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Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains

Buffalo Bill Stakes His Claim At Campo Bonito

By Robert Zucker
Entertainment Magazine

William "Buffalo Bill" Cody by Robert Zucker © 2014The discovery of precious minerals near Tucson attracted the famous Western entertainer William “Buffalo Bill” Cody to Oracle in the early 1900s to invest in several mines in the Camp Bonito mining district.

Campo Bonito, located in a valley south of Oracle, held promising mineral wealth.

At age 56, “Buffalo Bill” Cody was the world’s biggest icon of the 19th Century. He was one of the most popular entertainers in the world. Born as William Frederick Cody, he gained the nickname Buffalo Bill while in the Army. Cody later toured his Old West entertainment show, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West,” around the country. He was invited to England in 1887 and gained international fame. [1] He was also the first comic book super hero, thanks to Ned Buntline. [2]

Cody first brought his “Buffalo Bill’s Rough Riders” show to Tucson in September 1902. [3]

Another draw for Cody was the Santa Catalina Mountains and its mineral prospects. Cody was a friend of William Neal, an Oracle entrepreneur. They knew each other since the 1860s battle of Summit Springs [4] in Colorado. Neal was also a former military scout and was Cody’s good friend.

Neal was manager of “one of the largest freighting companies in the world.” He delivered gold bullion production from the Mammoth smelter to the railhead at Tucson. Three times a day three teams, each with twenty animals, moved 145 tons of ore a day in wagons as large as boxcars. [5] He was the only person who Cody would trust to freight gold.

Neal and Cody built the Mountain View Hotel in Oracle in 1895, next to the existing Reed Tavern. The hotel was in Neal’s name, but it was said Cody helped fund it and actually owned it. [6] Cody owned the W.F. Cody Hotel Company. The famous Irma Hotel, named after his daughter, was built in Cody (a town he built named for him), Wyoming in 1902.[7] He also designed several other hotels around the country.

Neal encouraged Cody to look for the legendary lost Iron Door Mine with him. Neal made three searches into the Catalinas. [8] As they looked for the fabled mine, Cody got involved with mining operations at Campo Bonito for more than a decade. [9]

J. L. Clark and Fritz Ewe originally staked an independent-lode mining claim in the Old Hat Mining District on January 29, 1887. President Benjamin Harrison granted patent land rights to J.L. Clark and Fritz Ewe January 10, 1891. [10] The land later became part of the Campo Bonito claims. Cody wrote about his new venture in a letter to friend George T. Beck on May 4, 1902 that, “The gold mine is a winner I guess beyond a doubt its being kept quiet just now as we want some property adjoining it and a water right from a stream nearby. We are getting out ore and the vein provides a true fissure.” [11]

Cody was encouraged by the gold samples produced by his partner, L.W. Getchell. A year later, Cody wrote to his sister Julia on March 13, 1903 that the “long-sought vein of ore had been struck after seven months of night-and-day drilling, and predicted that the mine would begin to pay off within four months. As soon as the roads were passable, wagons would haul ore and their own mill would be built during the summer.” [12] This may have been in reference to the three searches for the Iron Door Mine made by William Neal and Cody. [13] [14]

In a display of his generosity 1906, Cody sent thousands of dollars to the April 18th San Francisco earthquake [15] and Mt. Vesuvius victims. [16] Cody often supported many friends’ ventures. There were even rumors in Washington of a possible Senator Cody from the new State of Arizona, but a reporter commented how out of place Cody would look in Congress with his long hair and Western wear. [17]

Cody brought his Wild West Show and Congress of Rough Riders to Bisbee, a town southeast of Tucson, for the first time in October 1908. Five hundred 50˘ tickets were sold for the first exhibition and the second was sold out. It was a salute to a fading culture of the Old West that was becoming more civilized. Cody’s Battle of Summit Springs was recreated with the splendor of the “sanguinary days of the old frontier.” [18]

See more about Buffalo Bill Cody.

Return to Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains Index.


[1] The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave. http://www.buffalobill.org/

[2] In 1869, Cody met “Ned Buntline” an alias for Edward Zane Carroll Judson. From “William Frederick Cody – Kansaspedia,” Kansas Historical Society.

[3] “Buffalo Bill Rough Riders in Tucson,” The Bisbee Daily Review, Bisbee, Arizona, October 3, 1902. Also, reference Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave.

[4] The Battle of Summit Springs, July 11, 1869. Cody shot and killed Chief Tall Bull, the commander of the renegade Indians or “Dog Soldiers,” as they were called. This event became an important scene reproduced in Cody’s Wild West Show. From an account of “Battle of Summit Springs,” The Arizona Republic, October 17, 1908.

[5] St. John’s Herald, May 24, 1894.

[6] “Buffalo Bill and his Wild West, a Pictorial Biography,” by Joseph G. Rosa and Robin May. Page 195.

[7] “Buffalo Bill and his Shoshone Oil.” American Oil and Gas Historical Society.

[8] “Buffalo Bill Believed in “Lost Mine” In Catalina Mountain’s And Organized Company; William Neal Thinks It Really Exists,” undated. Arizona Historical Society.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Township 10S Range 16E Sections 16 and 17. The General Land Office Patent No. 17025.

[11] William F. Cody Archive, letter from Cody to George T. Beck, May 4, 1902. Buffalo Bill Center of the West http://codyarchive.org/texts/wfc.css00543.html Source: University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Buffalo Bill: Letters to George T. Beck, 1895-1910 (Acc. #9972), ah031457-58. Cody was referring to Campo Bonito.

[12] “The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill,” by Don Russell. Page 434.

[13] Ibid. Page 434. Also, Neal mentions the search in “Buffalo Bill Believed in “Lost Mine” In Catalinas and Organized Company; William Neal Thinks It Really Exists,” undated. Arizona Historical Society.

[14] In another motion picture in 2010, “Buffalo Bill, Beyond the Legend,”, [14] Tucson prospector William “Flint” Carter defends Cody’s claim by Don Russell that he “hit the fabulously rich vein,” which was in the region of the mine with iron door. From “Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill,” by Don Russell.

[15] Cody cabled $1,000 contribution. From “Complete Story of the San Francisco Earthquake and Other Great Disasters” by Marshall Everett. The Bible House, Chicago, 1906. Page 165.

[16] Altoona Tribune, Altoona, Pennsylvania. April 17, 1906.

[17] “There is a startling rumor that Co. W.F. Cody has designs upon the United States Senatorship from Arizona when that Territory is admitted as a State.” From the National Tribune, Washington, D.C., March 23, 1911. Page 5.

[18] “Buffalo Bill is in Bisbee Today,” Bisbee Daily Review, Bisbee, Arizona. October 21, 1908. And, “Buffalo Bill Pleased Crowds,” Bisbee Daily Review, Bisbee, Arizona. October 22, 1908

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