A new railroad into Bisbee, to reduce the cost of hauling in the likes of coke for the smelter, timber for the mines and goods for the rapidly expanding commercial district, and hauling out the ever-increasing amount of copper bullion produced in its mines, was announced by The Tombstone Epitaph on April 14, 1888.
“Its early completion an assured fact,” the subhead on the story said, adding that rumors were “flying in the air.” The Copper Queen’s desire for the railroad had been an “open secret” for more than a year.
Proof of the planned railroad came from the news that Ben Williams, superintendent of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Co. property, “says so.” the Epitaph said.
In addition, the story said, J.E. Durkee & Co., which had the Copper Queen contract for hauling supplies and product overland, had been notified of the plan and had thus halted planned improvements to the road on which they traveled, laying off 15 men.
“This much is positive,” the Epitaph added.
It also reported that a considered plan to build a narrow-gauge up the canyon (where the Mule Pass tunnel now lies) had been abandoned, partly because of the steep gradients through that route.
Santa Fe line would participate
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Also, “it has been plainly shown” that the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe company would be part of the Bisbee railroad efforts. Santa Fe, which already had a line through Fairbank and on into Sonora, which was the closest rail head for both Tombstone and Bisbee, already had surveyed a line from Fairbank to Deming, N.M., “through Tombstone, and has expended thousands of dollars on the grade.”
That would connect the Mexico route with the main Santa Fe line, “which has long been a great desideratum,” and would allow Santa Fe to compete with Southern Pacific through southern Arizona. With that route in the plans, “building of a short branch into Bisbee would be a matter of small expense,” the Epitaph said.
Calling Santa Fe management “far-seeing,” the paper said its conclusion “amounts to a conviction with us that within a year, Cochise County will have within its borders nearly a hundred miles more of railroad than she has at present.
“If this is not the correct interpretation of recent railroad rumors, then the Epitaph is sadly mistaken.”
Railroad mileage was important not just to the local industry, but to government. The Epitaph reported in May of that year the the Atlantic and Pacific railroad was assessed at the rate of $7,282.03 per mile in Arizona.
The coming of a railroad also improved the commercial value of a town. The Tombstone Prospector said that town lots advanced in price from 50-100 percent since the announcement of the new rail line.
Announced in California
Under a May 11 dateline from Tombstone, the Sacramento Daily Record-Union said the officials of the Copper Queen had decided on a 40-mile line between Fairbank and Bisbee, adding that “work will soon be commmenced.” But that items, only a paragraph in length, didn’t mention the Santa Fe or Tombstone’s placement on the route.
“This will connect one of the leading copper mines of the country by rail with the outside world, and is considered a great boon to the territory,” the paper added.
The Arizona Silver Belt from Globe said the Tombstone Prospector put the railroad’s cost at $400,000. The Clifton Clarion said that “our neighbors, Ward and Courtney, have secured the contract to build the Bisbee railroad. This bespeaks rapid and good work.” Some of the mines in the Clifton area had cross ownership with the Copper Queen.
The Epitaph reported in its Saturday, June 23 issue that Ward and Courtney would “push the work with all possible rapidity. They have a large force of teams, laborers, etc., at Fairbank and expect to break ground next Monday.”
But, alas for Tombstone, The Clifton Clarion reported July 4, 1888 that “the Bisbee railroad will not go through Tombstone, owing to the lack of enterprise by that city.”
That July experienced heavy rains, and the Epitaph reported that this had interfered with the graders of the Bisbee railroad. “The small culverts being put in do no carry away the floods in the arroyas.” At the same time, washouts were delaying trains on the Southern Pacific and Sonora roads.
Bisbee’s financial growth
The same issue had several blurbs about Bisbee’s financial growth. The Copper Queen store was doing a business of $1,000 a day, for instance. The camp was “very lively, notwithstanding it is a one company camp.”
The edition also said that the production of Bisbee’s copper mines “is only exceeded by five copper mines in the world.” In addition, native silver was struck in the mines at Bisbee.
In August, the Arizona Weekly Enterprise (Florence) said that Bisbee’s economy was such that it was getting its own newspaper, the Bisbee Democrat. “It is a neat and newsy six-column paper and it is an acquisition to the press of the territory.” Realizing the coming competition, the Epitaph needed to expand and the same Enterprise said that the Tombstone paper would soon be issued as a daily, “and will espouse the cause of democracy.”
