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Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains

Gold at Campo Bonito

By Robert Zucker

When gold mining in the Cańada del Oro was in full swing by the late 1800s, prospectors looking for a quick path to riches were exploring a hidden valley on the north side of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Mining in the Southern Arizona mountains became a big business at the turn of the century, especially for celebrities like William “Buffalo Bill” Cody.

The Camp Bonito site was one of the early mining camps formed in the Old Hat mining district just south of Oracle, Arizona in the Santa Catalina Mountains, not far from the YMCA Triangle Y Ranch.

At that time, the town of Oracle, north of Tucson, Arizona, was already settled with prospectors and homesteaders in the hills north of the Catalina Mountains. The Old Hat District was a proven producer of silver and gold.

The persistent legends of a lost city and a lost Spanish mine were overshadowed by recent discoveries of gold-embedded deposits that seemed to drip from the mountains and flow from the Cańada del Oro, according to newspaper accounts during the late 1880s. [1]

The mineral list from the Campo Bonito mines [2] included Calcite, Dolomite, Galena, Gold, Pyrite, Scheelite, Talc, and Wulfenite. [3] Tungsten was also a main ore.

The Campo Bonito group consisted of several dozen mining claims spread through the valley on the northeast side of the Catalina Mountains to include the Apache Peak area (Juniper claim, Memory Lane group, the Pair O’ Dice prospect, Red Dog claim, Southern Belle Mine (Southern Belle; Morning Star property/claims), and the Taraldson claim.

It also included the Maudina Mine claims/property, the High Jinks Mine and the Santa Rosa Mine (Cumaro claim). [4] The land is now part of the Coronado National Forest and some private properties, including the privately owned High Jinks Ranch, the YMCA’s Triangle Y Ranch, and numerous small ranches.

A fireplace, drum and washbasin still remains at the Campo Bonito campsite, located off the Old Mount Lemmon Highway, just outside of Oracle, Arizona. The mining claims are 1 mile ENE of Apache Peak and about 2 miles SW of Campo Bonito. GPS coordinates: 32°33’29”N 110°44’8”W. [5]

Jewelry grade silver embedded in quartz is still found in the Santa Catalinas. Samples, marketed as Cody Stone, are on display at several locations nationwide.

Displays of CodyStone are at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Carlsbad, California; the Mineral & Fossil Hall at the House of Onyx in Greenville, KY; The Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY; the Old West Museum at Fort Cody Trading Place and the Buffalo Bill Ranch in North Platte, NE; the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave in Golden, Colorado; and the Mining Hall of Fame, Leadville, Colorado. Cody Stone is named after Buffalo Bill Cody who owned several mines in the Oracle, Arizona, area. [6] The market value suggested could be $5 a carat. [7]

The University of Arizona analyzed one quartz-silver sample with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and a backscattered-electron detector. The stone was found to be primarily quartz– a common element– with traces of rare-earth elements. The most “abundant minerals other than quartz are lead sulfide (galena) and copper-iron sulfide (chalcopyrite). Silver was also present in the vein. [8]

[1] “The Iron Door Mine,” Arizona Weekly Star, March 4, 1880. The story of the two miners discovery of the lost city and lost mine was widely known among Tucsonans, as described in this article.

[2] USGS: Bonito mines is a past producer of Tungsten, Pure Gold, Morning Star M S 1836. Patented Claims M S 1836, Gold Bug, Campo Bonito. MRDS M050217, Deposit 10210244.

[3] Pure Gold Mine, Campo Bonito Mines, Apache Peak area. Mindat.org Database.

[4] Campo Bonito, Oracle District (Control District; Old Hat District; Santa Catalina District), Santa Catalina Mountains, Pinal County, Arizona. Mindat.org.

[5] Locality Search, Campo Bonito. Mindat.org.

[6] Provenance of the Cody Stone and mining ventures, by William Carter. 2014.

[7] Stated by noted jeweler Michael Garcia, NaNa Ping. Aspen Mountain Studio, June 3, 1998. Also, stated by Larry Gray of The Mine Group, Boise, Idaho. August 21, 1997.

[8] Analysis from Gary Chandler, Mineral Science and Engineering, University of Arizona, Tucson. September 25, 1998.


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