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Santa Rita del Cobre

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The Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans successively mined copper for 200 years at Santa Rita, New Mexico. Starting in 1799 with the Spanish discovery of native copper, the Chino Mines followed industry developments first as a network of underground mines and ultimately as part of the multinational Kennecott Copper Corporation's international open-pit mining operations--operations that would overtake Santa Rita, the town that grew up around them, by 1970. In Santa Rita del Cobre, Huggard and Humble detail the story of these developments, with in-depth explanations of mining technology, and describe the effects on and consequences for the workers, the community, and the natural environment. Evolving from mining-military camp to presidio, to company town, and eventually to independent community, Santa Rita developed rich family, educational, religious, social, and labor traditions before its demise. Extensive archival photographs, many taken by officials of the Kennecott Copper Corporation, accompany the text, providing an important visual and historical record of a town swallowed up by the industry that created it. Santa Rita del Cobre is for students, scholars, and laypersons interested in mining history, mining technology, Western history, Chicano studies, regional history of the Southwest, labor history, or environmental studies.

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I. El Cobre

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SPANISH AND MEXICAN MINING IN APACHERíA

In 1799 José Manuel Carrasco struck virgin copper. The retired lieutenant colonel had rediscovered the richest native copper deposit in North America. Taken to the lustrous outcroppings by a small group of Apaches he had assisted in hard times while serving as captain of the Presidio of Carrizal in northern Chihuahua, the Spaniard thought he had found the mother lode of copper deposits (see figure 1.1). But he knew he and those who followed him to this place would have to contend with the native peoples. The Spanish officer had spent much of the preceding thirty years pursuing and fighting the nomadic inhabitants of Apachería, the expansive territory of the Apaches. Located in the heart of the Chihenne band’s homeland, the minas de cobre (copper mines) promised riches to the seasoned Spanish warrior. Or at least that was Carrasco’s hope. Unlike Francisco Coronado in the 1540s, who pursued the myth of Quivira and the seven cities of Cíbola, this Spaniard found his treasure. Yet, as this story will reveal, like Coronado, he would experience disappointment and conflict, and the fortune he sought to glorify Spain and to enrich himself would never be realized. Still, six years later in testimony to the Deputacíon de Minería (Mining Bureau) in Chihuahua, he claimed “divine providence” had intervened to protect him from the risks of journeying into Apache country. God, copper, and glory, he believed, were at hand.1

 

II. Frontier Mining

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THE UNDERGROUND YEARS

Santa Rita del Cobre was in the heart of contested territory. The Apaches had the upper hand. The Spanish could not control this borderland region prior to 1821, and the Mexicans found it even more difficult afterward because of the complications of building a new nation-state. The presence of the Americans did mark an interesting turning point. Yet, not until 1848 would the emergent US Empire take possession of the borderlands into which its entrepreneurs, miners, and trappers had made inroads. Even then the Apaches would still reign supreme in the region for at least another ten years. Indicative of the importance of the precious red metal, the Chihenne and Bedonkohe bands would soon be known as the “Coppermine” Apaches to US military personnel, gold rushers, and boundary commissioners who briefly visited the coveted mining site in the interim period 1838 to 1857.1 This metaphor for the Indians also reveals the American belief that Santa Rita was part of their “manifest destiny” to open a new mining frontier. This imperialist ideology prompted the takeover of Mexican territory and the pushing aside of the indigenous peoples. With their aggressive actions, the norteamericanos opened the “new” Southwest to modern mining and a taste of gilded age industrialism during the second half of the nineteenth century.

 

III. The Chino Years

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THE OPEN PIT, THE MEN, AND THEIR METHODS

The Chino Copper Company initiated open-pit mining on September 23, 1910. That day the new corporation’s Marion 91 steam shovel Number 2 scooped its first bucket of low-grade porphyry copper (see figure 3.1). Thus began the stairstep descent in the quest to remove hundreds of millions of tons of earth peppered with minute flakes of copper deep in the bowels of the mountainous terrain. A new era had dawned at Santa Rita. Using the latest economies-of-scale technology, the newly incorporated mining company joined the international open-pit copper family that would dominate the industry throughout the twentieth century. No longer would underground high-grade mining feed America’s frenzied demand for the red metal. Rather, aboveground, low-grade digging would characterize the extraction of the most popular base metal. Chino was part of the growing American domination of the industry that by 1916 led the world with nearly 60 percent of overall copper production. This exploding North American supply provided copper for the expanding military arsenals of the globe, and the highly conductible metal played a key role in the rise of consumer demands in the 1910s and later for electricity, automobiles, and appliances.1 This worldwide need, combined with the application of new open-pit technology, changed Santa Rita’s dormant potential from one of little hope to one with the promise of a prosperous future.

 

IV. Santa Rita

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THE COMPANY TOWN AND THE COMMUNITY

By 1970 Santa Rita no longer existed. The steady march of the mining operations ate away at the hilly terrain. The open pit grew to an enormous size and the copper town actually disappeared. The shovel crews so thoroughly reconfigured the landscape that there was no earthen foundation left for the workers’ homes and the company’s store, hospital, and workshops. Although Santa Ritans knew of this impending destruction, which materialized over three decades, they felt an acute sense of loss. Now they had only their memories of the community. It dawned on many former residents that where Santa Rita once lay, there was nothing but space. This quirk of fate was not lost on three well-known Santa Ritans who decided in the mid-1970s to memorialize their birthplace with the founding of the Society for People Born in Space.1 Harrison Schmitt, Gilbert Moore, and Ted Arellano, the founders of the society, worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Their vocations starkly reminded them of the irony of having been born in what was now “space” above the bottom of the open pit; interestingly, astronaut Schmitt himself had traveled into space in 1972 as the lone geologist on Apollo 17. These men and other members of this exclusive club met nearly every year from 1981 until 2000 to remember their lives in the now defunct town. They wanted the “community” to live on.

 

V. The Kennecott Era

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MODERN TECHNOLOGY AND BIG LABOR

In 1955 the Chino Mines Division of the Kennecott Copper Corporation premiered Chinorama. Modeled after the multinational corporation’s Kennescope,1 the colorful glossy monthly magazine replaced the company towns at the Santa Rita–Hurley complex in New Mexico as the symbol of a maturing industrial “family.” Clearly, officials hoped to retain the paternalistic overtone of the company-town era, especially after the sale of Kennecott’s property to the real estate firm of John W. Galbreath & Company in this mining-milling-smelting corridor of Grant County, New Mexico. They were attempting to use Chinorama to perpetuate that patriarchal tradition. The popular publication peppered with photographs highlighted general managers’ commentaries, departmental features, household advice, women employees, old-timer insets, copper and strike news, medical and retirement plans, and other information.

Still, officials must have realized things were different now. The early volumes, in fact, reveal the company’s public relations plans to generate a positive image among its workers and the general public. They sensed that they had to adjust to the changing world. So the features disclose an emerging acceptance of big labor and the budding Chicano leadership in Local 890 of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (Mine Mill). In their “greetings” to Chinorama’s readers in the first volume, Charles Cox, president of Kennecott; J. P. Caulfield, general manager of the Western Mining Division; and William H. Goodrich, general manager of Chino, aired their hopes for “modern” communications, “unity within the whole organization,” and recognition of “worthwhile accomplishments” of employees, respectively.2 Another new era had dawned at Santa Rita.

 

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