for their lamps, hay for the animals and coal for their stoves. In 1912, the company added a connecting passage and a new brick building which housed the payroll office in the back with an area above for tools and hardware. The remainder of the new building, with its 16 foot high tin ceilings, became a department store.
     Joseph and Karin Wade purchased the buildings in 2005, and renovated the interior of the brick building to create their new JW Art Gallery, picture framing shop, gift store and museum.