More than a hundred years ago, Kentucky Camp was the headquarters for the Santa Rita Water & Mining Company, which was formed to extract placer deposits from the Greaterville Mining District in the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains 9 miles NW of Sonoita.
Gold, in the form of placer, was discovered here in 1874. Placer is a mixture of gold, sand, and gravel. Separating out the gold required water. But in the Greaterville Mining District, there was no permanent surface water, and the arroyos were usually dry.
Early on, miners here had to haul their pay dirt in sacks to the few running streams in the area, or haul bladders of water to their claims on the backs of pack animals.
At first, this laborious effort was worthwhile, but by 1886 the easy pickings played out and most of the miners moved on.
A Bright Idea
In 1902, along came James Stetson, a California mining engineer who had an idea to solve the water problem. He believed it would be possible to collect seasonal runoff into a nearby reservoir, creating a permanent water source, and thus making placer mining once again profitable.
Stetson sold the idea to investors and together they formed the Santa Rita Water & Mining Company. The mining operation took place in Boston Gulch and the company built facilities in neighboring Kentucky Gulch.
From 1902, the company had their headquarters and employee residences in what became known as Kentucky Camp. By mid-1904, the company had begun hydraulic mining and success seemed assured.
One Fateful Day
However, as so often happened in these early mining ventures, fate intervened. On May 20, 1905, Mr. Stetson was in Tucson for a Board of Directors meeting. He had taken a third-floor room in the new and very prestigious Santa Rita Hotel, located at Broadway & Scott.
Around 3 o’clock that afternoon, a maid working on the 2nd floor directly below Mr. Stetson’s room heard a thud on the windowsill of the room she was cleaning. She went to investigate. As she leaned out her window, she saw Mr. Stetson’s dead body on the concrete sidewalk below.
Why Mr. Stetson fell out of his hotel window was never determined. Was he pushed? Was he drunk? We will never know.
The remaining partners tried to keep the mining operation going, but gave up in 1906. By 1912, Kentucky Camp was abandoned.
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