Mushrooming Morenci and Unlucky Outlawsby John Scott on Jun. 22, 2013, under Uncategorized
Some mining towns in Arizona have been producing ore since the territorial days. Morenci is one of those gems. Founded as Joy’s Camp in 1872 (after Captain Miles Joy), it has grown to be the largest open pit copper mine in the country. One can also find Malachite, Azurite, and Flyakite. Yeah, that last one is made up, no use scouring the Internet for it. Nestled in Greenlee County not far from the New Mexico border, Morenci’s terrain is quite hilly. Until roads were actually cut, burros were used to move all the ore to the smelters.
By the late 1890’s, Morenci mines employed over 600 workers and were raking in the dough. As we know, that is a major ingredient in the recipe for lawlessness.
Enter Augustine Chacón. Relatively new to the owl hoot trail, Chacón was forced to turn to a life of crime after killing an employer who wouldn’t pay him his wages. On the evening of December 18th, 1895, he and his two cohorts were robbing the McCormack store in Morenci. Chacón, angry that the manager was not quick to open the safe, stabbed him in the back and left him for dead. After that boneheaded maneuver, the rapscallions resorted to looting the store and fled to a cabin not far from the scene. Guess what? The manager wasn’t dead. He crawled, bleeding, to a saloon. There he told constable Alex Davis the whole sordid story.
The following day, Davis and a mess of armed citizens cornered Chacón and his compadres up one of Morenci’s many hills. A brutal shootout ensued which left one citizen and the two gang members deceased. Eyewitness reports say three hundred bullets were fired. Augustine Chacón, just a little shot up, was apprehended by Davis. That’s not the end of Augustine’s story, though. In future entries I will tell you more about this illustrious outlaw.
Historically, store robberies in 19th century Arizona didn’t go well. I’ve mentioned the Bisbee Massacre, where bandits hit a store for a payroll a day before it actually arrived, and they all ended up with longer necks. Another was at Schuster’s store in Holbrook. Outlaw-Poet Robert “Red” McNeil got some flying lead in the shoulder during his heist, foiling his attempts at a get-rich-quick scheme. The moral of the story is: Don’t rob stores in Arizona Territory.
In 1901, a series of train tracks and trellises were built to connect Morenci with the Arizona and New Mexico Railroad. Because of the mountainous terrain, five sharp-turn loops were created and it could only support a short train. History tells us that this was a popular tourist attraction, nicknamed “The Cork Screw Railroad of America.” Space Mountain, Old West style. Sadly, the popularity only lasted until 1914 when it was all changed to a switchback. Progress also leveled most of the historic sections of town, but don’t let that discourage you. Morenci is a fascinating city with a ton of mining history. If you head there, grab a bite in a local eatery, hunt for some Malachite, and take the Morenci Mine Tour.