Condemning land for rail
To get some of the land needed for the railroad route, the Copper Queen had to resort to condemnation. Such cases were heard by William H. Barnes, an associate justice for the Arizona Territorial Supreme Count from 1885 to 1889 assigned to the first district, which was Cochise, Graham (which at the time included Greenlee) and Pima (including Santa Cruz) counties.
The Epitaph reported Aug. 4 on some of the “damages” given regarding the condemnation, which included $600 for H.C. Herrick, $100 for Bartellan Avincio and $25 for Hop Kee.
Fights in the construction camps
As would be expected, the railroad construction camp was not without excitement. The Los Angeles Daily Herald reported in August that two men were killed mid-month near Fairbank.
“One man who had his throat cut is supposed to have been murdered for the purpose of robbery. The officer so far have failed to secure any clue to lead to the capture of the murderer or murderers.
“The other man was stabbed to death in a general quarrel, but by whom has not yet transpired.”
In mid-August, the Florence Enterprise said the grade of the railroad would be completed by Oct. 1.
On Sept. 1, Globe’s Silver Belt said the Democrat (assumably the new Bisbee newspaper) had reported that at the present rate of construction, the rail line would be completed by the first of December.
The Silver Belt also printed a blurb in that issue, attributed to the Tombstone Prospector, that a large number of new men would be put to work on the Bisbee railroad within a few days. The men were coming from Kansas, where they had been building a railroad.
But it also said the Bisbee Democrat reported that the road building “has brought together a dangerous set of men. Fairbank for the past two weeks has been one continued scene of rioting, resulting all the way from skinned noses to homicide.”
Another fatality in the work camp took place in mid-December, according to the Epitaph. During a dispute at what it called Camp 17 on the line, J.W. Barrow knocked down Reilly Dutton, who in retaliation hit Barrow with a club. The blow was fatal. Dutton headed for Sonora, but Sheriff John Slaughter had deputies on his track, “and it is only a question of a short time before he will be brought to justice.”
On Jan. 3, 1889, the Tombstone Daily Prospector said that Francisco Salazar was in county jail for killing a man named José (no last name given) with a fish plate at the Bisbee railroad terminus. A fish plate is a heavy bar of iron which joins two rails together lengthways, the paper explained. José’s head was cut open fully an inch clear across ” and presents a horrible site,” the paper said.
Accident kills old CQ employee
On Dec 22, 1888 the Epitaph reported that two days prior, an accident on the railroad between Camp 19 and the end of the track, had seriously injured three men and killed one.
“Two flat cars loaded with iron and building material on which some 30 laborers were riding were being pushed ahead of the enigne when the foremost car rain over a bull lying in the track, throwing both cars and the engine off the track.
“The men were all more or less injured, the injuries of C. J. Mansure consising of two fractures of the left arm and those of James Duffy and Frank Scott, while serious, are not considered fatal.
“John McAtee, an old and trusted employe of the Copper Queen company, who had just that day taken charge of a section, was caught between one ofthe cars and the bank and instantly crushed to death.” The coroner’s jury exonerated engineer and the railroad from all blame.
(Just below the blurb on McAtee’s death was a notice that the Copper Queen had hired “an eastern physician to attend to their sick and wounded employees. The next move will be the erection of a hospital.”)
In early January 1889, the Silver Belt, quoting the Prospector, wrote that the Copper Queen smelter in Bisbee had closed down on Dec. 29 and would not fire up again until the railroad is completed into Bisbee, which will be about Jan. 12.
But the Silver Belt reported Jan. 26 that the latest storm “retarded the completion of the Bisbee railroad. There remains only two or three miles more to build.”
The same newspaper was able to report Feb. 2 that the railroad was then within a mile of the smelter and the Copper Queen was shipping 40 tons of copper a day.
With that work complete, the equipment left the area for a new job. The Florence newspaper reported Feb. 23 that “a large number of mules, horses and wagons, belonging to Messrs. Mahan & Rhinehardt, passed through Florence Sunday morning on their way to the lower Gila to engage in canal building. They had been at work on the Bisbee railroad.”
No sooner had the railroad been completed than it was asking for tax relief. The (Tucson) Star was reporting in August that William Herring, a lawyer who represented the Copper Queen, appeared on behalf of the company before the Territorial Board of Equalization, but the hearing was postponed until a full board could be present. But that’s another story.