Copper Clifton and Its Cave Calabooseby John Scott on Nov. 01, 2012, under Uncategorized
It all began in 1860 when a prospector named Henry Clifton was hunting for gold, but found copper instead. Like most successful mining claims back then, word would get out and in would move the mass moneymakers. Soon it was a prospering town, and good old Henry was its founder.
Now, there is another theory that it was originally named Cliff Town, and was shortened to Clifton. That makes sense since the burg is nestled in a canyon. Either way it became a major mining hub in Arizona Territory and the Greenlee County seat.
In past entries, I’ve mentioned towns that didn’t have a jail. Some used rooms in courthouses, while others chained folks to a tree. But the town fathers of Clifton had to be different. In 1878, a jail was carved out of the side of a cliff face. Oh yes, solid rock. Stone worker Margarito Varela blasted out enough room for two cells. After completion, he was ready for a good time. Like many Old West party animals, Varela got drunk and shot up a saloon. Guess where they threw him? Yep.
To the locals, spending a night in the Cliff Jail was known as wasting away in Margaritoville. Sorry…I had to write it. It’s an illness, really. The jail is open for visitors today, and next to it sits a late 1800’s narrow gauge locomotive originally used to transport miners and ore carts.
In 1896, the Black Jack Christian Gang robbed a bank in Nogales and headed for New Mexico. They took refuge at a cave near Clifton, but a posse soon cornered them. The reckless robbers decided to tempt fate and not go quietly. A brief gun battle ensued, and Black Jack never made it to the stone jail.
There are communities in Arizona that are as vacant as ghost towns, yet people still live there. Up until recently, Clifton was one of those places. Its main street was run down, the buildings dilapidated. Now artists have moved in, renovating and restoring the historic district to its former glory. You can find galleries, antique stores, a marketplace, and the Greenlee County Museum. The town is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in Arizona’s mining history. Heck, I’m going just to see the jail!