Sacramento Mine


Sac mine / Sac shaft / Sacramento shaft

Sacramento tunnel / Sac tunnel

Sacramento air shaft / Air shaft

Sacrameto adit

The Sacramento Shaft, Circa 1932

      In 1903, reports of a new shaft to be developed by the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company had filtered into the Bisbee Daily Review, by February 1904 the newspaper stated that a new eight compartment* shaft was going to be sunk on the Stars and Stripes Claim to explore the ground. This shaft would need to be at least 1,000ft. deep. Site preparation began on March 4, 1904. Originally, the shaft had three compartments, two for hoisting and a pipe compartment. Early in its development it was decided to use this new shaft as a main hoisting shaft. Long before the shaft was completed, connecting drifts were being driven from the Lowell Mine and the Gardner Mine. A crosscut was driven under Sacramento Hill to reach ores that had been discovered by the Holbrook Mine. These ores were to be mined from the Sacramento. The shaft had been sunk in porphyry and was securely out of the mining zone and was located near the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad tracks. Plans were beginning to be developed for enlarging the shaft and building massive ore bins.


      The success of this mine resulted in the community of Lowell, Arizona have a period of prosperity.  1906 was an important year, it started with the Sacramento being shut down and a hoist was to be moved over from the Lowell Mine and a hoist from Globe, Arizona was to be installed at the Lowell. During the summer the decision was made to send the Lowell hoist to Cananea, Mexico. In June the steel headframe was on the site, but not assembled. Even by August a hoist had not arrived at the Sacramento. Then the collapse and abandonment of the Holbrook # 1 shaft on July 16th, forced the decision of developing the Sacramento as the main hoisting shaft for the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company. The Holbrook Shaft had been the main hoisting shaft. The new mine plan allowed for the development of haulage levels. Even number levels like the 200, 400, and 600 would be provided with electric trolley locomotives that would pull gable-bottomed Koppel cars. Odd numbered levels would haul ore cars with mules or be pushed by men and dumped into transfer raises to the haulage levels. This aggressive plan required miles of drifts to be enlarged to handle locomotives and still more miles of brand new drifts to be driven to connect to the Sacramento Mine. 


     On November 78, 1907 rumors were spread around Bisbee a massive cave-in had occurred in the mine killing men. What occurred was that there was no hoist at the Sacramento, all men were lowered down the Gardner Mine and would walk to the Sacramento Shaft. At this point they would be raised in a dinkey cage with an underground hoist to the 400 level to work. The shaft compartment next to the dinkey compartment had temporarily been converted into a chute to drop rock to the 1000 level. The timber separating the two compartments broke into the dinkey compartment at a point and the cage became unusable. After a few hours the shaft was repaired and the men could be lowered to the 1000 level.


     The development of this new hoisting shaft was painfully slow; delays resulted in the headframe not being erected until December 1907. In April of 1908 the Koppel cars arrived. Finally, in May the new Nordberg hoist was installed and made its trial run on June 16th. This hoist used round cable unlike, the older flat cable that most hoists in Bisbee used and pulled 3 ton skips. Up to this time ore had been hoist by placing loaded ore cars on the decks of cages. On the surface 150ft. conveyor from the shaft to the El Paso & Southwestern rail line with two conveyor belts had been installed that ran between four rails that held 36 rail cars. Each of these had dumping carriages that moved constantly to ensure that the ore in each car was mixed.


     During 1909 the shaft was sunk from the 1400 level to the 1600 level. Also, the first Sacramento Winze was being developed. It was sunk from the 1200 level to the 1400 level and had a double drum hoist to raise ore to the 1200 level and from there to the surface.  The following year saw the Sacramento Tunnel driven from the northern flank of Sacramento Hill and intercepted the Sacramento shaft about 75ft. below its collar. The purpose of this tunnel, along with the Neptune and Phelps tunnels was to explore the porphyry inside Sacramento Hill. In February of 1910 the Lowell was shut down as a hoisting shaft and all ore was hoisted thru the Sacramento. The Koppel cars introduced in 1908 had proved a failure and began to be replaced with two ton rocker dump cars, locally known as “E” cars. The motors were pulling 24 of these at a time. The motors were not perfect and for a time the Copper Queen considered building their own.


     In March of 1910 the decision was made to install a dinkey hoist from the Gardner Mine underneath the headframe of the Sacramento and convert the pipe compartment into a dinkey hoisting compartment. A shaft compartment was sealed with timber from top to 1700 level to prevent rock falling from fast moving skips from the entering the new compartment. Interestingly, creosoted timber was used for a large part of this work.  Men and material were hoisted in this compartment. On the 1700 level, pumps that were taken from Courtland, Arizona were installed to handle water. As the mine workings grew further from the either the Lowell or Sacramento shafts it became necessary to sink another major winze, down from the 1600 level to explore the area. This area was over 3,000ft. from the Sacramento and the Del Norte Claim belonging to the Calumet & Arizona blocked access from the Lowell Mine. Driving the level from the Sacramento was uneconomical, so in 1912 a winze was sunk and fixed to serve as an interior shaft. On May 5 a hoisting record for the district was set with 3087 tons in under 16 hours (note, hoisting was typical done only 7 ½ hours per shift to allow for men to be hoisted.) Also the 220ft. deep, Sacramento Air Shaft was started on May 12, under contract with R. L. Stallings the same contractor that sank the Dallas Shaft. A significant ore body located between the 100 and 200 levels was discovered by this air shaft and was called the “Air Shaft Orebody”.


