1858 Gold Rush in Arizona

The Spanish came to Arizona in the 1500’s looking for legendary cities of gold but found only mud-walled adobe villages. Mexicans mined some areas of Arizona in the 1700’s and the fierce Apaches soon drove them out. After the 1849 California gold rush began, Americans traveled through Arizona on their way to California.

Eleven years later, in 1858, Jake Snively discovered gold on the Gila River in the southwestern part of the state and, suddenly, Arizona was noticed. Frontiersman Pauline Weaver made another major strike in 1862, a little farther north along the Colorado river, at La Paz. With the second discovery, every miner who had not struck it rich in California headed for Arizona. Almost overnight, Arizona was awash with would-be millionaires.

Henry Wickenburg reached Arizona in 1862. He was believed to be an Austrian or German immigrant, and had probably been a farmer. Some tales of Wickenburg’s origins say that his real name was Heinrich Heitzel; some say he was running from the law in Europe. Whatever the reason, Wickenburg ended up in California during the gold rush.where he learned how to prospect and pan for gold. Henry was probably a part of Pauline Weaver’s exploration party which traveled along the Hassayampa River. One version says this was when he spotted the quartz outcropping which later became the Vulture Mine.

Wickenburg initially worked the mine by himself, but began to sell the gold ore to other prospectors. By 1866, Henry Wickenburg had had enough of gold mining. He sold eighty percent of the mine to a man named Benjamin Phelps, who represented some eastern investors. The Vulture Mining Company was born.

The Vulture Mining Company announced plans to introduce modern mining methods, and to build a twenty-stamp mill on the Hassayampa River. The stamp mill site was to be twelve miles to the northeast, about one mile north of an existing settlement on the river. This settlement had already attracted merchants eager to provide the Vulture with goods and services. Henry Wickenburg retired from mining and established a farm near this settlement. The settlement became known as Wickenburg.

Henry Wickenburg, for his 80% interest, received $20,000 in cash, and a note for $65,000. The new owners soon claimed that Wickenburg didn’t have a clear title to the property, and refused to pay the remainder of the price. Wickenburg spent most of his $20,000 trying to collect on his note, but never succeeded.

In 1868, Wickenburg funded an ex-Confederate soldier in a new project that eventually changed Arizona history forever.  That project was called the Swilling Irrigation Canal Company conceived by Jack Swilling of nearby Prescott. Swilling started the project that very year and by 1869, water flowed from the old Hohokam canals for the first time in 400 years into the waiting fertile soil.   The town's name was Phoenix.

Map of Arizona.jpg (55174 bytes)

Map of Arizona


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Map of the reservations and Four Corners 


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