     The Sacramento underwent massive changes during the following year. An adit was driven from the EL Paso & Southwestern Rail bed on the southwest side of the mountain to the Sacramento Shaft.  This drift was gunited and was used to transport men and timber to the shaft. Men would walk from the change house through this drift to the shaft station. At the station they would wait to be lowered to their levels. Normally, deeper levels went first followed by successfully higher levels. A new change house was also constructed and the shaft was increased by two compartments. These were raised from the 1700 level and much of the timber used was creosoted.  The compartments were completed in February 1914 and brought the shaft up to a massive five compartments.


     Guests were not uncommon at the mine. After  a dinner party on January 7, 1915 Mrs. Gerald Sherman, wife of the mine superintendent had her 16 quest a mix of men and ladies tour the Sacramento Mine. In March 1915 at the 300 level experiments were completed, test to see if the shaft could be concreted while operating. This experiment was successful and by June 25th storage bins for sand and gravel had been erected at the mouth of the Sacramento Adit and concrete mixing area was built at the “Subway” station. The concrete would be dropped in a 4 inch pipe and blown into the forms with compressed air. This was the first shaft ever to be concreted, while in operation. During the concreting process men were hoisted at the Lowell Shaft. The concreting was done at three sections of the shaft at a time and by August 1916 had been finished.


     The mine maintained steady production during 1916, but during 1917 a cylinder head broke on the hoist and the shaft was out of operation for at least a week. A connection was made on the 1600 level to the Dallas Mine during this time. In 1919, another major winze was developed, known as 16-4. It was raised from the 1600 to the 1500 level and sunk to the 1800 level. It had two compartments, one for hoisting and the other for a manway and pipes. The hoist was located on the 1500 level. At this time, the Dallas was being considered as becoming the main hoisting shaft. This was to occur, if the Sacramento was going to be mined out by the Sacramento Pit.


     In 1921 the Gardner Mine was shut down at all remaining ores particularly, those known as the “Gardner Sulphides” were to be mined from the Sacramento. Later this year, a broken piston shut down the Sacramento shaft for 30 days. Intense development occurred with 13,800ft. of crosscut driven developing of the Southeast Extension of the east orebody.  In1925 the ore reserves in this orebody were 2,905429 tons. The Morenci method of block caving was tried and 18,000 tons were mined this way, but the water in the material made it difficult to handle.


     During 1928, the Porphyry Division was created to handle the mining of the Southeast Extension, North Cave Block and the Sacramento Pit Gloryhole Operations. It was decided that the last remaining ores in the Sacramento Pit would be dumped down large raises or “Gloryholes” that had been raised up from the 400 level and then transferred to the 500 level to be hauled to the shaft for hoisting In 1929 to increase hoisting capacity, the manway/cage compartment was raised from 1800 level to the 1600 level and converted to a handling skips. A small fire broke out in June 1929 in the 14-10 area. The first signs that block caving was not going to be successful occurred when, the first block of north end of the East Orebody failed to collapse. Quickly, the block next to it was undercut hoping to force it to cave.  One of the blocks that was cut and blasted during 1930 was actually still standing in 1950. In 1930 the 1200 level was converted into a haulage level for mining the Southeast Extension Orebody.  The difficulty in causing blocks to cave resulted in the block cave method failing in Bisbee. Both the Morenci and Ray block caving methods were tried.  On November 1, 1931 mining in the Sacramento was shut down and the station was cut on the 960 level of the Junction Shaft with the intention of mining the Southeast Orebody from the Junction to be used as smelter flux. Mining of the East Orebody was abandoned. Until the 1945 the South East Orebody was mined, but through the completely through the Junction.


     On January 12, 1932, the Sacramento Shaft was shut down. In 1936 the Sacramento and Gardner mines reopened and were formally titled Division “E”. Mining continued, but as square set stopes. In 1940 the Sacramento produced 119,835 not including ores from the Southeast Extension. Finally, 1946 the Sacramento Mine permanently ceased operations and by the late 1940s, its surface facilities were dismantled. During the early 1950s Operations at the Lavender Pit mined through the upper parts of the shaft. The low grade porphyry ores that had failed to block cave provided essential ores for the new pit. Levels below pit, the 1300 level and lower still exist, but presently are flooded. Unlike, some of the other mines that were consumed by the Lavender Pit, no remnant crosscuts or stopes are evident in the walls of the pit.


     An unusual story is recorded about the Sacramento. Around 1912, through a poor decision by a man or feline, a black cat named Felix took up residence on the 1500 level at one of the winzes.  This was a remote home, over a quarter mile, below the surface and thousands of feet down dark twisting passages. He was trapped in his home. The skittish animal would escape from curious miners by dangerously jumping from the wall plates and guides***. This meant the cat was moving through the open winze and leaping over a hole that was likely well over 100ft., if not 300ft deep. Even though his underground home would have been brightly lit with electric bulbs, side crosscuts would have provided areas of pitch darkness for hiding and hunting. The cat originally, fed largely off the ever abundant mine rats, but later miners would provide dishes of milk and snacks. On one occasion, the cat did not move quick enough and had part of its tail crushed by a locomotive. A powderman amputated the injured limb with an axe. In June 1927, after 15 years underground Felix died near a mule barn on the 1400 level and was buried in a wooden dynamite box on the surface, near the Sacramento Shaft.

*** Guides are timbers used to guide cages up and down shafts and winzes. Wall plates are the regular shaft timber. This means the cat was jumping over a hole that was at was over 100ft. deep. The major winze on the 1500 descended to the 1800 level and was 300ft. deep

© 2013 by Doug Graeme